Written by: Mike Tucker
Featuring: Seventh Doctor and Ace
Release Date: April 2000
Today in the Doctor Who audio adventures series from Big Finish, I will be looking at the seventh story released under the ‘Monthly Adventures’ range: The Genocide Machine, starring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. This story sees the pair try to thwart a Dalek plan to intercept every piece of the universe’s information stored in a library on a backwater planet, but does the story itself bring the firepower needed?
In comparison to the previous Big Finish adventure starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, The Fearmonger, the audio mixing isn’t as strong here. In the very first scene in the story, a group of salvagers trying to steal a historical monument are ambushed, with the majority killed. If the director was going for an atmosphere of chaos, then they got it spot on. What I am seeing with quite a few of these early audio adventures is that it is hard to get the balance right between creating scenes ideal for an audio-only piece and keeping them action-packed and exciting. It descended into a sequence of explosions and gunfire; it would be hard to imagine what was going on if one of the salvagers wasn’t shouting the names of her comrades who were being killed. This happened a couple more times in the story, notably whenever the Daleks were firing at the protagonists and ended up hitting a wall for example. Much of the story has good audio, especially the representation of the eerie spirits of the planet living in the rain. I think the action sequences were a bit crunchy, which hinders it considering the monsters featured in the story.
I also feel that, when compared to The Fearmonger, the narrative is just okay. The Daleks are searching this seemingly deserted planet to gain access to a secret library, which happens to contain an information bank containing all the knowledge of the universe. This narrative stream is okay, nothing special, but would have provided a good background to what I see is the plot point with the biggest potential. This information bank is liquid-based, but what the head librarian doesn’t know is that contained in this liquid is the souls of millions of life-forms, the same ones that are in the rain that falls on the planet. I think that this could have become such a powerful morality tale about how far people would go to gain knowledge, and for a while it seems like this could happen, as The Doctor directly interacts with these spirits. Alas, despite a strong feeling of anger from him towards the librarian when the truth is revealed, this is put onto the back burner and becomes another ‘defeat the Daleks finale’. I would have loved to have seen the library owners revealed as the big bad of this story, making the destruction of the library and the freeing of the spirits become more powerful than what did happen.
The number of characters who appear in this story is reasonably low for a base-under-siege type story, which is a weakness when some of them fail to provide the needed fire. Bev Tarrant, the sole surviving salvager, shows a lot of promise, though suffers slightly next to the very similar character of Ace. However, this promise means it is no surprise that she ends up appearing in the spin-off Bernice Summerfield series. On the other hand, Chief Librarian Elgin grew tiresome after an amusing start, with his overly proper and prudish voice and attitudes. He, out of every secondary character, feels most akin to those seen in late 80s Doctor Who, which isn’t exactly a compliment! If anything, Cataloguer Prink is a bigger success for the recurring gag where he is constantly interrupted by friend and foe before he can say a word and being chastised by his superior for talking too much. The regulars are on great form here though; Sylvester McCoy channels the multi-layered Doctor of his later years as much as his typically clownish persona, and Sophie Aldred gets to show more than just Ace with a frosty turn as her Dalek duplicate.
This audio book started the Dalek Empire series, which consists of three further adventures, yet works more as a standalone Dalek story. It doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the narrative involving the genocide of a race to gain information but if you are looking for a bit of action and adventure, then this is the story for you.
STAR-DIS Rating: ★ ★ ★