For those unaware, Big Finish Productions have been making Doctor Who audio dramas since 1999, featuring a myriad of Doctors, companions and monsters. If there’s a particular niche of Doctor Who expanded media you’re interested in seeing – or rather, listening to – Big Finish is the place to go. This makes their inclusion in the multi-platform event Time Lord Victorious both inevitable and brilliant, opening up the floor for actors from the TV series to reprise their roles in new stories. In this case, the indomitable Tom Baker reprises his role as the Fourth Doctor in a one-off special Genetics of the Daleks, which also serves as a prequel to the Doctor Who Escape Room: The Dalek Awakens – just one of the many cross-overs as part of Time Lord Victorious.
Genetics of the Daleks centres around Starship Future, a craft carrying 10,000 colonists – locked safely in stasis chambers – to a new world. After 20 years in stasis, pilot Finlay awakens to take over control of the ship, before realising that everything is not as it should be. The crew discover an empty Dalek casing aboard – the mutant having disappeared. But where there’s a Dalek, there’s trouble, and the crew must prevent the Daleks from rebuilding themselves before its too late. Their only hope is the Doctor – but not the Doctor the Daleks are expecting…
It’s always great to see (or rather, hear) Tom Baker back as the Doctor, and while his presence in the Time Lord Victorious saga is brief, it is a very welcome one. Here, Baker brings a very different energy to what we ever saw on screen, but he’s placed into a very different kind of story. Genetics feels like a mix of classic and modern Doctor Who, with a story that takes cues from The Ark in Space (1975), The Power of the Daleks (1966) and Resolution (2019), whilst also tying-in to Time Lord Victorious. It’s definitely not what I’d call “authentic” 70s Who, but its variety of influences makes it feel somewhat refreshing – even if it means that Genetics isn’t particularly original in its story. This makes it a somewhat forgettable adventure, and while it is an enjoyable listen, it’s difficult to shake the fact that everything has been done before.
One of the more interesting inclusions in Jonathan Morris‘ script is the dynamic between Chuke and Swann, two characters posing as members of the crew who start to enact their own plan, before realising that there’s another traitor on board – Professor Brooke, whom is under the influence of the Dalek mutant (voiced by the ever-malevolent Nicholas Briggs). It’s a nice twist in an otherwise familiar narrative, but it’s small additions like these that make Genetics more engaging than an average Who story. Everything feels very real, from the disorientation of the crew members when coming out of stasis, to the Doctor’s surprisingly late arrival into the episode. He stumbles in, in medias res, and has to catch up with the characters to try and solve the problem.
Unfortunately, the main issue with Genetics of the Daleks is that it has to lead-in to the A Dalek Awakens Escape Room, resulting in an ending which doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. The story has to contrive a way to get the Doctor away in the TARDIS but maintain the sense of threat for the Escape Room, and as a result it feels like half a story. Genetics would have been much more satisfying as a full, two-hour play in the style of Big Finish’s monthly adventures – but that would defeat the purpose of the tie-in to the broader Time Lord Victorious mythos. On the other hand, the Time Lord Victorious element feels almost superfluous, and there’s never a sense that the Fourth Doctor is at risk of altering the timelines by being part of these events. Genetics’ placement in Time Lord Victorious may make it appealing to new fans, but it also hinders the story from becoming anything special. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in Time Lord Victorious, or if you want to listen to a one-off Tom Baker audio adventure, Genetics of the Daleks is a fun ride – just don’t go into it expecting a definitive ending.