Blurb: The TARDIS has landed on a human colony world. In the city, where the inhabitants rely on advanced technology to create their children, a marriage is due to take place. But not everyone supports it, and a crash might just prevent it for good.
In the commune outside live the savages, shunned and detested by the city folk. But they have recently been visited by a man, charismatic and handsome, who may yet be their savior - or their doom.
Two different sides, ready for conflict. But neither realizes that a third force threatens their very existence...
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released September 2016.
Setting: An unnamed Earth colony world, time unknown, but the almost magical technology of Inscape would seem to imply a very late date, so likely the 5th millennium or later.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock. There is no indication of where this fits in relation to other stories that take place within the same gap but it is likely that it takes place after the previous Philip Hinchcliffe Presents story, The Devil's Armada. Leela says that the Doctor always tells her not to bring Janis Thorns, but she does anyway (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang).
Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor acts as if the idea of his having thirteen heads is strange, and he doesn't understand it. This may be in-character as the Doctor joking, but he doesn't act as if he's joking. Leela also seems out of character, falling for an inept hunter. Other than that, everything fits with the established continuity. 0.85
Discussion: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents returns with a new story idea from ex-Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe. As with the last two stories in this line, Marc Platt, wrote the script based on Hinchcliffe's outline. It's an interesting idea to have someone that was so strongly associated with the "golden age" of the series' past to create new stories. I hesitated a little bit before purchasing this, because two of Hinchcliffe's three previous ideas, The Valley of Death and The Devil's Armada weren't very good. While the Ghosts of Gralstead was a significantly better story, it still had significant plot issues. So, I was really curious to see what this would happen in this story.
At it's heart, The Genesis Chamber, is an allegory for Romeo and Juliet. It just happens to be set on a colony world sometime in the distant future. The colonists have split into two factions - those who embrace technology and live a pristine life inside the city and those who live outside as settlers on this dying world. There's no love lost between the two sides as we're told that those in the city sometimes come out to hunt the settlers who they refer to as savages. The Settlers on the other hand, eschew everything having to do with the city, living a bare lifestyle without any technology. The Doctor points out the fallacy of that, because even the settlers use simple tools and equipment. Yet, both sides are soon beset by an alien menace that wants to see the humans eliminated from the face of this world.
Let's forget for a minute that this already sounds like it's pulling from stories like The Face of Evil, which Hinchcliffe already produced. Let's also forget for a minute that it sounds a real awful lot like The Savages, which Hinchcliffe may not have known about, but Platt certainly does. You would expect, from any sensible plotline that this story might be about the dangers of taking any idea to ridiculous extremes. You might even expect that since it's called The Genesis Chamber that it might be about the morality of growing human beings to order as they do in the city. But no, the story dances around all these issues as nothing more than a backdrop for a very boring alien invasion. The catch here, the aliens are coming from underground. The story is written as if this is an incredibly novel concept and that we should be excited about it without any other reason. Obviously, Hinchcliffe has never seen Frontios, but why is Platt not pointing these things out?
Unfortunately, this is really the rub of this story. There are all kinds of things going on. It appears that there are few "families" inside the city, and that there's a power struggle between the Suks and the Janz. It's mentioned a few times, but never effects the story at all. DeRosa declares war on the Settlers, but nothing ever happens with that either. Farla has a deep, dark secret, but it's so unimportant that in episode six a character wanders onto the scene to say what it is and then wonders off. There are maybe half a dozen lines of dialog about it, and that's all that there is to it. Why even bother working it in if that's all that you're going to do with it? I usually don't agree when people say that most of the six-parters in the TV series should have been four-parters, but wow is this a story that's heavy on the padding and should have been a four-parter.
There's so much potential that's wasted. A story about a society that's all about purity and manufacturing people to order would be interesting enough for the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Here, there was some really great potential to explore what's wrong with making people to order. What's wrong with wanting to be among technology and never venture out? Yet, the story never even questions it. The city is bad and while the Settlers aren't completely good their way is definitely better. The Genesis Chamber and Inscape itself are an interesting concept as well, but they're wasted as a deus ex machina at the end rather than really exploring the idea of a computer that has limitless power.
There are just so many things that don't make sense. If Inscape is so powerful and prepares for all possibilities why was it helping to exterminate the Suks at the beginning of the story. Why does it take to the Doctor even though his data isn't in the city other than story convenience? Why does no one seem to mind Volor's locusts crawling all over and inside of them except for the Doctor and Leela? Farla seems to think that he's still wonderful after he's done it to her and no one else shows much reaction. Does everyone really not notice the locusts moving through the city to wherever Volor is when he wants them? How were the locusts already attacking Inscape before Volor got inside? If he could control them remotely and they could get inside anyway, why did he need to get inside to get the information he needed? For that matter, how is it that he lived with the Settlers for a while but never read Wulbane's mind? After all, no one seems to care when he does it. Why is it that Inscape needs to use the city's entire power to protect against a hacking attempt? I get that writers don't always understand computers, but in this day and age that's a bit of a lame excuse. I also can't understand given Inscape's limitless abilities why it would be used as nothing more than a baby factory. Even if people never wanted to leave the city there are so many more applications to which those powers could be put to use. Why is Volor perfectly fine in the supposedly toxic atmosphere of the planet? I understand that his skin suit protected him from the blast, but he goes about perfectly fine after that even though he's exposed to the planet's atmosphere. In fact, he's so much of a danger that the Doctor has to lock him in an eternal prison rather than wait for him to die of natural causes, which is really odd.
The characterization is where things get really bad. Some characters veer from unpleasant to homicidal in an instant. DeRosa's trust of the Doctor fluctuates without any seeming rhyme or reason. Farla is in shock, but then snaps out of it when the plot demands that she should. We're supposed to believe that Volor's motivations are hidden behind so many layers of manipulations that it's impossible to tell what he really wants, but it seems to be just be a smokescreen for making things up as he goes along. After all, if the Genesis Chamber is what he was seeking all along from whatever he learned outside, why was he reading the minds of random people or Farla rather than of DeRosa or anyone else that was actually in a position of authority? So the aliens come, and they can't risk any humans possibly telling anyone about their base even though the humans have never ventured far from where they are and don't have any contact with other civilizations, but then they decide that they have plenty of time to let the humans die out from natural causes? If anything, part of why this story doesn't work is because the invasion was so inept. Yes, it was a change, but without the immediate threat it made it feel inconsequential.
Really, though, the huge issue with this story is the romance between Leela and Dack. I don't much care for the Shown and Ana one either. Romeo and Juliet were in the same social strata after all. I just don't buy that Ana could be won over by this dirty boy who probably only bathes once every couple of weeks in so short a time. She may be open-minded, but that's pushing things considerably. Yet, at least with that one, it's a common enough trope, so I excuse it because that's the kind of story it is. But Leela and Dack just came out of nowhere. It's clear from the beginning that he's smitten with her and that makes sense because Leela is awesome. At first I thought she was just being nice, but then she goes full on "he's my pair-bond" with him and it's like "what...?" I mean, it echoes of a similarly bizarre romance in Requiem for the Rocket Men, and I suppose that someone is equating this with Andred, but Andred at least was a professional warrior. His temperament didn't match Leela's and he seemed kind of boring to us at home, but you could at least see why she'd be attracted to him. Dak is an inept hunter. I don't see how there could be any mutual respect between them to make a decent relationship. Maybe he was just that good looking, but I also don't see her as being superficial. It just seemed really, really odd.
The story isn't without its merits. Everyone puts in a great acting performance in this one. Special mention really needs to go to Gyuri Sarossy for sounding like such a creepy, yet charismatic villain with Volor. John Culshaw ought to win an award for sounding like Michael Jayston, because it's kind of eerie how much DeRosa sounds like him. Tom seems to have been on fire, being full of wit and energy during the recordings. Louise Jameson never disappoints and this script gives her some room to stretch her emotional range a bit, which is always nice. The music is great. There's a nice suite of it on the CD. It's very well developed for the story and makes for a good listen. The sound design is also very good, but I had a problem with Volor's insects. I could never tell where they were coming from or how no one ever seemed to notice them. With the Doctor they're described as crawling all over him and into his orifices. The sound effect used for them is exceptionally loud, implying that they're there as a giant swarm, but most people that Volor uses them on don't seem to notice what is happening nor do those around them. It's very strange and it seems like better sense should have been made of conveying what was going on with the sound effect either through nuance to the sound or by direct dialog.
Final Rating: 5/10
Recommendation: Philip Hinchcliffe's latest story doesn't feel like an extension of his era so much as a loose collection of ideas taken from stories that he already did and whatever he happened to be thinking about at the moment. The story is filled with good ideas that are squandered, plot holes, a flat alien menace, and characters that behave in a way that makes no sense. The story is lifted up by some excellent performances and some wonderful work on the music and sound design, but it's not enough to keep this from being a dull and tedious slog. I do not recommend it.