Magic Bullet Productions

Davros in Context

By Alan Stevens

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 444

As 8th March 2015 was the 40th Anniversary of episode one of  "Genesis of the Daleks," I thought I'd use this opportunity to express my feelings as to why Davros should never have returned to the series following this adventure.

Davros is a great creation, but I feel that all subsequent appearances diminish him. The explanation for his survival in "Destiny of the Daleks" is not convincing, and his portrayal in that story is at odds with how he appeared in "Genesis of the Daleks". Unfortunately, it is this version of Davros that informs all of his future adventures. No longer the Machiavellian scientist/politician who sets out to defeat the Thals and ended up, to his horror, creating death incarnate, he has instead been turned into a rather boring and faintly ridiculous megalomaniac, who wants to declare war on the universe for no other reason than the fact it’s there.

Obviously this is in part a result of taking a character out of their original context, but I also think it's a misreading of the scene where the Doctor asked Davros what he would do if he possessed a capsule of a highly contagious virus. Many appear to believe that Davros would crush the capsule and release the virus in an instant, but let's go over the scene again.

DOCTOR: Davros, if you had created a virus in your laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life, would you allow its use?
DAVROS: It is an interesting conjecture.
DOCTOR: Would you do it?
DAVROS: The only living thing, a microscopic organism reigning supreme. A fascinating idea.
DOCTOR: But would you do it?
DAVROS: Yes. Yes. To hold in my hand a capsule that contains such power, to know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods. And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!

The key points are the Doctor’s statement that the virus would 'destroy all other forms of life,' and Davros’ assertion that once the glass had been broken the virus would be the ‘only living thing, a microscopic organism, reigning supreme.’ Clearly, the virus would also kill the creator of the virus, but Davros doesn’t seem to care. However, we then have the following:

DAVROS: Release me.
DOCTOR: No, Davros.
DAVROS: Don’t touch that switch.
DOCTOR: Why not?
DAVROS: It controls my life support systems. I could not survive thirty seconds without them.
DOCTOR: Order the destruction of the incubator section.
DAVROS: Destroy the Daleks? Never.
(The Doctor presses the little black switch, and an alarm goes off. Davros starts to crumple. The Doctor presses it again and he revives.)
DOCTOR: I mean it, Davros. Next time I press that switch, it stays pressed. Now give the order!
DAVROS: Even if I do this, there will be no escape for you.
DOCTOR: I’ll take that chance. Now give the order.
DAVROS: Press the communicator switch.
(The Doctor does so.)
DAVROS: This is Davros. Elite unit seven will go to the incubator room. All survival maintenance systems are to be closed down. The Dalek creatures are to be destroyed.

Here, the Doctor is putting their philosophical discussion to the test, and Davros fails it. Like many Nazi eugenicists, he adopts a monstrous theory but, when the consequences involve themselves, or people known to them personally, they buckle.

What is more, Davros is also capable of remorse:

DALEK: All inferior creatures are to be considered the enemy of the Daleks and destroyed.
DAVROS: No, wait! Those men are scientists. They can help you. Let them live. Have pity!
DALEK: Pity? I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank. Exterminate!

Davros is asking for pity, not for himself (as "Remembrance of the Daleks" will have it) but for the other scientists. Davros understands the concept of pity, and here he feels it for his fellow Kaleds, the ones who, like Nyder, remained loyal to him.

We also have this:

DAVROS: No more? Kravos, will you betray me? … I saved your life once. In your chest is a tiny instrument which I designed. It keeps your heart beating. Will you now turn that heart against me?

And then a little later:

DAVROS: This is your last chance. Move to join me now or suffer the consequences.
GHARMAN: Why don’t you just accept the fact that you have lost.

Even though everyone who intends to side with Davros has done so, he still pleads for more of them to join him. He knows that everyone who refuses will be exterminated on his order, but he still wants to be absolutely certain that he has found 'those men who were truly loyal to me.' Although Davros accuses the Doctor of being 'afflicted with a conscience,' and calls it a 'weakness' that should be 'eliminated,' Davros also has a conscience. The camera script says, ‘Davros finally realizes the monster He has created. he spins his chair and moves swiftly to the destruct button.’

We are told earlier by Davros himself that:

'If any one of you would destroy everything that we have ever achieved, then here is a destruct button. Press it, and you will destroy this bunker and everything in it. Only this room will remain. Press it and you will wipe out our entire race, destroy the Daleks forever'.

So, this isn’t the situation we later have in "Resurrection of the Daleks," where Davros wants to destroy the extent Daleks and start again with a new strain that will just obey him. Here Davros wants to destroy the Daleks permanently. Full stop. Once Davros presses that button, the surviving Daleks in the room will kill him, but Davros tries it anyway.

I would also argue that, contrary to what the Doctor tells the Kaled council, Davros has in fact failed to 'perpetuate himself in his machine.' It’s true that Davros 'works without conscience, without soul, without pity,' but these elements within himself have been suppressed, not eliminated. Davros simply exhibits the mindset that has been created by the thousand year war. It is one shared by both Kaleds and Thals and is best demonstrated in the scene where the Thal politician, following the destruction of the Kaled dome, states:

'Gentlemen, there’s a great deal to be done. I must speak to the people. There must be a victory parade. And as for [the Doctor], he must be punished. No, let us now show that whilst we were ruthless in war, we are generous in victory. Let all prisoners be freed, charges against them dropped. Issue that statement at once.'

The first part of the speech demonstrates a war mentality, in that it talks of victory parades and retribution, but then he changes his mind. Although 'ruthless in war,' the politician now decides to be 'generous in victory.' He is still the same man, but the circumstances have changed. When fighting the Kaleds, the Thal politician would undoubtedly have echoed General Ravon’s beliefs:

'When victory is ours, we’ll wipe every trace of the Thals and their city from the face of this land. We will avenge the deaths of all Kaleds who’ve fallen in the cause of right and justice, and build a peace which will be a monument to their sacrifice. Our battle cry will be, "total extermination of the Thals"!'

What we have here is a dichotomy of circumstance. In war you hate the enemy. You dehumanise them, and accuse them of various depravities. In peace, all of this is forgotten. Davros is a victim of this war mentality.

The undergound service shaft, that allows the Doctor and Harry to access the Thal city, mirrors the subterranean tunnel that links the Bunker with the Kaled dome. The split between the Kaleds and the Thals is echoed in the split between the Kaled city and the Bunker. Equally, in the same way that political plotting between the Kaleds and the Thals lead finally to military conflict, the Kaled council's attempt to take power away from Davros and the Elite, sparks a cataclysm.

Davros feels no compassion towards the enemy, whoever that enemy happens to be. However, he also equates political loyalty with friendship, and thereby fails to realise that one does not necessarily follow the other, and that empathy is also a factor.

So to whom or to what does Davros feel loyalty? Ironically, it is the Kaled scientist Ronson who provides us with the answer to that:

'You see, we believe that Davros has changed the direction of our research into something which is immoral, evil. You see, the Elite was formed to produce weapons that would end this war. We soon saw that this was futile and changed the direction of our research into the survival of our race. But our chemical weapons had already started to produce genetic mutations.'

Therefore, like the Cult of Skaro from the new series, the purpose of the Bunker was to think outside of the box. What Davros has created is perfectly in tune with the remit he had been given. The Dalek is not only a means of ensuring the survival of the Kaleds, in some form, but also a weapon which will end the war. Ronson’s objections to the Daleks appear to stem, in part, from the ingrained Kaled obsession with racial purity, in that Davros' 'ultimate creature' has been created using similar processes to those which produced the Mutos.

Thus, Davros' loyalty is to the remit given to him by the Kaled government when the Bunker was set up fifty years ago, which was to produce a weapon that would end the war between the Kaleds and the Thals, and by 'end,' they meant to destroy the Thals forever.

Consequently, once twenty Daleks are operational, Davros sends them out to exterminate the Thals, and the war ends. That’s what he’d been instructed to do, and that’s what he does. The fact that he also had to destroy the Kaleds to do it is academic. As far as Davros is concerned (and Nyder too, don’t forget) the Kaled councillors who wanted to close down the Dalek project were acting, not for the advancement of their species, but simply out of racism and petty power politicking.

Also note that the battle that later takes place between the two factions in the Bunker isn’t over the fact that the Daleks are a different species, but rather that Davros has interfered with the mutation and removed the creatures' 'conscience'. This is also the Doctor’s argument: the Daleks have a right to live, it’s the fact Davros has made them pitiless psychopaths that’s the problem, and the reason he’s done this is threefold:

1/ As Davros is constantly on a war footing, whether fighting the Thals or the 'disloyal' Kaleds, he has no time to reflect on his actions in the same way that the Thal politician had earlier.

2/ The constant whittling down of his core group means that he becomes more and more reliant on the Daleks to provide him with security.

3/ Davros believes that loyalty and a common cause are enough to unite himself and the Daleks in alliance, in the same way that he, a crippled mutant, has been accepted and revered by Kaled society. However, this requires empathy, the very thing he is constantly told by society not to feel for the enemy.

Therefore, the equation follows, if war represents a universal battle for species survival, why would you equip the ultimate species and weapon of war with the ability to empathise with the enemy? It makes no logical sense.

The Daleks that Davros creates in later stories are basically robots to carry out his dreams of universal destruction. However, again, this is diametrically opposite to Davros’ stated aims in "Genesis of the Daleks," where he says:

'At this very moment, the production lines stand ready, totally automated, fully programmed. The Daleks are no longer dependant on us. The machinery is ready. They are a power in their own right.'

Davros created the Daleks, in part, as a form of immortality; he wanted to live on through his creations. Equally, the reason why Davros tries to press the destruct button is because he doesn’t recognise himself in the Daleks, as they only represent one aspect of a particular mindset from a time of conflict. This fundamental mistake has placed the Daleks on a permanent war footing which, because they lack empathy, is not something they can ever return from.

If the real Davros was ever to return, he wouldn’t create an army of drones and declare war on the universe; he would simply try to give back to the Daleks a conscience, the one thing he denied he had himself.


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