We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Main Range entry #48: Davros, written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell. The second in a loose tetralogy of stories leading up to (and including) the fiftieth Main Range entry, this story features Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, squaring off against an old enemy: Davros, creator of the Daleks! Notably, this is Davros actor Terry Molloy’s first appearance in a Big Finish audio drama, and his first appearance as Davros in any medium since 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. With that said, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler free review, scroll down to the next picture.
I am attempting to make these plot summaries less lengthy, less detailed, and—perhaps most importantly—less spoiler-filled (though spoilers will always be available here, so be warned!). Please bear with me as I work toward that end. Detailed summaries are usually available at the Doctor Who Reference Guide and the TARDIS Wiki (see the sidebar for links).
Part One: In a flashback, the Kaled scientist Davros survives a bombardment by the Thals, but sustains horrible injuries. His people expect him to die honorably at his own hand, and they give him a poison injector. Davros, instead, chooses to live, that a stronger race may replace the Kaleds.
Arnold Baynes, the CEO of the corporation TAI, and his wife Lorraine (a dedicated scholar of the Daleks and Davros) steal the body of Davros from a freighter. They transport him to their home planet and facilities, planning to revive him. As they do so, they get more than they bargained for, when the Doctor arrives. Over the Doctor’s protests, they revive Davros—and offer him a job in research and development. Seizing an opportunity, they force the Doctor to join them as well—and to work with his old enemy. The Doctor agrees, planning to keep an eye on Davros. Soon the two old enemies are playing the Baynes and their associates against each other, each trying to expose the other as a villain and interfere with each other’s plans.
Along the way the Doctor meets an investigative reporter named Willis, and the two assist each other with their own goals. Meanwhile Davros continues to have flashbacks to his early life, before the Daleks, and examines his own mind and upbringing. As things progress, Davros does at first seem to have turned over a new leaf; he produces technologies which will help address famine in the galaxy, and a formula that will give mastery over the stock market. Meanwhile the Doctor produces a new neural matrix. One of the Baynes’ employees, Kim Todd, leads the Doctor and Willis to a hidden production area that manufactures mining robots, and the Doctor discovers that the new matrix has been implanted into them, which makes them very dangerous indeed. Suddenly one of the robots activates, and attacks…
Part Two: As Arnold speaks with Davros, he gets an alert about the robots. Davros takes the opportunity to insinuate that the Doctor may be responsible—and maliciously so. Baynes and his guards destroy the robot, but Baynes accuses the Doctor of provoking it, and has him locked in his room. Meanwhile, Davros begins to corrupt Lorraine, telling her about what he can do with the stock market formula, and the power it could give him; but he slips and refers to her as Shan, which is the name of a female Kaled scientist of whom he was once fond. Nevertheless, Lorraine keeps the formula secret from Arnold. Instead, she discusses the Doctor and Willis with Arnold; he wants to deport them, but she wants to have them killed, so as to prevent them from linking the Baynes to the attack on the freighter. Davros intervenes and asks to have the Doctor kept close at hand, but under surveillance, to which Arnold agrees.
Davros then contacts Willis and reports that Baynes possesses an atomic bomb, which is highly illegal. He gives Willis the bomb as proof, and also tells him about the stock formula. However he warns Willis that, should Willis share the formula with everyone, stock would become meaningless, and the economy would collapse into anarchy. This is what Davros wants, however, as he could then implement a new, war-based economy and power structure. Willis is appalled, and asks the Doctor to meet him in the mines beneath the company dome. However, Arnold hears this and tags along.
Davros collects Kim, needing her to transmit the formula and other messages on the galactic data net (as he lacks the authorization to do so). Lorraine arrives, and Davros tells her about Shan, the woman who first proposed the idea of the Daleks to him—even the word itself. However, he also explains that it was he who put the idea into practice, and he denies that he loved Shan, or anyone. He then explains how he had her framed and killed for treason, and refused to even credit her for the scientific matters. Now, Lorraine will witness as he destroys his enemies again. And with that, he activates the detonation sequence on the bomb—which, of course, he himself built. Beneath the dome, the Doctor is able save himself, Willis, and Arnold, but only by dropping the bomb down a fifteen-mile-deep mine shaft before it detonates. The mines are still heavily damaged and polluted—but the dome above is intact. Water begins to flood into the mines, clearing enough of the irradiated environment to prevent them from dying at once—but Arnold and Willis are separated from the Doctor. In that opportunity, Arnold kills Willis to prevent him from ever revealing what he knows. He manages to make it look like an accident, fooling the Doctor as well. Meanwhile, Davros strongarms Lorraine into making him the new CEO, on the assumption that Arnold is dead. He orders Kim to transmit the formula; she refuses, and he punishes her, and threatens her with death if she disobeys again. He also tells Lorraine to begin liquidating TAI’s assets to fund a mercenary army…while money still means anything at all.
The Doctor and Arnold escape the mines, but the dome is sealed. However, the Doctor has an unexpected ace—his TARDIS is nearby. He uses it to transport them into the sector where Davros waits. Lorraine quickly tells them what Davros is doing. The Doctor pauses to summon the mining robots to help them, but Arnold runs to confront Davros. He takes the chance to try to enlist Davros in a scheme to save the company and grow rich—but if Davros won’t, well, he can still escape in Arnold’s personal ship, which is close by. Davros fires electricity at Arnold to torture him into revealing the access code; Arnold dies, and Davros prepares to flee. The Doctor holds Davros at gunpoint, but Davros knows the Doctor won’t shoot him; he takes Kim hostage using the Kaled poison injector, and demands the formula disc. The Doctor instead shoots the communications console. Davros flees with Kim into the ship, making one last unsuccessful attempt to kill the Doctor as he does so. He is enraged, knowing it’s the Doctor who has power over life and death here, not him. The ship launches. Lorraine reveals that as long as it is in the atmosphere, they can override its controls; but Davros realizes it as well, and tries to activate the hyperdrive and escape, knowing the Doctor won’t cause a crash with Kim aboard. Kim realizes it as well, and grabs the injector and kills herself with it. The Doctor then steers the ship back toward the planet, and—not without regret—activates the hyperdrive, crashing the ship.
Still, he fears that Davros is not truly dead. TAI is not dead, either; and with no evidence that Davros was ever here, it will rebuild. This leaves the Doctor angry, and he downloads the records of the ship’s last flight—the one in which Davros was pulled from the freighter. He intends to use it to see Lorraine held responsible—even though he blames himself for all the deaths.
Unlike the previous entry, Omega, there’s no big twist here. That’s largely due to the fact that this story serves as a bridge between two well-known Davros stories: Season 21’s Resurrection of the Daleks and Season 22’s Revelation of the Daleks. You can only do so much with the plot when you already know where you have to land, as a general rule. I should point out that the story isn’t entirely successful as a bridge; it ties nicely into Revelation, but not so much into Resurrection. I’d go so far as to suggest that there really should be another Davros story between Resurrection and Davros, explaining how he gets from the prison station (or its pod) and his encounter with the Movellan virus, to the freighter where he begins this story in apparent good health. (Well, good for Davros, that is.) Maybe one day we’ll get that story.
What we have, instead of a twist, is another great character study for Davros. All of his stories tend to turn into character studies, really; he’s such a fascinating character that, despite the fact that he’s actually a very one-note individual, we never feel like we get to the bottom of his characterization. Even if the things he says about power are appalling, I could listen to him rant about them all day, simply because he believes them so strongly. The man is evil, no question about it—but he believes in what he says. I don’t even suggest that he believes he’s right; every average villain believes that about himself. Davros doesn’t care if he’s right; he has, quite simply, made his choice, and he stands (er, sits) by it. I have yet to find a Davros story I didn’t like, simply because that’s such a rare and unflinching trait for a villain (or even a hero!). And of course the Doctor, when it comes down to it, is not that different; while he does believe in doing what’s right, he has less justification for the rightness of his actions than he has conviction that he is right. Davros, perhaps—no, definitely–sees the similarity more than the Doctor does…and so their conflict goes on.
Fifteen years may have passed since Terry Molloy played Davros, but he hasn’t lost it at all. He’s as convincing here as ever, despite being in what is, admittedly, a very contrived situation (the Baynes’ hero worship of him, their desire to give him a job, etc.). Or maybe it’s not so contrived—after all, America is currently seeing a resurgence of the Neo-Nazi movement, which isn’t so different. At any rate, Molloy’s performance is spectacular. Supporting actors aren’t bad, but they don’t stand out, either; however, this audio does set the foundation for 2006’s I, Davros series, in which Molloy, Katarina Olsson, and David Bickerstaff would reprise the roles of Davros, Shan, and Ral. That series would take the flashbacks present here and expand on them, delving into Davros’s early life up to a period about six months prior to Genesis of the Daleks. I should also mention that a few other veteran DW actors appear here: Bernard Horsfall (most notably, Chancellor Goth) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot) play the roles of Arnold and Lorraine Baynes here. Lorraine Baynes, in particular, is likely a nod to the character of the same name (spelled “Baines”) from Back to the Future.
Researching this story, I found unofficial statements to the effect that this is chronologically the earliest audio appearance for the Sixth Doctor (in-universe, that is), but I could find no actual justification for that placement. His companion at this point is Peri, but she is absent here; he mentions in passing that she is attending a biology symposium on the other side of the galaxy. I also saw a suggestion that the story occurs between The Two Doctors and Timelash. If anyone has any further information regarding any part of this placement, I’d love to hear it! As for the in-universe date, there isn’t one, as is common with most stories involving Davros, Skaro, or even Gallifrey. (Davros may occasionally time travel, as do the Daleks, but when dealing with his natural lifetime, the writers have always been reluctant to pin it down. Some events just never really get a solid placement, I suppose.) However, humanity doesn’t appear to have spread outside its home galaxy yet, so we’re not dealing with the far future.
Continuity References: There are numerous items that will be picked up on in I, Davros, so I won’t list them separately. Davros mentions the Fifth Doctor threatening him in Resurrection of the Daleks, and he describes his own imprisonment as discussed in that story. Arnold Baynes mentions that Davros was ostensibly killed by the Daleks shortly after their creation (Genesis of the Daleks). The reporter Willis mentions having reported on events on the planet Stella Stora in which the Doctor was involved (referenced in Terror of the Vervoids). Davros claims to have no eyes, ears (or at least the receptors in his ears), or taste buds, all due to the Thal bombardment that nearly killed him, but this is ultimately contradicted by The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, in which Davros uses his natural eyes. Also, not so much a reference as a lack of one, but I was disappointed to find that there were no references to the upcoming Zagreus here, as we had in the preceding story. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
Overall: No complaints here. As I said, I have yet to meet a Davros story I don’t like. I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to this one.
Next time: The Seventh Doctor faces another old enemy in Master! See you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.