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Dalek Empire: The Genocide Machine

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures #7
Richard Radcliffe

The Daleks are back, and they are terrific. After the very average attempts by the books (War of the Daleks and Legacy of the Daleks) they are back to prominence - exactly where they should be in the DW universe.

The Daleks succeeded on TV largely due to their look. Visually they are impressive. Audibly they are impressive too, as this audio adventure shows. With the help of the sound wizards from Big finish they are superb, frightening and authoritarian. They reek of conquest, a relentless pursuit of power. They are supplemented with sound effects we associate with them (eg. the heartbeat of the control room).

The soundtrack too is impressive. Atmospheric music, weird and wonderful sound effects. There are more water sound effects than you can believe possible as gulps, glugs and drips abound. The depiction of a rainforest is a standout here. The constant rain providing the backdrop for much of the action - giving the whole production a claustrophic feel. The 7th Doctor is ideal for this environment - that Umbrella comes in very useful!

The 7th Doctor and Ace are brilliant. Clearly thriving on a story they can get their teeth into. Sophie Aldred is impressive in all her guises in this. Sylvestor McCoy exudes the mysterious Timelord, and it's refreshing to find the Doctor having no idea where the story is going!

The supporting characters are pretty good too. Best of these is Elgin - the chief Librarian. . A man who can't stand things out of place. Rather a lonely figure is portrayed, and despite his failings, you can't help but feel sorry for him. Bev Tarrant is very Bennyesque, nice to see strong female leads. Also notable are the Phantoms of Kar-Charrat - very spooky indeed these.

The story is interesting. The wetworks facility being a fascinating concept - realized very well by Big Finish. The planet Kar-Charrat is the stories main triumph though. A magnificent environment is created complete with rainforests, ancient Ziggurat and invisible Library. A tour de force for the imagination.

Overall this is great Doctor Who. Of the futuristic stories it is definitely the best (I've listened to them all up to 16, the 1st McGann one). 9/10.

Eddy Wolverson

How can you follow “Remembrance of the Daleks?”

I don’t know.

However, I do know that you do not (double-underlined in red) follow it with a Dalek story so awful it makes “Death To The Daleks!” and the rest of the generic Daleks in the jungle / Daleks in the desert / Daleks in a quarry stories which plagued the Pertwee era look like priceless gems.

The above comment is extremely harsh, but it’s also extremely true. “The Genocide Machine” really isn’t a bad story by most standards – however, it’s not necessarily a good one either, it’s just very ordinary. Many have used the word ‘traditional’ to describe this play as well as a lot of Mike Tucker’s other Doctor Who work, which just about encapsulates “The Genocide Machine” perfectly. However, the play is ‘traditional’ in that it has a very generic story with a very generic Doctor and companion. No disrespect to McCoy or Aldred, they both put a lot into their performances and their characters do eventually shine through, but it doesn’t change the fact that the story doesn’t cater to their characters at all, it’s just written around them.

Big Finish also refer to the play as “Dalek Empire – Part One”, not be confused with Nicholas Briggs’ later “Dalek Empire” series. Not bound by the constraints of the TV series (where for things to make sense the Doctor and the Daleks [or Davros] would encounter each other in chronological order) Big Finish decided that as they were releasing a different play from a different Doctor each month, then the stories could be released in the order of the Daleks’ point of view so that the viewer can watch the master plan slowly unfold. Therefore, although from the Doctor’s purview the events of the forthcoming “Apocalypse Element” took place in his personal past, for the Daleks they take place after this story, as does the forthcoming “Mutant Phase” which confusingly took place even earlier from the Doctor’s perspective.

Believe it or not, “The Genocide Machine” does have its moments. There are snippets of humour (the ‘silent’ librarian joke, for example) and the idea of the library on Kar-Charrat storing all the knowledge of the universe in its wetworks facility is an interesting concept. In the end the wetworks prove to be the story’s saving grace as the b-plot (which is quite easily forgotten in such a busy story) about the ‘phantoms’ reveals that Chief Librarian Elgin may actually be no better than the Daleks, finally giving Sylvester McCoy to get his teeth into some very idiosyncratic seventh Doctor morally-outraged ranting!

Suffice it to say that without the twists of the final episode, “The Genocide Machine” would be one of those notorious clangers like “The Creature From The Pit” or “Underworld.” Thankfully it at least can be regarded as a ‘traditional’ adventure, although it doesn’t come highly recommended!

Paul Clarke

'The Genocide Machine' marks Big Finish's first use of the Daleks, and also the return of Sophie Aldred as Ace. Written as it is by strangely popular Doctor Who novel author Mike Tucker, it boasts the same strength and weaknesses as his Doctor Who novels, often co-authored by Robert Perry, and as such enjoyment of 'The Genocide Machine' depends partly on what the listener thinks of his work.

Mike Tucker has, to date, written what are often described as "traditional" Doctor Who stories, although in some cases this seems to be a polite way of saying "pedestrian". Fortunately, whereas Tucker has written or co-written two diabolical novels in the form of 'Matrix' and 'Prime Time' (and a reasonably enjoyable novel blighted by a highly offensive plot twist in the shape of 'Loving the Alien'), he can, at best, provide a reasonably fast-paced plot that carries the reader along with its obvious enthusiasm for the series, with 'Illegal Alien' and 'Storm Harvest' arguably the best examples of this. Both of these latter novels were entertaining, albeit cursed with fairly shallow characterisation, and 'The Genocide Machine' is written in a similar vein. The plot is fairly straightforward, concerning as it does the Daleks' desire to invade the library of Kar-Charrat, one of the wonders of the universe and the greatest repository of knowledge in existence. Matters are complicated by the presence of another alien life form, but aside from that the plot progresses from beginning to end as the Daleks' plan comes to fruition and is ultimately thwarted by the Doctor. Straightforward it may be, but it works quite well largely due to Tucker's handling of the Daleks.

Big Finish announced early on that their Dalek plays would not feature Davros, and 'The Genocide Machine' provided their first opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of this policy since the television ended. The Daleks of 'The Genocide Machine', no longer playing second fiddle to their creator for the first time since 'Genesis of the Daleks', recapture some of the Machiavellian cunning that characterised them in the nineteen sixties and it works very well. Their motivation here is simple, but it is also believable; gaining access to the greatest storehouse of information in the universe would obviously be a massive tactical advantage in their ongoing crusade to establish themselves as the supreme power of the universe. More important however is the ingenuity and cunning that the Daleks exhibit in obtaining access to the library; we learn that they have planted lone Daleks in hibernation on various planets in the vicinity of Kar-Charrat and on Kar-Charrat itself, to wait for as long as is necessary for a Time Lord to return to the library, since only Time Lords and other time sensitives can penetrate the temporal barrier surrounding the library. The arrival of the Doctor proves to be even more fortuitous, since he arrives, as usual, with a companion in tow, who is granted the means of crossing the barrier, which the Daleks promptly gain control of once they capture Ace. As events transpire, this isn't their only reason for wanting a Time Lord, since a Time Lord brain is uniquely suited to acting as a buffer when they download the data contained within the wetworks facility, therefore increasing the Daleks' chance of transferring this information into a Dalek test subject without it going mad in the process. Thus, we see the Daleks executing a long-term strategy to achieve their ends, and also displaying their usual ruthlessness and resourcefulness along the way, slaughtering the library staff members that they don't need and making a duplicate of Ace along the way.

In short, the Daleks are once more portrayed as a force to be reckoned with; in Episode One, as Bev Tarrant's team try to steal the ziggurat, a lone Dalek proves unstoppable, exterminating all of the group aside from Bev despite being faced with plasma cannon fire. The production also contributes a great deal with director Nicholas Briggs' love of the Daleks evident in the way he handles them. No attempt is made to hide the presence of the Daleks in 'The Genocide Machine', which could have robbed Episode One of some suspense as the listener waits impatiently for them to put in their appearance, but instead Briggs (and Tucker's script) gives us brief aural glimpses of them as they wait in the wings, plotting and scheming. My own slight criticism of the Daleks here is the result of the data transfer on the test Dalek; having gained all the knowledge of the wetworks facility, the test subject becomes hyper-intelligent and consequently starts to rebel against the Dalek Supreme, questioning its orders and pointing out that exterminating non-hostile life forms is illogical and serves no real purpose. This is, ultimately, a rather predictable development and the fact that the Daleks clearly weren't expecting it does rather undermine the cunning and careful planning that the script otherwise allows them. It also means, in effect, that even if they had successfully defeated the Doctor and destroyed the library as they had originally planned, they still would not have won, and this also rather lessens the Doctor's achievements here as all he actually does at the end is blow the library up in a slightly different way and a slightly different time so as to destroy the Daleks inside it and release the Kar-Charratans trapped in the wetworks facility.

Another positive aspect of the 'The Genocide Machine' is the nature of the Kar-Charratans and their treatment at the hands of Elgin and his colleagues. Intelligent water is a concept not previously used in Doctor Who and Tucker exploits it fairly well. From Episode One, we learn of the "Phantoms of Kar-Charrat" as Ace and other characters here mysterious sounds in the rain, and it gradually becomes clear that an unusual alien life form is at the root of the mystery. The Kar-Charratans also play a crucial role in the plot, with the revelation that the librarians have been using them to create their data-storage facility, effectively threatening their entire species in the process. Unfortunately, Tucker doesn't really exploit this revelation as well as he could have; despite the Doctor's fury at Elgin's terrible crime, it isn't ever made fully clear that Elgin, Prink and the rest of the library staff knew that the Kar-Charratans were intelligent. Elgin gets little chance to defend himself during most of Episode Four, and at the end Tucker seems to have decided that he was an unwitting participant in attempted genocide. This is rather a shame; given Elgin's obsession with the library, the revelation that he deliberately placed its importance over the lives of an entire race might have been an interesting piece of characterisation, especially given the Doctor's horror that somebody that he considers a friend has committed such a crime, but rather than allowing Elgin to either try and justify his crimes or to accept the blame for them, the script dances around the issue of his culpability or lack thereof.

The upshot of all of this, is that Elgin is not especially memorable; rather than being callous or actually evil, he simply seems misguided and foolish, and given that the most interesting thing that can be said about him prior to the revelations about the nature of the wetworks facility is that he is fastidious, this doesn't add up to a great deal. Bruce Montague puts in a reasonable performance given the dialogue with which he is provided, but he basically spends most of the time worrying, or moaning or both. It is possible that Elgin is a pastiche of obsessive Doctor Who fans that collect merchandise obsessively but dare not actually make use of it in case it gets damaged, but I'm probably trying to look for subtext that isn't there. Unfortunately, this weak characterisation is typical of 'The Genocide Machine'; aside from the Doctor and Ace, few of the characters are especially memorable. The sudden outburst by the hitherto silent Cataloguer Prink in Episode Four as he finally snaps at the treatment meted out on the library and tackles the Dalek duplicate of Ace with fatal consequences is quite a nice moment, but it only stands out because it is a rarity in this story. All of which brings me on to Bev Tarrant, a character that isn't nearly as interesting as Tucker seems to think, and who has become something of a Mary-Sue for the author, having since returned in 'Dust Breeding' and 'Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bellotron Incident', both also penned by Tucker. The problem with Tarrant is that she is basically a set of clichés, a sarcastic and cynical thief who is cast in the role of hero by the circumstances around her. Except that she isn't, because she never actually does anything except spout expository dialogue. Louise Faulkner's performance is perfectly adequate, but the character is dreary.

Worse still is the characterisation of the regulars. Despite having co-authored the large format Doctor Who book Ace, Tucker's grasp of the character seems to be based purely on how she was portrayed in 'Dragonfire', by which I mean she becomes an irritating teenager once more, with the character development of Season Twenty-Six seemingly forgotten. She also suffers from a script that gives her reams of expository dialogue, a common fault of the early Big Finish audios, and thus ends up with awful lines such as "A Dalek, of course. Weird looking one though" and "Huh. You should get some Duracells, last longer than most ordinary batteries", a line that is not only bad in its own right, but is delivered as though Aldred is advertising the brand. To add insult to injury, Sophie Aldred's performance is sorely lacking, as she seems to be on autopilot throughout, resulting in some very half-hearted attempts at emotion as she argues with Elgin in Episode One and defies the Daleks later on. She does sound like she's enjoying the villainous role of the Dalek duplicate, making me wonder if the story would have flowed better if Tucker had tried to conceal the fact that the Ace in the library is an imposter until later in the story. The Doctor fares little better; Tucker seems to have shunned the manipulative persona of Seasons Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six, but neither does he utilize the less manipulative but more manic and charismatic Seventh Doctor of Season Twenty-Four. Instead, we get a tepid compromise, a Doctor who blunders into trouble in a way that has served the series in good stead since the nineteen sixties, but without any of the enthusiasm that he normally exhibits. I can't actually pinpoint any specific lines that bother me, but for some reason throughout Episode One his scripted dialogue just makes him sound a bit vacant and disinterested. Things improve as the story progresses, but Sylvester McCoy's difficulty in conveying anger rears its ugly head again and when he delivers lines such as "You are an abomination, no better than the Daleks", he sounds unnatural and stilted. He also rolls his "r"s in embarrassing fashion and it doesn't help that he too gets saddled with exposition in Episode One.

In summary, 'The Genocide Machine' more or less succeeds in spite of itself. It could have been much better, but it just about works due to Tucker's handling of the Daleks. It's superficially enjoyable and well worth a listen, but with a little more time and effort spent on characterisation it could have been great.

Lawrence Conquest

I was never a huge fan of Tuckers 7th Doctor novels, so I initially approached this with some caution, but I actually found this pretty enjoyable. The return of the Daleks was inevitably a necessary evil, but this audio makes good use of the metal pepper pots (though blimey – doesn’t the one on the cover have large ears!). I must admit that usually without Davros I find the Daleks boring and one-dimensional aliens, though I fully appreciate that for variety if no other reason that the Daleks require a few stories without their creator.

The story of a library that houses all knowledge has been done before, but it’s given a decent treatment by Tucker here, and thankfully never flags over the four episodes. The start is a little worrying, with the budgetary constraints seeing two actors pretending to be a whole team of archaeologists, but once we get to the library proper things soon settle down. The last minute replacement of Benny with the similar Bev Tarrant initially seems like a big mistake, but seeing as after acting as the story’s hook Tarrant has so little impact on the proceedings its hard to care overmuch.

Its not all plain sailing, as Tucker makes a number of elementary audio mistakes, with frequent bouts of characters uttering ridiculous soliloquies (though in this respect the Daleks habit of constantly reporting the situation is an audio godsend). Most of the issues are down to failure of logic. The use of the Ace clone is fine, but the comings and goings of the duplicates grating voice comes and goes depending on the scenes requirements with little rhyme or reason. Silent curator Prink is hilarious in episode 1, but the joke wears thin through repetition. In episode 1 the Daleks monitor the arrival of the TARDIS, yet by episode 3 they seem to have forgotten where it is and have to send out a search party to look for it. Is it feasible that Daleks aren’t fully waterproof? What happens if it’s raining, (and this seems to be a very wet planet) do they have to get their umbrellas out or drown? Why are the Daleks so keen for a breakneck rush for invasion – surely they can afford a day or two’s delay rather than bungle their plans?

It sounds like a lot of gripes, but these little niggles fail to dampen my enthusiasm for this overmuch. Its no work of genius, but as a well paced exciting adventure this is enjoyable stuff.

Nigel Parry

April's Big Finish Audio release, swapped with 'Red Dawn' which now comes out in May, sees the returm of the Daleks in the first part of a story arc that will become known as the Dalek Empire. Sylvester McCoy's old Who special effects maestro Mike Tucker, it is no surprise that 'Genocide Machine' features the Seventh Doctor, alongside Sophie Aldred as Ace.

Spoilers follow

Originally this was to be called 'Wetworks', because the central location in this story is the Wetworks Facility, which is a revolutionary new way of storing knowledge; 'all the knowledge of the Universe', according to Librarian Elgin, who along with his bashful colleague Cataloguer Prink are the two main employees of Wetworks. In fact, they are the ONLY two employees we hear in this apparently vast facility.

Also on the planet (called Kar-Charrat) is a curious but impressive monument, the Ziggurat - one of many scattered about on various planets. While the Wetworks library is kept a virtual secret (much to Ace's chagrin), the Ziggurat has attracted an unwelcome amount of interest. As the story opens, the interested party is currently Bev Tarrant and her small band of men. One of these men is Rappell, Tarrant's partner, who quickly succumbs to an impressively graphic death by something lurking in the lush, rain-sodden foliage close by the Ziggurat.

Of course, the Ziggurat is the property and indeed dwelling of a group of Daleks who cunningly find a way of not only finding the library, but also duplicate Ace (in an idea mentioned in 1984's 'Resurrection of the Daleks'). As if this weren't bad enough, they use the Doctor to transfer some of the knowledge from the Wetworks facility into the Daleks own devious possession. With this knowledge, you know there's a fair chance they plan to take over the Universe. The Doctor discovers, however, that the 'water' used to store such knowledge is actually the life-form of Kar-Charrat, and as Chief Librarian, the likeable Elgin is guilty of sacrificing the life-form for his own ends.

All this leads up to a mervellous bout of manic anger from the Doctor, all directed at Elgin, as well as the re-introduction of not only the Special Weapons Dalek (seen in 'Remembrance of the Daleks'), but also the Emporer (from 1967's 'Evil of the Daleks'). Of course, the only way to both free Kar-Charrat's life-forms AND defeat the Dalek's latest plan, is to destroy the library, which the Doctor (with the aid of Ace's Nitro-9) does.

That's a taste of the story - but how can one begin to review it? It is easily, in my opinion, the best Big Finish Dr Who audio so far - not just because of the inclusion of the Daleks. Indeed, the idea of featuring the enduring creatures in Audio could have backfired horribly if not handled correctly. It is, plain and simple, a marvellous story which includes the Daleks - as opposed to Davros, Dalek continuity and the fate (or otherwise) of Skaro, with a story in there somewhere. In fact, my only problem with The Genocide Machine is the fact that Skaro is mentioned within the story, but no mention is given to fact that the Seventh Doctor actually destroyed the planet in 'Remembrance...'. As Skaro is not relevant to this story, why mention the place at all? It simply causes continuity questions. That aside, everything about this production is magnificent. McCoy's rage in episode Four is masterful- indeed, the most angry I've ever heard the Doctor, and Ace is once again brilliantly played by Sophie Aldred. Guest actor Bruce Montague (from late 70's UK sit-com 'Butterflies') is brilliant as the pompous but doddering Elgin, and the Daleks (especially episode Three's 'insane' Dalek), voiced by Nick Briggs and sound maestro Alistair Lock, are superb.

The atmosphere of Kar-Charrat is convincingly conveyed and the music is chilling and metallic. All in all, difficult to fault, and whets the appetite for the next instalment of the 'The Dalek Empire.'

Matthew Sheppard

This was my first Big Finish audio, and it cannot be said that I was particularly impressed with it. Please don't misunderstand me, it wasn't dreadful - it was just terribly traditional. Let us examine the basic plot, Daleks on a jungle planet with the intention of steeling technology to aid their galactic conquest. There's even someone called Tarrant. If it sounds at all familiar, that's because it is. It's a tried and tested Dalek story. Some may argue that this is a good thing, bringing the Daleks back to their roots where they were at their most powerful and most threatening. However, it's just not particularly interesting. We've been down the Terry Nation path so many times before and we all know what to expect. The audio adventures and the books are intended to expand Doctor Who beyond what we saw in the television series, however this is something the audio fails to do.

The Genocide Machine of the title refers to the Wetworks Facility within the library on the planet Kar-Charrat. The Wetworks is apparently a repository for 'all the knowledge of the Universe' stored in liquid form. Needless to say that this knowledge is what 'those nasty little pepper pots' (as Librarian Elgin describes the Daleks) want to get their grubby sink plungers on. And they do, if only for a short time via an evil clone of Ace and the Doctor's synapses. The knowledge, which is downloaded into a Dalek test subject, leads to perhaps the most interesting portion of the audio - a Dalek with morals. It refuses to blindly follow orders from higher-ranking Daleks and will not kill unless it is forced to in order to save others or its own life is being threatened. This was the most original idea in the audio and I feel that it was underplayed. Imagine how much more interesting a civil war between the new highly intelligent moral Daleks and the Daleks of old would be. For the first time Daleks would have to make ethical considerations when warring against each other, which certainly has the potential to be far more interesting than the Imperial and Renegade Dalek civil war stories that have been flogged to death.

There are of course a number of subplots and minor characters running through the audio which do make it more interesting. There is Bev Tarrant and her not so merry band of men and robots that are out to steel the other mysterious artefact on Kar-Charrat, a Ziggurat, for a private buyer but unfortunately end up meeting something rather nasty in the jungle. There are the mysterious voices in the rain, which may be the ghosts of ancient Kar-Charrat. And of course there are the two members of the Library staff we actually hear (the rest are apparently up in the leisure levels), the bumbling and eccentric Librarian Elgin and the painfully shy Cataloguer Prink.

Prink is one of the problems with the audio, as his character doesn't utter a word until the last episode. I suspect that his shyness (caused by Elgin constantly answering questions directed towards him) is intended to come across as being funny, however it doesn't work. I was never sure if Prink actually existed or was just Elgin's imaginary friend. The character of Prink is one which is quite obviously better suited to the medium of television.

I would have to single out this audio for the quality of Sylvester McCoy's acting. His performance is masterful, especially in episode four where he learns how the Wetworks and Elgin relate to the genocide of the title. Hell hath no fury like a Timelord scorned. Perhaps the most angry we will ever see the Doctor. Fantastic. Sophie Aldred once again reprises her role of Ace, playing the role as, err. Sophie Aldred. She never did much in the way of acting in the television series and nothing much has changed since then. Bruce Montage breathes a great deal of needed eccentricity and humour into the bumbling Elgin, whilst Nick Briggs takes on the role of a number of Daleks.

To conclude, this is a story that most fans will enjoy. Although I can see it causing a stir with the sad continuity fan boys over the fact that Skaro is in the story even though the Doctor destroyed it in 'Remberance.'. I think it's good to see that Big Finish Productions aren't afraid to throw away continuity in order to get their stories to work. Stories are more important than continuity, which has a nasty habit of holding back and clogging up creativity. But beware this story doesn't cover any new ground, there's very little here that you haven't seen before. I am sure that it will do well for Big Finish, just by the inclusion of Daleks, but it would be nice to think there will be greater expansion in the later Dalek Empire audios.