Image Credit: Big Finish (Fair Use)
Image Description: The cover of Genetics of the Daleks
By John Salway
Name: Genetics of the Daleks
Type: Audio Drama
Price: £10.99 on CD, £8.99 for download
Current TLV investment: £256.44
As we move closer and closer to the end of Time Lord Victorious, we’ve still got some little gaps of continuity just waiting to be filled in. Today’s audio, Genetics of the Daleks, fills in some of the story of one very persistent Dalek, so brace yourself for a quick burst of contextual information…
In the previous audio story, Mutually Assured Destruction, the Eighth Doctor destroyed the Dalek Time Squad by exploding their saucer. One Dalek (at least!) survived, and, in Escape Hunt’s print-and-play home adventure The Hollow Planet, tried to use the power of a mining station to transmit a message to the Dalek Empire. With the help of my closest friends (and the Thirteenth Doctor!), I personally expelled this Dalek into space, where it then produced a message warning the universe about the Doctor as seen in the initial TLV trailer and The Last Message short story. I then encountered my nemesis for the second time (err, although the first time from my perspective) in the A Dalek Awakens escape room, also produced by Escape Hunt. It had enmeshed itself in the power systems of the Starship Future, an empty vessel carrying thousands of humans in cryosleep – but how did it get there? And what had happened to the ship’s crew? This audio provides the answers.
Despite all the complicated backstory detailed in the last paragraph, Genetics of the Daleks is very successful as a standalone audio, partly due to the smart choice to bring in the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker. This Doctor knows nothing about the ongoing events of TLV, and in a rather amusing moment rejects the whole concept entirely, so this tale functions perfectly as a simple Doctor vs Dalek story. Baker is on top form throughout, as is Briggs, who gives this tired and battered old Dalek a unique tone while still working with the standard Drone voice.
It’s interesting that this story should come out so close to Revolution of the Daleks, because the plot provides some startling, albeit superficial, similarities. An empty Dalek casing is found by some interested humans, who seek to examine it for potential scientific gains. Following an unwise move by the scientist in charge, he falls under Dalek influence, and starts a plan to manufacture and populate many more Dalek casings… While the setting and themes are totally different, the comparisons are definitely there.
Rather than invading Earth, this time danger strikes the Starship Future – but before I visited it in A Dalek Awakens. Only a small number of crewmates are awoken from cryosleep at any one time, and there’s a major subplot about criminal elements onboard the ship who have smuggled their compatriots into the cryobays, and aim to take over when the vessel reaches its destination. While this strand takes up a lot of airtime, with about 15 minutes spent establishing the plot before the Doctor even arrives, I couldn’t work out what it was trying to say, if anything. There are no thematic parallels drawn with the Daleks, or any comment about how, unlike humans, Daleks don’t (generally) fight their own. It just feels like filler content, a way to keep the good characters occupied before they realise there’s a Dalek threat.
When the lone Dalek finally makes his move, and corrupts an entire section of sleeping humans with Dalek DNA, the story goes a step too far. The victims fall under Dalek control, and are slowly becoming full Dalek mutants, with no way to reverse the process. While we don’t hear their voices, it is made explicit in the dialogue that there were families and children in this section, including the family of one of the main characters. I think this is just a touch too gruesome for what is otherwise a serious but family-friendly adventure. I was also quite annoyed when the aforementioned main character seemed perfectly fine at the story’s conclusion when the Dalek and the mutants are vanquished. His wife and children have just died in a particularly nasty way, for goodness sake – I don’t think he should have gotten over it quite yet!
There’s another slight quirk of this audio that I’d like to mention, which I haven’t noticed in any other recent Big Finish release. For the majority of scene transitions, the background music and sound effects completely fade out. We then start the next scene from scratch, when usually the sound mix would continue on fairly seamlessly. This isn’t an audio-ruining choice by any means, but it is quite distracting and I’d be interested to know why they decided to produce it this way.
Genetics of the Daleks is another perfectly solid audio drama for the TLV range, but yet again one that fails to fully engage. Without a central theme, or particularly likable guest characters, it all feels strangely pointless. We’ve got more than enough stories about the Doctor fighting the Daleks that there needs to be some greater purpose to justify making another one, and this tale doesn’t provide that. We don’t learn anything about the Daleks; or the Doctor; or humanity; that we didn’t already know. This story fills a gap in the TLV continuity, but ultimately, that may be all that it does. I need more.