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.
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.
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?
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.
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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