Reign of the Robots by Simon Guerrier
Directed by Andrew Sewell
Part of Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures Volume Two
Produced by B7 Media
Distributed by Big Finish
Featuring cover art by Brian Williamson
The first story of the second volume of the critically celebrated audio reinvention of the classic British SF hero Dan Dare, starring Ed Stoppard, Heida Reed, Geoff McGivern and Raad Rawi.
The Story: Dan Dare and his crew finally return to Earth. Landing in central London, they find the city deserted – or that’s how it seems at first. But soon Dare faces an army of ruthless machines, robots who have conquered the planet and placed the surviving humans in slave camps. The robots are too powerful and too numerous to be resisted, and their invasion is complete.
With limited resources, Dare, Digby and Peabody face their greatest challenge yet – to liberate planet Earth. But the task becomes more desperate than ever when Dan discovers the alien force behind the robot invasion…
The Review: I was looking forward to this fourth Dan Dare story on audio, the first in the second batch of adventures, because, let’s face it, Reign of the Robots is one of the coolest titles for a science-fiction story ever. Whether you’re familiar with the original Eagle comic-strip story or not, the title promises excitement, drama and terror. And Simon Guerrier‘s script delivers all of these things in spades.
It’s a science-fiction cliche to arrive back on an apparently-deserted Earth only to discover that the planet has in fact been taken over by alien invaders. Doctor Who did it several times, notably with The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Reign of the Robots pre-dates both of those stories and the original 1950s comic-strip is a classic. This new audio adaption does not disappoint and would perhaps be one of the most obvious plots to go with if anyone ever decides to do a Dan Dare movie.
Mind you, this B7 Media version is a movie. With its epic sense of scale, superb sound design and brilliant acting from the regular cast as usual, this is a movie for the ears.
This new story wastes no time in getting on with things. The regular trio of characters we met in the first set of stories is re-established in a few well-written lines. The ever-reliable Digby is just keen to get back to Earth. Dan is also keen, but conscious of the need to do things by the book. Professor Peabody on the other hand is desperate for a pint. It feels good to be with them again.
With the trio back on Terra Firma, we soon realise that London is deserted and all is not well in the world. The three friends are approached by what appears to be a dog but is in fact a wolf. It’s a nice device which shows that something is amiss.
When we meet the Robots themselves, the excitement levels keep rising. It’s hard in this day and age to come up with robotic voices that aren’t similar to the Cybermen or the hundreds of robots that have been seen and heard in science-fiction TV shows and films over the years, but the voices here are both original and unnerving. Perhaps ‘Specimens will surrender or die!’ may yet become a catchphrase as popular as the Cybermen’s ‘Delete delete!’ or the Daleks’ ‘Exterminate!’
The actual concept of self-replicating robots is an intriguing and terrifying one. It’s an idea that remains more relevant than ever with current concerns about artificial intelligence. This is good science-fiction.
The robots’ alien master, the Mekon, is of course as evil as ever. This is a villain who doesn’t just want to conquer, he wants to experiment on people – just as he did in the Eagle story. It’s all pretty chilling. The comparison between the Treens and the Nazis isn’t subtle and the story is none the worse for it.
Moving on to the more human characters, Dan meets a man called George Bryan, whose main role is to tell the listeners how the Earth was conquered by the robots. We could easily be into Basil Exposition territory here but the past events are conveyed through snippets of news reports and flashbacks of audio communications which is a device which works really well. We hear how aircraft were destroyed and ships sunk. This is the only part where I wish we could see what was happening because it’s all wonderfully dramatic and exciting.
Geoff McGivern shines again as Digby. He positively relishes the scenes where Digby appears to collaborate with the Mekon. What is Digby up to? You’ll have to listen to the story! Meanwhile, Ed Stoppard as Dan has some great scenes with a new character called Eko played by Amy Humphreys.
Heida Reid as Peabody and Michael Cochrane as Sir Hubert are as good as ever with Sir Hubert getting a more action-orientated role than usual. It all helps to make this another great ensemble piece.
These Dan Dare audios manage the unique balancing act of being both brilliantly innovative but also comfortingly familiar. I struggle to work out exactly how the production team have done this – it’s like some sort of wonderful form of alchemy has taken place. I can’t wait to listen to more.
Oh, and check out that cover artwork by Brian Williamson. Worthy of being made into a poster I reckon.
• Seek out Dan Dare – Volume 2 – available on Download for £20 or CD for £25: these pre-release prices will be frozen until the set is on general release at the end of May when they go up to £25 and £30 respectively
• For the curious who’ve yet to Dare to experience Dan at large, Big Finish have a free download of the first chapter of this set’s Operation Saturn story, while the first chapter of Volume 1’s Voyage to Venus is similarly available.
• Special Dan Dare bundles have been set up offering both volumes together for £40 and £50. Any CD purchase unlocks a download version exclusive to Big Finish listeners – the perfect format for those with Android or Apple devices using the free Big Finish download/playback app
• Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures Volume One is also available from amazon.co.uk – using this link will help support downthetubes