The Robots Volume 2 from Big Finish continues in the style we last heard in The Robots Volume 1. Med-tech Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) is taking a year away from the TARDIS (though she’s back long before Stranded). She’s spending time with sister Tula (Claire Rushbrook who also voices a lot of the robots) getting back to her roots and finding adventures of her own. These three stories build the series nicely, taking some unexpected directions as we learn more about Kaldor City.
Roland Moore takes Liv and Tula to a military base in Robots of War. Of course, other things are happening, including sabotage and threats to the base commander. It’s a chance for the company’s new programming to be tested and robots like nothing more than to obey orders. Whatever the cost. What follows is a fight for survival with plenty for the lead characters to do before saving the day.
Andrew Smith gets to introduce two character to The Robots series, with Toos and Poul. First a short history lesson. Kaldor City was the setting for the 1977 fourth Doctor series The Robots of Death. The characters of Toos (Pamela Salem) and Poul (David Collings) appeared 43 years ago and are back. Pamela Salem has done a lot of Big Finish in her other role as Dr Rachel Jensen in the Counter Measures range; while David Collings, who passed away earlier this year, played Silver in Sapphire and Steel, recently repeated on Forces TV. There’s no Liv, no Tula, just a murder mystery. And some robots.
Toos is looking for Poul, who is trying to live a simple life, when a stranger is murdered near the small community where he lives (think wild west). Andrew mixes anti-robot nomads with locals in a crime that the listener will quickly solve for themselves, and investigator Poul has lost none of his old skills as we find out who, and more importantly, why, the murder happened. From the extra interview, it’s suggested David Collings would have recorded other stories, and a future meeting between he and Liv is something to look forward to.
The set comes to focus here, painting a larger world not just centred on Liv. Other ranges could take lessons from how this one is evolving its narrative, adding characters organically rather than lurching from story to story (as sometimes happens).
It’s back to Liv and Tula in a courtroom drama. A robot is on trial for murder. The prosecuting counsel Ren (the excellent Tracy Wiles) is up against an inexperienced graduate. Liv and Tula have to race against time to see truth revealed and justice done. It’s won’t be easy and Sarah Grochalar’s story Do No Harm brings up interesting ideas in a traditional and highly entertaining setting. The ending feels a little contrived and perhaps rushed to fit a single episode, but there are some excellent twists and a quest for Liv. Kaldor City may never be the same again. Liv has a quest and woe betide those who oppose her; she may even end up on the side of the company.
Robots Volume 2 covers some ground familiar to anyone who has read Isaac Asimov’s (many) short stories on the themes of robot ethics and logical dilemmas. The Big Finish writers give us real people in plausible situations, with academic consideration of robots coming second. Even in the future the basic implications of artificial intelligence are still difficult to deal with and the setting feels very contemporary in that respect. The extras are worth a listen, and Pamela Salem makes similar points in her interview.
The Robots Volume 2 blends adventure, mystery, robotics and even a Luddite streak in three entertaining takes. As a spin-off, The Robots works with no need to reference the Doctor directly. Two boxsets in and we’re impressed. The next instalment is due December 2020.
The Robots Volume 2 is available now from Big Finish.