The Doctor, traveling alone in his TARDIS (which seems to have darkened from blue to black), arrives on a ship bound for the planet Ventaris, carrying a cargo of tens of thousands of robots. His arrival coincides with the beginning of a series of murders, of which he naturally becomes the chief suspect while trying to help the crew. The bodies keep piling up until the ship’s small crew is outnumbered by prematurely activated robots. Ever polite, the robots obliviously try to help the human crew, until a robot is exposed as the killer – and is then exposed to be a killer of a different kind. Now the ship is on a collision course for a heavily populated planet, and if it collides, the robots will be held responsible and others of their kind will be deactivated en masse, unless the Doctor can convince the real murderer to reveal what has driven him to these depths.
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Toby Hadoke (Farel), William Hazell (Bas Pellico), Nicholas Pegg (Selerat), Dan Starkey (Cravnet), Matt Addis (Tal Karus), John Dorney (Leebar / Computer Voice)
Notes: Robophobia happens within months of the robot incident aboard the Sandminer (The Robots Of Death), which has apparently been swept under the rug. Robophobia sems to steer clear of most of the elements of the spinoff audio series Kaldor City, which was not produced by Big Finish but did have the blessing of Robots Of Death author Chris Boucher. Dan Starkey, the actor behind the Sontaran mask of the eleventh Doctor’s ally Strax, plays Cravanet here. Medtech Liv Chenka resurfaces alongside the eighth Doctor in the Dark Eyes 2 box set (2014).
Timeline: after Lurkers At Sunlight’s Edge and before Project: Nirvana and Black And White; possibly simultaneous with Protect And Survive
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Though it starts out as something which could be a shot-for-shot remake of The Robots Of Death, Robophobia tells its story in a more human dimension. (The robots and the general rules governing their behavior, after all, are already well established.) Without having to spend most of its running time on crawling through ventilation ducts and getting stuck in sand silos, Robophobia is free to more thoroughly explore what’s going through the minds of the human crew members as the death toll mounts. The level of darkness in the story makes it perfectly suited to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, and his ability to go from having a cold, hard edge to being utterly compassionate is used quite well.
The cast of Robophobia is simply superb, with Nicola Walker guest starring as the Doctor’s surrogate companion for this story, the world-weary but dedicated Medtech Liv Chenka. Dan Starkey’s character is fun – he’s a pretty good actor once freed from the notion that he needs to be wearing (or sounding like he’s wearing) a Sontaran potato head all the time – and the Robots themselves are expertly recreated, right down the unnerving feeling that they’re saying everything with a smile. But the show is stolen by comedian Toby Hadoke’s turn as a particularly disturbed member of the crew; better known for more light-hearted fare, Hadoke is quite adept at the drama necessary for this story. Because in the end, Robophobia isn’t a story of futuristic science fiction concepts, but of human drama and tragedy (and surprising robotic nobility), brought to life by a fantastic company of actors.