We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at the early life of the creator of the Daleks, in I, Davros: Corruption. 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.
Davros continues his analysis of his own past, musing on his progress through the Kaled Science Elite, and his growing political skill, all in pursuit of power.
A squad of Thal paratroopers come under Kaled fire as their plane is destroyed. As they land and commence their mission, they know they will not return home. Meanwhile, Councillor Matross summons Davros to the Council of Twelve, which now includes his mother Calcula, to answer for the expenses of the Scientific Elite. As the meeting devolves into argument, they are attacked by the surviving Thal paratrooper, who shockingly reveals that she has come to kill, not the Supremo, but Davros! He outwits her by ordering Calcula to reactivate the magnetic field of the assassin’s parachute; the planet’s magnetic field is strong here, and crushes the assassin to the floor, killing her.
Davros takes advantage of the situation to analyze the Thal female’s DNA. He finds it to be completely different from Kaled DNA, implying the two races have no common ancestor—they simply fill the same ecological niche, though with certain differences in internal organs. Davros notes that Thal men outnumber the women seven to one, but laments that the mass extinctions of other life forms in the war make it impossible to draw good comparisons. If any living creatures remain, they are in Drammakin Lake—now the Lake of Mutations—and the tunnels beneath the city. His associate Shan suggests capturing some samples in order to preserve as much of the genetic record as possible before it is too late. Davros disagrees, looking to the future instead of the past; but at any rate, non-military research has been banned, and so Davros directs another associate, Ral, to develop a quick test for Thal DNA. Perhaps a biological plague weapon can be developed. As Ral leaves, Davros asks Shan to stay behind.
Calcula meets with Section Leader Fenn of the Military Youth. Davros joins them, introducing Calcula to Shan, who was formerly in the Military Youth herself. Davros speaks highly of Shan, gaining Calcula’s notice. Calcula introduces Davros to Fenn, and says that she is planning a movement for the Youth; Davros interprets this as seeking a power base. He excuses himself and leaves with Shan. Fenn misspeaks and angers Calcula, but gets back in her graces by agreeing to a job before he knows what it is—a kind of loyalty she approves.
Davros jokes with Shan that, as Calcula is now technically her leader, she might be a spy; but Shan reminds him that Youth membership is compulsory, and that things have gotten worse with Calcula’s involvement, with any questioning resulting in punishment and even death, even for the very young. Davros expresses some frustration with the private army of loyalists that Calcula seems to be constructing. They are distracted by the DNA analysis; Shan assumes there is a fault, as the damaged DNA is changing—evolving, possibly? It makes no sense, as evolution within an individual is unheard of. Nevertheless, Davros thinks they can shape their own genetic destiny; Shan isn’t so sure, as they are killing Skaro, and have found no other life-supporting worlds. She mentions her own home in Darrien, which is now lifeless; Davros counters even this, pointing out the mutated worms and monsters that survive there and elsewhere. He reminds her that she herself proposed a solution in a paper a year prior; and now it’s time to make her dream reality.
Fenn provides Calcula with Shan’s personnel file. He admits that he has known Shan for years, but doesn’t like her; she is too clever. Calcula suspects that Davros is becoming romantically involved with Shan, and she wants to make the most of it; hence, the file. Fenn leaves, and Davros arrives; Calcula reads parts of the file to him. Shan’s family, while poor, is well-connected. Davros shows her blueprints for a radiation machine—not a weapon, but a variation on a cancer-curing device he invented. She dismisses the achievement. He inquires about her interest in Shan, and reacts badly at the suggestion that the Council may be interested in her. She changes the subject, and tells him that Councilor Matross has died in an accident, removing an obstacle to Davros’s work…and she hints that she may have had something to do with it.
Davros makes up with Shan over his earlier, disparaging remarks about Darrien. The conversation turns to their work, and he excitedly reveals that his machine can definitely shape the direction of mutations. He suggests that they may engineer an organism that can survive any environmental changes on Skaro. It need not be attractive, but must be intelligent, and have strong survival instincts.
At dinner, Calcula is pleased to see Davros reading a paper on obstetrics. She interprets his distraction as sulking over the obstacles from the Council, and reminds him that Matross is out of the picture. He is more determined than ever not to get politically entangled, but she suggests that he at least attend the unveiling of a new weapon he invented—and why not bring Shan along?
Shan joins Calcula in the War Room for the unveiling and the attendant military push. Shan’s father, in the military, is leading the campaign, but they are unable to speak to him from here…but perhaps he will survive and be able to speak afterward. They watch as the weapon, a massively overpowered beam generator, breaches the wall of a Thal command bunker; as survivors pour out, they are slaughtered by the Kaled ground forces. To the Council, it is much like a sporting event; Calcula complains that things of this nature aren’t shown to children more often. Another Councilor, Valron, is surprised by her reaction, and argues briefly with her. As the weapon’s power requirements burn it out after one shot, the Supremo asks Davros to build more of them. He asks Davros to stay as he addresses the people; Calcula offers the disgusted Shan a ride home, but she refuses, and walks.
As Shan tries to leave, Fenn accosts her, and refuses to leave her alone. Valron intervenes, and Fenn apologizes and departs. Valron is more sympathetic to her view on the carnage of the evening, and offers to walk her home. She accepts.
Davros is starting to see the Council’s view on things—more efforts like this might win the war, and wipe out the Thals completely. He advises the Supremo to pursue such a genocidal course; after all, logically, only one life form can triumph. The Supremo changes the subject and reveals that Thal spies are known to be in the city; one such is Fenn, who will soon be arrested. Davros wants to warn Calcula, but communications are down; he goes to do it in person.
Calcula finds Fenn waiting for her at home. He tells her that Davros is waiting for her in his lab, and leads her there as she exults over the massacre. When she unlocks and enters the lab, Davros isn’t there; Fenn immediately begins destroying Davros’s equipment. He says that the Supremo sent him to destroy Davros’s work in exchange for a promotion; and that he is also to injure Calcula, ensuring that she will fade into obscurity. She declares him a spy, and tells him she will do anything to protect her son and his work. She switches on the radiation machine, and Fenn cries out in pain; but she has already doomed them both with a high dose of radiation. As Fenn dies, she tells him that these actions will also bring down the Supremo, and put Davros on the throne, just as she always wanted. Before Fenn dies, they both begin to mutate.
Davros arrives at the lab, finding Shan already there. Fenn is dead, and Calcula is dying; but Davros only has eyes for the mutations they have experienced, and how it proves his theories. His clinical reaction to his mother’s impending death shocks Shan; she asks him to reverse the process, but he says that he cannot. Calcula tells him that their enemies killed her because they fear Davros, and that he must ascend and destroy their enemies. She expresses her pride in him, and then dies. He sends Shan away and tells her he is not to be disturbed while he works.
Shan finds Valron and tells him Calcula is dead. She also realizes, and explains, that Fenn’s mutations matched Calcula’s, implying that he was not a Thal, but a Kaled. She and Valron deduce that he was not a spy, but that his questionable actions were under orders from someone very senior, more so than Calcula herself, and possibly a Councilor. Valron dismisses her concern that Davros might be next, and tells her to leave Davros to his grief—though she is sure he isn’t grieving.
A pregnant woman named Renna finds that her regular doctor has been replaced by Davros, whom she does not know. He accidentally reveals that she is having a boy, but covers by telling her that she will be offered an injection of a new drug to counter certain negative environmental factors. She agrees.
Shan realizes that Valron is taken with her, and he admits his attraction to her. Shan thinks word of Calcula’s death is being suppressed. Valron worries that the Military Youth may be turned on any Council member who is implicated. Shan suggests making peace with the Thals; the idea is illegal, and Valron is shocked, causing her to backpedal a bit. However, she insists that Davros, at least, should know the truth of who killed his mother.
Shan joins Davros at the hospital, and is surprised to find him working the maternity ward. They argue over their respective emotional involvements in the circumstances. Meanwhile an expectant mother unexpectedly dies of complications, the fourth such death today. He rushes to incubate the baby, but it latches on to Shan and tries to hurt her. He gets it into the incubator, and Shan inquires about their chances of survival, but he does not know. He reveals that each new baby, on which he has experimented, is genetically identical to his post-mutative mother—a new species! Shan tells him that the Supremo ordered Calcula’s death, possibly in league with the Council. Davros acknowledges it, but doesn’t care; Calcula lives on in the new species. He believes no revenge is necessary, as the murderers’ deaths are inevitable—only his new species will ultimately survive. Shan asks what he has taken out of them, and he says he has only removed that which affects their ability to think rationally. She thinks this is horrible, prompting him to disdain her.
Shan returns to Valron and reports Davros’s words. Meanwhile the Military Youth begin to riot, word of Calcula’s death having gotten out. Davros meets with the Supremo, who asks about an anti-radiation drug that was in development; it has been completed and distributed. Davros confronts the Supremo about Calcula’s murder, which the Supremo denies ordering. Davros declines to use his influence with Calcula’s followers to stop the riots, as it was a Kaled, not a Thal, that killed her. The Supremo suggests that the attack was to restrain Calcula, not kill her; but clearly it has backfired. The Supremo agrees to give Davros whatever he wants. Davros turns down a Council position. Instead, he wants complete autonomy and unlimited resources for his science division, starting with new labs underground. He backs up his demand by threatening to prove who killed Calcula, ensuring death for the killer. He suggests that it is more advantageous to leave the Supremo in power, and suggests naming Valron as the murderer in order to stop the riots. To that end, he provides a faked file of documents proving Valron’s guilt.
Davros tells Shan that Valron has pro-Thal views, but she doesn’t believe it. He is angered to learn that she has been discussing their work with Valron, and orders her to end her relationship with the Councilor. Shan argues for pursuing peace with the Thals. The Supremo, having been eavesdropping, enters, and has her taken away to be hung. Later, he makes an announcement that the traitors have been unceremoniously hung; Shan’s father was killed in battle hours earlier, before he could hear of her fate. Davros watches this in bemusement; but he is interrupted by a call from Ral about an incoming Thal warhead. The lab is twelve stories below ground, and Davros is sure he’ll be fine—but an explosion occurs, and he blacks out.
Over the next month, Davros lingers near death, and sees his life flash before his eyes, with visions of his mother urging him to live—even at the sacrifice of his flesh.
Kaled medical technology saves Davros’s life—in fact, it can make him outlive his compatriots, surviving to the end of his natural lifespan, as no one has done in ten generations. And yet, with his terrible condition, do the doctors have the right to inflict this life on him? As he awakens, he learns that the Council and Scientific Elite have decided that if he will die, it will be by his choice. Ral provides him with a poison injector with which he can end his pained existence if he chooses. The Supremo thinks it is over…
However, Davros chooses to live. A week later, he emerges, and meets with Ral; he rejects any thought of weakness and recovery. He lives by machines now, in a life support vehicle. He will improve on the designs, but in the meantime, he feels a great clarity, with the world no longer filtered by his flesh. He feels no more affinity for the Kaleds, but also feels no fear—and he has a destiny to fulfill.
Things are picking up! Or down, as the case may be; there’s nothing good to be found in Davros here. The title of this installment, Corruption, is a bit misleading, as are the titles for all the installments; collectively they imply that Davros started out good, and slowly became evil. In fact, he was deeply warped from the beginning, and this story only serves to reinforce that fact. We see him become increasingly more calloused, as those around him—those about whom he should care—die in succession. Or perhaps he isn’t becoming more calloused; perhaps he was always that way, and only gains successively more terrible opportunities to show it. In this regard, the series is hindered a bit by a lack of vital characters to kill off; Davros’s family and circle were small at the beginning, and thus, each chapter is forced to insert new characters and establish why Davros should care about them. Results may vary. Here, we are introduced to a possible love interest, Shan, a fellow scientist and former member of the Military Youth. She certainly has some potential; but we’ve already long since established that Davros is not interested in romance, and so the story never really commits to that subplot. Instead, Shan becomes a clone of his long-dead sister Yarvell, having a very similar story arc, sympathies, and fate. She’s a likeable character, but misused here almost by necessity.
The peak of this episode is the transition to the crippled, machine-dependent Davros we know from the television series. (I’m not going to conceal this as a spoiler, for two reasons: It was obvious from the beginning that this would happen eventually; and the upcoming episode is going to assume his condition from the beginning.) With this transition comes a complete alienation from his people. When I first watched Genesis of the Daleks, I wondered at how Davros could be so calloused and hostile to his own people; he effectively initiates the genocide of the Kaled race by transforming the last of them into Daleks, and is quite gleeful about it. Here we begin to get an understanding of why (and I will let that be a spoiler). (On a related note: the population numbers for both the Kaleds and the Thals can’t be very high at any point. It’s never implied that they have more than a few cities each, and by the time of Genesis, they are essentially reduced to one each. We’re very nearly at that point already; mention is made of other cities which are no longer habitable. Curiously, this low population density doesn’t seem to bother anyone, even though it means the race may not be viable much longer; they continue to maintain a recklessly warlike stance, with continued notions of honorable suicide.)
We are treated to quite a bit of backstory on the Kaleds, the Thals, and Skaro, most of which is new to this story. It is noted that there are seven Thal males for every female; that the biology of the Kaleds and Thals differs significantly beneath the surface; that the wartime life expectancy of a Kaled is 52 years, and no one in ten generations has died of old age; that most lifeforms on Skaro are extinct; that Drammankin Lake has now become known as the Lake of Mutations; and that wartime pollution and radioactivity has blocked out views of the sun (though apparently not to the point of causing a nuclear winter). There’s no aspect of life on Skaro that isn’t tragic; it’s a wonder anything good or beautiful ever arose.
Continuity references: This story draws upon the audio drama Davros for early mentions of its events, including the use of rodents for research, and the research paper by Shan which indicates re-engineering of the race would be necessary. The Lake of Mutations was previously called such in The Daleks, as well as in the preceding chapter of this story, Innocence. Davros mentions the Varga plants and their effects (Mission to the Unknown, I, Davros: Purity). He mentions the Mutos (Genesis of the Daleks; also mentioned in Purity). The notion of the genetic divergence between the Kaleds and Thals is also mentioned in We are the Daleks!, though that story gives a different account of their origin (according to the wiki, at least; I have not yet read that story).
Overall: This is certainly the most interesting episode so far. The first episode, Innocence, is certainly good; but I couldn’t help being impatient for what was to come. The second, Purity, wanders a bit too much. This episode puts us back on track, and moves Davros into territory that is familiar, but not yet exhausted of its potential. He truly becomes the villain he is meant to be. I’m interested to see how the story ends.
Next time: I’ve been set back a bit by responsibilities at work, but I still hope to post about the next Main Range entry, Jubilee, this week; and then we’ll wrap up I, Davros with the final chapter, Guilt! 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.