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!
It feels weird to be saying this after being so critical of Planet of the Daleks, but The Genocide Machine takes what could loosely be coined as the Terry Nation formula for Dalek stories and makes it work really well. It does have a twist that I certainly wasn’t expecting: the titular Genocide Machine isn’t a Dalek, but the wetworks facility at the heart of the Library of Kar Charrat. Perhaps I was naive, but that twist really landed for me.
One of the strengths of the story is that Mike Tucker really feels like he knows what he is doing with these tropes. At his worst, Nation was sometimes accused of submitting the same script every year, most notably by Terrance Dicks, but Tucker seems to make things like the rainforest relevant to the story by introducing us to an invisible native species who are crucial to the plot. Tucker even doesn’t give us the first explicit mention of a Dalek until the end of the first part, a very Terry Nation idea, but doesn’t insult the listener’s intelligence. He knows that you’ll have seen the Dalek on the cover of the CD or the download, and he and the production team subtly put the Dalek heartbeat into the story at the beginning of the first part. The idea of a library containing a great deal of knowledge that it would need to be hidden away from the rest of the universe is something that is possible more familiar in modern Who, since the destruction of Gallifrey, but it is a good plot device here. I particularly like how the Library disguises itself as ruins, which reminded me of the way that Hogwarts disguises itself to Muggles. The character of Bev, played by Louise Faulkner, does feel a bit superfluous to proceedings here though.
Whilst they might not get up to much once they really enter the story, it does show the danger the Daleks pose and how patient they are willing to be to get an advantage. They set a trap here for the Doctor, or in fact, any time-sensitive who can access the library, and use the Doctor’s weakness for his companions to their advantage here. It starts to get a bit bogged down in the ongoing Dalek Empire narrative that Big Finish have in their early years, but the fact that their plan so nearly succeeds is a bit mark in setting The Genocide Machine apart. Of course, a Dalek become aware of the truth of their existence has been touched on more recently in the television series in Into the Dalek but this feels distinct enough that neither story feels like it is revisiting similar tropes. Here, infinite knowledge is pumped into a Dalek to the point that it sees the futility of their actions, whilst Rusty in the Twelfth Doctor story sees the beauty of the universe and the destruction the Daleks wreak across the Universe.
Another of the story’s successes is the way that Chief Librarian Elgin is portrayed by Bruce Montague. As so often is the case, this character really depends on who is cast to play them and Elgin is a character who could easily become annoying in the wrong pair of hands. Fortunately, Montague isn’t those. Elgin is a pompous figure, certainly houseproud of the collection on Kar Charrat, but Montague plays him with such charm that the character’s stuffed-shirt nature doesn’t stop him from feeling endearing. It possibly helps that the character isn’t whiter than white, and when it is revealed that Elgin has subjugated and destroyed the Kar-Charrat natives, it does make him feel much more rounded as a character. Whilst he is sorry for his part in this, it does give an interesting dynamic to his relationship with the Doctor as the story moves towards its conclusion, with the Doctor ultimately leaving him behind to wait for other Time Lords to arrive in the hope that some of the knowledge has survived the destruction of the library. Ultimately, Elgin feels like the kind of figure that the Doctor left Gallifrey to get away from, and the way he keeps secrets from the Doctor definitely smacks of some Time Lord trickery. Certainly the fact that Elgin never thought to query that the Kar Charrat natives were intelligent feels very in keeping with their methods. The joke about Cataloguer Prink being a chatterbox don’t get old either!
Oh my dear Doctor, I thought you were dead.
By the time I’m finished with you, Elgin, you’ll wish I was.Chief Librarian Elgin and the Seventh Doctor
This is a really good story for the Seventh Doctor, and allows Sylvester McCoy to continue the upward trajectory he started in The Fearmonger. McCoy manages to be commanding when he needs to be, especially when he knows the truth of the wetworks facility and Elgin’s complicity in this being made. One of the key components of being a good Doctor is the ability to play outraged well, and McCoy manages it really well here when he is annoyed at In researching this story, I have seen some criticism of Sophie Aldred’s acting as the Dalek duplicated Ace, which is something that I didn’t have a problem with. It’s possible that this is because I listened to this story not too long after hearing Deborah Watling’s possessed acting in Power Play, which is probably the worst I’ve encountered so far in Doctor Who. Aldred does the best with this – I don’t think it’s possible to do human-controlled Dalek without coming across staccato – but she is definitely trying her best. As Ace, she does manage to capture the youthful energy that she brought to the role in the 1980s, and her dynamic with Sylvester McCoy makes it feel as though they’ve never left the roles.
Verdict: The Genocide Machine works really well as a reintroduction of the Daleks on audio. McCoy and Aldred are on good form, and the story works really nicely. 8/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Louise Faulkner (Bev Tarrant), Bruce Montague (Chief Librarian Elgin), Nicholas Briggs (Cataloguer Prink and Voice of the Daleks), Daniel Gabriele (Rappell/Phantom Voices) and Alistair Lock (Voice of the Daleks).
Writer: Mike Tucker
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Producers: Gary Russell and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Composer: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- This is the first Big Finish audio story to feature the Daleks and the first time Nicholas Briggs voiced them in an official BBC production. This was how he was cast in the revived series, as Russell T Davies was a Big Finish subscriber.
- The first story to use ProTools to edit a Big Finish story. This was due to the 8-track device previously used breaking down.
- The story starts off the first Dalek Empire arc, which would continue in the Sixth Doctor audio The Apocalypse Element, Fifth Doctor story The Mutant Phase and the Eighth Doctor story The Time of the Daleks.
- It also introduces the character of Bev Faulkner, who would become a recurring character in the Bernice Summerfield audio series.
- Louise Faulkner would reprise the role as Bev Tarrant in Dust Breeding. She also appeared in Davros and The Nightmare Fair.
- Bruce Montague also played Grash in Sword of Orion.
- Alistair Lock appears in a number of Big Finish audio plays, including Red Dawn, The One Doctor and Spare Parts.
Using it? My dear young girl, you make it sounds like some kind of tool.
But isn’t that exactly what it should be?
This facility is a masterpiece, one of the wonders of the known Universe.
But surely the whole point of having all these books is that people can read them?
Read them?!? But that could mean damage. Grubbly fingerprints, pages folded down!Elgin and Ace
Previous Seventh Doctor review: The Fearmonger