Doctor Who
The Davros Collection

Starring: Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy
BBC Video/W H Smiths

Certificate: PG
Available now

The Time Lords send the Doctor back through history to the very dawn of the Daleks' existence. On Skaro he meets Davros, the brilliant but insane scientist who created the evil creatures. Little does the Doctor realise that this will be only the first of many such encounters...

This limited edition boxed set, which is exclusive to W H Smiths, contains the last five Dalek stories that were broadcast on TV - Genesis, Destiny, Resurrection, Revelation and Remembrance of the Daleks - each of which, of course, features Davros.

Genesis of the Daleks is a good place to begin any Dalek-themed collection, dealing as it does with their creation. At the time of its transmission in 1975, some fans were up in arms about the story's alleged rewriting of Dalek history. In fact, the only element that directly contradicts previous serials is the name of the race that ultimately mutated into the Daleks - the Kaleds. (They were referred to as Dals in the original 1963 seven-parter The Daleks, but then the records of their Thal enemies were centuries old, so the name "Dalek" could easily have been corrupted to "Dal".)

One of the strongest six-parters the series has ever produced, Genesis is a critical commentary upon the various horrors of modern warfare - from the trenches of the First World War to the mutations and disabilities produced by nuclear and chemical weapons. It would be untrue to claim that the plot doesn't meander in places, as several scenes involve the time-travellers getting captured, escaping, or passing through secret tunnels. The time ring given to the Doctor (Tom Baker) by the Time Lords is analogous to the TARDIS fluid link in The Daleks, helping to spin out the plot by being mislaid or stolen. A typical device of writer Terry Nation, the time ring can be seen as a precursor to the teleport bracelets used in Nation's Blake's 7. Despite such plot prevarication, David Maloney's taut direction ensures that we are constantly entertained.

The Daleks play a relatively minor role in this story, the spotlight being placed squarely on Davros, portrayed by the original and best Michael Wisher. Clearly aware that his hideous make-up (by John Friedlander) will grab the viewer's attention anyway, the actor gradually reveals the crippled scientist's megalomania, only occasionally unleashing an insane rant. His ethical debate with the Doctor remains a classic scene. Wisher is ably assisted by Peter Miles in the role of his sinister cohort, Nyder.

For better or worse, Dalek serials would never be the same again. Davros was easier to write for than those boring conversationalists, the Daleks, and only Big Finish would ever have the courage to produce Dalek dramas without him.

However, 1979's Destiny of the Daleks was not an encouraging development. Although the Daleks' search for their apparently long-dead creator is the focus of this four-part tale, the realisation of the character is disappointing. It's not the fault of actor David Gooderson, who doesn't benefit from the strong writing that Michael Wisher enjoyed. Davros's very human-sounding voice is a blunder on the part of the sound department (although the use of Skarosian atmosphere sound effects from the 1963 Daleks serial is an effective touch). The mask that was originally moulded for Wisher's face looks ill-fitting and shabby on Gooderson. The Dalek props are similarly tatty.

As a direct sequel to Genesis of the Daleks, Destiny contains a surprising number of continuity glitches. For instance, the Doctor knows exactly where to find Davros's body within the ruins of the Kaled city, despite the fact that Davros was exterminated in a Kaled bunker. (Perhaps the Doctor was actually referring to the Daleks' own city, which was built around the bunker.) Writer Nation fails to explain what became of the Thals, who used to inhabit the now derelict Skaro (although novelist John Peel rendered this issue redundant in his 1997 book War of the Daleks, which controversially claimed that the planet wasn't Skaro at all). The databanks of the Movellans, the Daleks' enemies, are incorrect when they state that Davros is a mutant - if he was, he would have been banished into the wastelands along with the other mutoids featured in Genesis.

Sluggish direction by Ken Grieve doesn't help matters, although the opening episode conveys a real sense of foreboding. Later on, Grieve fails to coax convincing deaths out of the extras playing the Daleks' slaves.

Things pick up somewhat when Eric Saward takes over the writing chores for 1984's Resurrection of the Daleks, although this story is burdened by some complicated continuity and two locations separated by centuries of time. Saward is on record as bemoaning the fact that he had to work his way out of a corner that Nation had painted Dalek mythology into. The rescue of Davros from his cryogenic prison is a rehash of events in Destiny, albeit an inevitable one. Saward also needed to resolve the deadlock with the Movellans, although their defeat of the Daleks begs the question: what became of the victors? (John Peel had an idea about that, too.)

Other Dalek stories echoed here include The Day of the Daleks (the dual 20th-century and future timelines, and the involvement of the armed forces) and The Evil of the Daleks (the Dalek civil war). The process by which the Daleks duplicate and programme humans is similar to the robotisation procedure in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, while the threatened duplication of the Doctor (Peter Davison) is reminiscent of the Doctor's robotic double in The Chase.

But why is it necessary for the Daleks to duplicate humans, such as Lytton (the excellent Maurice Colbourne), in order to condition them? Why not just brainwash the originals? And why does the teleportation of the virus canister have such an adverse effect on Professor Laird (Chloe Ashcroft)? The efficient and visually exciting direction of first-timer Matthew Robinson helps to hold the story together in spite of such unanswered questions.

Assuming the role of Davros for the final three stories, Terry Molloy spends a large proportion of his debut appearance ranting and raging. His psychosis is understandable, though, considering the "ninety years of mind-numbing boredom" that he had to endure. Molloy performs well in a few calmer moments, including a moral debate with the Doctor, which makes an effective follow-up to the one in Genesis. Meanwhile, a pre-Dirty Den Leslie Grantham is a worthy successor to Peter Miles with his subtle performance as Davros's new henchman, Kiston.

The Dalek civil war ignited by Davros proves to be a pivotal development that is carried over into the next two serials. Eric Saward's Revelation of the Daleks reveals that the scientist has built his own race of loyal Daleks, a rival faction to those obedient to the Supreme Dalek on Skaro.

Set on Necros, a planet that specialises in funeral services, the grisly subject matter of this 1985 story is partially inspired by the movie Soylent Green. This unusual serial is one of the most adult-oriented in the programme's history - an aspect emphasised by the high-quality direction by Graeme Harper.

An eccentric range of characters includes the self-centred funeral director Jobel (Clive Swift); the disgraced yet honourable assassin Orcini (William Gaunt); his unhygienic squire Bostock (John Ogwen); Kara (Eleanor Bron), the duplicitous industrialist who hires Orcini; her sycophantic personal assistant Vogel (Hugh Walters); and a DJ (the surprisingly good Alexei Sayle). Amid a huge cast, the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) hardly get a look in until the second half of the serial.

However, as with Genesis, Davros is placed at the very heart of the narrative, like a spider in its web. He is somewhat calmer than he was in Resurrection and is a more cunning and calculating, even Machiavellian, villain, and Molloy clearly relishes the opportunity.

The conflict between the Dalek factions reaches its spectacular climax in Remembrance of the Daleks, with the battle moving to London, 1963. As with Resurrection, this 25th-anniversary story is packed with continuity references that add to the enjoyment of die-hard fans, though writer Ben Aaronovitch manages to keep such references from being too obtrusive. You don't need to have seen An Unearthly Child to get the idea that Coal Hill School and the junkyard on Totter's Lane are places that the Doctor visited long ago.

Davros's appearance in the last episode was one of several revelations that proved particularly dramatic back in 1988 - although, of course, his presence comes as no surprise in this boxed set! Having lost his remaining hand in Revelation, we see that he has sacrificed even more of his humanity in his final appearance. Other surprises engineered by Aaronovitch included the first view of a Dalek climbing stairs, as if in response to the Fourth Doctor's snide comment about their lack of this ability in Destiny.

This four-parter boasts extremely high production values, including the famous scene (intact this time, unlike on the story's DVD release) in which a soldier is propelled against a wall by the impact of a Dalek death ray. Director Andrew Morgan is extremely good at such action sequences. The Daleks look great throughout, apart from occasional wobbles due to the costumes' new locomotive systems.

Just as Genesis of the Daleks is an appropriate place to commence this box set, Remembrance offers suitably stupendous closure, with the jaw-dropping fate of Skaro (although this is something else that has been undermined by John Peel's War of the Daleks).

This is an excellent concept for a boxed set. Though two of the stories herein cannot be regarded as classics, at least two of them definitely can.

Richard McGinlay