C090 Robots of Death



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Robot Ood and a plethora of silly hats — this legendary serial ticks all the boxes!



The Fourth Doctor and new companion Leela materialise aboard a spice miner from Dune, inhabited by a handful of spoiled humanoids sporting elaborate headgear, and a veritable army of allegedly harmless robots doing all the heavy lifting. Then suddenly, when someone in this confined space is bludgeoned (and/or strangled), our time travelling twosome is immediately accused of the crime. 

Entirely unrelated to this, of course, is the fact that the robots are behaving rather strangely, and there’s the non-sequitur backstory, of course, about the mad robotics scientist who surely can’t be hiding on the mining vehicle. And then another person is murdered. And then another. And so it falls upon The Doctor and Leela to inspect the clues, gather the ever-decreasing number of suspects, and deduce whodunnit.

 

As we make comparisons in this podcast episode between the Voc/Super Voc/Dum Robots and the Heavenly Hosts from Voyage of the Damned, here’s a quick comparison shot.

8 Responses to “C090 Robots of Death”

  1. Paul Fauber | @wordsmithpaul

    “The Robots of Death” was an Agatha Christie mystery employing Issac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, which the villain broke to make the story science fiction. The Doctor and Leela’s arrival aboard the Sandminer, a craft gathering minerals on a storm ravaged desert planet, added suspects for the first murder as the idea of a prerecorded cry kept everyone from determining who could alibi whom. Once the Doctor and Leela ceased to be suspects, they helped Poole follow red herrings while the body count rose. Poole’s investigation ended as he discovered robots were the real killers and suffered an attack of robophobia, Grimwade Syndrome, named for Floor Assistant Peter Grimwade. He subsequently directed and wrote for the show as well as novelizing some stories.

    Leela was great in this story, wielding her knife after the Doctor told her she would not need the gun he developed in the previous story. She uncovered undercover agents and instinctively sensed the Sandminer being sabotaged. The Doctor, of course, took charge of the investigation, interacting with a robotic agent to learn about the villain, who ordered the robots to kill the crew off one by one. He saved the survivors and ruthlessly engineered justice as the villain was killed.

    Chris Boucher wrote “The Robots of Death” tightly, plotting the mystery well and making excellent use DOCTOR WHO’s regular cast. The story’s science fiction elements blended beautifully into the mystery, which resolved not only the murders, but the plot’s red herrings.

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  2. Kristaps Paddock

    I think I may have said this about Genesis of the Daleks, but this is the single greatest Classic Who story ever. This is absolutely, unquestionably, the greatest set ever built for Doctor Who. It’s beautiful disco art deco, and if I could live there I would. Additionally, the story takes itself seriously, which is typically a recipe for slip-ups, but they absolutely nail it and it’s a thrilling Agatha Christie in space mystery.

    Can you believe this is Leela’s second story? She fits in immediately.

    Things that I am not taking points off for: The shhhhhh-doink knife throw; The bicycle reflectors; The robophobia freakout scene.

    I am giving this FIVE. OUT. OF. FIVE.

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  3. Trenton Bless | @trentonbless

    I very much liked Robots of Death. I mean, robots are a sci-fi staple. Although robots have been done to death on this show (and at times done very poorly, refer to The Dominators and The Krotons), This is definitely one of the best ones.

    The robots themselves look amazing! They’re sleek and modern looking. I bet if someone really wanted to, they could make a robot to look like one of these. Their voices are great, too. And the twist villain was great. I didn’t think this individual was the villain until they came out, dressed in full Robot makeup. Well done!

    Not all the casting is canny, though. Brian Croucher seems to believe he’s in The Sweeney (“Why don’t you SHUTCHYOURMOUTH!”) and Tania Rogers’ breakdown scene… er, lacks conviction, shall we say.

    I think that unlike Sarah Jane and the Fourth Doctor, Leela and the Fourth Doctor don’t really click. I like Leela, I really do, but the Doctor can be so mean to her sometimes. Maybe it’s because he didn’t intend for her to tag along or something, but that relationship the Doctor and Sarah had is not here.

    Still, this story is fantastic. I loved it, my dad loved it, my neighbor’s cat even loved it! Definitely earns it’s 4.0/5.

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  4. Peter Zunitch

    There are those stories that turn it up to 11. Then there are those few that turn it up to 17 1/2. I love the intriguing concept, love the instantly appealing characters, the instantly understandable setting, the pace, the sets, the effects, the garish makeup, the ending, the robots, the robots and especially the robots. There’s smashed mechanical heads, there’s the planet Arrakis, theres unobtrusive music, all perfect.

    Forget the grandstanding speeches, these guys need only one sentence.
    Seriously how many memorable one-liners can you fit into a story? “Please do not throw hands at me”, or, “..crystals from a snowflake one by one”. Blake’s 7 couldn’t have done it better.

    The directing is off the charts. The staging and continuous movement, the camera angles. There’s something for everyone to do in every scene that reenforces that they’ve been at this for months. With the exception of one embarrassingly forced crying scene the acting is totally transparent. You don’t see actors playing roles, you just experience people living their lives. My only other beef? Next time use real helium guys, there was no shortage back then.

    If you were to sit down with someone who didn’t know Doctor Who, this would undoubtedly be a story they would be able enjoy. Before the Ood, before the clockwork men, there were the Robots of Death, and It’s utterly baffling that they didn’t become the staple of the show. I just watched it and I miss it already.

    Yours sincerely, raised by robots, SV 4.9

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  5. DoctorInWaiting

    Dear Leon & Jim (& Drew & Marie)

    Firstly thank for continuing to create such a wonderful and entertaining podcast. Discovered you in late 2018 and have been doing a lot of catching up. So sad that Leon had to do so many Classic Who’s solo, and so glad Jim now seems to be stable wingman for the classic series.

    If you ever think your going to falter from your task alcohol can be supplied!

    Anyway onto the review;
    Robots of death is a fan favourite and part of the classic hammer horror era of Tom Bakers Doctor. Often compared to an Agatha Christie ‘who dunnit’ (spoiled by the title).

    Our hero, companion and humans are trapped within a confined space with robots, any and all of whom could be our killer. Perhaps a little more peril could have been created by not having one of the most brightly lit sets in Doctor Who history. Perhaps glowing red robot eyes on a dark set would have created a moment of terror though Toos being trapped in her bedroom with the killer at her door she can’t defeat is great scene.

    Tom Baker is on fine form and Leela is presenting a strong female role model albeit in a Male pleasing outfit broadcast originally directly after final score on Saturday evenings.

    Perhaps I look at this serial with rose tinted glasses to find any significant flaw. The helium trick seemed a disappointingly childish ending to an otherwise great story. If voices are all the robots recognise what happens when a member of the crew gets a cold? Also why has Taren Capel painted his face if voice recognition is all that is required?

    In all another great Doctor Who children’s Story with a body count higher than Rambo. 4.5 corpse markers out of five.

    Regards

    DoctorInWaiting

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  6. Michael Ridgway | @Bad_Movie_Club

    Things I liked:

    – The crew’s wacky headgear. In order of favourite: Too’s golden mohican, Unvanov’s weird pharaoh hat and Zilda’s fish-fin swim cap.
    – Nutty Taren Capel. Loved his robot cosplay at the end. I didn’t realise he was the baddie when he was banging on the door begging for help – I felt thoroughly betrayed.
    – The mining sand-crawler miniature and set. Looked awesome.
    – An ingenious low-tech solution to defeat a baddie! Rare in ‘Who?
    – D84’s sacrifice. Nooooooooo! Why god! Why!
    – The Voc Robots were, at times, deeply unnerving.

    Beefs:

    – The Voc Robots were, at times, deeply rubbish. Like the one listening at the door, or having inane dialogue to mansplain the plot, or some robots being glaringly shorter than others.
    – Retcon: the robots going full-on Westworld, developing self-awareness and turning on humanity (rather than just being reprogrammed).

    Trivia: the aftermath of events are investigated by the Seventh Doctor in audio adventure Robophobia, which I haven’t listened to but I assume is awesome.

    Summary: a decent Agatha Christie whodunnit (albeit spoiled by the title) with good sets, creepy robots and exciting hats.

    Rating: 3.3/5 people being horribly strangled by murderous robots. AAAAHHHHH! (croak)

    Reply
  7. Paul Waring | @pwaring

    Robots of Death is another entry in my top 10 stories from Classic Who. Baker is still on top form, Jameson is settling in as Leela, and the guest cast put in a flawless performance. There are some memorable pieces of dialogue, including the Doctor’s line that if people can see you mean them no harm, they never hurt you… well, 9 times out of 10. I can still quote the insult about the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the brain, although I’ve never deployed it, despite temptation in some tedious meetings.

    The design of the titular robots is fantastic, especially considering the budget – though if you look closely you might spot the Marigold washing-up gloves on their hands. I’d love to see them back in the new series, although their slow speed and lack of projectile weapons means they work best in a confined environment.

    The only criticism I can make, and it’s a trivial one, is that attentive viewers may guess from his clothing or barely disguised face that Dask is the crew member instructing the robots to kill. I didn’t notice this first time round though, and in future viewings there was no surprise to be spoiled anyway.

    Overall, this story is so good that if my review was any longer I’d run out of superlatives. I’m happy to rewatch it anytime. 5/5

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  8. Derek Moore

    Hello there! I’ve been listening for about a year and really enjoying the podcast! Robots of Death is one of my favorite 4th doctor stories, primarily because of the creepiness of the emotionless non-moving robot faces seemingly hiding sinister intent, and because Leela kicks a ton of ass this episode.

    I grew up on Doctor Who on PBS in the states in the early 80s, and this was always in the episode rotation. This is one of the few Doctor Who DVDs I own just because I love it that much! Plus, a David Bowie look-alike in full makeup, what could go wrong? 4.5 out of 5 creepy robot faces.

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