With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ,
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
– William Shakespeare, Richard III
Science-fiction is the reiteration of myth and legend in the age of science and technology, i.e. the capitalist age, which is also the age of industrialised imperialism and fascism, of assembly line genocide and nuclear warheads dropped on civilian population centres. No wonder then that sci-fi often retells the history of the 20th century in terms of apocalypse and revelation; that’s to say in terms of Christianity, the dominant mythological schema of Western culture. ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ fuses various Christian myths (most especially, the myth of the creator who creates in his own image, endows his creation with free will and is then turned upon by them… but also the fiery last judgement) with a stream-of-consciousness semiotic representation of Nazis, holocausts and Hiroshimas.
We are shown a world in which the Daleks become possible. A world reduced to two decaying cities fighting each other to extinction for no reason that either seems to understand (which reiterates the myth of Greece and Troy). The Kaleds and the Thals are practically indistinguishable (except for their hair and colour schemes… who knows, maybe it all started as a war between the blondes and the brunettes?). The Thals are just as brutal, just as racist. Who’s to say they didn’t start it? Does it even matter? There is clearly no right or wrong here, no goodies and baddies. The Thals plot genocide, dirty war and the slaughter of those they consider inferior. As such, the Daleks are almost a just punishment upon them. In fact, since Davros and his creatures kill nearly all the Kaleds too, you can look upon these monsters as a kind of judgement visited upon both races for their thousand year war. Divine justice or the revenge of history; it depends if you look at this as history or myth. Of course, it’s both – just like a Shakespeare history play.
A. P. Rossiter called Shakespeare’s Richard III an “angel with horns”, pointing out that his devilish crimes bring down a kind of divine purification upon an England sullied by usurpation and war. In his evil, he’s almost a force for good. Davros is like this. He’s very like Richard. Twisted and deformed but able to turn his deformity to his advantage; charismatic and commanding despite being lame and crippled; able to charm and trot out professions of duty while inwardly seething with malice; narcissistic and vain; thirsty for power; driven by a fierce and implacable intellect; driven through ambition to self-destruction. There are even echoes of Shakespeare in some of the dialogue. “Conscience is a word that cowards use” says Richard. To Davros, conscience is an affliction amongst other “creeds of cowards”.
I wonder if it’s entirely an accident that at least one bit of Davros’ dialogue sounds like it’s in iambic pentameter:
And through the Daleks I shall have that power.”