Sunday, 18 December 2016

I, Davros 1.2: Purity by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown (October 2006)

Purity - the second story in this bleak Davros-centric quadrilogy - picks up around fourteen years after the events of the first, with Davros now almost thirty years of age, longing to escape the military and join the Scientific Corps. This is probably the biggest time-leap that this miniseries will make, and ultimately probably necessary if only to speed things up to get us to the point in proceedings where Terry Molloy can take over and play Davros as an adult, but I did feel a tad frustrated not to hear some more of the fallout of the events in Innocence. Fortunately, authors James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown - previously behind LIVE 34 - fill us in fairly effectively on what we’ve missed, and we soon build up a decent enough picture of the intervening years. Davros here is stuck in a rut. He has a dead-end job that doesn’t interest him. His life isn’t going anywhere. This is the ‘rejected from art school’ step on the long road to tyrannical power.

With the best will in the world, Molloy doesn’t quite sound thirty, but it’s a great performance nonetheless. His softer, more human tones here lull us into a false sense of security, as the cold distance of his younger self gives way to angry rants and frustration with authority figures; we can already begin to hear the cadences of the later Davros we know well. I quoted Mussolini last time, but it’s Hitler and the Nazis’ attendant Social Darwinism that Davros most resembles here: his obsession with the Thals as an ‘inferior species’, akin to mongrels, rears its ugly head in a chilling, eugenics-soaked reflection of the audio’s title, Purity; in this light Molloy’s monologue to his sister’s corpse just before he starts to mutate her is horrifying. Parsons and Stirling-Brown also add a class dimension to Davros’ family makeup; his mother’s sense of entitlement runs in his veins, too, as though he is owed a brilliant and glittering career because of the happenstance of his birth. Once again, Carolyn Jones is an absolute highlight, taking on the poisonous character of Lady Calcula and really selling her own ruthlessness in comparison to that which her son will later become. Her last-act Iago-like sequence is especially chilling, in which she assures a hospitalised Davros that she will sort everything out, then returns to her lakeside villa to drown her daughter Yarvell before going back to Davros and lying to him how much his sister loved him. It’s properly nasty, Game of Thrones-like stuff, and enormously compelling.

This is a more action-heavy and atmospheric audio than Innocence, particularly in the sequence where Davros and Reston’s suicide squad trek their way through the uncharted wastelands back to the Kaled encampment; the tone of these moments is a good fit for Genesis, with its Mutos (and the giant clam gets referenced: “through genetic manipulation even a mollusc could be transformed into a weapon!”) and the Handmines we see in The Magician’s Apprentice. It also sees the surprise - but welcome - reappearance of the horrific Varga plants, last used to cracking effect in Dalek War Chapter Three: Davros is as fascinated by the mutations they cause as you’d expect and you can already see his long years of genetic experiments stretching out before him. More laudable still is the chilling moment when Davros comes face-to-face with the mutated face of his former tutor, Magrantine, who he once left to rot; the pupil-teacher relationship here gets inverted rather sickeningly (“I only hope that one day you find out what it’s like to live like this, and I hope it brings you as much pain as it’s brought me”).

It’s not perfect - things I would like to see less of include those bits of knowing foreshadowing like “Someday your ego will be your undoing, my friend”… self-muttered asides are tricky to do plausibly anyway, and when it’s only there to tell us, the audience, something we already know, one can’t help thinking the line should have been snipped. No nuance is lost; show us that Reston thinks this of Davros elsewhere, in a different context, or more directly. Structurally, though, it’s quite neat; the mission into Thal territory is gripping enough, but this audio is smart enough to not really focus on that, instead letting the expedition serve as a prism through which we can observe Davros’ character - specifically, his increasing disillusionment with Kaled leadership and his recognition of the need to take his people in a new direction, but also his ability to sacrifice anyone who might slow him down or weaken him by not prioritising survival over all things.

One of the most significant and important things that both Lance Parkin’s audio Davros and this miniseries revealed about the infamous Kaled scientist is that he was not a “good man” who went bad and bitter after a crippling accident. This ableist trope that is thus avoided is ugly storytelling, pure and simple (Richard III the evil hunchback, the physiognomy of villains in 19th-century novels, monsters looking terrifying, etc) - and so I’m very glad indeed that these stories are revising Davros such that he was always a terrible man, a fascistic, xenophobic, paranoid scumbag. One with whom we can empathise, granted, but his mother’s toxic influence, the terrible world into which he is born, the hardships he goes through all make him into the monster he is long before he is a mutated cripple. But, as we shall see next time, become that mutated cripple he must.

Other things:
Among other things, Purity develops and explores Kaled society and hierarchy - from the Council of Twelve to the ‘weak’ and ‘spineless’ Supremo who leads them. In addition, the Tharons and the Dals are established as extinct races from Skaro’s elder days.
“You can’t even see the end of your nose, let alone beyond it!”
“A planet, once teeming with people, reduced to the remains of two squabbling nations.”/“War has its victims.”
“This is no more than a family of our standing deserves. It’s what we’re entitled to!”/“But not what we can afford.”
“D’you know, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the stars? It’s impossible to see them on the ground for all that filth in the sky. And I never thought Falkus would look so bright… And seeing the tops of the city towers poking out of the chemical clouds. Both cities, in fact. It’s amazing.”
“Varga” is the ancient Dal word for “devourer”, apparently. Nice touch of colour.
“Revenge is a powerful motivator.” - Might Magrantine’s burning yet motivating hatred partially inspire Davros’ future creations?
“So many people were a danger to my son! They all had to be stopped!”

Next: I, Davros 1.3: Corruption by Lance Parkin. Given Parkin’s work in Davros, this is surely The Big One… 

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