Liv Chenka gets her own spin-off series in “The Robots”: a twelve-part saga chronicling her adventures on Kaldor during a year off from travelling with the Doctor. Liv’s always been one of my favourite characters, so I was very much looking forward to this series… and I’m happy to say it doesn’t disappoint! Read on for my thoughts on each story in the set.
1. “The Robots of Life” by Roland Moore
The series opens with The Robots of Life (great title, by the way!), written by Roland Moore. Following Liv as she returns to work, this story sees the character encounter an old friend who has been using Voc Robots to hide a deadly secret. It’s a gripping plot that links back to our own world in its exploration of how much of a role technology plays in our lives, and how that might lead to some dire consequences.
As author of the first episode of this new series, Moore has a lot of setup to do, and he does it with aplomb. Of course, the world of Kaldor is already quite well-known to fans of the show, having appeared in The Robots of Death in 1977 and thereafter in several Big Finish audios, but having a whole twelve-part saga set there means that it has to be developed to a far greater degree. Overall, this is done incredibly well, and I came away from The Robots of Life with a strong feeling that I knew the situation on Kaldor and was ready to spend more time exploring it in future stories.
The central characters of The Robots are, of course Liv and Tula Chenka (Nicola Walker and Claire Rushbrook respectively), who are brought to life through brilliant performances from both actors and great dialogue from Moore. The sister dynamic is immediately believable, bolstered by the natural chemistry between Walker and Rushbrook.
This episode also stars Eric Carte as Varren, Liv’s old mentor who’s hiding a terrible secret. He gives a suitably nuanced performance that leaves the listener guessing whether he’s a hero or a villain right to the very end. Tracy Wiles also features, giving several Voc Robots their sinister voices…
Overall, this is a fantastic start to the series, brilliantly introducing the characters and setting plenty of interesting plot threads into motion.
2. “The Sentient” by Robert Whitelock
When it was revealed in the extras that this is Robert Whitelock‘s first script for Big Finish, I was shocked. The Sentient is very, very good! Following artificial intelligence Vissey (Venice Van Sommeren) as she learns what it means to be human through mentor Til Rork (Jaye Griffiths), this story is, like episode one, very pertinent to today’s world.
Both Van Sommeren and Griffiths give great performances throughout the piece, with the former bringing out both Vissey’s childish petulance and her inhuman otherness and the latter portraying the struggles of trying to reason with something that’s both human and alien at once.
My only complaint about the story is how, in the last twenty minutes or so, it suddenly escalated from the intimate drama between Vissey and Til into a huge world-ending calamity. This wasn’t enough to make me dislike the story by any means, but I would perhaps have preferred it if the smaller stakes were maintained throughout, rather than suddenly turning Vissey’s story into a more Doctor Who-style dramatic scenario.
All in all, though, this is another fantastic entry in the series, and a stellar first script from Robert Whitelock.
3. “Love Me Not” by John Dorney
The final story in the set, John Dorney‘s Love Me Not, picks up several plot strands from The Robots of Life, seeing Volar Crick (Anthony Howell) cope with the death of his wife Jasdar by imbuing a Super Voc Robot with her conscience. It’s an arresting concept for a story that kept me hooked throughout.
Howell gives a fantastic performance as Crick, perfectly embodying the character of a man who is so consumed by grief that he’s become delusional. Claire Rushbrook gives her voice to SV39, Crick’s Super Voc, and manages to make her both robotically detached and strikingly human.
Robert Whitelock (who also wrote The Sentient) reprises his role as Skellen from the first episode, and gets a lot more development here. Marvellously morally ambiguous, the character has a great rapport with both Liv and Tula, and seems to be hiding something major regarding the Robots, which I’m sure will be explored in the rest of the series.
Overall, Love Me Not is a touching exploration of grief and a top ending to a top boxset.
The Robots 1 is a fantastic start to this new series, setting up the world of Kaldor with flair and exploring lots of interesting scenarios involving technology that link back to our own world too. Director Ken Bentley brings out brilliant performances from the entire cast, and Joe Kraemer‘s music is on top form. There’s an intriguing cliffhanger ending too, which leaves me excited to see where the next set will go… Thoroughly recommended.
The Robots 1 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com