The Robots of Death

Episodes 4 'Well, here we go again!'
Story No# 75
Production Code 4A
Season 12
Dates Dec. 28, 1974 -
Jan. 18, 1975

With Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen,
Nicolas Courtney, John Levene, Ian Marter.
Written by Terrance Dicks. Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Christopher Barry. Produced by Barry Letts.

Synopsis: A giant robot is used to steal the necessary equipment to create a disintegrator gun.


Good, But Tom's Done Better by Carl Malmstrom 26/4/97

Robot is not one of those stories that sticks out in my mind when I think of the Tom Baker era. Don't misunderstand me, it's not a bad story, and it was a good beginning for the Tom Baker era, but when I think of the Tom Baker years, I think of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, City of Death, The Hand of Fear, State of Decay and The Invasion of Time.

It picks up nicely where Planet of the Spiders leaves off, and for the first 15 to 20 minutes, it seems that this may be one of the great stories of Doctor Who. However, after that it becomes a bit predictable. Giant monsters (or, in this case, robots), secret societies and madmen (or madwomen) trying to take over the world are nothing new to Doctor Who.

However, this story does have it's good points. As I said, the first 15-20 minutes are excellent with the Doctor and his post-regenerative confusion and costume changes. Some of my favorite lines are in this story:

Sarah Jane: "You can't just go!"
The Doctor: "Why not, it's a free cosmos?"

The Doctor: [He has just changed into an Atilla the Hun costume] "You think I might attract attention?"
The Brigadier: "It's just possible."

Even the scene with the little toy tank next to the camera to that's supposed to look like a large tank is cute.

On the whole, though, there is nothing outstanding about this story. It's almost mediocre in the fact that it's good, but so are almost all other Tom Baker stories. So, while I recommend this episode, I wouldn't call it the definitive Doctor Who story.

A Review by Keith Bennett 14/5/98

It's easy to believe that Doctor Who fans used to Jon Pertwee would have been a bit taken aback by this new man who had suddenly appeared to taken on the famous role. Tom Baker explodes onto the screen like a loopy madman in the first episode, making a startling contrast to Pertwee's no-nonsense approach. But, by episode two, Baker has taken hold of the part in both hands and dominates this middling story for all it's worth.

First stories for the various Doctors are rarely that hot, and this one is no exception, but it's not too bad all the same. Patricia Maynard is a natural baddy as Miss Winters, Edward Burnham's Professor Kettlewell is an appealling absent minded professor, and the Robot itself is quite an impressive creation. Most surprisingly, the finishing scenes of the Robot growing, which could have looked terrible with Doctor Who's cheap budget, really don't come across as too bad (let's forget about the Tonka tank earlier). Not quite King Kong, but pretty effective and eye-catching all the same.

Would anyone agree with me, though, that the Brigadier has never come across as more of an idiot as he does in this story? I mean, I know Pertwee's Doctor made a career out of belittling Alistair's military tactics, but it just seems that The Brig would really be better of playing a game of "Risk" here. Maybe it's just my imagination...

Robot is no mind-bending classic, but it's a passable introducion to Tom Baker's epic and brilliant portrayal of The Doctor. 6/10

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 8/7/99

It`s been said before and will probably be said again, Robot is a Third Doctor tale without Jon Pertwee. This is largely true, as it comes complete with UNIT, Bessie and a madwoman wanting to take over the Earth. More than anything however, it is a showcase for the talents of Tom Baker. Terrance Dicks leaves a virtually blank canvas when it comes to characterisation, and none of the personality traits of Baker`s Fourth Doctor are immediately obvious here. What is however, is the rapport between Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, who bounce off each other very well. The same cannot be said for the Brigadier however, but this is due largely to some poor dialogue. Ian Marter makes a refreshing change, as Harry Sullivan,the first male companion for five years, and it is great to see that he and Sarah are put to good use. It is also nice to see John Levene`s Benton finally get some character development as well, albeit in the form of a promotion.

As for the villains, Patricia Maynard as Miss Winters is easily the best, although she has a close rival in the titular Robot itself; even the scenes of it growing in size aren`t too bad (especially if you ignore the toy tank). And the scenes (particularly in the second episode) between the Robot and Sarah are another high point. On the whole then Robot isn`t up to the standards of the later Tom Baker serials, but it ties in nicely with Planet Of The Spiders, bringing the Doctor`s time on Earth to a satisfactory conclusion.

What do you think of the ears? by Ken Wrable 23/1/00

The newly regenerated Doctor comes up against a plot to blackmail the world hatched by a local group of scientists, who have at their disposal a disintegrator gun, the necessary codes to activate all the world's nuclear weapons, and an eight foot robot.

Robot has never been particularly acclaimed, most reviewers nailing it as a pretty average Pertwee-style story with some fairly ropey special effects. This is fair comment: the villains here are singularly unexotic (they're not even foreign, let alone alien) and the CSO effects in the climax to the last episode are fantastically unconvincing and tacky - and that's without mentioning the famous toy tank shot. The Robot itself is hardly the stuff of nightmares (incidentally, has anyone else noticed its similarity to the Iron Giant?) and the plot is a cheerfully derivative and workmanlike effort.

Nevertheless, this has long been one of my favourite Who stories and the reason can be summed up in two short words: Tom Baker. This is his debut story and his performance converts what would have been a bog standard early seventies UNIT story into a spectacularly entertaining piece of television. Three years before Graham Williams took over as producer and here we have the first Tom Baker comedy classic: he's firing on all cylinders right from the start and is simultaneously hilarious and unnerving pretty much any time he's in shot. Particularly great are his scenes with Ian Marter in episode one (the best post-regeneration scenes ever) and the bit at the end of episode four where the Doctor offers Harry Sullivan a jelly baby only to rip it indignantly out of his hand after Harry makes a disparaging comment about the Tardis. Tom Baker rises godlike above the show's limitations and the Blue Peter special effects just add to the enjoyment.

The script is also worthy of praise. This was Terrance Dicks' swansong after five years as script-editor on the programme and he's clearly having a lot of fun, writing witty chunks of dialogue for some memorable characters. Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen are as dependable as ever as the Brigadier and Sarah and the whole thing works wonderfully as the end of this particular era of Who.

Robot offers a glimpse into what the show might have been like had Baker been cast at the beginning of Barry Letts' time as producer rather than at the end. While in no way wishing to belittle the work of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, who took over as producer and script-editor immediately after this story and were to produce Who in a much darker and creepier style, I would have liked to see a couple more stories in a similar vein. Massively enjoyable!

More Than Human, Perhaps by Robert Smith? 14/3/02

There's something anachronistic about Terrance Dicks stories. They're consistently solid stories, yet they never quite match the era they're slotted into. This is usually for a good reason. The War Games not only replaced two abandoned stories, it was the pivotal climax of the Troughton era and thus stands apart from the runarounds of Season 6. The Brain of Morbius was so heavily rewritten by Robert Holmes that Terrance took his name off the script. Horror of Fang Rock was a last minute replacement when State of Decay had to be postponed. State itself sits oddly in the more science-driven season 18. And there's no other Doctor Who story quite like The Five Doctors, itself a continual rewrite and a replacement for a Robert Holmes script.

In fact, only one of Terrance's stories was not a last minute replacement or a rewritten delayed script. So it's no surprise that Terrance has reported that Robot is his favourite of all the scripts he wrote. Robot is often hailed as the ultimate Pertwee story, despite Tom Baker's debut. However, despite going ahead pretty much as planned, Robot is still something of an anomaly when compared to the stories that were to come. It's unfair to compare Robot to the rest of the Hinchcliffe era, since the aim was clearly to introduce the new Doctor through a structure and setting that was still familiar to the audience. It's a Pertwee tale in every way except the obvious one.

Or is it?

The Hinchcliffe era is built around an alien, yet restrained fourth Doctor, the plots are lifted lock, stock and barrel from old movies and there's a running theme of change and what defines us as human. Robot has all of these in spades. The manic, skipping, bearskin-wearing Doctor of Episode1 would fit right in to the Williams era, but by Episode 2 the Doctor is quite serious again, albeit in a very alien way. Kettlewell's Robot has roots in Frankenstein's monster, but the parallels to King Kong movies are about thirty feet high, just in case anyone missed them. (The robot growing to enormous size wasn't originally planned, but Terrance wanted to emphasise the parallels to King Kong.) And the robot itself is magnificent in its tragedy. It simply wants someone to love and ironically it's far, far more human than any of the Thinktank or SRS people who control it. It comes complete with gestures like touching Sarah on the shoulder with one huge pincer and agonising about moral issues. Its change at the end turns it into a bit of an overdone metaphor, losing some of the complexity, but all good tragic heroes become evil in the end anyway.

There are two things which separate Robot from the Hinchcliffe era. One is UNIT, which is more of a difference than it might appear at first. It's true that UNIT appear here and there throughout the Hinchcliffe years... but never quite as they did before. Terror of the Zygons also has the remaining UNIT members (ie the Brigadier and Benton) but it's set in Scotland and the Brigadier even appears in a kilt. The Android Invasion should be a traditional UNIT story, except for the non-appearance of Nicholas Courtney. And The Seeds of Doom goes even further, abandoning any familiar faces whatsoever, mostly so it can kill them off. Robot is the last story to feature UNIT as it was in the Pertwee era: running around the countryside, driving jeeps and shooting at monsters. It's no coincidence that this story is so often described a traditional Pertwee-style tale even when it's thematically much closer to the Hinchcliffe stories.

The other element which separates Robot from the rest of the Hinchcliffe era is the lighting. Robot is bright and sunny, with people in the countryside who might be in danger if something huge steps on them, but they can see it coming from (quite literally) miles away. Except, of course, for the Robot's-eye-view throughout episode 1 . Not only is some of the filming actually done at night, but seeing things from the Robot's POV is a wonderful device. The mosaic-like camera view is appropriately disturbing and all we see of the Robot for the first episode is its arm and hand, in the best gothic horror tradition.

Curiously, despite featuring Barry Letts' almost disturbing love of CSO, the OB filming sets this apart from Pertwee stories like The Green Death. There's a lot less wobble between the foreground and background than the Pertwee era and the robot fits in as seamlessly as possible, even despite its reflective surface. Only the model tank, a last-minute lash up when the idea of building a tank from scratch fell through due to lack of time and money, looks obviously CSO'd.

It's interesting to think that the image most people associate with this story is of the giant Robot (helped enormously by the novelisation, of course), yet the Brigadier doesn't pick up the dematerialisation gun until well into episode 4. That's probably for the best, since two and a half episodes of a giant CSO robot roaming the countryside would probably have doomed this story in exactly the same way the effects doomed the otherwise wonderful Invasion of the Dinosaurs the previous season. Especially when Barry Letts insisted on using the same visual effects team (though fortunately this story goes a great way towards redeeming their professional reputation).

What's more, the Chekov virus used to defeat the monster is introduced in a very clever way. Kettlewell mentions to Benton that he's invented a virus which would destroy living metal, which should have us groaning as though we'd just discovered a few canisters of hexachromite in episode 1... yet the clever part of that scene is that it introduces the idea of the Robot's capacity to grow at the same time. It's a one-two sucker punch, introducing both the story twist and its resolution in the same speech, but the story manages to get away with it because even if we notice it, we're looking at the concept of the metal virus when the scene's purpose is really to introduce the idea of living metal. The virus is almost incidental, yet Kettlewell gets to use it as a way of reinforcing his environmental principles and thus set up his own motivation for being with Thinktank. That's breathtaking.

The final scene is a complete inversion of the last scene in almost every Pertwee story. Instead of the Doctor moralizing about having to destroy the intelligent adversary, this time it's Sarah who mourns the loss of the Robot. The Doctor even reiterates the theme for us:

"It was a wonderful creature. Capable of great good, and great evil. Yes, I think you could say it was human."
Robot should be awkwardly placed between two eras, neither a Pertwee story nor Hinchcliffe horror. Yet it manages to walk the line between both and becomes a passing of the torch between eras. It's got just about everything the casual viewer thinks of when they imagine Doctor Who: an eccentric Tom Baker, a mysterious something stalking the countryside, only revealed by an arm until the first cliffhanger, UNIT soldiers driving jeeps and shooting things, regeneration, an examination of humanity through the monster and seventies fashions everywhere in sight. Compare this to Power of the Daleks, which had to insert the familiar villains in order to ease the change. Robot simply emulates the past style, while pointing ahead to the future. It might just be the quintessential Doctor Who story.

A Review by Terrence Keenan 25/5/02

Methinks this story has been analyzed to death. Robert Smith?'s great commentary speaks volumes about Robot and its inherent oddities and as to where it sits in DW.

To me, Robot is the beginning of an era, the reign of the Big Kahuna himself, Tom Baker. Every facet of this Doctor's personality comes out of this story -- the humor, the sarcasm, the joie di vive of taking on the enemy, the mix of alien-ness and humanity.

The acting is solid by the rest of the cast. The regulars -- Courtney, Levine, Sladen -- acquit themselves nicely. The story itself is both standard UNIT and also takes the piss in a fun way at the formula as well, down to the bad CSO.

Ian Marter is good fun in Robot as well, showing Harry to be more than just a bumbling fool.

The plot is cheesy, but it is a rare DW plot that doesn't have a cheese factor to it. The conflicted Robot is a good idea, but motivations are a bit out of whack, especially with Kettlewell waffling from goof to villain.

However, Tom Baker makes it all worth while. His performance, from the moment he mumbles about "Sontarans, perverting the course of history" dominates the screen. You know he's the Doctor, and that he'll be the hero we all know and enjoy.

Tom rules. And this is example one in a seven season reign as to why.

A strong new start by Tim Roll-Pickering 3/8/02

Few new Doctors hit the ground running faster than Tom Baker does in this story. By the second episode it already seems as though he's been there for ages, such is his domination of the story. Wisely there's little substantial made of the Doctor's change in appearance in the story and instead it focuses on the task at hand.

From a production point of view, Robot has hardly aged at all. The use of video for the location scenes, combined with a robot that looks imposing and expensive, results in a look that remains as fresh and modern today as it did back in 1974. Chris Barry's direction is strong and only let down in a few areas such as the obvious use of a toy tank and a few problems with the CSO and modelwork in the final episode. The rest of the story remains vibrant and full of life.

On the acting side, Ian Marter makes a strong debut performance as Harry Sullivan, although his role in this story is more as a replacement for Mike Yates than as a new companion. Elizabeth Sladen, John Levene and Nicholas Courtney all give their usually strong performances, though UNIT is still being sent up at times such as in their initial assault on the bunker.

The guest cast are a mixture, from Patricia Maynard who brings a fierceness to Miss Winters to Edward Burnham whose Kettlewell is so confused that at times it is utterly unclear what side he is on.

On the scripting side, it is often noted that Robot is exactly the sort of story that was typical throughout the Jon Pertwee years. However it is also a strong sign of the future, being a reworking of a classic movie (in this case King Kong). The Doctor's role in the story is strong, dominating proceedings to the point of often being able to direct UNIT through the Brigadier. The main weaknesses of the story come from Kettlewell's confused position which doesn't add up upon consideration and from the repeated climaxes in Part Four as first the SRS are captured then the second countdown is aborted and then the Robot goes on the rampage.

The Robot itself is nothing short of impressive physically and a highly sympathetic character. It is hard not to feel sorry for it at the end, driven insane by the way it has been tampered with and then by killing its creator. A true victim of events it would have made an interesting addition to the regular UNIT team.

If there's one thing lacking in the story, it's a clear sign of the direction in which Tom Baker is to take his portrayal of the Doctor. He brings a highly manic attitude at times, whilst discreetly focusing on the issue at hand and thus confuses his enemies and the viewer. However he makes a strong performance and gives much hope for later tales. 8/10

Bubbly by Joe Ford 24/7/03

Such an odd story for so many reasons. First I am unaccustomed to seeing the mighty Tom Baker so nervous in the role, his boyish newboy enthusiasm bubbles over on screen. Secondly you have the (by now) stereotypical UNIT set up but without Jon Pertwee which just feels wrong. And thirdly it is such a huge leap away from the story that immediately follows it is like in a little sub season of its own.

However thanks to the talents of Tom Baker, Lis Sladen and Nick Courtney and a witty, entertaining script from Terrance Dicks (when he still did witty and entertaining) you have a fun little four parter that passes the time effortlessly. The first episode wastes no time setting up the robot plot so the regenerating Doctor isn't the only focus of our attention. Delightful scenes such as the Doc and Harry skipping, Sarah pleading with him not to leave in the TARDIS and Tom's hysterical costume changes absolutely sizzle with charisma from the actors who are clearly having a ball. Lines such as "Do you think I might attract attention?" and "Don't I know you... Alexander the Great!" are laugh out loud funny.

The entire story has a good comic book feel to it. Much like Paradise Towers many years later and Terror of the Autons just a few years ago this story would look great in print. Lots of definable images like the Robot trashing the warehouse as he hunts down the Doctor and holding Sarah on top of a roof would look great as snap shots of a comic. The whole story has that sort of adventuring comic book feel to it despite Terrance's attempts to spice it up with the very real threat of nuclear war. Lets face it you can't make a serious story about a bunch of long haired Nazis with a giant silver robot. Even bits such as the Brigadier's speech about the "vault" surrouned by guards and electric fences sounds like it belongs in a comic speech bubbles played, as it is, over scenes of the army guys. However once you accept the giddy pace and storybook violence you can appreciate the talent involved.

Chris Barry is one of my favourite directors, involved in such gems as The Daleks, The Brain of Morbius and The Creature from the Pit and he brings a lot to every story. Terrance's script is full of absurdly amusing characters and Chris Barry takes some time to make sure they are all a lot of fun to watch. Kettlewell was my favourite with his wonderfully eccentric speech patterns and his cries of "incompetant nincompoops!" But other characters, especially the sadistic Miss Winters prove just as watchable thanks to some decent direction and dialogue.

How cool is Lis Sladen in this? This is the last time we really see Sarah using her journalistic credential realistically (Hincliffe abandoning the Earth feel of the Pertwee years altogether) and Lis plays the scenes extremely well. I love her little bluff to get back into Thinktank and her reactions to the robot are very, very sweet. The whole King Kong/Fay Ray steals could have been awful but for some reason you emphasise with Sarah as she feels for the robot. One scene stands out from all the juicy explosions and action and that is as the robot starts the count down to nuclear war and Sarah's horrified reaction. "You can't take on the whole world! Don't you understand they'll destroy you!" is delivered very powerfully. It brings the story home for a second. Plus Sarah's reaction to the robot's death gives the story a bittersweet coda.

Tom is nervous but he's still Tom and blazes across the screen like a streak of lightning. From his Titanic glugging to his "Curiouser and curiouser... said Alice!" he is a sheer delight of finding feet nerves. Fans must have been a little moritified to see this little known actor taking the mickey out of the part and if the fourth Doctor had continued on these lines forever we may have had some troubles but confined to these four episodes this mad drunk of a man makes a fine hero for the show.

Of course it's not all perfect, it all falls to pieces in episode four when the story starts to take on FX that its budget cannot support. As soon as the Robot grows it is hide your head in shame time for a good five minutes. And what about that model tank... sheesh why bother if it's gonna look that bad? Some earlier scenes lack punch too such as the nuclear codes theft where the Robot is just too slow and nimble to be a genuine threat. And who on earth designed those floppy wrists on the thing? I'm all in favour of gay robots on the show but this is taking liberal issues a step too far!

Plus why not kill off Benton who at this point has zero character and little to do. He's just sort of there and that isn't enough justification.

But on the whole the show succeeds in doing what it wants to do admirably, to change its leading protagonist without alienating its audience. The UNIT links help immeasurably and despite Tom's bizzarre behaviour it's hardly a different show at all. It's one last rip roaring adventure for the Letts/Dicks team before the sexier, stronger, more violent and less embarassing Hinchliffe/Holmes era kicked it.

In short, lots of fun. Plus I love Sarah's hat.

A Review by Brian May 19/2/04

Robot is a fun, consistently enjoyable tale, if a little simple, and spoiled by some silly effects. It features many aspects of the now departed third Doctor's era - UNIT, the Earthbound setting and Barry Letts as producer. While it would be true to call it a crossover story, it's not simply a Pertwee adventure by any other name. This is mainly due to Tom Baker who, in his debut performance, places his stamp on the series immediately.

From moment one Baker is brilliant - his clowning in the first episode as he goes through the now traditional post-regeneration instability is a joy to watch. From his facial expressions (the glee as he spots the TARDIS in the laboratory) to when he emerges from the time machine in a variety of costumes (the Viking outfit always makes me laugh out loud no matter how many times I've seen it), he is never uncomfortable in his new role.

The aforementioned "crossover" nature of the story is understandable. As the Doctor changes, viewers need a bit of familiarity, which they did not get with the last post-regeneration story, Spearhead From Space. That's why the Brigadier, Benton, Sarah Jane and Bessie are all there, while new recruit Harry Sullivan is a Mike Yates substitute. There is a Letts message of mankind ruining the planet, a lot like the previous year's Invasion of the Dinosaurs, with misguided idealist and lines like the robot's "Machines do not lie." However, after Tom Baker's performance, I cannot imagine Jon Pertwee in this story at all. The Doctor's clownish antics as he infiltrates the SRS meeting in episode three would have been handled by Pertwee with a few well placed Venusian aikido chops here and there; effective, yes, but devoid of humour. Pertwee's serious approach as the Doctor would not have got him through this adventure in other scenes, for example Baker's casual ramblings about computers as he attempts to stop the launch as the countdown continues.

Yes, this is well and truly Tom Baker's story. And it's not a bad one at that. Terrance Dicks's homage to King Kong is obvious here, with a great performance by Michael Kilgarriff in the title role. The robot's design is excellent, although in some scenes the realisation falters (a few clunky moves, a few stumbles, and the effects in the final episode, which will be discussed shortly). However the build-up is wonderful, especially while it remains unseen in episode one. The point of view shots as it obtains the plans and equipment for the disintegrator gun are nicely done, as is the creeping music that accompanies it. The shot where its shadow is visible across the wall is worthy of special mention. The traditional end of part one unveiling is also memorable.

The aforementioned special effects let the robot down in many scenes in the last episode, after it grows to giant size. They're quite awful, in fact, and spoil the fun, although it's hard to see how they would have worked on a Who budget (hadn't they learned anything after the previous year's T-rex debacle?) The toy tank is another one of those scenes you don't show to potential fans, or makes you cringe when flatmates enter the living room as it's on, sending them into sniggers (but you know you can't really blame them). Same for the Sarah Jane doll and the "buildings" the giant robot crushes underfoot.

The non-regular cast are competent, but not really that impressive. If that's Edward Burnham's regular haircut, it's no wonder he always plays eccentric scientists! (He played one in The Invasion as well, although without such a dramatic coiffure). As for hair and fashions, Patricia Maynard nowadays probably can't bear to watch herself as Hilda Winters here - but don't worry love, the 70s are always coming back! But as I mentioned before, Michael Kilgarriff is superb as the robot, convincingly conveying its angst and humanity with... well, humanity. Elisabeth Sladen, in her last great role as the investigative journalist Sarah Jane started out as, is wonderful. The relationship she shares with the robot is well realised.

Harry Sullivan gets a good debut, and the Brigadier is redeemed after the woeful treatment his character endured in Planet of the Spiders. (One of the story's best pieces of dialogue, the "the only country that could be trusted was Great Britain" and the Doctor's "the rest were all foreigners" reply, is delivered with Courtney's usual deadpan style and perfect timing from Tom Baker). In part one UNIT is once again an efficient, well-oiled military machine - the montage of sequences when the Emmett Electronics building is surrounded, with Courtney's voice-over adds to this feel. (This reflects Christopher Barry's excellent direction, as does the whole story being shot on videotape.)

However UNIT suffers a lot in the last two episodes - the soldiers are dreadful, even comical, when the SRS people escape from the meeting with Sarah and the robot in the truck (didn't any of them think of shooting at the tyres?) and the slapstick runabouts continue when they flee from the giant robot in part four. Doesn't the Brigadier order his troops to retreat? - so why then does one stop and keep firing at the robot? Just so he can get stomped on (it's called "expendable extra syndrome"). Well, that's what you get for disobeying orders. I won't criticise the Brigadier's firing the disintegrator gun upon the robot - it's a perfectly natural assumption that the robot would disintegrate, so Alastair's hardly a military buffoon here.

But poor Benton! We know he's not that bright, but he's always dependable. But his thinking that Sarah had "gone home" while the soldiers were mopping up in the bunker beggars belief! This is most uncharacteristic, but I think the writer is at fault here, not doing him much justice.

But all this aside, Robot is fun to watch. It's not a spectacular story, with worse then usual effects and some bland, cliched and contradictory characters (Miss Winters acts like a feminist but belongs to what is in effect a Nazi group!) But the direction is good, the regulars give their all, and Tom Baker makes a wonderful debut. An enjoyable action romp. 7/10

"Hannibal. No. Alexander the Great?" by Jason A. Miller 12/9/07

I cannot objectively review Robot, because every line of dialogue from Part One has been burned into my memory since I was 11 years old. I came down with the flu one Tuesday morning in January the night after this story first aired on my PBS affiliate (following the much grimmer Caves of Androzani). Home sick from school, I watched the episode four consecutive times. Even now, 22 and a half years later, Tom Baker's clowning around in the opening minutes never fails to make me smile.

Robot has always been regarded as a lightweight story, for several reasons. First, there's the context. It's a UNIT story sandwiched in between between several post-UNIT Jon Pertwee stories and the gothic horror that followed from producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Coming behind Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders, it's got a much higher comedy quotient that earlier and later stories didn't attempt. On the other side of Robot came a dozen classics running from The Ark In Space all the way down to Horror of Fang Rock, all of which make this story look like an episode of the Teletubbies aired against the movie "28 Days Later...".

What also harms Robot is what's right up there on screen. Producer Barry Letts, in his final outing as producer, had the sense to videotape this entire story so that the inevitable chromakey woes that dogged Dinosaurs wouldn't sink the giant robot. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The robot costume is huge and wobbly, and videotape chromakey doesn't look any better than film chromakey. The robot's ankles disappear as it grows large. A toy tank placed in the foreground for context, looks exactly like a toy tank. Barry would have loved the CGI revolution that allowed for much better results in all-chromakey stories like this past season's Gridlock. Unfortunately, he retired 25 years too early. Robot looks badly dated and no DVD restoration can save that.

So what's right about Robot? Just about everything else. Tom Baker is a breath of fresh air in this story and would remain so for years. He hits every mood except dark and foreboding, and that's just in the first 15 minutes. Physical comedy bits such as the costume changes and the jump-rope skipping and the legs up on the desk bit have aged pretty well. Of course it helps that there's a solid supporting cast in Nicholas Courtney, Lis Sladen and Ian Marter.

The story is not deep, but Terrance Dicks writes it tightly. He's always been a good storyteller, even when writing derivative fifth-generation sequels for the BBC Doctor Who books a few years ago. Robot comes from his prime. Here we have absent-minded professors, fascist scientists and a tortured robot with a crush on a journalist, and Terrance writes it as if it were "Casablanca". And, for the record, Terrance actually did write "Casablanca" 20 years later, for the BBC books. It's a book called Casastrophea, which features the third Doctor, the Draconians, and Humphrey Bogart.

The DVD presentation of Robot is solid. The commentary booth is quite crowded, with Baker, Sladen, Letts and Dicks talking over each other for all four episodes. The reminiscences come pretty fast, faster than even the strictly-average text commentary (from Richard Molesworth this time) can keep up. The 38-minute making-of documentary repeats a lot of ground from both the audio and text commentaries; the shorter featurette on the history of Doctor Who opening titles is more likly to stay with you the next morning.

The easiest comparison to draw is between Robot and Rose, which opened the new Doctor Who series in 2005. It's a fast, light-hearted premiere with little to recommend it after the technically far superior next episode (The Ark In Space, The End of the World)... except that it's funny and not too long, and that first impression of Baker, or of Eccleston, is charming enough to last a long time and to forgive a lot of missteps later on. Mind you, I think the nose is a definite improvement.

Stylishly spanning two, great eras... by Stephen Ressel 26/8/11

Bluntly: a true television classic.

Now, while half of the readers are rolling in their own froth and spittle, I can explain. The entire story and visual package from end-to-end is entertaining. What is a television show worth if not to be complete escapism and delight? Yes, it is flawed in so many small ways, but it excels with such strengths of acting, dialog, design and characters that those rough patches are blanketed with fun. Note I didn't say this is classic sci-fi, because it really isn't much of a sci-fi story. And that's where this Doctor Who episode becomes a true classic as it meshes the silver-aged past and blends it into the golden-aged future.

Terrence Dicks was the past. He represents the more family-friendly, unchallenging, simplistic, good-natured Doctor Who of old. Dicks wrote/encouraged sci-fi-spy stories, more often than not, to rely on adventure over complexity of characters. Dicks was like a teenager in love: everything came out right away and made people stop to stare. Terrence would often lay out all his cards on the table within the first moments, making the audience want to see where it all goes. Then he would pepper a little extra in as he went. His ideas of power were fairly simplistic: good and bad, and not much else. KILL THE MONSTER! He was a true devotee of 50's monster films and 60's spy films. It worked. His script working for Pertwee held true to those genre. Entertaining, but rather straightforward.

Holmes, riding in as the script editor for the series' highly successful next seasons, loved the idea of deeper motivations within all things, all characters and especially the most-important antagonists: the monsters. He took Dicks' square-jawed adventure approach and made it more mature: Holmes introduced a common element of survival, perpetuation and greed, as well as an almost ever-present blurring of good and evil through the use of a shadow agent haplessly or purposefully playing traitor (seen here with Kettlewell, and the reverse being Harry Sullivan). Even more enjoyable was the direct, powerful and pithy dialog Holmes would use to consistently bring strong melodrama and storytelling to the scripting. Combined with Baker's acting approach the stories became much more powerful to viewers. Robot begins that streak of purposeful and energetic wordplay which elevated the series above a mere bit of ephemera.

Out went Pertwee's Doctor, but yet the story was a Pertwee story in almost all ways: it was written by Dicks, it involved UNIT, it was a spy-adventure more than a sci-fi, it was fairly simplistic. Pertwee was an urban and commanding character as the Doctor. He was also a real charmer and fighter. Pertwee was a James Bond in space, and his stories reflected the similarly gaudy, simple entertainment made popular by Fleming and Broccoli on the silver screens. It was an aging stereotype that had gone too long by 1974.

In came Baker with his Bohemian carelessness, his distrait mind, his childishly amused demeanor to problem solving. Everything about Baker's Doctor was a popular zeitgeist of 1974: tearaway, confused, aware, experienced, passionate. With that disorganized outer appearance and bizarre, emotional reasoning, Baker took the slickness off of the Doctor and turned him into Columbo in space. The 70s were truly underway as Doctor Who caught up to its cultural timeframe. The series exploded with ratings as soon as people caught moments of Tom playing the role.

Wrap it all together, and you have a man finding himself while international evil is wreaking havoc with a King Kong robot. Nothing special? Not so: it's so darned delightful to anyone that can overlook the "special" effects. There are no padded bits. There are no soft spots. It's a chess game from beginning to end, and the story peels away like an onion to reveal a horrific motive for all the low-end vandalism and murder in the first episodes. Beautifully done. Everything ramps up to the common "countdown clock" cliche, BUT WAIT! There's MORE: the Robot has absorbed energy, grown dozens of feet, and is rampaging with Sarah in its grip. Oh my. Just when you thought it was over. See? Brilliantly entertaining television. Who couldn't love this show after seeing Robot?

Robot was a bridge episode beginning a newer, more-enticing era for the already long-running classic sci-fi show. Looking backward, it is a classic for how it bridged the series and made it an international sensation. Classic TV. No doubt.