DW: Robophobia Review

DW Robophobia

It’s the last of the trio of companion introduction stories that weren’t actually intended to be companion introduction stories, as much like Flip and Klein before her, Liv Chenka wasn’t conceived as anything other than a one off character for this story. This is an odd one though as Liv would go on to be a companion to the Eighth Doctor, rather than the Seventh, yet this is still her debut story! ANYWAY, as for Robophobia itself, it’s a sequel to Fourth Doctor TV classic “The Robots of Death”, but it manages to avoid the classic sequel pitfall by not just recycling the original but instead building a new story with the materials provided. Let’s take a closer look!

Synopsis:

Nothing has ever been officially confirmed, but there is a rumour that on a Sandminer, bound for Kaldor City, the robots somehow turned homicidal and nearly wiped out the entire crew. Can that really be true?

The robot transport ship Lorelei has a cargo of over 157,000 robots on board, all deactivated. So even if there were any truth in the rumour of that massacre, there’d still be no danger. Surely, there wouldn’t…

But then, the Doctor witnesses a murder…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) – In his latest plan to foil the Elder Gods of the universe, The Doctor has created a Black TARDIS and wishes to take it for a spin, leaving Ace and Hex behind. Little did he know he’d end up attacked and caught in the middle of a struggle… well, actually, let’s face it, he probably wasn’t that surprised…

Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) – Liv is a Medtec on board the Lorelei. She’s often sarcastic and or stoic, but she does care a lot for members of the crew, which is a shame, really…

Farel (Toby Hadoke) – Farel’s wife was killed in a sandstorm, surrounded by robots who did nothing to help her. This traumatic incident has driven him to try and frame the robots who he thinks are responsible for his wife’s death…

Bas Pellico (William Hazel) – The Lorelei’s pilot and a friend of Liv’s. Not much else to say about him, really…

SV10 and the Voc Robots (Matt Addis and others) – The Voc Robots are endlessly loyal and could never hurt a living thing… unless programmed specifically to do otherwise…

Plus more!

The Good:

DW Robophobia Cover

Simple but effective cover, apart from maybe McCoy looking like he legitimately saw you commit murder…

As this was the first time Big Finish used the Voc Robots, it would have been really easy to just do a rehash of “Robots of Death”, but instead Nick Briggs, in one of his good scripts thankfully, turns it on its head. Instead of someone crazy who’s dressed as a robot because he wants them to overthrow humanity due to his love for them, we have poor old Farel, who has robophobia and is dressing as a robot and killing humans to frame them in the hopes they are all deactivated. It’s good because at the start you do think they’ve just gone down the rehash route, plus hearing Farel breakdown into tears as he admits he’s… well, crazy, and still talking to his dead wife, it’s quite heartbreaking. The robots surrounded his wife to try and protect her from the storm as well, so his robophobia was completely unjust.

Liv is a good pseudo companion for the story, very much deadpan Nicola Walker like we’ve seen in Spooks et al., but it works. I was happy to see her land a permanent companion role later down the line with the Eighth Doctor.

Otherwise the story is a good “people being slowly picked off” murder sort-of-mystery (unless you’re reading this first!) with a big “can they stop the ship from crashing into a city in time?” finale which sees the Voc Robots once again show their loyalty by steering the ship away from humanity and towards  the sun. It’s really good, basically!

The Bad:

Not a lot bad, though I will say a lot of the other characters are paper-thin, beyond Liv and Farel (along with The Doctor, obviously) there isn’t much in the way of characters you care about, but given the rest of the cast is there pretty much solely to be killed off, it’s not much of a problem…

The Continuity:

The Voc robots first appeared in Fourth Doctor TV story “The Robots of Death”, and have appeared a few times on audio since this story too.

Liv would re-encounter The Doctor in his next incarnation and become his companion, starting with Dark Eyes 2: The Traitor. The secrets of why The Doctor is travelling by himself in a Black TARDIS is revealed in the audio story “Black and White”.

Overall Thoughts:

Robophobia is a good little story, it has a lot in common with the story it’s a sequel to, but it turns everything on its head and goes in an interesting direction. Liv is a good soon-to-be companion, and the Seventh Doctor is at his aloof best. Recommended.

4 Star Listen

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