We look back on Doctor Who audio story Robophobia. How well does it work as a sequel to one of the TV series’s most popular stories? More importantly, does it work on its own terms?
Arguably one of the most popular stories from Tom Baker’s era is The Robots of Death. Despite having an extremely simple plot – a claustrophobic murder mystery with killer robots – it’s also a story featuring well-developed characters, strong world-building, excellent dialogue, and great direction. In short, it’s a textbook example of a great Doctor Who story.
Creating a sequel to a story as loved as The Robots of Death is definitely a risky move. While one was never directly made on-screen, (although the story certainly influenced others, including Voyage of the Damned and Kerblam!), sequels have been created in other media. One of them was the Fourth Doctor novel Corpse Marker, written by Chris Boucher himself – the writer of the original story. The other was Seventh Doctor audio Robophobia.
Robophobia isn’t exactly a direct sequel to Robots. While the events of the original TV story are directly addressed and in some ways play an important part, the story focuses on brand new characters, all of which are part of the crew of the Lorelei, a robot transport ship. As med-tech Liv Chenka investigates a murder, she has to ask herself: is history starting to repeat itself?
A new take
Nicholas Briggs had quite a challenge when writing this one. While Robophobia needed to be firmly set in the same world as Robots and play to the same strengths, at the same time, it couldn’t just be a repeat of the exact same story. Otherwise, it would be unfavorably compared.
Fortunately, Robophobia is a story that stands out well on its own terms. This is partially because of what it focuses on – after all, there’s a good reason why it’s called “Robophobia”. The fear of robots was something that was brought up in the original story and partially looked at. But it’s explored even deeper in this sequel, providing us with characters both horrific and sympathetic. Sometimes, at the same time.
Another reason this story works so well is how the Doctor is used. In the original serial, the Fourth Doctor is heavily focused on, and we’re solving the mystery at almost the same time that he is. But in Robophobia, he’s far more mysterious. He seems to know all the answers already, but he’s keen for Liv Chenka and the others to work out those answers for themselves. As a result, while he’s naturally a major character, it’s Liv who feels like the lead protagonist in this one.
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Beyond being a sequel to one of Doctor Who‘s most popular stories, there’s another reason why Robophobia is such an important release for Big Finish. It introduces us to Liv Chenka – someone who’s since grown to become an extremely important character in the Big Finish universe.
Liv comes across as an extremely fleshed out character. She’s professional in her job, but that doesn’t mean that she can handle the death of someone she knew extremely well. She’s clever, but she’s as vulnerable to her emotions as anyone else – something that becomes important at one point in the story. Overall, she’s a well-written protagonist, and Nicola Walker’s excellent performance highlights the strengths and vulnerabilities of the character even more.
So it’s not surprising that, almost three years later, the character was eventually brought back in Eighth Doctor box set Dark Eyes 2, where she eventually became the Doctor’s companion. After six years, the character is not only still going strong – most recently appearing in Stranded 1 – but she even has her own spin-off series. One focused around Kaldor City and the Voc Robots, in fact. So far, The Robots has proved to be a great spin-off in its own right, and the second volume will be released later this month.
And it all began with this story. The Robots of Death was the key influence, but Robophobia established a major character in the Big Finish universe while also helping to flesh out the world of the original serial even further. On top of that, it’s just a really solid story, one filled with plenty of tension, but also some real emotion too. A highly recommended listen.
Have you listened to Robophobia yet? If not, makes sure you check out part 1 on Big Finish’s website – currently free to listen to until Monday, Jul 6. If you’ve listened to the story already, what are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments below.