Once and Future: A Genius for War

Posted in Audio by - July 22, 2023
Once and Future: A Genius for War

Released July 2023


Though the Doctor has faced innumerable enemies over the course of sixty years of Doctor Who, few have made such a momentous impact as Davros, creator of the Daleks and one of the few beings in the universe with a mind to rival or even surpass the Doctor’s own. Given the extraordinary importance of the Dalek race throughout the franchise’s run and peaking from a narrative perspective with their eternal conflict against the Time Lords in the Time War and its fallout that would establish the foundation for the relaunched 2005 series, it’s no surprise that Davros and the Daleks should feature in the celebratory Once and Future anniversary series, taking centre stage alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in Jonathan Morris’s ‘A Genius for War.’

As has so far been the case with the stories of Once and Future, ‘A Genius for War’ does relatively little to explore the degeneration storyline and more or less serves as a standalone story to pit the geniuses of the Doctor and Davros against each other. Unfortunately, a few plot conveniences have to be taken to allow this particular confrontation to come to fruition, and though Davros asking for the Doctor specifically to help him escape from his imprisonment by the Daleks in exchange for helping the Time Lords to defeat the Daleks is an intriguing foundation that neatly covers the ever-growing tensions between creator and creations, the General and Veklin as Time Lords so willingly accepting this plea as genuine strains credulity. There is something to be said about the extreme desperation stemming from this war and looking for any way out, but these are two significant Time Lords who have been integral to the overarching Time War theme for Big Finish, and this is hardly a showcase for either. Indeed, the General is far too eager to accept Davros’s scheme to bring the Time Lords and Daleks together like never before through the advent of Time Lord genetic material when the prophecy of the Hybrid is invoked, seemingly oblivious to the obvious duplicitous nature of Davros despite the Doctor’s protestations and warnings, and Veklin is reduced to little more than simply acting in shock and disbelief that Davros could be lying.

While the actual escape from the secure prison on the Skaro moon of Falkus is far too easy for reasons that do receive a fair explanation later on, the truth behind this location both in terms of function for the future of the Dalek race and its seeming ties to the past is genuinely fascinating and provides Davros with a fascinating element of control at all times even as he must continue to adapt his plan as the Daleks continue their pursuit. Yet while the prospect of Davros’s hybrid race is genuinely terrifying in theory, it’s never sufficiently explained just how a Dalek with the regenerative prowess of the Time Lords would be any more effective if they still require their travel machines to truly wreak their havoc. A single Dalek is obviously an incredibly lethal force, and the sheer numbers they typically travel in only intensify that threat exponentially with the advent of their machinery and weaponry, but Dalek deaths have mostly been linked to destruction of their machines which ostensibly would not regenerate with them. Adaptations could be made, of course, or perhaps the ultimate hybrid would differ from the typical Dalek mutant in form, but further explanation could have helped to better explain Davros’s vision of a new race coming to dominate the existing two before the Daleks and Time Lords

reach a state of mutually assured destruction given their respective histories that are now fixed point and thus unchangeable.

At the least, ‘A Genius for War’ does make good use of the devolution element in terms of its resolution that the Doctor hopes will dissuade Davros from ever pursuing this action again, though there is little denying the convenience of the Time Lords happening to take the Doctor out of his timeline to help them at this particular time when he is so affected. Still, while the story is riddled with gaps and leaps in logic, the unabashed stars of this are Sylvester McCoy and Terry Molloy who effortlessly tap into their characters’ long and complicated history together. The Doctor and Davros have an undoubted mutual respect for each other despite their vastly different outlooks on life, and every action one takes is with the other in mind as each tries to measure up to the other. Nicholas Briggs also gives a suitably commanding performance as the Daleks while truly accentuating the fraught relationship between the Daleks and Davros at this point and intensifying the tension and danger of the overall narrative, but there have already been several stories for Big Finish that have prominently featured philosophical debates between the Doctor and Davros that make this something of a retread for listeners who have followed Big Finish’s Davros stories outside of this anniversary context. Nonetheless, these scenes and the moon backdrop are wholly effective and wonderfully bring together the different eras of the franchise while highlighting two fantastic leads and the power of the Daleks. Still, it would have been nice to have the Time Lords as a race as well as both the General and Veklin better represented here to offer a more cohesive plot and testament to the Doctor’s own people, and a third consecutive story that hasn’t truly delved into the mystery behind the devolution is proving to be something of a glaring hole as this celebration continues.

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