Davros: Monster or Hero?
Guest contributor Oliver Wilde ponders the question.
During the recently aired Series 9 opener, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, Davros uttered a line that set my imagination on fire:
The moment Davros spoke these words, I was instantly reminded of a scene during ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ in which the Doctor and Davros were debating the moral acceptability of the Dalek’s very existence.
No one can question Davros’ brilliance, but the real question still remains: are Davros’ motivations born out of a desire to (from his perspective) do good, or are his Daleks nothing more than the product of insanity? It’s an interesting dilemma. ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ revealed to us for the first time that Davros was a child of war. In other words, his entire life has been conflict, and so it’s hardly surprising that conflict runs at the heart of all stories featuring Davros. Davros’ single motivation in life has been dedicated to ensuring the survival of his people, the Kaleds. When put that way, his actions sound noble, and in many ways, Davros still remains a hero to the Kaled people. Davros wanted to restore peace to his planet at any cost, and he understood that victory required sacrifice. Davros isn’t naïve, nor is he a coward. For as many atrocities as Davros has committed, from his perspective, they have all been in service of a greater good. Let us not forget that once, the Doctor committed mass genocide to save the universe, and just like Davros, the Doctor understands the importance of sacrifice.
With this in mind, are Davros and the Doctor really so different? They both come from very different backgrounds, true, but at heart, the Doctor and Davros both fight for what they believe to be right, and in many cases, are willing to go to great lengths to ensure their own moral victories. It’s very easy to criticise Davros, but let’s not forget that the Doctor is no more a monster than he is. When Davros first created the Daleks he created a travel machine that would not only ensure the continuing existence of the Kaleks (in other words, preserving life), but would also allow the Kaled mutants to defend themselves, so that they would never face extinction. The initial conception of the Daleks was not only an act of selflessness, but also an act of goodness. The Dalek travel machines would ensure the Kaleds has a future, and at one point, Davros’ intentions were pure.
Where Davros went wrong, arguably, is when he made changes to the Dalek biology, so they would be born hating anything and everything that was not Dalek. This is where the Dalek purity arguably went too far. But by definition, Davros’ interference with the Dalek biology would only increase their likelihood of survival. Davros had created the ultimate predator, and by that logic, he had created a higher life form. He hadn’t just ensured the Kaled’s survival. He had elevated their status as beings, as well. When Senior Researcher Ronson spoke of the Daleks as ‘totally evil’, it’s also worth noting that evil is a matter of perspective. The universe is not black and white, and as you get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the difference between good and evil. The lines become blurry, and after a lifetime of warfare, it’s hardly surprising that Davros’ moral compass went haywire. We’ve all seen the battlefield in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, the god-awful misery of it all. Just think: that was Davros’ childhood, the only world he has ever known. Is it so surprising that Davros grew up to become who he was?
But do Davros’ good intentions automatically give the Daleks a right to exist? Does the Doctor suddenly have the right to slaughter the Daleks, or kill their creator when he was still a child? There’s no denying that while the Daleks are, by definition, higher life forms, they also embody everything we find loathsome: prejudice, the need to kill, hatred of life itself and fascism of the highest order. Well, you can’t blame the Daleks for not being honest. But
Daleks are also born this way. In this regard, they’re completely innocent. Can you blame a something for being born different than yourself? Daleks are programmed to hate and to kill, they never chose to become that way. As Davros said in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, Daleks are hunters, and they need their prey to run. Their total and utter lack of compassion is the secret to their survival. The Daleks survive because they are incapable of experiencing empathy of guilt or remorse. They transcend morality, and as creatures, function on pure instinct, just like a lion or an eagle, or any other predator in the animal kingdom. As aforementioned, Davros created the ultimate predator, a specimen that puts their own need for survival above all else. By our standards, yes, Daleks are the very embodiment of evil. But it’s important not to forget that like human beings, they believe themselves to be the superior race. Human beings regularly experiment on animals, keep them as pets, eat them, and even hunt them just for sport. We humans consider ourselves to be the dominators of Earth, the superior species, and some religions even preach that we were designed in God’s own image. Like humans, Daleks think themselves superior. The difference is, they’re not afraid to admit it.
I’m not going to reach a definite conclusion here, because whether Davros is a monster or a hero is a matter of opinion, and a topic of debate. But Davros devoted himself to preserving life, and by removing compassion, he has ensured the survival of one of the most ruthless predators in the universe, and guaranteed that his own people would never reach extinction. Like a god, Davros’ not only creates life, but also continues to preserve it.
So…is compassion wrong? Is it a weakness? I’ll let you make up your own minds…