Monday, 19 December 2016
I, Davros 1.3: Corruption by Lance Parkin (November 2006)
“To understand the future, we have to understand the past.”
I, Davros: Corruption is the Big One: war movie, psychological drama, doomed love story, Greek tragedy and Revenge of the Sith all at once. Lance Parkin - who had until now delivered by far the best-written, most insightful work to feature Davros in the form of his own audio, Davros - goes one better than his own previous record, and knocks even that great achievement into a cocked hat. Corruption is marvellous; believe the hype. This I, Davros series is worth it entirely on the strength of this instalment alone.
Unsurprisingly, Parkin takes a number of cues from his previous work, building on it and expanding it. The end result means that Corruption is best appreciated after hearing Davros; although I don’t think the former story is essential to appreciating what’s being done here, the two definitely work best as a double-bill, as it were. As you’d expect, Parkin seizes upon the key role of the Kaled scientist Shan - one of the more memorable and moving glimpses of Davros’ past we had yet seen - and weaves her into the storyline here. Shan’s relationship with Davros is better for its not being too explicit, too obviously romantic; there’s something there, certainly, but it’s a potential that is never realised, and this only makes the storyline more affecting. For all his scintillating intelligence, Davros can be relatively idealist at times, driven merely by the utopias he envisages and the ideas that come to the fore; in a similar manner, his head seems so full of his scientific projects that the net result is he’s a fairly sexless creature, not somebody you can imagine being easily distracted by female Kaleds (“we need women who can give birth to good strong Kaled babies” is again a direct evocation of Aryanism under the Nazis). In her scenes with Davros, Shan tends to represent modern science as we would recognise it; a champion of blind evolution and denier of an overall “genetic destiny” which Davros - more idealistically - believes in. “We were there at the genesis of a species, Shan. How many people can say that?” he asks his colleague, and we can hear the first rumblings of that terrible beginning coming towards us. Terry Molloy is absolutely superb; when his human voice rises in anger you can already detect the familiar cadences of the distorted, raving voice he will later have; and the first time that voice appears at the story’s end is a shiver-down-the-spine moment.
The actual climactic explosion that cripples Davros doesn’t land until about eight minutes from the story’s end, leaving most of its terrible fallout to the fourth instalment, Guilt, but as a moment in and of itself it is a defining one: one’s life flashing before one’s eyes is a cliché, perhaps, but it’s well-deployed here as Davros hears the ghostly voices of Shan and Calcula in his moment of madness and desperation. I mentioned earlier that this works best if you know Davros already; this is at its most true in the scene where the Kaleds give the post-accident Davros a projectile poison injector with which to kill himself, and while we remain with the Supremo and the others, Davros is reciting that electrifying “If I press this switch, I will die” speech that opens the other audio drama. It’s a cracking instant of seeing the same moment twice from two thoroughly different perspectives, and enhanced now by knowing that Davros’ inability to extinguish his own will to survive comes here not long after the scene with Reston in Purity in which he could not understand his friend’s desire to die. The monstrosity least like the Kaled ideal of perfection becomes, in grim irony, its emblem-bearer, just as the short, brown-haired Adolf Hitler championed the tall, fair-haired Aryan master race.
Gary Russell’s strengths as a director are on very fine form, with a very taut, solid sense of pacing and terrific postproduction work meaning that the Thal-Kaled War is brought vividly to life (and the first moment you hear the familiar Dalek blast ray sound effect will give you goosebumps). He coaxes some terrific performances out of his actors, too; we already know how great Molloy and Jones are, but Katherina Olsson is also very good as Shan and John Stahl’s dulcet tones are perfect for the Supremo. Only Lucy Beresford as the Somerset-sounding Renna doesn’t really work, though fortunately it’s a tiny part, and while Daniel Hogarth isn’t anything special as the Military Youth Section Leader, Fenn, his role does enhance some of the more explicit Hitler Youth parallels (“it’s compulsory… the ones that don’t sign up are beaten by those that do”) and the twist of his betrayal enlivens proceedings somewhat.
This is a terrific instalment for Carolyn Jones’ Calcula, as the Machiavellian politician reaches the zenith of her power with a “cult of obedience” in the form of the Military Youth, practically her own private army that worships her and is happy to get rid of Councillors who are in Calcula’s way. Davros’ resistance to this kind of behaviour - behaviour we will later see him put engaging in himself, with Nyder in the Kaled bunker in Genesis - displays how at this early stage he still isn’t quite yet the Davros we know; there is still this undercurrent of idealism, of an open and inquiring mind. Jones also displays a strong line in black humour here (the bit where she suggests broadcasting massacres into schools as children’s television being a particular highlight, while “people complain at the slightest provocation these days” feels like a sly dig at Mary Whitehouse). Her scenes with Fenn as the two of them mutate in Davros’ radiation-bathed laboratory are properly vivid, and Molloy’s playing of Davros’ response at seeing the mutated life form that was his mother (“look at her … it’s like a butterfly emerged from its chrysalis”) even more so, especially for the parallel it makes with the Doctor shortly after his first regeneration, however unintentional that may be.
In Parkin’s more-than-capable hands, Corruption is a bleakly told tragedy full of both implicit and explicit horror. Sharply political, as full of intrigue as I, Claudius or Imperium, and yet suffused with a terrible sense of a visionary looking into the abyss and taking the great step he believed no one else would dare to take, this is an excellent audio drama that takes one world to the brink of apocalypse and shows us the dark glimmering of another on the horizon, one that’s even worse.
“I once said I would never understand how to play at politics. I discovered this was a lie, and without realising it I discovered that by playing one side off against the other, true power could be mine.”
The Thal assassin’s fate - crushed against a concrete floor as the magnetic core of Skaro pulls her to it - is properly grisly.
“It’s rubbish. People just made up some monsters to scare everyone.”/“And that’s our job.”
“The future is what matters. What Skaro and the Kaleds will become should concern us. Where we’re going, not where we come from.”
“She has a good mind.”/“That’s the highest praise a young woman could expect from you, I imagine.”
“What frustrates me is she talks about the future, but to a politician that just means next week!”
“We are the legacy of eons of struggle. The war with the Thals is the tick of a clock by comparison.”
“Life endures.”/“By becoming monstrous?”/“By doing whatever it must.”
“Matross shouldn’t have got in the way! … of the tank, I mean.”
“The ground forces are mopping them up.”/“Killing them. No need for euphemisms, Calcula.”
“I don’t want to die!”/“That’s one ambition that’s never going to be fulfilled.”
“They say all sorts of things. They also say people who fall from great heights are dead before they hit the ground.”
“You will never grow old. You died before your heart filled with poison. You never became a monster.”
“How small you appear to me now. When I emerged from that room, you all cringed and cowered. I felt true hatred from you all. You are not my people. You are alien to me - as alien as a Thal. I am now so much more than I had been. In a way, Shan was right. I feel the calmness that she might have called ‘peace’… Look at me! How can I have a rehabilitation period? There is no rehabilitation, no chance of even a slight improvement in my condition. I live because of machines, almost every type of life support the Kaled race has ever devised. The machines are regulating almost every chemical in my body. My communication with the outside world is now by way of camera and microphone. All I can do now is improve a little on the original designs. Understand this: I have been given clarity. I see the world as it truly is, not filtered through the limits of flesh. I know that I will live only as long as my life-support chariot continues to function. For the first time in my life, I understand what it is to live without fear. I know now that for the sake of my people I must always feel like this. Never knowing any limits! I know it is time for me to fulfil my destiny!”
Next: I, Davros 1.4: Guilt by Scott Alan Woodard.