Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.
Jackie Tyler has a conscience—certainly she does—and really, everyone should do something charitable. You know, give something back. Nevertheless, she’s having second thoughts about Meals on Wheels.
Some of the pensioners to whom she delivers are alright, pleasant even. Not Mr Ross. Jackie wouldn’t mind a good home-cooked meal herself every now and then, especially now that Rose is off traveling somewhere; but this old devil isn’t one for gratitude, and he seems to live to make life miserable. Still, she puts on her best face, and bangs on the door, and finally Mr Ross lets her in—timing the door so as to make her stumble, of course. She steps around his wheelchair, making pleasant banter for the old git (though he’ll never appreciate it, no), and sets things up before offering to do the dishes for him. See? Charitable!
He’s having none of it, sitting in his wheelchair. He tells her—to her annoyance—that he’s been plotting the destruction of humanity. And when his creations find him… in the meantime, he dreamed last night of the Nightmare Child, hanging in space, waiting to destroy him in its malevolent jaws. Old man Dave Ross may be crazy, but he has seen the future, he insists.
Jackie thinks he’s taken too many of his pills before bed.
He flies into a rage, shouting about the punishments he holds in store for all of humanity. They will beg for mercy! And the worst punishment, he reserves for this blight upon his existence, this Jackie Tyler. She will die in agony, ruing the day she heard his name! Jackie isn’t too concerned, as she sets out his meal; and as the mince and dumplings catch his interest, Dave Ross—Davros—loses his train of thought anyway.
Readers may assign their preferred level of canonicity to this story; it can work any way you like. Is it really believable that Davros, the Kaled creator of the Daleks, with his mutated grey skin and electronic eye, could fetch up on earth in a pensioner’s apartment? Eh, probably not. Still, this is Doctor Who, and I challenge you to find evidence that stranger things never happened in this universe.
This story is implied to take place during one of the many “flickerings” we saw in the previous story, The Nightmare Child, in which Davros flickers in and out of his spineglass cell. The Doctor notes in that story that he seems to age decades during at least one brief absence. We don’t know where he goes in every disappearance, but in at least one, he seems to land on Earth (and post-Time War Earth, at that! We know it’s post-Time War, because of Jackie’s reference to Rose being away for the longest period yet, indicating Rose is off traveling with the Ninth (or maybe Tenth) Doctor). Interestingly, the Doctor himself doesn’t even get a mention in this story.
The true value of this story is its humorous take on the situation. In that sense, it’s very much in keeping with Series One of the revived series, which is why I (for my part, anyway) am willing to consider it a legitimate story and not a parody. Jackie Tyler is her usual oblivious, funny self; and what an odd addition to this anthology she is! I’ve noticed that Jackie has been appearing lately in larger roles, mostly in Big Finish’s audio dramas, but in other media as well; that’s odd, given how much of a bit player she was in her television appearances. Still, I’m not complaining; I think she’s great. She’s certainly annoying, but that’s part of her character and charm—as far as the writers are concerned, Jackie is annoying completely on purpose. The juxtaposition of airheaded, worldly Jackie Tyler with Davros, the blackhearted creator and would-be emperor of the Daleks, is just too rich to resist. I never would have thought of such a thing, but I’m so glad someone did.
This story does, perhaps inadvertently, make a point that is often overlooked: Davros is a very old man. Completely aside from any stories that may extend his lifespan, he wasn’t young when he created the Daleks, and he’s aged in the years since. Series Nine’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar went out of its way to humanize Davros a bit, without giving up his essential villainy, and it did so by dwelling on his age. We get hints of that here, though in less serious fashion. Even your villains can get old and tired, and sometimes may just want a hot meal and a nap, as the final lines of this story tell us:
She popped the tray down, with a knife and a fork, a glass of tap water and a paper napkin. A Christmas one, but she was sure he wouldn’t mind. “There you are, love.”
“Oh,” he said, in a softer voice, interested suddenly as he came wheeling forward. “Dumplings.”
This, of course, coming directly off a rant in which he promises horrible, agonizing death to Jackie. Well, no one said he stopped being a villain!
Meals on Wheels was written by Paul Magrs, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: We have our one and only graphic entry in the anthology, Time Enough for War, written by Jim Mortimore and illustrated by Simon A Brett. See you there!