The Robots Volume One

Posted in Audio by - December 31, 2019
The Robots Volume One

Released December 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Some characters and ideas immediately present themselves as potential spin-off material, the continuing adventures of the Paternoster Gang and River Song or the continuing misadventures of the Master with or without the Doctor present being prime examples that Big Finish has naturally chosen to explore. At other times, the company is a bit more experimental with its new stories such as with Tales from New Earth or highlighting further adventures of audio-only companion Charlotte Pollard after leaving the Doctor. With the arrival of The Robots, a series with four volumes already announced, Big Finish is again choosing the latter approach, following Liv Chenka when she left the Eighth Doctor behind for a year during the events of Ravenous 2 to live on Kaldor and get to know her sister all over again.

Despite taking place aboard a sandminer, the classic serial ‘The Robots of Death’ aptly created a living world rife with conflicting emotions as it discussed Kaldor, and it’s no surprise that that world and its iconic robots have come to feature across various media since. As ‘The Robots of Life’ by Roland Moore opens, medical technician Liv has looked to find gainful employment at a prestigious hospital to put her natural skills to use, but her attention is quickly drawn to an apparent surgical error and the working history that exists between surgeon Arak Varren and his long-time assistant Supervoc 57. Unsurprisingly, a far more complex truth quickly reveals itself as a conglomeration of events has led to an unexpected finding that could threaten the very foundation of Kaldor. Moore paces the mystery and its revelations naturally, and although the play-on title does ultimately hint at where the story is going once all of the pieces are in place, this is still an intriguing start to this series that emphasizes the humanity among the many nuances of this world’s advanced technology. Nicola Walker and Claire Rushbrook instantly showcase an immense chemistry that highlights just how much these two sisters have been through, and the Doctor’s influence on Liv’s outlook on life is sure to continue to influence events as she can only hope that her companion will return for her at the end of the stated year.

Robert Whitelock pens the second instalment, ‘The Sentient,’ introducing the artificial Vissey that the Company that has helped Kaldor’s people for so long has marketed as the perfect daughter that anyone could ever want. Without question, actress Venice Van Someren is the star of this story, bringing a childlike naivety and ravenous desire to learn to this hybrid of cloning and artificial intelligence that puts a lesser-seen spin on the traditional exploration of the potential pitfalls and horrors of this ethically fraught scientific avenue. Vissey accumulates and processes all information available to her with emotionless logic as her guiding force, and the conclusions she draws from Kaldor’s history and the steps she sees necessary to follow in society’s footsteps to become the best are staggeringly horrifying while providing a swift condemnation of humanity and the decisions and arbitrary markers of success that so often guide its individuals and groups. Van Someren easily shifts from concern and innocence to threatening and dangerous, and this heightened look at where society has been and where it could go provides a fitting plot upon which to further develop Kaldor on an all too relatable level. With strong performances and direction once more as Liv and Tula are again thrust into an unexpected threat against their home, The Robots appears to have hit the ground running even if this second title continues the trend of giving away its key plot component from the start to minimize some of the inherent mystery that may otherwise be present.

In ‘Love Me Not’ by John Dorney, lonely widower Volar Crick goes to extreme lengths to keep the memories of his wife who was lost in a tragic accident alive. Unsurprisingly, this final story of the first volume picks up several narrative threads and themes from the preceding two, but the robot designed to help him cope provides the conduit for a poignant and introspective tale about grief, mental health, and just how intrinsically intertwined the two can become. Anthony Howell gives a pitch perfect performance as Crick who unwittingly experiences the psychological horrors that technology can present, and the vulnerable man’s measured decline is presented and performed with a perfect blend of dignity and nuance to make it all the more resonant and profound. While the ultimate trajectory of the story is again laid out from the start, the small twists and revelations about the truth behind the central relationship are equally affecting and help to shine a light on the differences between how certain things are remembered and the reality that doesn’t necessarily correlate. Annabelle Dowler provides the perfect counterpoint to Howell as Crick’s psyche is delved into ever more deeply, and the tough situation that the Chenkas find themselves in as they attempt to publicize this unexpected truth only further highlights the very human dilemmas at the heart of these robot-centric tales as the scene is aptly set for the impending second volume.

The Robots Volume One easily succeeds in dynamically presenting Kaldor as a vibrant and living world while intimating at the various unique threats that its culture has confronted and will continue to face going forward. While these three stories by themselves may not wholly prove why this spin-off was needed, there is no denying that each is a supremely confident tale that assuredly benefits from the familiarity of its Doctor Who roots without needing to rely on the Doctor to drive the investigations. With the human element very much as the forefront and superb performances from leads Nicola Walker and Claire Rushbrook alongside all of the supporting actors, The Robots looks set to be another engaging and resounding series for Big Finish to rightly celebrate.

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