Saturday, 24 August 2013

Robots of Death

It's the robots in control!
Not since Ian Stuart Black’s ‘The Savages’ was followed by Ian Stuart Black’s ‘The War Machines’, I THINK I am right on saying, has a writer delivered back-to-back stories in a season. Chris Boucher though does here, with ‘Robots of Death’ closely following on from ‘Face of Evil’. It’s a character-based whodunit in space, and a great murder-mystery it turns out to be. This might also be the first all-out murder-mystery style story that Doctor Who has done.

The Doctor and Leela look out the sandminder
And it’s pretty creepy, clever and for the most part well designed. The Sandminer is not a space ship perse, but it is a futuristic machine for mining planets, and it is where the entirety of the story, bar a TARDIS scene at the start, is set. Inside it is decked out in Art Dec o designs, and looks like a luxury liner of some description. It’s a great idea, considering a sleek space ship is hard to do on a budget and they really stretched this budget well.
On top of the murder-mystery elements, the other influence is Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’, with some of the directives being used, in  particular that robots can’t harm humans. Of course that also appeared in Tom Baker’s first story, ‘Robot’. Holmes and Hinchliffe spent the previous season using tried-and true horror stories to underpin the stories. Season 14 has seen them use other famous stories, some science fiction and others, like ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ for ‘The Deadly Assassin’, falling under a wider net of genres.
D84 sneaks up on Leela
At least they know they have a solid basis for the story, and here the story is about characters mostly. The robots themselves have a great ‘art-deco’  head, although the rest of the body is basically a costume and I’m not sure how believable that was. The idea was to make the robots look as human as possible. The humans on the sandminer are really living in the lap of luxury, hoping for the ‘big one’ – to find enough minerals to make them rich.

Superbly cast by Michael E. Briant, now one of my favourite ‘Who’ directors, the guest cast is led by Russel Hunter as Commander Uvanov. There are many sub-plots going on and he is at the centre
Uvanov and Toos in action.
of most of them, including the one involving Zilda’s (played by Gangster’s Tania Roberts) brother. It’s a classic case of someone looking guilty as hell, and then it turns out he had nothing to do with. The part works perfectly for that.

Dask goes a little crazy.
On top of Uvanov, David Collings returns to the Who-fold and Poul, a great performance as he has robophobia, and also some sort of agent. Interesting he is one of three human characters to survive the story. Yes it was another one with lots of death. Well, they were the robots of death! Pamela Salem plays Toos, the only other character to make it through, and the villain of the piece is Dask, played by David Bailie. It’s all a bit strange, his motivations, and the part isn’t very big – needed more exposition in my humble opinion. The rest of the cast are smaller characters, but strong characters and well played characters, the real strength of this story.
Leela (Louise Jameson) is showing a real aptitude for the space/time travelling, enthusiastic and willing to learn. Her character worked well again, and Tom Baker was solid as always. A good, solid, interesting story well told.


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