Several actors have worn the mask of Davros in Doctor Who across the decades, but one of the most prolific is undoubtedly Terry Molloy. In addition to being the longest-serving creator of the Daleks, he also voiced the character during the iconic 2006 miniseries I, Davros, which explores his origin story.
Molloy was given his chance in 1984 when he assumed the role of Davros opposite Peter Davison and the character who gave this writer her name, Tegan Jovanka. “Doctor Who started when I was 16 years old so I was at the key age of watching that program,” says Molloy. “I watched it through the Hartnell and Troughton years, but then I went off and started to do other things and started to lose touch with it. In fact, when they offered me the part of Davros I didn’t have a clue who the character was. So the director sat me down in front of Michael Wisher’s initial 1975 portrayal and said, ‘Look, this is it. Do you want to do it?’ and it was as simple as that.”
Although the role has now been taken over by Julian Bleach, Molloy has no issues with passing the figurative mantle, particularly due to his multi-decade portrayal. “I was the third person to play Davros and I’ve actually played him 17 times. Three times on television, once onstage and the rest on audio. So I think I’ve gotten a bit of a track record for him over the years. I probably know too much about the character now.”
When asked whether he is empathetic to Davros, Molloy asserts, “You have to have compassion for a character you’re playing. People ask, ‘What’s it like playing an evil character?’ and I reply with, ‘Who’s to say what is evil?’
“When you look at The Revelation Of The Daleks, Davros has solved the problem of starvation throughout the galaxy. Sure, they’re using dead bodies to feed them, but he can’t see the moral problem there.” He laughs. “The only problem he sees is the consumer resistance if people found out. Obviously there is the other side of it in that he is using some of the bodies to create Daleks in order to dominate the universe, so he slips there.
“From his point of view, and I had to play it like that, it’s perfectly reasonable. He thinks, ‘What are you getting hung up about? What’s your problem? I’m doing good here. I’m called The Great Healer, not The Great Destroyer.’ So I always tried to play him so that people would have a little sympathy for Davros.”
Molloy says there are crucial similarities between the Doctor and Davros. “For me, the fascinating thing is the mental chess game, the psychological battle between the Doctor and Davros. They know that they’re intellectually equal and they both know they’re alone. They are the one of their kind. In fact, in one of the big finishes Davros admits to the Doctor that he is the closest thing that he has to a friend, which is an amazing thing to say, because they’re mortal enemies.”
Despite the infamy of the role, Molloy has by no means been restricted to or typecast as Davros. In addition to playing Mike Tucker in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers since 1973, he is also a producer and a director. “I suppose I have a low threshold for boredom. I do something and think, ‘Well, that was good, now let’s do something else.’
“I think I’ve been fairly consistent over the years in my work on radio. In a sense, the audio has been my love, really. That has been a mainstay of my life because it’s a medium and an area I really truly love doing.”
Fan service has also been a love of Molloy, which is why he is such an avid attendee of the convention circuit. “It’s great to be in a place where people have that much passion and interest in things. A lot of these conventions, like Supanova, is people coming together their common passion in enjoying a program. For me, the thing about the fans of any series is that it’s like being part of an extended family. No matter what side of the camera you’re on, it’s about having a commonality of interests. It’s the fans who make the program, they keep it going. So for me, It’s interesting to find out how they got into the show, what they love about it and what they hate about it. We’ll talk it, laugh about it and bitch about it as most families do.”
Being a part of such an iconic show, it stands to reason that the actor would have been asked some weird questions at conventions in his time. “The weirdest question I’ve gotten is ‘Will you sign my costume?’ This was a fan in America who was dressed as Leela. It was odd because they were over six stone and were male.” He laughs and continues, “One of the more common questions I get is, ‘Who is your favourite Doctor?’ and I reply with, ‘Dr. Cherry, my local GP.’”
Fans of Doctor Who are likely to enjoy one of Molloy’s other programs, The Scarifyers, which is a comedic audio adventures series. “It’s been great fun doing something that is so off the wall and silly. It’s like Dick Barton meets The X-Files. It involves the old 1930s blood, sweat and tears, as well as stealing material from a lot of other people. When we did The Devil of Denge Marsh, it was a straight steal of The Wicker Man but we had a Wicker Fish instead. It’s totally tongue-in-cheek and I just love the characters. Simon Bernard writes some very funny and witty little scripts. I just love playing Danny because he’s just an old school British mad professor who always gets it wrong.”
Despite his expansive career, Molloy enjoys a life free of exuberant public attention. This is predominantly due to mostly working in radio or behind the mask of Davros. In regards to this rare equilibrium, he warmly affirms, “The anonymity is something that’s very precious and doesn’t impede on your every day life. I get the best of both worlds because I can turn it on when I need to, like when I’m at events and fans see me. It’s lovely, and I like that.”
See Terry Molloy at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo from Friday June 13 until Sunday June 15 at the Sydney Showground. Also appearing will be Stan Lee, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jon Heder, Ming-Na Wen, Rose McGowan and heaps more.