Davros Should Have Stayed Dead In 1975S

The BBC recently put out a DVD box-set of its time-travel show Doctor Who, focusing on the mad genius Davros, who created the mad-killing-machine Daleks. That means that every single Davros story is now out on DVD, including the painful "Destiny of the Daleks." And eep, there are a lot of them. Really, Davros only had one good story, and then he turned into the Daleks' excess baggage. Davros-bashing, with absolutely no spoilers, ahead.

So Davros first appeared in the story "Genesis Of The Daleks," back in 1975. By this point, the Daleks were really really tired - they'd pretty much exhausted their potential in the 1960s. They'd been brought back in 1972 purely as a ratings grab, replacing some generic aliens in "Day Of The Daleks" at the last moment. (I'm guessing that story originally had a different title.) And then Terry Nation kept writing the same Dalek script over and over again, so finally the Who production team asked him to do something different: create an origin story for the Daleks. The result, "Genesis Of The Daleks," remains the best Dalek story of all time, because it uses the Daleks sparingly and takes their Nazi subtext and makes it blatant. (Nyder, Davros' right-hand man, actually wears a Nazi cross in a couple of episodes, before the BBC freaks out and removes it.)

Davros is a compelling character in "Genesis Of The Daleks." He honestly believes his race is doomed, due to thousands of years of war with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Kaleds will inevitably mutate into unrecognizeable blobs, so their only hope is to embrace their transformation by building mini-tanks to roll around in. It's all about survival. And Davros' thinking has been shaped by a genocidal race war with the Thals, so it's not surprising he wants to engineer the Daleks genetically to be ruthless and obsessed with racial purity.

Davros Should Have Stayed Dead In 1975S

Davros' speeches are memorable and quotable in a way that Terry Nation's writing generally isn't. They have the cadences of some of Robert Holmes' great villain rants (Holmes was editing the scripts during this era) - you can hear other Holmes villains, like Morbius or Sharaz Jek in Davros - but they also have a weird lilt of their own. I heard a rumor, years ago, that actors Tom Baker and Michael Wisher sat during lunch breaks and rewrote Davros' dialog into iambic pentameter. (Probably not true, but it's a nice story.) It's certainly true that you can rewrite some of Davros' speeches into Shakesperean blank verse:

To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power,
To know that life and death on such a scale was
My choice. To know a tiny pressure on
My thumb, enough to break the glass, would end
Everything. Yes! I would do it! That power
Would set me up among the gods! And through
The Daleks, I shall have that power!

(No, it's not perfect. But Shakespeare's iambic pentameter often has the occasional troche tossed in as well.)

Davros is cunning and manipulative, using the Thals to destroy his enemies among his own people, and then wiping out the Thals afterwards. He becomes more and more maniacal, until that great scene, quoted above, where he admits all he really wants is to achieve immortality by wiping out everyone else.

Actually, "Genesis Of The Daleks" introduces two great elements. Davros is one, and the other is the idea that the there's a possible future where the Daleks have succeeded in wiping out all other life in the universe. The Time Lords are actually scared of the Daleks, so much so that they're willing to drag the Doctor into rewriting history on an almost unimaginable scale. Davros pretty much exhausted his potential in his one outing, but the idea of trying to avert a dystopian Dalek future has almost limitless potential - so guess which one Doctor Who returns to in the next outing, "Destiny Of The Daleks"?

Davros Should Have Stayed Dead In 1975S

There's so much wrong with "Destiny Of The Daleks" that we could be here all day enumerating its faults. It's so blah, even the incidental music gets bored and quits halfway through. The Daleks wobble and have to resort to becoming suicide bombers. And Davros is a shell of his former self. It's partly the actor - David Gooderson just can't match Michael Wisher's purring mania - but also the writing. He's degenerated into generic mad-baddie #52.

Plus, none of it makes any sense. "Genesis Of The Daleks" presumably takes place in the distant past, centuries if not millennia before the Daleks invade Earth in 2165. And "Destiny Of The Daleks" takes place in the future, when humans are scattered across the universe. So Davros not only survived getting exterminated in "Genesis," he managed to activate a life-support system that operated for, what, 10,000 years? (I know, I know. This is the same program that had clones appearing fully clothed.) The point is, Davros had a perfectly great death scene in "Genesis."

Davros Should Have Stayed Dead In 1975S

And the reason for bringing back Davros is horrendous: disco robots have managed to battle the Daleks to a standstill. Instead of exploring the idea that a future timeline involves the Daleks dominating the universe, suddenly they're so weak they can't defeat an army of android Bo Dereks. It's all because the Daleks are too logical, and so they can't outthink the disco-droids' computers. (The thing I always liked about the Daleks before this was that they weren't logical. They were full of rage and hatred, and enjoyed killing inferior life forms for its own sake.) So the Daleks need Davros to help them think outside of the pepper-pot. It's insulting to the Daleks, and a waste of Davros.

A side note: I can see why people felt the need to keep bringing Davros back: it's hard to write for the Daleks as villains. In the early Dalek stories, there are long scenes of the Daleks talking amongst themselves, and it gets a bit tiresome. Like in "The Daleks," where they say things like, "We-will-lure-the-pri-so-ners-into-a-false-sense-of-security." The Daleks are better when they have someone to bounce off, or a leader. It's the same reason Star Trek's Borg got first Locutus, then Lore, then (yawn) the Borg Queen. But it's a lazy way of dealing with the Daleks. The new series managed to make them compelling on their own, in stories like Rob Shearman's "Dalek" and Russell T. Davies' "Doomsday." It's not impossible.

Davros Should Have Stayed Dead In 1975S

And then all of the Dalek stories of the 1980s have Davros, just as a matter of course. At some point, he's literally 20,000 years old, and still rattling around making repetitive speeches. It turns out the Disco-bots have created a virus that kills Daleks, and they need Davros to deal with it. (Even though we never see the Disco-mats again, and the virus goes away on its own eventually.) Davros' only good bits, apart from "Genesis," are in "Revelation of the Daleks," which is really just a generic story about a mad scientist who turns corpses and cryo-suspended humans into a food source. Davros and the Daleks are shoehorned in, presumably because a story about Daleks is more exciting than a story about mad scientists and cannibalism. (That is, there's no reason for the Great Healer to be Davros, in the context of the story.)

Davros Should Have Stayed Dead In 1975

And then "Remembrance of the Daleks" actually does fine without Davros. The Daleks are given other human mouthpieces, including the creepy little girl - who we're supposed to think is Davros at first, when she's wearing her headpiece. And the Nazi sympathizer guy. And Marcus Scarman. "Remembrance" is proof that you can still do a great Dalek story without Davros - until he turns up and starts chewing scenery in the last 10 minutes. I feel like shouting "Who invited you?" at the screen, like in that Vernon Reid album. Sylvester McCoy and Terry Molloy have a scenery-chewing contest and call it a draw, then everything blows up. The little blonde girl is a million times more chilling and menacing than Davros and his increasingly floppy rubber mask at this point.

Really, at this point, Davros represents the failure of the Daleks. Whenever you see Davros on screen in any episode other than "Genesis," you can just know that he's there because the producers don't think the Daleks can carry a story on their own. He exhausted all his story possibilities the first time around, and now he's just the Daleks' ball and chain.

Good thing the new Doctor Who show proved so conclusively that we don't need Davros to make the Daleks interesting, eh?