THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Dalek Empire: The Genocide Machine

Written by Mike Tucker Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2000
Continuity After Survival

Starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
Also featuring Louise Falkner, Bruce Montague, Nicholas Briggs, Daniel Gabriel and Alistair Lock

Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace find themselves investigating a new wetworks storage facility in the library on Kar-Charrat. But they are soon pitted against the oldest and deadlist enemies of all...


Reviews

It may be Wet, but it Works by Andrew Wixon 5/7/00

The days when simply using the Daleks was a licence to print money are thankfully long since past, but they remain a key part of the iconography of the series and it's inevitable that (legal issues notwithstanding) any new manifestation of Doctor Who will feature them sooner or later. One of the gratifying things about Big Finish's output is that they waited to establish their credentials before doing so; another is that they created such a good vehicle for the Daleks' latest comeback.

The Daleks are the stars of Genocide Machine. They're treated with intelligence, style, and a good deal of respect. The Emperor Dalek's cameo is startlingly effective, giving a real impression of maniacal arrogance and low cunning. They work unexpectedly well on audio: subtle variations in vocal effects mean that the listener never loses track of exactly who's talking, and BF deploy all the sound effects guaranteed to quicken the fannish pulse - the 80s ray-gun discharge, and most notably the 'electronic heartbeat'.

If anything, Mike Tucker's script seems more inspired by David Whitaker's handling of the Daleks than Terry Nation's. The Emperor's appearance aside, these Daleks are strategists, rather than the frenzied psychotics of later stories. They have plans and agendas and are at times startlingly devious. There's a direct tip of the hat to the 'human' Daleks of Evil... in the latter part of the story.

Beyond the Daleks, the story is never less than neat and there's an imaginative conceit in the last couple of episodes which, although heavily hinted at throughout the story, took me by surprise completely. The music is suitably ominous to begin with, adding a lot to a surprisingly atmospheric setting. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred turn in typically solid performances (although Aldred's turn in a dual role leaves a little to be desired).

There are flaws, however. One of the supporting characters bears such a striking resemblence to Benny Summerfield that one has to wonder exactly why BF chose to leave her out of the story - as it is she's Benny-in-all-but-name. There's a running joke about an often-present, never-heard character that's fairly funny for the first episode but drags on for most of the story, and it's knowing jokiness jars badly with the seriousness of the main plot.

But these are minor considerations. Big Finish are proving themselves all-rounders at the recreation of DW on CD - having mastered the pseudo-historical, the SF drama, the contemporary-Earth-in-peril, and the full-blown historical, they've now made an impressive debut in the SF action-adventure stakes, a genre lending itself less well to audio. This would have been an impressive story even without the Daleks - more than can be said for so many of their TV appearances.


Daleks Without Davros...Finally by Peter Niemeyer 13/8/00

Dalek Empire: The Genocide Machine was a solid story that was very nicely done. I suppose the thing I appreciated about it most of all was the absence of Davros. Don't get me wrong...I love the character of Davros. But ever since his first appearance in Genesis of the Daleks, there wasn't a single televised Dalek episode that didn't revolve around him. (I had hoped that Rememberance of the Daleks was going to break this streak, but there he goes and pops up in the last episode....)

In my mind, the Daleks should have an intelligent sort of menace to them. I liked the fear they evoked in the prison ship crew of Resurection of the Daleks, and have always wanted to see more of that. Unfortunately, too many of the Dalek episodes tended to be just a little too silly. Fortunately, Genocide Machine gets it right. The Daleks are seen as efficient, calculating, ruthless, and worthy of our scorn and contempt.

Once again, McCoy and Aldred put in fantastic performances as the Doctor and Ace. But after The Fearmonger, I'd really come to expect this. I also found Chief Librarian Elgin convincing, as I did find myself disliking him at the end for all the right reasons. The running gag with Praxx, who never speaks, was a bit of a letdown. I was waiting for the one moment when he was going to get to say something, and I was expecting his one sentence to turn the story on its edge. Alas, this never came to pass.

There is one aspect about this story that I especially liked...the use of situations that would have been visually boring but were auditorially very intriguing. There is one instance where someone becomes disembodied. Not a visually exciting scene. (Think of the Doctor in the Matrix in Arc of Infinity.) But auditorially, there was a lot going on. The same was true for the way in which the Kar-Charrat Phantoms were done. Audio 10, Visual 3. Much like the whole premise of Whispers of Terror, this was a great choice for Big Finish because it was something audio could do better than video.

I have only two complaints, and they're both minor.

  1. I have started to notice that when there are scenes with lots of action, I lose track of what's happening. For example, Ace might have a gun, then you hear somebody else burst into the room, then there's a struggle and some explosion noise and I find myself thinking "Does Ace have the gun? Was Ace just shot? Who just burst into the room? Was he/she shot?" I often have to wait 30 to 60 seconds before I really find out what just happened, which rarely happens in a televised episode. I think Big Finish could stand to sharpen the writing and/or production to make these moments easier to follow.
  2. There were a few times where the Dalek voices were a bit too similar for me to keep track of who was saying what. In general, who really cares if there were two Daleks discussing the situation or three? Dalek conversations do tend to be a bit like listening to someone talk to himself. But, for the most part they used Daleks with significantly different pitches, and I wish they had gotten this right all the way through.

Final score: 9 out of 10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/8/00

Kicking off a story arc (if it can be called that), The Genocide Machine sees the return of Doctor Who`s Perennial villains in the Daleks. Big Finish do not include Davros; a wise move. This allows the Daleks to return to their scheming ways to good effect. Unfortunately, the story still feels too traditional; as if the Daleks haven`t been brought into the year 2000. This also means that the story is somewhat simple, Daleks invade planet, capture Ace, seek out all powerful device/weapon (delete where appropiate), Doctor is double crossed and eventually defeats the Daleks. This may be harsh, but it does sum up what happens basically.

Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred seem to be going through the motions, and Bruce Montague is irritating. The sound effects are impressive though, complete with the Dalek "heartbeat" and their voices spot on. The Genocide Machine is perfect for listeners looking for a slice of nostalgia, but those expecting something special will be disappointed.


The Best Yet by Robert Thomas 19/9/00

I wanted to write this review to address the balance of the previous ones. They appear between them to describe the story as average, when it is by far the best yet that I've heard from Big Finish.

This is my first taste of a proper McCoy story as I haven't listened to The Fearmonger. Sylvester and Sophie recapture their characters with effortless ease. There performances are indeed astounding. All of the guest characters come across well and the running gag mentioned during a previous review is very funny.

The Daleks are brilliant and spend the majority of the story plotting and scheming. Indeed where brute force is used in The Apocalypse Element, here it is the devious side that is portrayed.

The best aspect of the story however is the setting. Indeed Mike Tucker has a history of good settings, with Kar-Charrat being the best. The effects by Big Finish convey that we are on a jungle planet that rains is excellent. The library and the other setting are also imaginative.

This gives us the best Big Finish audio yet. This is not detrimental to other stories as they are all good with one exception. In case you are wondering the others I haven't heard yet are Phantasmagoria, The Land of the Dead, The Fearmonger, The Marian Conspiracy and The Fires of Vulcan.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 3/7/01

The Daleks are back, and they are terrific. After the very average attempts by the books (War of the Daleks and Legacy of the Daleks) they are back to prominence – exactly where they should be in the DW universe.

The Daleks succeeded on TV largely due to their look. Visually they are impressive. Audibly they are impressive too, as this audio adventure shows. With the help of the sound wizards from Big finish they are superb, frightening and authoritarian. They reek of conquest, a relentless pursuit of power. They are supplemented with sound effects we associate with them (eg. the heartbeat of the control room).

The soundtrack too is impressive. Atmospheric music, weird and wonderful sound effects. There are more water sound effects than you can believe possible as gulps, glugs and drips abound. The depiction of a rainforest is a standout here. The constant rain providing the backdrop for much of the action – giving the whole production a claustrophic feel. The 7th Doctor is ideal for this environment – that Umbrella comes in very useful!

The 7th Doctor and Ace are brilliant. Clearly thriving on a story they can get their teeth into. Sophie Aldred is impressive in all her guises in this. Sylvestor McCoy exudes the mysterious Timelord, and it’s refreshing to find the Doctor having no idea where the story is going!

The supporting characters are pretty good too. Best of these is Elgin – the chief Librarian. . A man who can’t stand things out of place. Rather a lonely figure is portrayed, and despite his failings, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Bev Tarrant is very Bennyesque, nice to see strong female leads. Also notable are the Phantoms of Kar-Charrat – very spooky indeed these.

The story is interesting. The wetworks facility being a fascinating concept – realized very well by Big Finish. The planet Kar-Charrat is the stories main triumph though. A magnificent environment is created complete with rainforests, ancient Ziggurat and invisible Library. A tour de force for the imagination.

Overall this is great Doctor Who. Of the futuristic stories it is definitely the best (I’ve listened to them all up to 16, the 1st McGann one). 9/10.


A Review by Jeremy Deline 21/11/01

A quick look at Mike Tucker's writing credentials suggests he's something of a specialist in Seventh Doctor-and-Ace stories. Which is a good thing, since this could have been a very, very silly story.

  1. The Primary setting is an invisible library in the middle of a rainforest.
  2. The Doctor spending a good chunk of the story unconcious and immobile. As has been pointed out, if this had been a TV story, it wouldn't have made for very exciting viewing. Good thing it's not.....
  3. You know those diagrams they show you in Grade school to teach you about condensation and precipitation? The life-cycle of a raindrop? where the individual raindrop has big cartoon eyes and a warm smile? Yeah? It turns out that was true all along-the raindrops are alive and from outer space. and you DON'T want to make them angry.
  4. Two words: Evil Ace.
Add to this the Daleks, who ever since the seventies, have been a bit of a double-edged sword. They certainly have the ability to be an imposing, chilling menace. But at this point, they have a lot of baggage that they bring with them, that anyone who attempts to write a new chapter in the 'Dalek Empire' as this CD proudly trumpets, will have to deal with. Some attempts at keeping the Daleks vital and menacing have been....mixed at best. (See War of the Daleks)

Mike Tucker, bless him, ignores all that baggage. Davros is nowhere to be found. Skaro? Well....it's out there somewhere. From the moment the first mechanical Dalek voice crackles out of the speakers, you know that Tucker's Daleks mean business. They want what's in the Library, and they're not going to let any silly little things like continuity or canon bog them down. It is the Daleks that set the tone of this story, charging ahead with all guns blazing (so to speak) and the non-Daleks rise to the occasion as well, keeping the first episode more or less light-hearted in tone, and with a sense of wonder (an invisible library in the rainforest! Cor!) that the intensity as events progress feels natural, not forced. and it makes it much easier to suspend disbelief in the Phantoms.

The Machine of the title is also a fairly clever twist on the traditional Doomsday Weapon.

But if the script is the bulk of this rich, filling cake, its the technical details that make up the icing. Big Finish seem to have a reputation for evocative atmosphere and F/X, and on the basis of my experience so far, I'd have to agree. the ever-present sounds of water, and the whispering voices of the 'Phantoms' as they reveal themselves are especially effective.

And Sophie Aldred has an effective dual performance that adds to the sense of menace.

I could go on and on about this Audio, but It's hard to be objective. I enjoyed Spectre of Lanyon Moor, but I devoured this. Looking back at the ingredients, it could have been a travesty, but everything worked perfectly. So far, Big Finish has given me two completely enjoyable Dr. Who stories, and for that I applaud them.


A Review by John Seavey 20/10/03

Oh dear. It, um... it had Daleks in it, for a start. I'm still not sure whether the Daleks are the worst monsters for audio, because of their irritating voices, or the best, because their habit of narrating their every action and circumstance actually helps in an audio ("My casing is filling with water! I am being drowned!") Plenty of crap plotting here, though the regulars turn in decent performances, and it's fundamentally a boring runaround. The Daleks' desire to get faster download speed of all the knowledge in the universe was sort of unintentionally humorous, though. I kept thinking of Daleks screaming, "We-need-broadband! The-secrets-of-Napster-will-soon-be-ours!"


Restoration of the Daleks by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/11/04

The 1990s had been a relatively poor decade for the Daleks in new Doctor Who fiction. Although they appeared in a good Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, Emperor of the Daleks (DWM # 197-202), this was balanced by their weak use in Fire and Brimstone (#251-255). Elsewhere they were ill served by the novels. Despite initial hopes, Virgin were unable to secure the use of the Daleks. Then along came the BBC with War of the Daleks, the less said about the better, and Legacy of the Daleks, whose main plus point is that it doesn't rewrite a decade's worth of continuity. Meanwhile on television the Daleks had suffered the fate of rights not being available that stopped them appearing in Dimensions in Time and the TV Movie, leaving just their appearance in Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death which veered into the send-up territory. It was a gloomy period... and then along came Big Finish.

At first there were fears that Big Finish too would be unable to obtain the Daleks, but then came the announcement that they had, along with confirmation that they would not use Davros and so allow the Daleks to stand dominant in their own right. We were promised a return to the glory days of Dalek power and so the Dalek Empire stories were awaited in anticipation.

The Genocide Machine lives up to some though not all of these predictions. The story takes place on a single planet with only occasional communications with the wider Dalek forces, so this is not quite the galactic spanning power yet, but as further Dalek releases were promised, this point does not seem to matter. The Daleks that we see are shown as cunning, ruthless, determined, patient and powerful all in the same story, with their plan to capture the knowledge of the library coming across as realistic even though they are waiting a long time to achieve it. Throughout the story there is a real sense of strength as the Daleks attack and they are only ultimately defeated because their existing knowledge was deficient. For the most part this demonstrates a clear return to the height of the original Terry Nation stories, though some elements from those days could be left out, such as the duplication technology. There's a tradition in Doctor Who for a duplicate to lose all acting ability and here it happens with Sophie Aldred who plays Ace's duplicate as though she's just reading out the lines, making it difficult to believe that the duplicate fools anyone. It's also hard to swallow that the Daleks easily accept the real Ace impersonating her duplicate later on.

Unlike many of the McCoy stories on television, the Doctor is thrust into a situation about which he knows little and visits Kar-Charrat purely out of the blue when he discovers he has some library books to return. This makes me wonder if the story wasn't originally conceived with another Doctor in mind, since it's hard to believe that the McCoy Doctor would know so little about the environment. One aspect of the story that does show her roots is Bev Tarrant (another homage to Terry Nation's work) who feels so much like Bernice Summerfield that one almost regrets that Big Finish didn't opt to bring her into the Doctor Who range at this stage anyway. Both Lousie Faulkner (Bev) and Bruce Montague (Elgin) give good performances that bring their chaacters to life, though Nicholas' Briggs' Prink simply doesn't work as a character who is always about to speak but doesn't until his final scene - a character gag that just doesn't work for me. The Dalek voices are given a strong modulation that makes them sound definitely sinister rather than the light weight efforts in some of the television stories (e.g. Day of the Daleks). The end result is a good story in its own right which launches the Daleks in style and gives strong hope for future Dalek Empire stories. 8/10


A Review by Benjamin Bland 28/3/06

I can't afford most of the Big Finish Audios and instead try to buy the odd one or two reccommended by friends or by reviews I've read. The Genocide Machine gets a fair amount of positive and negative comment from Who fans. From me though, it is totally positive feedback.

Sylvester McCoy is in his element as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred is more convincing as Ace than she ever was in the TV series. The Daleks adapt well to audio too and the supporting cast is very good. The plot is not a particularly unfamiliar one in Who terms, but there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep anyone interested and is an overall triumph for writer Mike Tucker who has also written several good seventh Doctor books in the BBC series.

The Daleks at their very best and a triumph of writing and acting. What more could you want from a Doctor Who story? Almost perfect. 9/10.