|Davros by Lance Parkin|
There's always, ALWAYS a positive reaction from discovering a new Big Finish release that clocks in at around the 25 minute per episode mark. This is, after all, how they found Doctor Who worked best on TV for twenty one years... when once longer episodes were tried, the good old norm was restored the very next season. Doctor Who works best in instalments of under 30 minutes - that's been tried and proven. Likewise most other pursuits, driving and cooking for example, become tiring after the half-hour mark. Even most of the best music albums don't exceed an hour in total, and they're designed to be listened to in chunks. Half an hour is about the ideal time to concentrate on something. "Davros" weighs in at a hefty 150 minutes.
In the old days, it used to take six weeks to wade through this amount of Who. The reason for the lengthy running time of "Davros" has been attributed, partly to the (lest we forget, unsuccessful) trial of longer episodes during the season in which it's set, and also because "it over-ran". I think that last reason is rather more truthful, Big Finish having demonstrated in the past that they'd sooner hack off their own limbs than clutter up their cutting room floor. Quality control is a tricky skill to master, but it's not hard to realise that more is often less when it comes to art - and it's difficult to imagine a Doctor Who story that runs for two and a half hours being so essential that it can't lose anything. In fact, after a point the longer a play becomes the better it's surely going to be by pruning the most superfluous scenes. It would take a very dense text indeed, and Doctor Who does occasionally (but not often) produce them, to have two and a half hours worth of things to say, and arguably "Davros" is better for not attempting to be this complex.
The most tangled path it weaves is through the time and place it settles on for a story. Telling a pre-"Revelation" tale gives similar audience satisfaction to watching "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones". Here, we see the seeds of galactic famine and Davros' 'scientific healer' reputation that are evident in "Revelation" as well as, more ambitiously, telling the hitherto unexplained story of the character's origins. But it treads on a few toes to get there, since "Revelation" made its own attempts to follow on directly from "Resurrection". Where is Peri? Why doesn't the Doctor guess Davros' involvement in Tranquil Repose later, given his own in the prequel here? And what of the Doctors surprise in "Revelation" over how Davros survived "Resurrection"?
As in "Master", it might be easier to forgive such knots if the story itself didn't set out its stall as a continuity student. All of this aside, "Davros" is resolutely traditional and minimalist in its storytelling. Confusing flashbacks aside (flitted to from the main action with only the briefest of indications that we are 're-telling' events, and featuring Terry Molloy playing pre-Wisher scenes) everything about this is trad, rather than rad. It's settings are familiar from many Dalek TV stories, and we even get Bernie Horseshit back. Older, and curiously unanimated, it's nevertheless the type of workmanlike performance he could always be relied upon to give back in the seventies. All this begs for the story to be told across four good old-fashioned twenty four and a half minute episodes. Why, then, are we subjected to over an hour at a time without a break?
Maybe "because they can"? Just as "Zagreus" was dogged by feeling longer than "Jesus of Nazareth" and "Minuet in Hell" may still be going on somewhere, inevitably the quality of something improves the more you shorten it. Unless, of course, you need the time it takes to watch "Schlinders List" to tell the tale of how Davros got from Deep Space to Nekros. Brevity is everything.
Part 1 - Disc 1
Part 2 - Disc 2