Monday 23 November 2009

Reviews in Time & Space: Robot

Back to the glorious days of classic Who, and what better story to review than the very first outing of 4th Doctor Tom Baker, who in many people's eyes (including my own...despite him not being my favourite Doctor) view as being the DEFINITIVE Doctor. I present to you the 1974 4-part story Robot.

The basic overview of Robot's plot is that the K1 Robot, an experimental and groundbreaking invention by Professor Kettlewell, is being used to commit crimes by the sinister chairman of Think Tank (the organisation that funded the robot's creation) Miss Winters and the Scientific Reform Society (or SRS for short), who plan to hold the world at ransom with the threat of Nuclear war. Enter the newly regenerated Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, along with the Brigadier and UNIT to save the day.

Almost immediately we're treated to the kind of Doctor we'll be getting from Tom Baker. Gone is the dandy scientist that was Jon Pertwee and in his place we have the wacky nomad that is the 4th Doctor. During his post-regeneration bout of craziness we see him jogging, skipping, karating choping bricks and even locking poor UNIT doctor and future companion Harry Sullivan in a locker. On top of this after a hilarious costume changing montage including a viking outfit and circus performer we are introduced to the 4th Doctor's classic coat, hat and scarf combo. Its immediately apparent that this is the Doctor that David Tennant is mainly channeling today, a sign of how his legacy lives on today. I don't have a bad word to say about Sarah, again she's considered one of the definitive companions even today and I felt she really shines in this story. Continuing from this stories with UNIT are always a treat, and this proves no exception. We're treated to some great lines from the Brigadier (played by Nicholas Courtney) about how he witnessed the Doctor's regeneration this time, how he'd like to once meet a threat that wasn't impervious to bullets and, in the story's finale, how he has arranged the Doctor to have lunch with the Queen.

On to the bad guys...the Robot itself still looks menacing even today, but it does have a few flaws. Here we have a huge silver giant with....floppy claw arms. That isn't an exaggeration, the K1 Robot's arms are horrifically floppy, its hard to believe its as strong as they all make it out to be. Aside from some aesthetic issues the Robot is well characterised, with its inner turmoil of disobeying its prime directive (to serve humanity and never harm it) and its turning to Sarah as it is the only person to ever show it compassion. On the flipside to this there are moments that are HORRIBLY acted, my main issue being with the moment the Robot realises it has killed its own creator - which can be basically summed up to "What have I done? Noooooooooooooooo!"

Our other antagonists - Kettlewell, Miss Winters and the SRS are pretty good on the whole. Kettlewell is represented as the typical absent minded eccentric scientist who's really a good man at heart and just got caught up in a bad crowd, while Winters on the other hand comes across as extremely sinister. The idea of the SRS does come across as a bit silly at times (visually they basically look like clever Nazis) but it works in the context of the story so its not ALL that bad.

I do have a few gripes with the story itself, the first of which being the idea of Great Britain being a neutral country in a nuclear stalemate between the 3 majors powers - America, Russia and China. Really? Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to comprehend back in 1974 but with hindsight this is a very odd thing indeed. My other being the whole idea behind part 4's epic climax - the Brigadier uses the Robot's distintigrator gun on the Robot, resulting in it growing to a gigantic size and going on a rampage with Sarah in hand (King Kong eat your heart out!). While the idea itself is solid, its established earlier on that the robot is made of a living metal and is capable of growing, I'm not sure keen on the idea of a DISINTIGRATOR gun doing the deed. The Doctor chalks this down to the gun giving the robot enough energy for the metal to grow but I'm not particuarly convinced by the argument. I'm sure there was a better way to handle it....but the Brig's reaction is still pretty funny.

The episode concludes with Baker's first use of the immortal "Would you like a jelly baby?" line, which would go on to become a legendary piece of Doctor Who for years to come, and a new companion in the form of Harry Sullivan (played by Ian Marter). Throughout the episode there are some really good interactions between Harry and the Doctor and its nice for him to become a companion, even if it is only for a short while.

In conclusion this is a solid first outing for the 4th Doctor, by far not the best of his staggering 7 year run but not the worst either. If, like me, you are curious to see where this legendary Doctor began his tenure, then Robot is waiting for you...

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