Review – Big Finish Doctor Who #7: “The Genocide Machine”
This is the next in line of my Big Finish Productions Doctor Who retro-reviews.
#7 – “The Genocide Machine” (Dalek Empire Part One)
The library on Kar-Charrat is one of the wonders of the Universe. It is also hidden from all but a few select species. The Doctor and Ace discover that the librarians have found a new way of storing data – a wetworks facility – but the machine has attracted unwanted attention, and the Doctor soon finds himself pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies – the Daleks!
Written By: Mike Tucker
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor); Sophie Aldred (Ace); Daniel Gabriel (Rappel/Phantom Voices); Louise Faulkner (Bev Tarrant); Bruce Montague (Chief Librarian Elgin); Nicholas Briggs (Cataloguer Prink/Dalek Voices); Alistair Lock (Dalek Voices)
***minor spoilers ahead***
If you listened to our series 7a roundtable podcast, (and if not, why NOT?!), then you already know two things about me:
- Big Finish spoiled me for televised Doctor Who. More than that, it spoiled me for a lot of TV.
- I feel like televised Doctor Who has no clue how to write for Daleks.
I’m unforgiving of Davies and Moffat because I have been spoiled by audios like this one. This episode is the exact demonstration I need to make it clear why I feel this way. Listen to this story, and you’ll get it. Or at least you should if you’re actually reading on this site. The thing is, I fear I might be able to overhype this. Just a little.
This story is the first in what Big Finish called Dalek Empire, which is actually a bit misleading. The three Dalek stories, of which this is the first, lead into a later mini-series called Dalek Empire. So essentially these first three Dalek Empire stories are build-up for the kind of thing that’s so awe-inspiring it makes a fanboy (or fangirl) weep tears of joy. It’s not just one story that does it, it’s the entire build-up. How good is it? I used to laugh at Daleks in the classic series because they could never really be taken as a serious threat. A Dalek written to spec is a scary thing, and it’s hard to do that on TV. I don’t really think it’s that hard, but I assume it must be since almost nobody can or will for whatever reason. Even with today’s series, they keep changing it because a “real” Dalek would be unbelievable in its terrifying efficiency. Big Finish made me stop laughing. Enough hype. Let’s talk shop about this first one, shall we?
The Doctor decides return a few overdue library books to a hidden facility boasting Time Lord temporal shielding and a means of data storage so advanced that even the Time Lords couldn’t make it work. Of course, others want it. Knowledge, after all, is power.
Meanwhile, a couple of students are investigating a mysterious ziggurat on the planet that’s stood for centuries. What is it for? Nobody seems to know, but it’s revealed early on to be a Dalek hibernation chamber, and the presence of the TARDIS reactivates the Dalek inside. Without even trying, Big Finish presents us with Daleks who are patient, ruthless, and inventive – hallmarks as yet unrealized in the modern TV era. And this is just the opening gambit. The Daleks’ real mission isn’t about the technology of the library. They want the data within so as to improve on the already so-called “superior race.” Their plan is to hook a Dalek into the machine, download the library, and then blow it all up so nobody else can match their level of knowledge. Time Lords, however, are far too clever, and so the Daleks have waited in similar fashion in these hibernation chambers on several worlds across time… waiting for someone considerably less clever, like say, the Doctor’s companion, who has been DNA tagged so she can re-enter the library. The Daleks capture Ace and make a duplicate so that the duplicate can make its way inside, lower the shielding, and allow the Daleks access to complete their mission. Special kudos to Sophie Aldred for being completely convincing as a Dalek duplicate.
But what’s a classic tale without a monkey wrench? The planet has a terrible secret that’s even worse than Dalek supremacy, one that sickens the Doctor to the core of his being.
Big Finish not only proves they can write Daleks well, but they also prove that the soundscape of Doctor Who is every bit as iconic and sometimes ominous as what you’d hear in Star Wars or Star Trek. If anything, the sound of a Dalek without actually having to look at one seems ever more threatening. This, my friends, is Doctor Who the way it’s meant to be, and I won’t sit here and tell you it’s the best of the best. Far from it. This is simply a good story, and it’s all just the overture for a much more grand opera to be played out in future installments. You see, as of this story, the Daleks aren’t even a serious threat yet. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great threat by standards of what you see on TV, but by Big Finish standards, you ain’t seen – um, HEARD – nothing yet. This is one of those incredibly rare cases where the long game pays big in the end.