‘Doctor Who’ Rogues Gallery: Davros

Julian Bleach as Davros

Before we get into the character and his role in the evolving history of diplomatic relations between Daleks and Time Lords, can we please take a moment to issue a resounding ovation in the general direction of those BBC technicians who created Davros? I mean just LOOK at the fella! He’s got no legs and only one arm! He’s got long, girlish fingernails (which makes sense, given how hard it must be to clip your nails with only one arm, especially when your servants have only a sink plunger or a gun to help you)! He’s got no eyes, apart from that blue one in the middle of his forehead, just like a Dalek eye-stalk! He doesn’t clean his teeth! He talks like a dessicated shark, washed up and dying on a beach! And he’s a sarcastic genius who can cross wits with the Doctor and come off better!

He is, in short, properly horrific. More horrific than the Daleks themselves, and that’s going some.

Note: it’s especially timely to note what it is about Davros’s appearance that makes him so horrific, given that we’ve just witnessed an astonishing display from the athletes at the Paralympics. He is, after all, a disabled man who has done something remarkable with his life. Actually there’s a fine tradition in children’s literature of making bad guys out of disabled people – Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Darth Vader – as if their physical appearance is a manifestation of the rot in their souls. Davros is part of that tradition.

And while it can be insensitive to equate morality with physicality in this way (it would be a pretty vile person who suggested that disabled people are in some way responsible for their own situations), it’s also true to say that people with disabilities have just as much right to be evil dictators as you or I do. The point with Davros is that HE is horrific, and his appearance does nothing to alleviate this. At the very least he could clean his teeth.

(Incidentally, to get that distinctive glistening dark maw, Terry Molloy had to drink black food coloring.)

Where was I? Oh yes! Davros. This is Davros. He’s a scientist from the planet Skaro, and he’s had this idea for finishing the long and bitter war between the Kaleds (his lot) and the Thals. It’s believed a Thal attack is what broke his body, but his mind, sharp as it is, appears to have suffered a bomb of it’s own.

So yes, he’s a mad fascist, obsessed with purity and domination. He has spotted that the Kaled race have become mutated after a thousand years of nuclear and biological war, and has decided accelerate this process, creating a new race of jellificated angry octopuses with no compassion, no remorse, and incredible reserves of anger. And having done this, he build a shell for them to live in, one modeled on his own life support system (a nice twist, given that the design of Davros’s skirt happened exactly the opposite way around, for the people who make the show).

But, as with all fascist dicators, there is a fatal strain of hubris to his endeavors. First he kills off all the Kaleds that try to stop his plans. Then, after attempting to destroy the Thals – Genesis of the Daleks – he sets the Daleks loose on an unwary universe, but it seems they are unsentimental about him, and once they think he has outlived his use, they turn on him.

This will be a recurring theme in the life of Davros, the unthanked parent of a reocurring prodigal seed. Oh and he always comes a cropper in quite spectacular ways. He is returned from suspended animation to help the Daleks with a tactical problem – Destiny of the Daleks – but then captured by humans and put in suspended animation. In Resurrection of the Daleks, he is freed, but he no longer trusts his creations, so develops a virus that will attack mutated Kaled flesh. Oh but wait, isn’t he a mutated Kaled himself? D’oh!

He is resurrected again, as The Great Healer in Revelation of the Daleks, and breeds a new set that will be loyal to him. Unfortunately they’re not as tough as the original breed and he’s carted off to Skaro to face trial for treason. Then he appears as the dome-headed Emperor Dalek in Remembrance of the Daleks, and there’s a full scale civil war in progress. Yes, another war between rival factions of the population of Skaro. When will it end?

Oh, well seeing as Skaro appears to have been destroyed at the end of this excursion, maybe it will end now?

Ah, seems not. It’s time for the Time War. Something we never see, but we do get to hear an awful lot about it. Davros is heavily involved, but once again goes down in flames, having flown “into the jaws of the Nightmare Child,” with the Doctor flailing behind, trying to save him. And that really should be that.

Except it isn’t. A Dalek called Caan has flown into the Time War and rescued Davros, damaging his own brain in the process. And having discovered that all the Daleks are now dead, Davros once again sets about rebuilding his creations, cloning them from the cells of his own body. So many cells, in fact, that the skin on his chest is barely there any more.

But if he was mad when he started, the subsequent betrayals (his newest Daleks also turn on him, keeping him only as an advisor) and explosions and losses and gains have clearly caused a total departure from any sense of perspective. Once upon a time he openly fantasized about letting lose a virus that would destroy all life forms, by The Stolen Earth his plan was to eradicate reality itself.

Davros can shout all he likes about the Doctor being a destroyer of worlds, but that’s coming from the owner of a reality bomb, so, y’know… perspectiiiive.

In the end, Davros is a grotesque representation of a hypocritical impulse that we have all surrendered to at one point or another: people who venerate perfection and purity as a way of avoiding their own imperfections and the worry that their own impurities will one day be called to account.

I mean, sure, make all the killer robots you like, but you won’t feel better about yourself unless you sort those nails out and invest in a decent toothbrush.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine