THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Robots of Death
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Robots of Death

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1979
ISBN 0 426 20061 6
First Edition Cover John Geary

Back cover blurb: On a desert planet the giant sandminer crawls through the howling sandstorms, harvesting the valuable minerals in the sand. Inside, the humans relax in luxury, while most of the work is done by the robots who serve them. Then the Doctor and Leela arrive - and the mysterious deaths begin. First suspects, then hunted victims, Leela and the Doctor must find the hidden killer - or join the other victims of the Robots of Death.


Reviews

Maintain tension and fear by Tim Roll-Pickering 26/4/04

This novelisation has a special place for me as way back at the age of eight years old I wrote my first ever Who review of it for an essay in my English lessons. Sadly (or happily?) I no longer have it as the exercise book has long since vanished so it won't be appearing here. Nor can I remember much about what I said then, though it was probably along the lines of "it's great".

Rereading it again all these years later I get the sense that this is one of the books that Terrance Dicks was able to put more effort into than merely recycling the camera scripts. In just a few paragraphs we learn about the way the robots are reanked, how the Sandminer operates, how the humans have settled into a lazy lifestyle, how the Founding Families maintained their position and how self-made men like Uvanov carry huge chips on their shoulders. We also get get glimpses of the Doctor's thoughts as he first works out how to try and explain to Leela why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside, or his reasoning when caught in one of the sand tanks and he realises he needs to take safe action not quick action.

Mystery stories are often amongst the hardest to pull off in print without giving away who the murderer is, but here Dicks manages to achieve it by focusing upon the Doctor, Leela and the robots. The confined environment they have arrived in is described well, as are the characters. In places Dicks' descriptions are so precise that it is clear he must have been working with either a videotape or publicity pictures from the televised story.

Onscreen the story itself is very well written, indeed probably the best of all the Tom Baker stories and so it would be hard to much it up. The story is structured around shattering the assumptions of one of the basic principles of robotics that Isaac Asimov devised, namely that no robot can harm a human being, but this is not expanded upon heavily beyond being the inherent understanding of all the humans aboard the Sandminer. Instead the tension and fear is expanded upon as the humans are slowly picked off one by one and the survivors become increasingly paranoid. Each of the main supporting characters is expounded upon, especially Uvanov who becomes more likeable as the story progresses, whilst even Dask/Taren Capel comes across as sympathetic due to a deprived childhood driving him insane. Throughout there is a constant reminder of the dangers, both from the robots within and also from the desert without.

At 102 pages this book isn't the longest and there is a clear sense that with even 120 pages Dicks wold have been able to enhance it further, but as it stands this is a quick but highly enjoyable read. 7/10