Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Robot"

Written by Terrence Dicks
Directed by Christopher Barry

The Doctor: “A new body’s like a new house. As for the physiognomy… well, nothing’s perfect. Have to take the rough with the smooth. Mind you, I think the nose is a definite improvement!”

Is it me or is there an echo in the room? Back in “Spearhead From Space”, we had the Third Doctor waxing lyrical about his new visage and now his fourth incarnation is doing the same.

Don’t worry; this isn’t something I’m complaining about, I think it’s amusing and that one of the things this show gets right – the humour. The Tom Baker era definitely had its fair share of it and after Jon Pertwee, he’s my favourite Doctor and this is definitely a good debut episode for him.

Taking place where “Planet Of The Spiders” left off, we’ve got a new Doctor and already he’s feeling the effects of post-regeneration. At least he doesn’t have to worry about Auton workers snatching. Instead he gets to be taken care of by the lovely Harry Sullivan, another welcomed addition to the UNIT mix.

He’s the series first medical officer and by far one of the best male companions the series has had. He’s a bit sceptical about The Doctor at first and getting tied up in a cupboard probably isn’t the best way of convincing but mild cynicism aside, he comes into his own with this story.

In particular he makes for a good partner with Sarah Jane as the two adopt a spiky but overall friendly dynamic with each other. It helps that Ian Marter and Elisabeth Sladen also have the kind of chemistry that as a viewer you never really felt with either Jo or Mike and that’s not an attack on Katy Manning or Richard Franklin.

The main villains of the story are a group called Think Tank. Their villainy is established very early into the story when they snatch a disintegrator gun from the Ministry Of Defence and soon enough, Sarah Jane uses her journalist background to go and talk to Miss Winters.

Here’s another thing this show gets so right – female villains, who sometimes often come across better than some companions. Patricia Maynard is absolutely brilliant as the ruthless Think Tank leader and there’s an instant bout of hatred born between her and Sarah Jane that’s nicely drawn out throughout the four episodes of this story.

One of the earliest signs of hostility between the two of them is when Sarah Jane tries her hand at some more snooping around Think Tank behind Miss Winters’ back. Not that you’d blame Sarah for her efforts – I would’ve disappointed if she hadn’t but she did very nearly pay for her snooping when Miss Winters set that robot on her.

Which leads to another thing, this show has done plenty of robot stories past and present and the results are usually mixed. This for me is another success with a gigantic creature programmed to attack but oddly finding an instant affinity with Sarah Jane as well.

Miss Winters takes a lot of pleasure in using the robot to attack at different points. There’s a nice scene half way through the story where the robot and The Doctor kind of face each other off with such gusto. When you have a scarf longer than Rapunzel’s own hair, what better way to use it than as a means of tripping something over?

Still, what with the robot’s creator, Dr Kettlewell also disapproving of Winters and her trusted assistant Jellicoe maniacal schemes to take over the world with their creation, it’s the attendance of a meeting of the Scientific Reform Society that really raises the alarm bells for everyone.

First off all there’s the realisation that Kettlewell is actually involved with Winters’ mad plans and Harry’s undercover stint at Think Tank winds up with him being captured. Sarah Jane also fares badly at this rate too when Winters takes her as a hostage in order to keep The Doctor and UNIT in line.

If there’s a slightly disappointing aspect at all to this serial, then it’s probably that UNIT aren’t as effective in this serial as they have been. By the time we did go into the Tom Baker era of the series, UNIT were being lessened all the more and this is the only serial in the twelfth season where they did have some kind of a big role to play.

The last couple of minutes of this serial is appropriately tense, I will admit that. By making the robot creature more gigantic than it was, it did run the risk of pure silliness but surprisingly enough, it’s still effective and that’s taking away the fact that there’s a King Kong homage when it takes Sarah Jane with him.

In the end however the creature is defeated and Miss Winters’ plan to bring the world to its knees are stopped. The interesting part is seeing Sarah’s sadness of the robot’s demise and The Doctor admitting it possessed some very human quality, which I guess I would agree with.

Another highlight of course is Harry’s realisation that the TARDIS is an actual spaceship and not just a police box. The Doctor did seem to take some further delight in confounding the medic’s expectations but more importantly, it’s also the establishment with one of the best Doctor/Companion dynamics being set up.

However as well as Harry joining up with The Doctor, it’s the latter’s desire to actually take his TARDIS away from Earth that’s effective as well. As much as I love UNIT, I have to admit that The Doctor had been with them long enough and really did need to go and do his own thing without having to report to them all the time and it’s not like this was the last of them anyway.

Also in “Robot”

Part of this story was filmed with the last serial, “Planet Of The Spiders” so cast members were working with both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker at different moments.

The Doctor: “I tell you, Brigadier, there’s nothing to worry about. The brontosaurus is large and placid …”
Harry: “Is this the patient, sir?”
The Doctor: “…and stupid! If the square of a hypotenuse equals the sum of the square on the other two sides, why is a mouse when it spins. Never did know the answer to that one.”

We got some references to serials such as “The Time Warrior” and “Invasion Of The Dinosaurs”. Maybe they should’ve referenced a First/Second serial as well.

The Doctor: “You don’t want to stand here burbling about my ears – that’s neither ‘ere nor there!”
The Brigadier: “You may not have noticed, but I'm a bit old-fashioned myself.”
Sarah: “Oh, nonsense, Brigadier! You're a swinger!”

There’s a nice little moment between Sarah Jane and Benton. I actually wished that Benton had gotten more to do because he was arguably underused in the series.

Brigadier: “Did you believe them?”
The Doctor: “No, of course not. And they know I didn’t. But I know that they know I didn’t. And they know that I know that …”
Brigadier: “Yes, yes, all right, Doctor!”

The Doctor (taking a phone call ): “Yes? Of course I’ll talk to him – I’ll talk to anyone!”

I like what they did with the new credits because as well as adding Tom Baker’s face, we also got the TARDIS exterior as well.

Sarah (reading The Doctor’s note): "Sarah – Professor Kettlewell tells me that he has the robot hidden at his house. Gone to meet him. P.S. It is of course possible that this message is a trap. If it is I can deal with it. P.P.S. I’m leaving this note in case I can’t.”

The Doctor: “Aren’t you forgetting that in science as in morality, the ends never justify the means?”

There are some neat references to both the Titanic and James Bond in the series. Then again the former does mentioned quite a bit.

The Brigadier: “You know, just once I’d like to meet an alien menace that isn’t immune to bullets.”

The Doctor (re TARDIS): “Is it? You wouldn't like to step inside a moment, just to demonstrate it's all an illusion.”
Harry: “Well, if you think it'll do any good.”
The Doctor: “Oh yes, it'll make me feel a lot better.”
Sarah Jane: “Doctor ...”

Benton got promoted to Warrant Officer but this wasn’t reflected in the closing credits, which still had him down as Sergeant and we got the Brigadier’s full name here as well – Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

Sarah Jane (re Robot): “It was insane and it did terrible things. But at first it was so human.”
The Doctor: “It was a wonderful creature, capable of great good… and great evil. Yes, I think you could say it was human.”

Sarah Jane: “You can't just go.”
The Doctor: “Why not, it's a free cosmos!”
Sarah Jane: “The Brigadier …”
The Doctor: “The Brigadier wants me to address the Cabinet, have lunch at Downing Street, dinner at the palace, and write 17 reports in triplicate. Well, I won't do it. I won't, I won't, I won't!”

This was released on DVD in May 2007 with a commentary from Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Terrence Dicks. The “Are Friends Electric?” compliments the serial very well.

While the Tom Baker era is littered with so many brilliant moments, I raise my hat in praising “Robot” so much. It’s just plain fun, light hearted with an ethical debate but overall just a good glimmer of exciting things to come really.

Rating: 8 out of 10.


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