The first appearance of the latest Doctor in Doctor Who also marked the first appearance of a new Davros. The original Davros was horribly disfigured and used a high-tech wheelchair. By contrast, the new Davros was unscarred and had no mobility issues. This prompted a firestorm of criticism.
The controversy started shortly after the 2023 BBC Children in Need pledge drive. In previous years, the producers of Doctor Who filmed short, comedic episodes as part of the event. This tradition was revived this year in honor of the show’s 60th anniversary.
The 2023 special, Destination: Skaro, featured David Tennant in his first full appearance as the Fourteenth Doctor. The mini-episode, which can be viewed below, found the newly regenerated Doctor accidentally traveling to the Dalek home world. Hilarity ensues as the Doctor accidentally alters history, and barely avoids a meeting with the Daleks’ creator, Davros.
Played by Julian Bleach, the new Davros cuts a menacing figure. This is fitting for the ruthless leader of a society of amoral futurists and in keeping with his past portrayals. However, the character’s new design was drastically altered from his original appearance in the classic Doctor Who series.
Davros’ Origins and History Explained
Davros first appeared in 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks. Written by Terry Nation, who created the Daleks a decade earlier, Genesis of the Daleks found the Doctor pulled out of time by the Time Lords. They deposited him on the Dalek home world of Skaro, instructing him to stop their creation or to find a way make them more peaceful. This was due to the Time Lords foreseeing a day when the Daleks would threaten all reality.
The Doctor discovered that the Daleks were the remnants of an earlier species called Kaleds. Engaged in a lengthy nuclear war, the Kaleds had begun to mutate thanks to the radiation permeating the surface of Skaro. This mutation inspired a Kaled scientist named Davros, who was emaciated by the war and left dependent on a special life support chair.
Rather than curing the mutation of his people, Davros chose to accelerate it. The resulting creatures were armed with a miniature tank based on Davros’ own life support system. Davros dubbed his new species the Daleks. Unfortunately for Davros, the Daleks readily adopted the Kaleds’ ideals regarding racial purity and murdered their creator for not being a Dalek.
In the original timeline, Davros was forgotten by history. However, in the new timeline born of the Doctor’s interference, Davros survived his assassination. The Doctor’s veiled warnings of the Daleks’ potential made Davros paranoid enough to install a forcefield in his chair. This led to a Dalek civil war, with Davros leading one faction against the renegades that sought to kill him. It also led to Davros becoming reviled as one of history’s greatest villains, while delaying the Dalek efforts to destroy all other life.
Why Davros’ Design Was Changed
Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies discussed the change to Davros’ design in an episode of Doctor Who Unleashed. Davies explained that the change was meant to steer the series away from stereotypes associating physical disabilities and disfigurement with evil.
“Time and society and culture and taste has moved on,” noted Davies. “I’m not blaming people in the past at all, but the world changes and when the world changes, Doctor Who has to change as well.”
Davies’ comments drew criticism on two fronts. Some complained that the change is disrespectful to the show’s history. They believe that Davros was defined by his injuries and that Davies’ revamp didn’t consider the intent of earlier writers (though Davros was originally born of writer Terry Nation’s revamping the origins of the Daleks).
Davies also drew fire from wheelchair users, who had no objection to the creator of the Daleks using a wheelchair. Indeed, some wheelchair users stated that they started watching Doctor Who because Davros was one of few wheelchair users in science fiction. They believed that Davies’ decision, however well intentioned, resulted in their losing representation.
Davies Says Davros ‘Looks Like This Now’
One point of confusion in the discussion regarding Destination: Skaro was whether Julian Bleach was playing a young Davros. Some fans, who had not seen the Doctor Who Unleashed episode, presumed that Destination: Skaro was set before Genesis of the Daleks. This would explain why Davros was not using a wheelchair or disfigured. However, Russell T Davies indicated this was not the case.
The Fourteenth Doctor’s dialogue in Destination Skaro stated that “the timelines and canon are rupturing.” This indicates that multiple changes to the Doctor Who continuity are likely to occur in the near future. Those changes, according to Davies, start with the new design for Davros. “I say this is how we see Davros now,” affirmed Davies. “This is what he looks like.”