The Robots Volume Five

Posted in Audio by - May 29, 2022
The Robots Volume Five

Released May 2022

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

On the world of Kaldor that is beset by increasing advances in technology and artificial intelligence along with the politics and civil divides and unrest that go along with them, The Robots and the Chenka sisters return for a fifth volume of three stories.

Big Finish newcomer Aaron Douglas opens this volume with ‘The Enhancement’ featuring the titular chips that represent the next stage of personal security for everyone on Kaldor. Having just recently endured a harrowing experience of identity theft, Tula is much more inclined to go through with this surgical implantation than Liv who is much more concerned about the recent silence from The Sons of Kaldor. As safe and secure as Tula knows this chip is, however, she’s still made uneasy by the Company’s decree that implantation is now compulsory to ensure complete security, and the return of now-chipped Volar Crick who was last seen in the first series and who now seems not to remember the entire saga of his attempt to ensure his dead wife’s longevity via a robot does little to assuage her burgeoning uncertainty. Though Tula does go through with the process, the story does a wonderful job in playing up the fears of memory loss via this process as the forgetting of specific events is balanced by plausible explanations featuring overexertion following this invasive surgery and, in Crick’s case, perhaps an intentional action given his involvement in the creative process of this chip. Still, Douglas excellently fleshes out the emotionless practicality of the Company that will not readily admit any insidious actions on its part through the chips but that is also all too eager to celebrate the security that restricting access to only certain memories and information the Company deems suitable allows. Claire Rushbrook gives a stellar performance as a woman trying to cling to her identity and memories without knowing what, if anything, is happening to her, and Nicola Walker is just as strong as Liv remains determined to discover the truth even if her own emotions and suspicions are blinding her to any innocuous alternatives. Of course, this now-mandated procedure and the discussions about short-term, long-term, and even imagined side effects are all too reminiscent of those dominating societal mitigation efforts during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, and those parallels within this heightened environment that has already shown that personal freedom and autonomy is anything but the Company’s priority make for a wholly effective and unsettling instalment even with the action limited to so few characters rather than featuring Kaldor society as a whole.

In Phil Mulryne’s ‘Machines Like Us,’ Kador Arris of the founding families who once worked for the Company is now working from the outside to demand greater accountability. Naturally, his populist views have their fervent supporters, but they are also gaining Arris enemies along the way. Liv and Tula quickly discover that a vast conspiracy is unfolding before them, and they’re in a race against time before the explosions begin. Of course, the uneasy friction that can exist between friends and family members when it comes to political views and figures is another aspect of modern society that has become all too heated in too many cases, and so the imbalance between Liv and Tula as they attempt to carry on with their everyday lives with each other despite their often diametric and polarizing thoughts about the Company is a wholly relatable aspect that Rushbrook and Walker perform admirably. Finlay Robertson is also excellent as the charismatic Arris, giving a supremely subdued and measured performance that makes the anger fueling him all the more effective. In a society dominated by technology and robots in which those chipped are unwittingly spied upon, there are many avenues by which any and all parties may act, and the chilling discovery at the heart of this conspiracy is one sure to have a lasting impact on the Chenkas and Kaldor as a whole given how it rewrites all assumed standards. Again, there is a great tension throughout as the danger continues to build while shifting from simply political leanings and meetings, and the building questions about what is and will remain the truth under the Company’s eye provides an engaging backdrop upon which new threats can continue to build. ‘Machines Like Us’ is a twisting and subversive tale that makes the most of its setting and its real-world parallels that ensure even its most audacious moments remain firmly grounded in reality, and while none of the individual elements are particularly revolutionary, the overall product is an expertly written, acted, and paced experience that makes this society on the edge all the more layered and visceral.

The fifth volume concludes with ‘Kaldor Nights’ by Tim Foley as Liv and Tula visit the set of the eponymous and massively popular reality television programme. As the public learns through leaked reports that the enhancement chip will, indeed, no longer be voluntary, an uprising is beginning to swell, but the Chenkas quickly discover that the Studio is hardly the safe haven one might expect. Indeed, through an apparent blip in chip functionality, they learn of a subroutine that will invariably put the Studio in direct competition with the Committee with the general populace left with little chance or free will. Through Tula who began watching Kaldor Nights as a means of escaping following the intense turmoil of her earlier life and who has become increasingly invested in the increasingly ridiculous lives of its characters, Foley manages to provide a rather sympathetic look at reality programming that is anything but real or meaningful. However, it’s the self-centred and confident star of the programme, Louisha Deltarto, who rightfully becomes the centre of this piece, and Jemma Churchill is brilliant as this woman who is fully dedicated to her work and who cannot fathom her character departing under any circumstances. The show and her character dominate every aspect of her life, and the pervasive control that the chips allow over her without her knowledge is a chilling extension of what has been seen previously and a firm reminder of how invasive technology and those at its helm can be. The Chenkas’ reason for exploring the Studio nicely ties into previous events with Sorkov as well, and Walker and Rushbrook once more excel as these two sisters must confront their differences and finally open up to each other to understand how best to proceed. Yasmin Mwanza rounds out the core cast nicely as Shinko finally shares her deep secret that brings all emotions and truth to light, setting in motion a series of events that Sorkov most definitely did not intend and leading to a brilliant cliffhanger that ends this volume on a high. The Robots as a whole may have only been intended to be four volumes at the outset, but the brilliant writing, acting, direction, and sound design here prove that Kaldor still has an incredible amount to offer by delivering a wholly captivating look at a society that is all too familiar despite its many advancements.

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