“Humans are impatient, Daleks have no such weaknesses”
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 he machine has attracted unwanted attention, and the Doctor soon finds himself pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies – the Daleks!
This is Big Finish’s first Dalek story and there’s no Davros. Whether that’s because they couldn’t get the actor or the rights or simply chose not to use the character, I don’t know but the important thing to remember is that the Daleks managed to create their empire without Davros and went for centuries without needing him. The Genocide Machine gives us Daleks from that time, showing cunning, planning, ruthlessness and all-round general nastiness that made them so popular in the first place.
The Ziggurat is a great example of this; The Daleks have created buildings on various planets that have, in some cases been around for thousands of years. It is generally assumed that they are examples of architecture from mysterious, lost civilisations, but they actually contain one lone Dalek hidden inside a tiny control room. The Daleks put them on planets where they want something but need other beings to find or do something first, then the Dalek summons back-up, pops out and takes whatever it is for the Dalek Empire. In this case, the hidden Dalek is there to look out for time travelers – because only time sensitives can find and get into the highly secure Kar-Charrat library. The Dalek then creates a duplicate that looks human so it can get inside the library and turn off the defences. The fact that the Daleks are prepared to be patient, to bide their time for centuries upon centuries until the opportunity presents itself is a brilliant idea.
The library doesn’t really work for me though. There are a number of problems with it, the first being the visitors – there aren’t any. The library is full of knowledge but because a lot of that knowledge is dangerous, the library has been kept secret and had lots of security measures in place. It’s also invisible and hidden inside a time field so that you can’t get in unless you’re time sensitive. So if you do happen to know it exists, you can’t see it and even if you could see it you can’t get in. So if no-one can access the information inside, why does it even exist? It’s pointless.
Secondly, there’s the staff. The place is huge and so it naturally has a large number of people working there, but if no-one can visit, why does it need a large number of staff? Surely they could automate most of it? Also, we only get to meet two of them; the only time the rest of the workforce appears is when the Daleks massacre them all and we hear them screaming in terror. It’s a very well done scene and should be quite chilling but because the victims have all been nameless and faceless throughout the story, it substantially lessens the impact of a potentially powerful scene.
The two members of staff that do play a part are Elgin, who runs the place, and Chief Cataloguer Prink, who is always at Elgin’s side and never speaks. In fact Prink only has one line in the whole thing and that’s just before he gets shot in Part Four. What makes it worse is that Elgin keeps explaining, several times, that Prink is always talking too much; it’s a weak joke that’s mercilessly repeated to the point of frustration.
Regrettably, one of the other down-sides to this play is Ace. Not Sophie Aldred, but Ace. In The Fearmonger, she was well written and also well performed by Sophie Aldred, who I’m sure does her best here but the dialogue is awful and there are some questionable directing decisions too, she’s nothing like the Ace we had in the last play. And as for the Dalek duplicate. Oh dear. Clearly Aldred’s speech pattern had to be different so that Ace can impersonate the duplicate later on, but everyone seems quite happy for her to sound like she’s reading the lines with her finger. As for Ace being able to fool the Daleks into thinking she’s her own duplicate…I mean come on, normal humanoids would be fooled but the Daleks would easily be able to tell the difference between a human being and the duplicate that they created. Their eye stalks are more than just periscopes, they’ve got sensors and thermal imaging and all that gubbins, they’d know straight away. And the fact that the duplicate sounds like a Dalek as soon as it’s been discovered makes it the worst infiltrator ever! It’s saving power? Does it have a surge protection plug socket too?
Sylvester McCoy on the other hand is one of the best things about this story along with Louise Falkner as Bev Tarrant, a great achievement when you consider that story-wise she’s absolutely pointless. She does nothing to further the story or help the other characters, she’s just there. Even her boyfriend, who dies at the beginning of Part Two, has more relevance to the plot than she does, so the fact that she emerges as one of the best things about this is a triumph for her and an absolute disaster for the story. The good news is that she’ll appear once more in the Doctor Who audios and eventually become a recurring character in the Bernice Summerfield range.
It’s all a bit of a let-down really. Part One was seemingly endless with bad performances and bad dialogue, even the Dalek voices aren’t quite right until Part Two. The rest of it does pick up but not much. Music’s good though.
The Doctor: Sylvester McCoy | Ace: Sophie Aldred
With: Nicholas Briggs (Cataloguer Prink, Dalek Voices); Louise Falkner (Bev Tarrant); Daniel Gabriel (Rappel); Alistair Lock (Dalek Voices); Bruce Montague (Chief Librarian Elgin)
Writer: Mike Tucker | Director: Nicholas Briggs | Music: Nicholas Briggs | Release Date: April 2000 | Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes | Number of Episodes: 4
Set Between: The Fearmonger and the 1996 TV Movie