Robot

Written by:
Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Christopher Barry
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1974/75
Video Availability (NTSC version only): Try Amazon

EPISODE ONE:
A new season, and, apart from a jazzy new title sequence (is it just me or does the enormous light on the Tardis trouble anyone else?) little has changed.

The final Barry Letts production (before he Execed on season 18, obviously) this is a cheesy story, cheaply shot on video with files with "Top Secret" written on them in huge letters. A Terrance "there but for the grace of God my surname would be Nation" Dicks script, the uninspired title a clear indication of the stock plot and characters. Add to the mix UNIT - now at least three years past their prime - and some horrendous modelwork and CSO and in many ways it's business as usual.

One thing - Tom Baker. Far more comedic than even in his Williams era, his manic and supremely confident energy cuts a swath through the mediocrity. What also works too is Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. A much more intelligent character than he's given credit (though he's a bit of a pratt in Revenge, admittedly), what really makes Harry work is the enormous, tangible rapport between him and Tom. Just witness their first scene together, where twice he mimics Tom's accent and pronunciation.

The costume changing scene is pretty ridiculous, not only for the way it has Tom in ludicrous outfits, but also for the jump cuts that break up the natural flow of time. Only a small thing, but I always think time should run concurrently, with only scene breaks allowing it to split up. Another odd reality-shifting moment is the Brigadier narrating events from off-screen, something that arguably only happened again in The Deadly Assassin and the TV Movie.

What really hurts about Robot though is how unspectacular an introduction it is. In many ways I can see the logic - by making it a bog standard Letts adventure the changeover after five years is less jarring. But after An Unearthly Child, Power and Spearhead this really is a nondescript affair. Not bad - just in no way special, save for the manic, curly-headed guy overacting in the most enjoyable way. Oh - and Dudley Simpson's music's crap, too.
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EPISODE TWO:
I think the robot's head looks great, even if the feet, and the arms especially, look silly. As a story in itself though it doesn't really compel, and oddly most, myself included, tend to unconsciously think of The Ark In Space as Tom's debut story.

Quite a dull episode this one, and it's becoming increasingly obvious that they only have the one set for the UNIT scenes. Say what you like about the organisation, it had had its day in the series, and thankfully it was all due to be left behind. Oh, and the typewriter scene is ludicrous.
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EPISODE THREE:
This is the episode with the famous "well naturally, I mean, the rest were all foreigners" line. It's great stuff, but there's very little in the way of subtext or allegory in a Terrance Dicks story. Yes, I know this is about Nazis but even Uncle Tel made them into a metaphor, however unsubtle, in Genesis. You could argue that Hilda Winters is a parody of Mary Whitehouse's association, or even an ahead-of-its-time attack on Margaret Thatcher. But the silly collars and 70s sitcom playing rub up badly against Dudley Simpson's jingly-jangly score. It's also a sad sight seeing UNIT battling a man in a silver robot costume. The Web of Fear, The Invasion how the mighty have fallen.

This is a better episode though, cheap-looking and with a ridiculous plot, but Tom gets to do a few funny things. Notice how in Who, just like the jungles, all the computerised laboratories make the same noise. Hilda's base is a real sound-a-like of the Movellan ship from Destiny, though I don't find bleeps anywhere near as annoying as I do plant life squawking. And this is, of course, the one with the Action Man tank. Couldn't they have at least put some mud on the silver wheel rivets or something?
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EPISODE FOUR:
A bit of a stupid episode to be frank, with the robot growing to gigantic proportions and falling in love with Sarah as a King Kong homage. As this is a Barry Letts production then I'm sure you can imagine how badly this is realised. A toy doll and the worst CSO known to man are what old Bazza prescribed as entertainment for the audiences of 1974. At least after this inauspicious start he did the decent thing and sodded off to let Hinchcliffe show him how it's done. There's something so inexplicably cosy about this guff, a real Sunday afternoon and a Mr. Kipling cake about the whole thing. Still, no worries, eh? It's not like it's the end of the world or anything. Oh, wait, actually it is, it's all about nuclear Armageddon. Oh well, forget that, let's bring on the comedy Brig and have a chuckle.

You know, I'd forgotten that the Doctor saves the world from nuclear destruction with just two seconds to go in this one. It's dealt with in such a casual manner that you more remember his quote about "sophisticated idiots" than you do what he's actually achieved. Still, at least he doesn't stand around screaming at an overacting Jean Marsh, going "Is this waaaaaaaaaaaar?"

Some great things about this episode are the Doctor's deduction of a "suppressed Oedipus complex" and his reprisal of the "childish" speech that Jon similarly made in Terror of the Autons. Talking of Jon, most of Tom's early stories feel like Pertwee hand-me-downs, and this one gets a contrived resolution where Tom chucks a bucket of scientific goo at the robot and it disintegrates. Hurrah! Now time for some jam and ice lollies! Sarah's supposed to be likeable at the end of this one, but when I see her silly twee grinning and overacted jelly baby snatch I personally want to slap the bint. As for Dudley, he should have had criminal charges pressed against him for this one, while Nick has to do some embarrassing "frozen acting" at the climax. Piffle.
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OVERALL VERDICT:
The least spectacular opening story, what would be a run-of-the-mill forgotten story is enlivened only by the joint antics of Tom and Ian Marter. Hugely unsophisticated both in concept and realisation, this thankfully points the way ahead to what was to be one of the most enjoyable eras in the entire series.
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