For the record, we will be discussing the outcomes of the Doctor Who episodes The Genesis of the Daleks, The Seeds of Doom, and The Robots of Death. These are some of the best stories in the Classic Series line up and you owe it to yourself to go into them as unspoiled as possible. However, nothing is stopping you from reading on. I’ll try to keep as much hidden as I possibly can.
Now that we’ve gotten the SPOILERS AHEAD portion of our show out of the way, let us continue.
One of the most common motifs (or perhaps more accurately clichés) in Science Fiction and Horror is that of the Mad Scientist being killed by his creation. “Stay back!” he screams as his darling lumbers towards him, appendages outstretched. “I am your Master! I created you! You can’t to this to meeee…!”
Exeunt Scientist. Sometimes messily. Almost always satisfactorily, as by that point the Scientist has proven himself to be the lowest of the low. Viewers pity the monster more often than the one who created it.
If a name were to be given to this climax (and why not?) it would probably be called the Frankenstein Solution. As we recall, the ending portions of the novel Frankenstein have the monster stalking the title character across the face of the Earth seeking vengeance for being made. It’s not an exact match, of course – Frankenstein went out with a whimper, after all, and not a scream – but it’s close enough for government work.
It should not surprise anyone, therefore, that Doctor Who uses the Frankenstein Solution in several of its stories. One of the most memorable, and, in fact, most enjoyable, is that of Davros (left) when faced with his creations in Genesis of the Daleks. War has gripped his planet for centuries, leading to horrible mutations. As a scientist, all he wants is to prepare his race for their fate through the creation of travel machines he calls Daleks. He is so certain of this eventual outcome that not only is he hurrying the mutations along, he is also fully prepared to slaughter the “normals” he once served.
As Genesis of the Daleks is one in a long, long line of Dalek stories, the Doctor Who fan knows exactly where all of this is leading: Davros facing down the business end of a blaster. After all, that’s what Daleks do when they aren’t exterminating “lesser” lifeforms. Backstabbing is so second nature to them that they probably should have knives on their “arms” instead of suction cups.
Even if the viewers weren’t familiar with the series, when they learn that the Daleks have been breed without mercy, they have to know that this isn’t the best of ideas. Sure enough, towards the close, Davros sees the writing on the wall, and wouldn’t you know he starts begging for that very quality. He, of course, fails to sway these rebellious children, and after six episodes or so of this arrogant madman conniving and killing all those who stood against him, his end just seems so very right. So just.
Which is why the Frankenstein Solution still so very, very popular. It satisfies in terms of morals (“He Tampered In God’s Domain”) as well as in terms of irony.
It is by this stage of the game so very, very predictable.
So this whole Frankenstein Solution thing should be dropped, right? Old, tired, hoary thing. No one ought be allowed near it. Right? Stories would be better without them, right?
Of course not. Everything can seem new if given a creative spin.
For instance, take Seeds of Doom‘s Harrison Chase for example (left). He doesn’t fit the Frankenstein Solution on first brush. While his field is botany, he does not create the story’s menace. In truth, the titled threat is a sort of intergalactic weed which drifts through the cosmos until drawn down onto a planet. Once on the planet’s surface, the seed pod releases a tendril that on contact infects animal life, changing it into a monstrous alien known as a Krynoid. The Krynoid then seeks out animal life for food and prepares to make more seeds and, by extension, more Krynoids.
It’s almost apples and oranges, really.
Only Chase acts very much in the Mad Scientist role. On discovering the existance of the alien, he becomes hell bent on seeing the Krynoid. And as a corrupt millionaire, he is used to getting what he wants. Laws broken, people killed, semi-innocent Time Travelers roughed up. Nothing will stop him. In the end, he has one of his men infected and encourages the man’s change into the killer alien plant.
By Episode Five, all of these hopes and dreams have been fulfilled. The Krynoid is now wandering his backyard, nearly ten feet tall and still growing. It is at this point that a most wonderful notion enters Chase’s head. He’s going to go out armed with his camera and take the damn thing’s picture. Most would thing this a bad move, but not this bright boy. He’s convinced he’ll be left unharmed.
One is inclined to wonder if he’d related to Arthur Carrington at this point, and, as the Krynoid approaches, he starts to sound just like the famed scientist. Chase tells the mammoth weed that he is no threat, that he is a friend, all that jazz. The seasoned viewer no doubt expects a darting tendril, a scream, and one more Frankenstein Solution enacted to their satisfaction. And about time, too.
Only that’s not what happens. The Krynoid shrugs it’s shoulders (metaphorically) and says (in theory) “Why not?” Chase becomes its very willing accomplice and spends the rest of the story doing something the viewer wouldn’t have thought possible by making his antics in the previous episodes look sane by comparison.
Subversion of the cliché. Instead of destroying its “creator”, the monster let’s him live. One almost has to love it.
Of course, the Writer don’t have to subvert anything. Sometimes all it takes is a change of motive and means.
Chase would be an excellent example of this, too, as his thinking doesn’t gibe with the typical Mad Scientist. Instead, let’s look at The Robots of Death‘s villain, Taren Capel. Wonderful, mad little Taren Capel, who has for some reason declined to be photographed for this essay. Wonder why? Davros practically primped and preened, and he’s a trifle on the ugly side…
Speaking of Great Healer Davros, Capel is struggling to save his people. In his case, though, he’s a little mixed up about just who his people are. Born and raised among robots, Capel has become convinced that he, too, is a robot. He intends to free his siblings from the shackles his society has placed upon them. Then he will lead them all in the extermination of mankind.
Robots of Death even has the classic Frankenstein Solution ending, where, through means not relevant to this essay, one of the robots confuses Capel for another human and kills him. It’s all there. “You fool!” Capel cries. “Not me! I am your master! I’m Taren Capel!” Or something to that effect.
And here’s were things get interesting.
During the course of Robots of Death, one of the characters suffers a mental breakdown. It is caused, the viewer learns, by robophobia (or, if you want to be classy, Grimwade’s Syndrome). At one point, the character even goes so far as to plead for the robots to forgive whatever sin had been committed against them.
In the essay Vocs Extended, writer Fiona Moore sees a possibility in this mania. She suggests that Capel isn’t your every day Mad Scientist after all. For all his talk of freeing his brothers, of programing them to be ambitious, he has set himself up as their leader and not their equal. To her way of thinking, Capel’s actions point to him having Grimwade’s Syndrome as well, that everything he does is geared to one real (if unconscious) purpose: to keep those creepy mechanical men from harming him.
All of this, of course, might not be remotely what the writer of Robots of Death (Chris Boucher) intended. It is no doubt reading into the text, something those of the more analytical persuasion love to do. But ignore that for a moment. What matters for this essay is that it could have been.
Here is the Frankenstein Solution, warts and all, and yet not. After all, Frankenstein searched for knowledge, to, in the end, help people. So too did Davros (though admittedly not as altruistic a motive). Capel operated out of fear. Unconscious, unrecognized, but there nonetheless.
Imagine that. Striving so very hard to avoid something, only to ensure that very fear comes to pass. Gives the whole thing a bit more spice, doesn’t it?
More examples could be trotted out, from Doctor Who to other Genre TV shows and movies. No doubt more will come down the pike. Frankenstein still works in his lab. Davros builds for a better tomorrow. Chase thinks as green as he can. Taren Capel is activated and performing well in Kaldor City and the galaxy surrounding it. If they aren’t, then someone else is. There always is.
But perhaps if their tales are interesting, if they are well told, the viewer won’t hold their ways too much against them, or the writers who create them.