Thursday, October 27, 2011

Big Finish: Robophobia - AudioReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Doctor Who: Serial 149.

The Doctor has been here before. Not the transport ship Lorelei, which has a cargo of over 157,000 robots on board, but the menace that stalks within. The Time Lord's first encounter with slave robots had been during his fourth incarnation, accompanied by then companion Leela. There had been deaths on a sandminer (named Storm Mine 4) and an attempt to murder the entire crew. But worse would have followed if it had not been for the Doctor's interference - his meddling had prevented further bloodshed. It appears that history, however, has been relegated to rumour, the tragedy never officially confirmed.

And so to the Lorelei... The Doctor, now in his seventh incarnation and companionless, is murdered, along with Tal Karus (portrayed by Matt Addis), a member of a support team from Kaldor City. And yet, only Tal's body is found.

Physician Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) had known the deceased for a very short time and yet, she is saddened by his death. And then she meets the only man on the ship who knows more than he is letting on. The Doctor, mysterious and at his manipulative best, tries to help Liv see what he quite clearly does: someone, or something, is not what they seem.

A second murder and sabotage, and as usual the Doctor is suspect - the only stowaway on board! But just why has he activated the robots? And why do the slave humanoids refer to the Time Lord as Tal Karus?

"Robots cannot harm or kill humans, or by admission of action allow a Human to be harmed or killed. It is our primary command, we cannot deviate from it."

But does history say otherwise, and is such an incident happening again? As the Voc robots engage in their duties and offering help, as programmed, there is fear throughout the Lorelei. Panic and paranoia, and a sinister force at work.

There is a touch of Terror of the Vervoids here, an intriguing piece of mystery and suspense, sleight of hand by writer Nicholas Briggs that keeps you guessing until much of the way through. Fine performances from cast and crew as tension builds, the question being is Super-Voc SV10 (and the other robots) innocent in recent events or, like its counterpart in The Robots of Death, could the robot be manipulating the situation for a deadly purpose?

A further killing, this time Bas Pellico (played by William Hazell), and the crew prepare to fight. Evidence that at least one killer robot is indeed on board the transport ship is visible near the body. Communication between Kaldor City and the Lorelei is cut off and Security Chief Farel (Toby Hadoke) informs Leftenant Selerat (Nicholas Pegg) that robots have seized control of the long-range transceiver antenna. There is further robot activity and they are coming for the Humans!

The Doctor's faith in Liv eventually pays off and he gains her trust. Which is just as well... as a second attempt is made on the Time Lord's life. "This time I will kill you DOCTOR!"

The acting in Robophobia is strong and Jamie Robertson's sound design offers the right balance of spaceship background noise and music (including a beautiful theme that has a direct link to the plot) to enhance the experience. Sylvester McCoy is at his devious best, a Doctor who observes and advises, stepping in when required.

The lack of recaps at the start of Part Two, Three and Four is a little strange and could make the story feel a little disjointed. However that is a minor issue. A fabulous production! Credit to designer Simon Holub for his cover art which features Sylvester McCoy, Nicola Walker, and SV10.

Robophobia: an irrational fear of robots (also referred to as 'Grimwade's syndrome') - or is it an irrational fear? The robots are lurking...