Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Genocide Machine

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Genocide Machine, the seventh in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this serial!

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We have a significant milestone in this serial: The Daleks appear for the first time in a Big Finish audio drama. It’s a good matchup as well, as we’re following the Seventh Doctor and Ace. While doing some sorting in the TARDIS library, Ace finds some books from the library at Kar-Charrat, which is widely regarded as one of the wonders of the universe, and is said to hold all the knowledge of every civilized world. It’s a fanciful claim, but the Doctor takes it seriously enough; and he determines to return the books and own up to having unintentionally removed them—it’s not a lending library, after all. Meanwhile, on Kar-Charrat an expedition of four individuals led by Bev Tarrant is exploring a ziggurat of more than a thousand years in age, hidden in the rain forest and the perpetual rain. The expedition—actually a mission of theft, aiming to steal the entire ziggurat—is cut down by mysterious assailant. As Bev, the only survivor, crawls away, odd voices note that her now-dead partner Rappell no longer needs his body—but someone else does.

The Doctor and Ace arrive, but the library appears to be in ruins. The Doctor explains that this is Time Lord technology at work; he was here with others at the time of construction. The Time Lords created not only a defensive grid, but also a time barrier that projects an impenetrable illusion of the way the library will look more than three thousand years in the future. Only one who is time-sensitive—like the Time Lords—or specially identified in the system can pass through it. He brings Ace through, and introduces her to the head librarian, Elgin, and his assistant Cataloguer, Prink. The return of the books prompts a momentary scandal; but Elgin relents, and shows them around.

The library has a new achievement. It now contains a “wetworks”, a huge array of water tanks that use the fluids as a complex form of memory storage. In this way, they have vastly increased their information capacity. The information can be retrieved via direct download to the brain. Elgin mentions that no one has access to the library—it is for storing information, not sharing it. This frustrates Ace, and she leaves to return to the TARDIS. Elgin tells the Doctor that the non-sharing policy has prompted a response from numerous races—including a semi-robotic race called the Daleks. This alarms the Doctor, and he begins to interrogate Elgin, discovering that the Daleks did attack once, but failed to penetrate the defenses.

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Outside the time barrier, Acemeets the wounded Bev Tarrant. The duo are then captured by the Daleks, and—unknown to Bev—Ace is copied into a human-form Dalek operative. As Ace has been given a security tag for the library, the duplicate is able to return and infiltrate the library. At the same time, the Doctor takes Elgin out to find Ace, deeming the situation unsafe in case the Daleks are still around. He finds her—or rather, the duplicate—and Tarrant, and has them taken to the library’s medical bay. He then has Elgin take him to the nearby ziggurat, which has piqued his curiosity.

Near the ziggurat, they find the remains of Tarrant’s crew, with some oddities about their corpses. Elgin tells him some unsettling stories about supposed phantoms in the jungle, dating from earliest colonization. They then find that the ziggurat has been opened from the inside. Putting things together, the Doctor realizes it’s not an ancient artifact, but rather, is a Dalek hibernation unit—and its inhabitants have now awoken! He finds a cloning chamber in the corner, and realizes that the Ace he sent to the medical bay is a Dalek operative.

“Ace” lowers the defense grid, and the Supreme Dalek orders its ship in orbit to send in attack troops. Their plan, it seems, is to seize control of the wetworks facility and its store of data. The Daleks kill everyone in the library except a few key individuals; they save Tarrant for use in luring out the Doctor if necessary, and send the real Ace to join her at the library. They require the Doctor for his Time Lord brain; without him, their download of the data in the wetworks will take far longer, delaying their invasion—in fact, a test run, without the Doctor, sends the test Dalek into madness.

The Doctor and Elgin try to return to the TARDIS, but are intercepted and captured by the Dalek Supreme. They are returned to the library; the Daleks explain that they plan to create a Dalek that can contain the data store, creating a mobile repository of information that can be used to conquer first the galaxy, then the universe. For this, they require a Time Lord brain. The ziggurat—and others like it around the region of space—was a trap set to spring at first detection of a time capsule of any type.

The Doctor is plugged into the system, and the experiment succeeds—the second test Dalek acquires the data. However, the strain appears to kill the Doctor. The Dalek Supreme returns to his ship to destroy the library.

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Ace and Tarrant are intercepted by the body of Tarrant’s partner, Rappell, which is now animated by…something. The entity says that it is a native of Kar-Charrat; its species is water-based, not just living in the water, but composed of water, which is what allows it to inhabit the body. It and its kind are fighting for survival, as the wetworks represents imprisonment and death to them. Meanwhile, they have saved the Doctor, by temporarily uploading his mind into the wetworks. They explain everything to him, and return him to his body, on condition that he keeps his promise to save them.

Meanwhile, Daleks are dying mysteriously. The test Dalek, due to its newfound knowledge, deduces the truth about the natives, who are the source of the Kar-Charrat phantom stories. It realizes that the natives can infiltrate Dalek casings and drown the mutants inside. It insists the natives are non-hostile except in self-defense; but the Supreme Dalek can’t accept this, and orders their extermination. The Dalek Supreme reports to the Dalek Emperor on Skaro, and is ordered to continue the plan, including destruction of the planet.

Back in his body, the Doctor castigates Elgin for the genocide that the wetworks poses to the natives. He then gathers Elgin, Prink, Ace, and Tarrant and takes them to the TARDIS, planning to destroy the wetworks and free the natives. Along the way, the duplicate Ace arrives and captures Elgin, prompting Prink to attack her. She kills Prink, but is killed in turn by the natives.

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Inside the library, Ace bluffs her way past the Daleks by pretending to be the duplicate. The Dalek Supreme orders the destruction of the library, but is attacked by the test Dalek, who now sees no purpose in the destruction. During the conflict, Ace plants Nitro-9 explosives on the wetworks, and the Doctor sets up a final download which will remove the data load from the natives in the system. As the explosives detonate—and the Doctor and Ace escape in the TARDIS—the natives drown the remaining Daleks; after a final report to the Emperor, the Dalek Supreme self-destructs.

The library is now the ruin it always appeared to be. Elgin, repentant of his mistake, chooses to stay and await the next visit from the Time Lords, hoping to recover some of the lost knowledge from the ruins. Tarrant returns to her own ship. The Doctor and Ace depart the planet in the TARDIS; but they know that the Daleks have only been set back, not deterred.

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In addition to its placement in the Main Range, this serial is the first in the Dalek Empire series. It has been tentatively dated to 4256; however, in light of a later story which also involves Bev Tarrant (The Judas Gift), it has been retconned to 5256. This places it after the Classic Series’ Earth Empire period, though the remains of the Empire seem to still be in place. However, this does create a bit of a continuity problem, as the Dalek Empire series at least partly concerns the invasion of Mutter’s Spiral, which dates to 4162. (I’ll delve more into that upon reaching those audios, whenever that may be.) Bev will go on to appear in other stories as well, especially in the Bernice Summerfield series.

This audio is fairly straightforward, with little humor and no particular tricks regarding continuity. It does make indirect reference to several classic stories involving the Daleks, and even, in a sense, to some New Series stories. There is a Dalek Supreme, as mentioned in several stories, and a Dalek Emperor (which does not appear to be Davros as in the final seasons of the Classic Series, but is an actual Dalek, presumably of the type witnessed in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End). There is also a Special Weapons Dalek, which previously has only been seen in connection with Davros’s Imperial Daleks. The Daleks also mention using time corridors, as in several Classic episodes, and do not seem to possess actual time machines or capsules. The human-form Dalek is a nice touch, and one that would later be picked up in the new series (The Time of the Doctor, et al), though I do not know if it was adapted from this story.

The acting is top-notch, as usual. Elgin is a bit stereotypical with regard to his librarian status; he is obsessed with the accumulation of knowledge to the exclusion of everything else. Real librarians would probably be offended. Otherwise the casting is fantastic. There’s an understated running joke in which Prink—voiced by Nicholas Briggs—rarely says anything; every time he is addressed, he is interrupted just before answering. The natives of Kar-Charrat, while credible enough, are an odd creation; the concept would be reused in The Waters of Mars as a villain, although I do not know if it was adapted from this story or developed independently. They certainly are capable, as we’ve seen before that a Dalek can be completely submerged without harm (The Dalek Invasion of Earth), but they are capable of penetrating the inner shell surrounding the mutant itself.

Overall, this is a solid story, without much to distinguish it, but still good. It’s reminiscent in its environment and adversaries of Planet of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks. Mostly it is valuable for setting the stage for the Dalek Empire series, which we will explore later. I would recommend it anyway, on the strength of the Seventh Doctor and Ace; and I would doubly recommend it for anyone who wishes to go on to that series.

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Next time: We join the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller in Phobos; and we’ll return to the Main Range with Red Dawn! See you there.

All audios in this series are available for purchase at Big Finish; this and many others can be found on Spotify and Google Play.

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