Davros was the 48th entry in Big Finish’s “Main Range” or “Monthly Range” of Doctor Who audios (released back in 2003), and continued a run of four stories which starred the four Doctors that Big Finish had access to at the time, and were each named after one of the franchise’s major villains: Omega, Davros, Master and (original to audio) Zagreus. The releases were part of the celebrations for the show’s 40th anniversary. This time around Colin Baker stars as the Sixth Doctor, traveling without a companion, and Terry Molloy co-stars as Davros, reprising the role that he played on TV three times in the eras of the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors.
(Daily Doctor Who #283)
Like Omega beforehand, Davros is a story specially designed to explore the background of a popular Doctor Who villain. The Doctor is again without a companion, which gives more room for his conflict with the titular villain to take center stage. And once again, that conflict is not just a battle for victory, but an exploration of them as characters–what makes them similar and what makes them different. The story attempts to draw this out by literally putting them against each other in a work competition–almost like they are contestants in a game show.
Unfortunately for the Doctor, in this case the judge is ruthless businessman Arnold Baynes, who believes that Davros is the only one capable of breaking humanity out of its technological rut. Along with his wife, an historian with a fixation on Davros, he sees the notorious genius as a way of opening up new financial markets to conquer. The Baynes’ are not nice people–the story opens with them killing someone–but they are of course not prepared for how twistedly devious Davros is. Indeed, nobody is (other than the Doctor of course). The Daleks aren’t actually in this story but Davros thrives in the same they always seem to: by finding people so blinded by ambition, greed or desperation that they can convince themselves that partnering with the devil is worth it.
The story also dives a bit into Davros background via a series of flashbacks, in a subplot that is chilling while also nicely subverting our expectations.. We learn there about a female scientist that he was connected to prior to his debilitating accident. This iteration of Davros seems like he was still a decent sort of person, and we fully expect to get an Anakin Skywalker-type story where the woman’s death or betrayal turned him into the ruthless monster we now him to become. Instead, we learn that Davros became insanely jealous and threatened by the woman’s brilliance and intellect, and that she eventually fell victim to his eventual bid for control of his world for that reason only.
I’m normally a little wary of stories that are really about the villains–I just don’t find them as interesting as heroes–especially when those villains are the type who against all odds keep surviving. But even though Davros is that sort of story and Davros is that sort of villain, I have to say that the audio was quite good. Colin Baker gives his usual strong performance, and Terry Molloy (playing the role in audio for the first time) is excellent. The Baynes couple are played by Doctor Who luminaries Bernard Horsfall (Chancellor Goth from The Deadly Assassin and more) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe Herriot!). And the story by Lance Parkin, while full of that sense of inevitable dread that I usually find tiresome, was well written with good insight into its characters.
With Omega also being good, that means this little tetralogy is 2 for 2 so far. Master is next. I’m not looking forward to it–for the same reasons I was doubtful about Davros. But maybe it can surprise me again. We’ll see!