Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Genocide Machine written by Mike Tucker and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about? 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!

The Real McCoy: Oh dear and it was going so well. McCoy is really good at playing it quiet but when he is asked to play righteous anger – like he does throughout this tale it all falls to pieces. This is the first story where I would say we have a poor performance from one of our Doctors; he is frequently unintelligible, garbled and putting inflections on all the wrong words – a world away from the confident mastermind in The Fearmonger. It might have something to do with the quality of the script and characterisation, as McCoy can work wonders with strong dialogue (Ghost Light, Master). He has an absent minded, nutty professorish attitude in the first episode and becomes obsessed with returning his stolen library books to the Kar-Charrat library. He shows suitable awe at the wetworks facility claiming to have never seen anything on that scale before. It is revealed that his companions are his greatest weakness which is hardly the most original observation. The only explanation I can think of is that the Doctor is aware of how banal this story is and refuses to give it any genuine credo. The trouble is Colin Baker would be saddled with the odd lousy script later but his performances would often salvage them.

The Ace of Hearts: A very poor outing for Ace and the first step into the descent of her reputation. Sophie Aldred is by all accounts a wonderful woman and she has never shied away from Doctor Who even after it cancelled and admittedly she worked wonders in seasons 25 and 26. However acting on audio is definitely not her forte and after a brief taster of it in The Fearmonger here is a whole story of her shouting and screaming poor dialogue like a kid in a sweet shop without any money! I remain to be convinced that anybody would say dialogue like: ‘Got a frog in your throat? You should get some strepsils for that!’ which takes us back to the worst excesses of her trashy outdated 80’s slang of her stint on the telly. Ace actually gets quite a bit more to do in this story, seeking out Bev Tarrant, taking on Daleks and getting duplicated but she is saddled with lots of Tegan-esque whining from the first scene which makes her unlikable. She picks a fight with Elgin, Tarrant and the Daleks. Okay the last one is fine but she reminds me of one of those kids that goes out on a Saturday night spoiling for a fight.

Great Ideas: The real meat of The Genocide Machine comes with the ideas and how they are executed. The Kar-Charrat library is such a good idea that Stephen Moffatt nabbed it for his recent two part season four masterpiece. A building that holds every scrap of information from every civilised world – one of everything – it even rivals the Matrix on Gallifrey for its wealth of information. The library is hidden from the public (much to Ace’s disgust) because the accumulation of knowledge within its walls makes it a terribly dangerous weapon in the wrong hands…
Enter the Daleks who have tried to attack the library before. In a good showing for the Daleks ingenuity and patience to get what they want they have been waiting on Kar-Charrat for the past few centuries waiting for a time sensitive to arrive so they can duplicate them and enter the library. They want to absorb the total knowledge of the universe into a Dalek. They will do this via the wetworks facility, an awesome system of water tanks that holds every single scrap of knowledge.The final twist is that the water is enslaved Kar-Charrateans, they are creatures made of water. The Doctor condemns Elgin for enslaving the population without even attempting to recognize if they are sentient. I really liked the idea of Mr Prink, Elgin’s assistant who is constantly slagged off for chatting so much and yet we never hear anything more than an embarrassed cough every time he is criticised for it! The story ends on an ominous note with the mighty Dalek Emperor suggesting that although things did not go as planned on Kar-Charrat there are still plans to expand the Dalek Empire…

Standout Performance: Probably Bruce Montague as the fey and rather pathetic Librarian Elgin but only because he is the best of a bad bunch. McCoy and Aldred lack conviction and I’m not at all impressed with Louise Faulkner’s initial turn as Bev Tarrant either. Montague has some fun with his lines, injecting a lot of humour and eccentricity into them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Astonishing! You could acquire the wisdom of a million years from a billion worlds in the time it would take to read a bus ticket!’
‘Robot things…nasty little pepperpots!’ It’s not the line but the way Montague says it!

Audio landscape: The saving grace of this story and the first real example that the more science fiction based stories can be as gripping and evocative as the Earthbound ones. Technically Nicholas Briggs excels himself, creating a convincing soggy world in Kar-Charrat and bringing the Daleks to audio in real style. The rain runs through the trees and there lots of soggy footprints to suggest lots of water. Freeler birds scream through the jungle, a Dalek saucer descends with gravity and the Daleks burst into the library and blast everybody to death (with the staff screaming wildly) to disturbing effect. The initial Dalek voices are powerful, almost screaming and they really assault the ears and the fabulous Emperor Dalek has a growling, menacing voice to give you nightmares! Add to that the cute bleeps and howls from G-14, the gorgeous Dalek control room heartbeat and a truly seductive computer voice in the library and you have a production of technical chic.

Musical Cues: Nicholas Briggs doesn’t really have a firm grasp of melody at this point – his music reminds me of the experimental scores of Pertwee years. Wall to wall music that is occasionally impressive and occasionally intrusive. I did think this was his best score so far, with a superb sting when the Daleks are mentioned (this would be used to much greater effect in subsequent Dalek stories) and a great moment when the Doctor and Elgin find Ace in the jungle, urgent and full of menace.

Isn’t that Odd: Ace, obviously.
Some of the Dalek voices have to heard to be believed. Go and listen to episode 3 and catch the one that says ‘Dalek assault squad teams are assembled’ and then ‘Proceed’ in the same scene. These mincing Daleks give Dalek Invasion of Earth a run for its money. Which one was Gary Russell?
McCoy, naturally.

Standout Moment: The Dalek massacre, loud, proud and full of bodies!

Result: There will be a Dalek story set in a jungle that deals with duplicates much later on in Big Finish’s run called Brotherhood of the Daleks and it is superior to The Genocide Machine in practically every way. The problems start with the script which undersells the threat and contains lots of obsolete ideas, poor characterisation of regulars and guest cast alike (I don’t know if anybody gets a character moment that isn’t a function of the plot) and some corny dialogue. Ignoring the good work they did in The Fearmonger McCoy and Aldred phone in two underwhelming performances and the guest cast fail to raise the game as well. Which leaves poor old Nick Briggs and the Daleks to give the proceedings a bit of zip which they try valiantly to do. You can admire the sound design and the horror of the Daleks for a while but without a plot to drive them and decent characters to care about you are fighting a losing battle. People praise The Genocide Machine to the detriment of The Apocalypse Element and whilst the second Dalek Empire story has its problems I find it by far a finer story. A hugely disappointing return trip for the Daleks: 3/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

No comments: