The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Lucie to a space city which, according to the TARDIS sensors, is devoid of life. That doesn’t mean it’s completely uninhabited, however – the time travelers are quickly cornered by a band of marauding robots. A barrier separates the two, allowing Lucie to escape to safety, while the Doctor has to talk his way out of danger with a little help from his sonic screwdriver and a helpful cleaning robot who hasn’t joined his savage brethren. Lucie finds herself in the company of the Assemblers, a band of elder robots so pacifistic that they’re in constant danger from the Cannibalists, the all-consuming robots who see any other robot or life form as a source of spare parts. In the middle of the seemingly endless conflict between these two groups are Servo, a meek maintenance droid who simply wants to carry on the work of tending to the city’s needs, and Minerva, an access point for the city itself who could grant immense power to anyone, even to the point of resetting the entire system. Soon, the race is on to see who can control Minerva and rule the city… and the Doctor isn’t sure that either group has earned that power.
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Sheridan Smith (Lucie Miller), Phil Davies (Titus), Phill Jupitus (Servo), Nigel Lambert (Domitian/Diode), Teddy Kempner (Macrinus/Crusher), Oliver Senton (Probus/Ripper), Charlotte Fields (Minerva), Beth Chalmers (Elevator Voice)
Timeline: after The Scapegoat and before The Eight Truths
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: This is one of the most brilliant stories that Big Finish has committed to a shiny round thing in the history of its Doctor Who license. The latter two movies in the Matrix trilogy wish they were as smart as this story.
The Cannibalists is, at its heart, an interesting allegorical examination of faith, its uses and its misuses. The pacifist robots may be taking the high road and doing no harm, but their beliefs seem to be a crutch – and they’re blinded to just how close the danger is. The Cannibalists themselves use their beliefs to justify just about any action they wish to take against anyone – a plot point that would be even more disturbing (and, perhaps, disturbingly close to home) if the characters were human(oid) instead of robotic. And then there’s Servo, stuck in the middle, not really following either side and just trying to survive. It’s the kind of allegory that the Star Trek franchise used to be really good at.
The Cannibalists doesn’t sacrifice its entertainment value or listenability for the sake of its barely-hidden soapbox, however. It’s actually quite a fun listen, with a mixture of obsequious characters and, for all intents and purposes, a robot motorcycle gang that brings the wild and woolly antagonists of the various Mad Max movies to mind. Throw Lucie into this mix and you’ve got more comedy out of this situation than you might expect.
The Cannibalists is one of the best Doctor Who audio stories starring Paul McGann – something you can listen to with your brain unashamedly switched on.