Saturday, November 29, 2008

For Your Ears Only: Doctor Who: The Genocide Machine

Link to The Genocide Machine at
To wrap up Who week, I’ll take a look at one of the good Doctor’s adventures in another medium. During the period wherein the show was still canceled, an independent audio production company called Big Finish Productions obtained the license to make new DOCTOR WHO audio stories on CD. They’ve continued the Doctor’s audio adventures to this day, featuring a number of past Doctors and a few alternates. An early entry in Big Finish’s oeuvre, THE GENOCIDE MACHINE is quite fun, recalling traditional runarounds while taking advantage of the extra scope afforded by audio theatre.

The story takes place on the rainforest-laden world of Kar-Charrat, home to the greatest and most comprehensive library in the known universe, containing just about every piece of information in existence- and so hidden away, its location known only to “time-sensitives.” (No idea if Steven Moffat heard this before writing “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” for the new series, but everyone’s just taking from Borges at this point.) The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) has arrived with his companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) to return some overdue books, and is just in time to see Chief Librarian Elgin (Bruce Montague) unveil a new wetworks data storage system wherein all the information in the library is kept in a tank of water, and can be accessed at the touch of a button. In the meantime, a group of mercenaries investigating a ziggurat elsewhere in the jungle have been wiped out by robotic killers, leaving only one survivor (Louise Faulkner). It quickly becomes apparent that the Daleks have been lying in wait on this remote world, waiting for their chance to break into the library and access the data store (knowledge is power!), and the Doctor’s arrival has given them just the right opportunity. In the meantime, everyone’s hearing mysterious voices in the rain.

I genuinely think one of the great strengths of audio theatre as a medium is its ability to quickly invoke atmosphere and a sense of place. Setting this story in a rainforest, and making water and rain major elements, makes for a good level of intensity; we are instantly thrown into an alien environment, and the constant rain creates a nicely oppressive atmosphere during the outdoor scenes. The sound effects work is pretty sophisticated, handling a number of unusual elements.

Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are both in good form here, the latter getting some very good scenes when the Daleks try to use her as a way of infiltrating the library. As Bev Tarrant, Louise Faulkner actually sounds just a bit like Aldred which can be confusing, but she’s pretty convincing on her own. Bruce Montague’s delivery is more theatrical, and I actually briefly thought Michael Gough was playing Elgin, which I suppose is a compliment. You’d think the Dalek voices would get old in what is often a dialogue-heavy medium, but this isn’t a problem for whatever reason.

The story seems padded at times, though oddly enough this makes it easier to follow if your attention drifts. However there are still some good twists and turns, particularly involving the nature of the library and the Daleks’ attempts to access the wetworks database. There’s also a running gag involving a mostly-silent cataloguer (voiced by director Nicholas Briggs) that is arguably overplayed, but there are some good payoffs.

THE GENOCIDE MACHINE is part of an arc of Dalek stories collected under the “Dalek Empire” concept, but it works as a standalone. Tucker and Briggs and everyone else involved do a fine job and it’s a fairly sophisticated bit of audio theatre, accomplishing some interesting effects and handling a twisty plot without ever leaving the listener behind. I need to look at more of Big Finish’s stuff in the future; rest assured, they’re worth keeping an ear out for.

Grade: B+

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