The Davros ready reckoner

A special ready reckoner rounding up the best and worst of Doctor Who's most popular adversary...

We’ve had the Daleks, we’ve had the Cybermen, we’ve had the Master. In terms of the classic, instantly-recognisable Doctor Who villains, there was really only one left – and despite Russell Davies’ half-hearted protestations that he’d never go down that road (yeah, he said the same thing about the Master, AND he said Rose was gone for good), most of us knew it was only a matter of time. Davros is back.

Originally played by Michael Wisher (later by David Gooderson and, for the longest stint, Terry Molloy) and first appearing in Terry Nation’s 1975 Tom Baker story Genesis of the Daleks, Davros was a superb creation, ranking up there with the Daleks themselves in terms of inspiration. A demented, crippled scientist, Davros’ genius ensured the survival of the mutated-by-nuclear-war Kaled race by placing them in fearsome, indestructible “travel machines”. You can certainly see why the character instantly went down in televisual lore – “half human, half Dalek” is the classic description, even if it misses the point somewhat – but this was a double-edged sword, as he instantly rendered it impossible to do a Dalek story without him. Throughout the eighties in particular, this would reduce the Daleks to little more than lackeys to their increasingly deranged creator, and would arguably lessen their impact significantly until the advent of the new series and Rob Shearman’s Dalek.

Nevertheless, he remains one of the most iconic elements of the show’s entire history – probably ranking behind only the TARDIS and the Daleks themselves in terms of widespread visual recognition – and there’s no doubt that his return to the new series is a stonkingly exciting prospect, particularly with the known-for-playing-creepy-figures Julian Bleach behind the mask. Here, then, is a run through his appearances so far…

Genesis of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1975)

Ad – content continues below

A six-part barnstormer of an epic, this story frequently tops “best ever” polls, and that’s a sentiment that’s hard to disagree with. In an event that was subsequently said to have sparked the current series’ Time War, the Time Lords hijack the Doctor’s TARDIS and send him to Skaro in order to prevent or alter the creation of the Daleks. The original backstory of the Kaled/Thal war is retconned into something deeper and more satisfying (far more in the way of shades of grey than a simple good/evil battle), and we explore various factions of the conflict as the Doctor and his companions are separated across the two cities. But it’s Michael Wisher’s Davros that is, quite rightly, the most memorable aspect – an absolutely chilling creation, alternating insane power-hungry ranting with darkly sinister whisperings, he’s also well-served by having a humanoid ally (the equally chilling Nyder, perhaps the strongest example of the story’s Nazi Germany connotations) off which to play. A classic example of the old series’ ability to insert genuine character-based drama into a claustrophobic sci-fi setting, Genesis stands up to endless rewatching, and it’s fair to say that Who has rarely got better.

Destiny of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1979)

Oh, if only they’d left well alone. A direct sequel to Genesis, Terry Nation’s final story is its antithesis in just about every respect. The Doctor and Romana arrive back on Skaro amid Dalek attempts to revive their creator, the tinpot conquerors seeking his help in their war with the Movellans (incidentally, the worst-designed race of people in the history of Who, with their dreadlocks and flouncy white outfits). With Michael Wisher detained by theatre work, the crucial role of Davros is taken by David Gooderson – who, and let’s be fair to him, is catastrophically bad. He’s not helped by the fact that Wisher’s mask is too big for him, and so looks glaringly like a piece of rubber stuck to his face, but that doesn’t excuse a flat and lifeless performance in which he doesn’t even attempt to do a similar voice to Wisher’s original. Meanwhile, the Daleks look more cheap and battered than ever, and begin to look laughable rather than menacing – not helped, either, by a significant drop in the quality of Roy Skelton’s vocal performance. It’s a weak story, too, lacking both the epic nature and the character nuances of Genesis, and underwhelms on every conceivable level.

Resurrection of the Daleks (Fifth Doctor, 1984)

Well, it’s an improvement on Destiny, although that’s not saying much. Terry Molloy takes up the baton, and while he lacks the range of Wisher, he’s a class above Gooderson as he at least puts his own stamp on it. It does mean that Davros becomes a far less subtle character – and more of an outright ranting lunatic – and this is reflected in the more over-the-top nature of the new mask design, but at least it’s a role that Molloy plays well. Elsewhere, the Daleks themselves have been spruced up a bit, although the voices are again some of the worst seen, and the “Dalek” helmets that their humanoid troopers wear might just be one of the silliest things that anyone has ever put in front of a TV camera. In the end, even a strong supporting cast (including Rodney Likely Lads Bewes, Rula Lenska and Leslie Grantham) can’t hold up an essentially pretty dull story, although for the first time the concept of a Dalek civil war is thrown into the mix, a theme that would be developed in subsequent stories.

Revelation of the Daleks (Sixth Doctor, 1985)

Oh, this is more like it – and gets double plaudits for being that rare thing, a genuinely good Colin Baker story that showed just what he could do given a half-decent script (although, that said, a criticism often aimed at this story is that the Doctor isn’t very central to it – perhaps this is the secret?). An almost uniformly superb support cast (we say “almost”, because that lass from Upstairs Downstairs is woefully out of depth alongside the likes of William Gaunt, Clive Swift and an impressive Alexei Sayle) add gravitas to the story, which has a genuinely dark and sinister undercurrent with its implications of cannibalism. It also offers us a first look at an idea first mooted way back in the original Target novels, a transparent Dalek (a bit pointless, but superb visually), and introduces us to those lovely white Imperial Daleks.

Remembrance of the Daleks (Seventh Doctor, 1988)

The first truly great Dalek story since Genesis, Ben Aaronovitch’s classic sets out its stall as a jamboree of a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration (even though the “official” anniversary was the godawful Cyberman-fest Silver Nemesis), taking us right back to that London junkyard of 1963 and throwing in two rival factions of Daleks for good measure. The “reveal” of the Emperor Dalek as being Davros is quite well-played (even though anyone who’d seen Revelation should have known who built those white Daleks), and for arguably the first time Molloy’s maniacal ranting actually suits the role as written. Unlike many stories from the “classic” era, this rattles along at a fair old pace, and the wise directorial decision is taken to have the Daleks stationary in most of their scenes so as to avoid having them look stupid by rolling along cobbles. That said, of course, one instance of motion provides one of the most memorable and chilling cliffhangers in the series’ history, with an Imperial Dalek hovering up a staircase after the Doctor, a moment that gave this writer all manner of nightmares. All of this, plus the Special Weapons Dalek, and probably the best line ever uttered by a companion (Ace’s “Who you callin’ small!” before battering a Dalek with her baseball bat). Tremendous fun, and a fitting end to the classic series’ Dalek/Davros “arc”.