The Robots Volume One is the first in a set of stories starring Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka. Liv is a current companion of the eighth Doctor but has taken time out (during the boxset Ravenous 2) to spend time back home in Kaldor City. Story dynamics revolve around her relationship with sister Tula (Claire Rushbrook) and regular character Skellen (Robert Whitelock who also wrote one of the stories). While technically a Doctor Who spin-off, really it’s a set of original stories around a theme – robots. Kaldor City was the setting for the Tom Baker story Robots of Death and Liv first appeared in a seventh Doctor audio drama set there.
The Robots Volume One weaves themes of love, loss, death and memory to great effect.
Robots of Life
Roland Moore takes Liv back to work as a med-tech in a medical centre where too many patients are dying. Investigating, she finds the culprit but also learns how Kaldorians are remembered after death, and how far a robot might go in service to a human. There’s moralising as well as a chance to learn more about Liv’s sister and the management hierarchy of her organisation. It’s self-contained but also presents ideas used later in the set. Part Holby City the story sets the tone for the range well.
Actor Robert Whitelock explores emergent robot sentience and covers some of the same ground as the Kubrick / Spielberg film AI. We have a very human-seeming robot, Vissey; an entity that’s keen to grow up. Venice Van Someren plays Vissey with a chilling presence in a dark, dark plot. How far would a scientist go if they saw a robot as a proxy child? How far would that child go if it wanted to make an impression? Just what would an artificial intelligence make of human culture consumed without the filter of experience or adult guidance? The Sentient quickly moves from intriguing to plain scary. It asks a central question – has humanity created its replacement?
Love Me Not
John Dorney sets scientist Volar Crick (Anthony Howell) a challenge. Recently widowed, he has access to both electronic memories of his wife and sophisticated robots. With children to raise and a void in his life, isn’t it natural he might wish his wife to live on in a new form? Dorney concentrates on grief and finding a definition of sentience, in a story raising lots of questions about the future direction of the corporation Tula works for. As the plot progresses it steps up a gear in an unexpected way, bringing in more characters and leading to a great performance from Anthony Howell.
It ends the set but feels like a beginning to a bigger story coming next. All very intriguing!
The Robots Volume One overall
As a starter for a new run of stories The Robots Volume One delivers. Liv Chenka is fully capable of being the lead across the boxsets, relationships are well-constructed and the stories blend contemporary themes of AI development with a more classic sci-fi idea of a world of robots. If the stories rely overmuch on the coincidence to get started, it’s a minor criticism. The cast is strong, Ken Bentley’s direction spot on and Joe Kramer’s music gives a sense of impending conflict later in the series. If you only try one new Big Finish range this year, you won’t go wrong with The Robots!
The Robots Volume One is available now, in both CD and download formats, from the Big Finish site.