Doctor Who at 50: From Skaro to Southwold for the creator of the Daleks
As Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to Davros actor Terry Molloy about his role as creator of the Daleks and the continued success of the series
He is one of the few characters to make The Doctor forget his principles and pick up a gun. He has the ability to taunt our favourite Time Lord, play mindgames with him and perhaps push him to snapping point.
This ultimate villain, is not The Master, who retains his Time Lord sense of charm and mischief, the person who really has the ability to expose The Doctor’s insecurities is Davros – the creator of The Daleks.
Whether he is truly insane is a matter open to debate – even the actor who has played him most often isn’t sure. He’s extreme, he’s The Doctor’s intellectual equal, but is he insane? Well, it seems, the jury is still out on that.
East Anglian actor, Terry Molloy, a regular with Jill Freud’s Suffolk Summer Theatre in Southwold and Aldeburgh, is the man who brought Davros back to life in the 1980s.
What started off as a two week job turned into a 30 year ongoing career with an astonishing 14 appearances as the Dalek-designing despot.
According to Terry, the secret to making Davros truly terrifying is finding the personality traits which anchor him to the real world. He says that stops him becoming a pantomime villain.
The power of Terry’s performance lies in the voice. The power and the passion with which he delivers his lines leaves the viewer in no doubt that Davros is the ultimate megalomanic.
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The voice is really all Terry has to play with as Davros is trapped inside a dying body. Crippled by radiation poisoning and extreme old age, only his skills as a scientist and engineer are keeping him alive. His race, the Kaleds, have been involved in a long-running nuclear war with The Thals. Their home world, the planet Skaro, is scarred by high levels of radiation. Davros knows that the only way to survive (and to win the war) is for the Kaled people to be genetically engineered into their final form – a large-brained blob with stunted limbs which will be carried in a Mark One Travel Machine – which was known as a Dalek.
Terry was unrecognisable as the Kaled scientist swathed in layers of latex and transported around in a Dalek base. Being a veteran radio actor, Terry had no qualms about playing a character which relied solely on his vocal dexterity to put across the nuances of his personality.
Prior to joining Dr Who, Terry was best known as Mike Tucker, Ambridge’s milkman in The Archers. He’s been a familiar voice on Radio 4’s rural soap for the past 40 years and he prefers radio to television because “it’s true, the pictures are better.”
As with most things in life, his good fortune at being approached to play Davros was down to being in the right place at the right time.
“My first Doctor Who was directed by Matthew Robinson and I had just finished working with him on something else. A strike at the BBC had moved the production block sideways and Michael Wisher, the actor who had created Davros in Genesis of the Daleks years earlier, was no longer available.
“Davros had last been in the series with Tom Baker and now in 1983 they wanted to resurrect the character with Peter Davison. Matthew rang me up out of the blue and said: ‘I am doing Dr Who. Do you know anything about the Daleks?’ I had watched Hartnell and Troughton but not anything that recently so I came in and they showed me Genesis of the Daleks and asked did I want to play Davros? How could I refuse?
“It seemed to me that the character was very much dependent on the voice. Having worked extensively in radio I felt that was my metier and I thought that would be an interesting challenge.”
He said that one of the joys of being associated with the part for a number of years is that he has been able to explore the character in great detail over an extended period of time.
“I played him opposite Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy and after the original series ended I was fortunate to appear in a number of audio dramas for Big Finish. It was in these very well written radio plays that I really got to delve beneath the surface of Davros and got to explore what really made him tick.
“My favourite was I, Davros, a four-part mini-series, which was our take on I Claudius I suppose and followed Davros from his time as a beautiful 15 year old boy right up to his creation of the very first Dalek. We were able to follow his journey from man-boy to monster and it was fascinating exercise.”
He said that the basic concept which he carried over from Michael Wisher’s portrayal was that Davros and the Kaled elite were an intergalactic metaphor for Hitler and the Nazis in 1930s Germany.
“I took Mike’s characterisation as the base and I basically worked on the voice. Nowadays they’ve got all these wonderful prosthetics; then, you had a giant foam-rubber mask that didn’t really move! You had to work hard behind it to get any movement on the outside. So, like radio, you have to create the character with your voice. Then we started to look at it and move slightly from the original concept of a ‘Hitler in space’ into other areas of his character.”
He said in the beginning there was much back story but as the series has progressed more of the story has been filled in and he feels that Davros is now one of the series most rounded villains.
So why does he think that after 50 years that Doctor Who is not only still with us but the world has become increasingly caught up in the Time Lord’s adventures. Doctor Who is not only a hot property at home but is now essential viewing around the world – particularly in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“For me it’s all about the Doctor. It’s not about the bangs and the whistles and blowing people up. It’s about storytelling, it’s about character, it’s about the Doctor who’s a flawed hero and they are always much more interesting.
“From my character’s point of view, it’s about Davros’ relationship with the Doctor. They’re intellectual equals. It’s about the metaphorical chess game that they continue to play with each other – neither comes out permanently on top.
“They are alone and they know it. It’s that constant battle of wits and minds which keeps it interesting and I think that they both secretly enjoy.
“I did an audio drama with Paul McGann as The Doctor called Terra Firma and the Doctor tries to wipe out Davros mentally by persuading him that he has become a Dalek. By the end Davros is desperately hanging on his sanity and is forced to ask the Doctor for help as he has almost become schizophrenic. It’s a great game that they are playing with one another.”
He believes that an important reason why we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the series was that they discovered early on that regenerating The Doctor kept the series fresh.
“It keeps people’s interest and everyone wants to see what the new Doctor will be like and each generation has a new Doctor to grow up with. The other important factor is the wonderful writing of the stories. In the early years they didn’t have enormous budgets for special effects so you had to have really well constructed stories which could be told by actors on screen. They always had very good characters. Davros is just one of many. You had to rely on the characters being credible for the stories to work.
“I like the fact that he’s a ramshackle hero. He’s an intergalactic Biggles who saves the day with a piece of cellophane and a piece of string because that’s all he’s got and he’s resourceful. But, for most of the story, he’s just as much at a loss as everyone else is and that’s what audience’s identify with.”
He said that he’s pleased that the high standard of writing has continued into the new series. He is a particular fan of script-editor and executive producer Steven Moffat.
“I was being interviewed and said my all-time favourite episodes were Dalek, The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and Silence in the Library. They said ‘Do you realise they’re all Steven Moffat’s, apart from Dalek?’ I didn’t, because I don’t pay that much attention! But for me those episodes encapsulate what ‘old Who’ was about. They had a darkness: an ‘unfinished’ quality to the darkness. It wasn’t ‘Lots of people and look at this and we’ve tied up all the ends.’ Dr Who’s not about tying up all the ends; he’s an unresolved character, and he has to be retained as such.”