I’m a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, but that doesn’t mean I think smacking the label on a thing makes it good. So I was skeptical when Big Finish began releasing their audio range. And for the most part, my skepticism was misplaced. But issue 7 is The Genocide Machine and I’d say it goes wrong on almost every level. First of all, let’s talk about the cover. I fully understand that using the Daleks as a selling point is a good idea to some extent. And maybe because these were early days for the audio range, they felt they had to broadcast the presence of the Doctor’s oldest adversary, but by Rassilon, have some faith in your own product. By dropping the Dalek on the cover, there’s no sense of surprise when they appear. And it would have been glorious because we hear the heartbeat of their ship before we hear them speak and that is almost as iconic as the creatures themselves. So there goes one perfectly good cliff-hanger!
Then let’s talk about the story. I love a library but when Ace finds “overdue library books” it screams “plot device” ignoring the fact that the Doctor is in a TIME MACHINE!! So he has to bring the book back to the library because, you know, the most complete library in the universe actually houses books! How about digitizing them?? And this library has to be kept cloaked? Daleks couldn’t even turn the pages of a book! Am I missing something? Ok, let’s ignore logic for the sake of a story and move on.
Doctor Who has had 50+ years of “universe building” but it’s still no more cohesive than talking about the planet Vulcan between Star Trek and Doctor Who. There might as well be a disclaimer: Don’t expect cohesive story telling because hey, why bother? Every episode of Doctor Who is a stand-alone even when it’s not, because next season, none of that will matter. The planet Kar-Charrat (great name by the way) is a jungle planet with the biggest library in the universe. Cool. But then when Steven Moffat gave us that gem, The Silence in the Library, why change the planet? Isn’t that the biggest library in the universe, even called The Library, because it’s too huge to be called anything else? And they didn’t have to cloak the planet, because news flash: DALEKS CAN’T TURN THE PAGES OF A BOOK!!! Unless that becomes one of their plans: to create a human Dalek hybrid with fingers that can hold and open a book? Oh… wait…
Now maybe I was put off enough by this that when McCoy says “You’ll wish I was”, I cringe, thinking of David Tennant helping Luke Rattigan understand the conditional clause, but McCoy’s Doctor is not at his peak here. And it doesn’t help that McCoy can rarely sound dangerous. This is not a dig against him! I like McCoy, but he rarely sounds dangerous; there’s something too good about this character that anger never comes across well. Even on screen, he looks more comical as he contorts his face in rage. Ace, by contract, can give us an angry teen (is there any other kind?), but her dual role just felt tired very quickly. She’s Ace and Dalek-Duplicate Ace; fine. But when real Ace impersonates Dalek-Duplicate Ace, do the most advanced baddies in the universe have any way to identify that? NOPE! They can’t even see in X-ray to know she has a heart! The best they can do is hear that she doesn’t speak with a Dalek voice, which one would expect if she’s to infiltrate humans! I mean, come on! If a Dalek Duplicate sounded like a Dalek I don’t think they’d be effective infiltrators! Saying her modulator was damaged is possibly the weakest comment this side of Skaro because the Daleks are supposed to be geniuses. Why wouldn’t they run a scan or something? Look at her in infrared? I don’t know… geniuses, indeed!?
The story hinges on a race that exists in the raindrops, which is fine, I can suspend disbelief there for the sake of a story but I never really understood what the “genocide machine” was beyond the wetworks facility. So even the title of the story is misleading. This is another of those stories where the Daleks have some idiotic scheme of waiting thousands of years and in this case, it’s to gain access to a library. I cry inside a little bit. And I work with a guy who likes to give ultra-long steps to getting a thing done, but the Daleks outdo him 10 to 1. It’s akin to this: “Quick-ly, We-must-press-the-destruct-button-immediately!” The reply? “I-obey!-I-will-press-the-destruct-button-for-the-greater-glory-of-the-daleks-and-the-destruction-of-all-other-life-forms-including-but-not-limited-to-Axons-Bandrils-Crynoids-or-is-that-with-a-K, Drashigs…” Like, good lord, get on with it. Press the damned button! Why do we need a play-by-play? Oh, right, it’s audio and we can’t “see” what’s happening unless we get Basil Exposition on the staff.
And speaking of audio, how does it work that having “invisible” creatures makes any sense? To the listener, everyone is invisible. If there was one thing I did love about this story, it was Cataloguer Prink. That poor guy could never get a word in and it was hilariously played. But overall, this was the weakest of the batch to date. If you can suspend logic, (forget suspension of disbelief) you might enjoy this, and as part of a bigger Dalek plan, maybe it’s an interesting prologue, but no… I take it back. It’s too hard for me to type this. In one breath, the Doctor talks about how intelligent the Daleks are, but they have plans like “Hey, let’s invade earth through reality TV”, so no, I take it back. I do not agree with this being a decent part of a bigger story. Skip this one. Let’s see how they do with Red Dawn. Next week… ML
The problem with depicting genocide in Dr. Who is that it’s been done so often, even in the most flamboyant of stories like The Pirate Planet and The Horns Of Nimon, that we easily wonder how the Doctors and their companions can ever live it down. There’s a realistic sense of justice when the villains are defeated, even though Nyssa never really had that in the Master’s case. So when the post-Time-War Doctors deal with their natural PTSD by still being as flamboyant as ever, with Gallifrey’s survival via the Doctors’ exception to the Laws of Time being quite identifiable, we may ponder on the potential for realism in The Pirate Planet and The Horns Of Nimon even more.
Star Trek (the classic series at least) with The Doomsday Machine, The Immunity Syndrome and The Changeling, often ended with the Enterprise crew closing with lines of charm and humour as with Kirk’s “I found one quite sufficient”. That changed considerably with TNG to the point where Picard once contemplated making an exception to the Laws of Time as the Doctors did, naturally for the sake of avoiding what would easily be seen as genocide. Hence the War Doctor’s glee in finally seeing the future he needed to see.
For Star Wars fans who were haunted by Princess Leia being forced to watch the destruction of her home world, yet could still enjoy the rest of the movie, it can show how flexible we as people can be from the audience’s perspective. So I tried to make it realistic enough for when Susan 2 and Vanello together endured the countdown to whether or not Continuum City Would survive.
Thank you, ML, for reviewing a story that therefore, via its blunt title, prompts SF’s most morally compelling subject matter. 🌎🌏🌍🌌🖖🏻
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