We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Toda we’re concluding our look at the origins of the Daleks’ creator, Davros, with I, Davros: Guilt. 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.
The Daleks tell the older Davros that he should have been exterminated as a weakling after his accident, no longer fit to live. He insists that even though his fellow Kaleds believed the same, they were wrong about him, and he set out to prove his worth and his strength—and make their judgment their downfall.
The younger Davros, now working from his life support chair, is overseeing a cerebral augmentation surgery conducted by his assistant, Ral. Once Davros used to perform such surgeries himself, but his hands are no longer capable, and so he walks Ral through the process despite the young man’s fear. It is a success, and Davros agrees to meet with Ral later to review their work. Meanwhile, a Thal saboteur in combat gear and a gas mask approaches from the wastes, and stops outside the Kaled city, which is now covered by a set of domes against the ruined environment. He communicates with a Colonel Murash, who says that Doctor Hurdal is concerned about the radiation level, which is unstable but high. However, the saboteur has taken anti-radiation tablets. He attaches explosives to the atmosphere generators on the dome, and Murash gives him the codes to operate them…and then apologizes for the man’s sacrifice. Before he can escape, the explosives detonate early.
In the Kaled Tech-Ops center, an officer Ludella tells the Supremo about the explosion in the science dome, near the medical centre. Mutos are flocking to the site, as well. The Supremo tells her to send a rescue team with a military squad—and to eliminate any Thals they find. Meanwhile, in the med center, a Muto named Baran leads the invasion, and his people search for useful supplies. They find Davros trapped in the rubble, and banter with him briefly about his genetic purity versus theirs. Baran tells him that the Thals, not the Mutos, are responsible for the explosion; but then they are cut short and driven away by a Thal squadron led by Murash. One of her team members confirms Davros’s identity—and Davros is stunned to see that the team member is Ral. As they take Davros away into a waiting vehicle—leaving his life-support chair behind—Ral explains that he betrayed Davros because he is disgusted by Davros’s moral stance. The group departs with their prisoner just ahead of the Kaled team. Later, Ludella receives confirmation from the team that there were no survivors; but Davros’s body is among those unaccounted, though his chair was found. Still, Thals were seen escaping, so it is likely that Davros—their greatest scientist—was kidnapped rather than killed.
The Thals in their city make an announcement about their victory as Davros is placed in a cell. Murash and Ral visit him, and explain that they have tried for years, at great effort, to acquire him. Murash demands Davros’s knowledge of all new and developing Kaled weapons; Davros doesn’t comply, but hints that all his contributions are biological in nature, and mostly constructive rather than destructive, as he works toward restoring their people and their world. Ral confirms that this is at least partly true, but Murash isn’t content; she wants the science behind the work, not just the results. Davros insists that without his chair, he will die before he can tell them what they want, and Ral concurs, though he thinks they can sustain Davros’s blood flow. Davros insists again that he only wants to see the end of the war, and no longer works on weaponry. Murash goes to report in, but Davros demands an explanation of Ral’s betrayal.
Meanwhile, the Muto, Baran, has fled into the Kaled dome rather than out. He is secretly a Thal Sergeant, working undercover; as he travels through a warehouse, Murash communicates with him and tells him to find out what he can about the latest Kaled weapons. He will hear the latest regarding Davros in tomorrow’s news. Unknown to him, Ludella intercepts his signal and is able to boost it, and sees Murash’s image. She learns that the Thals have Davros, and patches the message through to the Supremo. Murash seems to become aware of it, and puts the message on an eighteen-hour loop; she presents three demands to the Kaleds in exchange for Davros’s return. She demands the cessation of weapon development; the release to the Thals of all weapons data; and the release of all Thal political prisoners. Otherwise, Davros will be killed. The Supremo tells Ludella to signal a red alert and get the Security Commander for him; in the meantime he gets a call from High Councilor Terrant.
Davros argues with Ral, and calls him lucky; the Thals are known to betray their operatives. He insists that if he dies, Skaro’s future will die with him.
The Supremo prepares a team to retrieve Davros, under the command of one Lieutenant Nyder. He recognizes the man as having led an assassination mission just a month earlier, but Nyder says that he cannot discuss it even with the Supremo. Meanwhile, in the ruined medical centre, a Kaled Corporal named Kaston is killed by Baran, who takes his uniform.
Nyder’s team makes their way to the Thal dome, and uses an explosion to force their way in. They fight their way to the cells, using Thal weapons from the fallen defenders to resupply themselves as they go. Davros is nowhere to be found, however. They find Murash guarding a door; listening in, the Supremo identifies Murash’s voice, and demands she be taken alive, but Nyder pretends not to hear the order, and reports that all the Thals in the area are dead. Passing through the door, they find Ral holding a gun to Davros’s head. The standoff ends with the sound of a gunshot—and Nyder reports success. The Supremo, though perhaps not entirely thrilled at Davros’s survival, sends a medical team to meet the strike team near the Kaled dome.
Davros wakes up, delirious, and sees visions of his mother and Yarvell, alternately mocking and scolding him, and offering him tea. He comes to his senses, and realizes it is the Supremo’s voice he actually hears. He ponders the fact that the Supremo brings up memories of Calcula, and asks why he thinks that might be. At any rate, he is temporarily stranded in the hospital, as the technicians are repairing his life-support chair; the Supremo tells him that he is restrained for his safety, so that he doesn’t accidentally damage his connections to the hospital’s life-support systems. The Supremo also, grudgingly, admits that there was concern about Davros’s mental state after his experiences. Davros takes the moment to enjoy the linens on the bed, and then asks to speak to Lieutenant Nyder. The Supremo sends Nyder in, and then leaves. Davros thinks Nyder feels repulsion toward him, but Nyder denies it, and claims to be an admirer of Davros and his work. Davros thanks Nyder for saving him, and Nyder explains that he killed Ral with a headshot. Davros considers recruiting Nyder for a team. When Nyder leaves, he bumps into Baran. He pulls the alleged soldier and assigns him to guard Davros’s door, unwittingly making the spy’s job easier.
Davros has recovered enough to visit the Council of Twelve and the Supremo, who congratulate him on his recovery. He presents to them his accumulated research into changes the Kaleds have undergone due to the war. He claims to have evidence that they will eventually evolve into something else entirely, but only if they manage not to wipe themselves out in the meantime—and meanwhile, their birth rate has become catastrophically low and unreliable. The Council scoffs, but he is serious. Meanwhile, Baran breaks into Davros’s office in search of information; among other things, he learns that Davros has been experimenting on the body of his own mother, Calcula!
Davros makes a radical request of the Council. He believes he can save their race; but to do so, he requires mandated access to all the children of the Kaleds. He wants them to be seized and housed in the science dome and declared state property, so that he has access to them for research purposes. The Supremo rejects the proposition, refusing to allow it to come to a vote. Davros begs them to reconsider, and the Supremo allows that the Council should think it over.
Davros vents his frustrations with the Supremo to Nyder. Nyder claims he would have approved the request, and Davros muses that one day Nyder may have that much power; but this is not that day. Elsewhere, Ludella reports to the Supremo that Kaston has been found dead and stripped of his uniform. Patrols are doubled in the area, but the Supremo seems too distracted to take further action.
Davros gives Nyder a long-banned copy of an old Dal Book of Predictions. It analyzes the evolutionary track of Skaro’s races, finding evolution necessary for overcoming war and other evils. On the last page, it proclaims that “on that day, men will become as gods.” In the Dal tongue, the word for “gods” reads as “Dal-ek”. Davros believes he is facilitating that transformation. Nyder reports that there may be a Thal spy in the dome; he predicts the man will be found, and offers him to Davros for experimentation. Davros wants to speak with him before he decides.
Davros meets again with the Council the next day, and hears the Supremo again reject his request. When Davros speaks, he breaks tradition by refusing to thank the Supremo. He accuses the Council of placing superstition before science, and castigates them for their ignorance. He then shows them a button, and claims that they have all been implanted with micro-explosives via their anti-radiation tablets; the button will detonate them all at once. The Supremo calls for Nyder to deal with Davros, but Nyder sides with Davros, and orders the guards out. Davros declares the Council and the Supremo relieved of duty, and presses the button, killing them all.
Nyder takes the news to Ludella, claiming that a fault in the heat exchanger in the Council chamber flooded the room with teroxin, killing them all. As Davros is the highest-ranking civilian on hand, he will take emergency control, and has placed Nyder in office as security commander.
Davros makes an announcement of the emergency measures, and promises a smooth transition to a new governing body. In the meantime, he announces an emergency—but mandatory—child protection programme, requiring all children under five to be brought to Paediatric Facility K-99. Davros then heads to that facility, using his mother’s old password—“CALCULA”—to gain admission. Inside are several of his experiments already living with various mutations and alterations; he moves among them, congratulating them and feeding them.
Later, Davros and Nyder are engaged in converting the Council Chamber into a new laboratory, when Ludella breaks in. She demands the return of her son, Kento, who was taken for Davros’s programme that morning. Davros insists the boy will be returned after receiving exams and innoculations, all the healthier for his trouble; Ludella demands to see him. Davros allows it, and lets Nyder supervise; Nyder orders Baran to take her there, though the spy doesn’t know the way. Nyder secretly tells him to make sure Ludella never enters the facility, and then tells Davros that he has dealt with this problem—but still doesn’t know the whereabouts of the spy.
Outside the nursery, Baran apologizes to Ludella, then knocks her out. With a bit of technical intervention—plus some good guessing regarding Davros’s password—he manages to get inside, and is delighted to know his efforts are paying off. He finds a number of the experimental children inside. One attacks him, setting off alarms; Nyder arrives shortly thereafter, and starts shooting the creature. Davros arrives as well, and demands to know why Nyder shot the creature; when Nyder says it attacked him, Davros attributes it to behavioural regression. Nyder explains that it also attacked Kaston, but Davros then recognizes Kaston as Baran—the spy! He orders Baran to be taken to the new laboratory for surgery. He orders Ludella brought inside, where she will serve as food for the children.
Davros operates on Baran, performing the cerebral augmentation surgery which has previously only worked on Kaleds. If it works, he has a new prototype travel machine, based on his own chair, ready and waiting…
In the morning, Davros shows Nyder the prototype, the Mark I. The surgery seems to have been successful, and the mutant is inside. Nyder draws a weapon in light of the activation, but Davros has him holster it, as the creature’s aggressive tendencies have been suppressed. He activates the creature, and its new, mechanical optical stalk twitches. It looks around, then focuses on Davros, who introduces himself as its creator. It repeats Davros’s name, and then declares, “I am alive!” Davros’s planned future, it seems, is arriving right on schedule.
At last, we come full circle, and meet the Davros we know and love (to hate, that is). The elapsed time between the previous episode and this is not stated, but seems to be a few years, at least; Davros is old enough now to comment to Nyder—who didn’t appear to be a very young man in his appearance in Genesis of the Daleks–that things Davros remembers were before Nyder’s time. Davros has outlived the expectations of the Supremo in Corruption, and has risen to the top of the scientific elite to the point that he is comfortable with ambitions of rule. He carries out those ambitions here, leaving himself in the position at which we find him in Genesis; it isn’t clear exactly when Genesis takes place, but it appears to be not long after this story. (The writing staff state in the interviews for the series that Genesis takes place perhaps six months later, but this isn’t made clear within the story.)
I was surprised to see that Davros has become something of a pacifist at the beginning of this episode, though he would never use that term. He has diverted himself from weapons research, and turned toward biological science, but even within that field he is working on peaceful endeavours rather than weapons. While he certainly still believes in the Kaled race over the Thals, he is more concerned with healing and evolving the race and the planet than with winning the war. Of course, later we will see those two courses of ambition merge into one, as he applies his biological and technological expertise to the conquest of the universe at the head of the Daleks.
We introduce yet another sympathetic character here in the person of Tech Ops officer Ludella; but not much effort goes into her characterization. We don’t even find out that she has a family until minutes before the end of the story, just before her death at Davros’s direction. However, that’s a fitting trend by now; there’s very little chance that Davros will show any humanity, and therefore there’s no sense in pouring effort into building a character for him to care about.
In the end, everyone we’ve met along the way is dead. Davros’s entire family is long gone, and here we witness the end of the Supremo and the Council of Twelve (not a spoiler, really, as we already know them to be gone by the time of Genesis). In their place, we get Nyder, who is a Lieutenant here. I always found him to be a compelling villain; he is brutal and utterly without scruples, a man on whom no leverage works. He comes on the scene fully formed here, and throws himself into Davros’s service; perhaps this too is appropriate, as Davros himself has been the same at his core all along. I’ve reflected often during this listen that the progression portrayed in the titles—from “Innocence” to “Guilt”—is an illusion, as Davros has been corrupt from the start.
I was a little disappointed that this final chapter doesn’t include a closing voiceover of the older Davros with the Daleks. Throughout the story, he’s been building a case for his own importance based on these stories, and I can’t help feeling that the closing argument was left out. In fact, the story ends surprisingly abruptly; we get the first words from the first prototype Dalek, and…that’s it! There’s no wrap-up at all. After the substantial work that has clearly gone into the presentation thus far, it’s a little jarring.
Looking over the series as a whole, I was impressed with the way it portrayed the Thals and the Kaleds as equal combatants in the war. Classic Who, whether intentionally or not, leaves one with the impression that the Thals have the moral high ground. There are no such illusions here, as both sides engage in espionage, sabotage, murder, and betrayal of their own people—not to mention the obvious attempted genocides. It’s perhaps a bit ironic—and this definitely counts as a spoiler, if we’re counting—that the first Dalek is created from a Thal rather than a Kaled. (That role, both before and after Dalek conversion, is played by producer Nicholas Briggs, who routinely voices the Daleks on television as well as for Big Finish.)
The voice acting has been top-notch throughout the series. Despite the fact that we’re dealing with characters who, practically by definition, suffer from megalomania, no one is too over-the-top. Nothing is over- or under-played. I feel especially compelled to mention the role of Nyder, played by Peter Miles; thirty-one years after his previous appearance in Genesis of the Daleks, there’s no indication that he’s aged at all. Nyder, as portrayed here, is as quietly imposing as always. (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was Miles who played Curator Gantman in Whispers of Terror, as well.)
Many of the things we see in Genesis of the Daleks are in place by now, and bear mentioning, as they appear in this story. The Kaled and Thal cities are now shielded by environmental domes, and the populations have been further reduced both by war and by declining birth rates. Davros’s chair is present in the form we know; it was mentioned at the end of the last installment, but not described, whereas here he states that he has based the Mark I Dalek form on his chair. He can survive for a time without it, though with much pain, as we will see much, much later in The Witch’s Familiar. Davros ends the story as the acting head of state, a situation he promises to give up when a new government is established, although Genesis makes it clear he does not. Likewise, Nyder is established as Security Commander. The Mutos from the wasteland are present, as are the monstrosities in the caverns outside the city. The word “Dalek” gets an origin here, as the Dal Book of Predictions uses it for its final phrase, translated to “as gods”. Other continuity references are mostly to the earlier episodes in this series.
Overall: After some slow moments in the first and second installments, this story has definitely taken off in the final two chapters. The end product is a ruthless, cruel, manipulative Davros, one truly worthy to be the creator of the Daleks. It’s easy to picture this Davros answering the Fourth Doctor’s question about the use of a virus to destroy all life: “Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods. And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!” All the more poetic, as “Dalek” is a word for “gods”, as established here. I recommend this story for anyone interested in Davros and the Daleks; its few weaknesses do little to overcome its strengths, and it’s worth the hours invested.
Next time: While we’re on a Davros streak, I may finish with the only-somewhat-related The Davros Mission, which is also available on Spotify, and is only a single episode. We’ll also continue our Short Trips reviews with the final entry of Volume I, and then Volume Two next week; and we’ll continue the Main Range with Nekromanteia! 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.