Sunday 12 February 2012

447 The Robots of Death Part Four

EPISODE: The Robots of Death Part Four
TRANSMITTED: 19 February 1977
WRITER: Chris Boucher
DIRECTOR: Michael Briant
SCRIPT EDITOR: Robert Holmes
PRODUCER: Philip Hinchcliffe
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who Revisitations 3 (The Tomb of the Cybermen and the Robots of Death)

Uvanov immobilises the robot attacking the Doctor with a probe from the repair bay. A robot gains access to Toos' quarters but is summoned away by SV7. The Doctor & Uvanov reach the command deck, closely followed by Leela & Toos and finally D84 bringing the near catatonic Poul. The Doctor has the others lock themselves into themselves onto the bridge while he, Leela & D84 go to deal with Taren Capel. Dask hammers on the command deck door but Toos won't admit him. He is revealed to be Taren Capel, and is dressed like a robot. The Doctor constructs a device to destroy robot brains and obtains some helium gas from the stores. They return to the workshop where Leela hides in a cupboard with orders to release the gas. Capel enters, and cripples D84. While the Doctor is strapped to the operating table by Capel, Leela releases the gas his voice begins to change. Capel tortures the Doctor but S84 activates the Doctor's device destroying himself and the robots accompanying Capel. SV7 arrives, and failing to recognise Capel's voice it kills him. The Doctor destroys SV7 with a probe. As Uvanov & Toos await a rescue ship The Doctor & Leela sneak away in the Tardis.

Superb. Fabulous. A great final solution with the Doctor's eventual solution of using the gas to change Capel's voice telegraphed earlier on in the episode with SV7 not spotting Toos' voice because his command circuits had been changed. Hang the gun on the wall, use it later.... This time the voice gets changed meaning the robot can't recognise it.

Describing these episode to you I inevitably have to cut out some detail and this story is packed with wonderful little detail: the corpse markers, the ranks for the crew that tell you what they do, the medical name for Robophobia: Grimwade's syndrome, named after Production Assistant and future director & writer Peter Grimwade.

And the design. Oh what wonderful sets and corridors, a lavish environment completely different from the harsh functionality you usually see on spaceships. But best of all: The Robots. How fabulous do they look? And isn't Gregory de Polnay's performance as D84 superb? The Doctor will shortly end up with a robot companion but they could have done worse than leave the Sandminer with D84 in the Tardis.

The long & the short of it is that Robots of Death is probably one of my favourite Doctor Who stories and is also one of the best. As we shall see in a short while the two are not exclusive to each other. If I was looking for a classic Who tale to show to a "Not-We" this would be it.

Sadly it's the last directing job for the show for Michael Briant. While his stories haven't necessarily always been from the top drawer he's always done his best with the material that he's been given and, since he started contributing to the DVD range, has been an enthusiastic & entertaining commentator - see Colony in Space & Sea Devils for the two commentaries that he's on that have so far been released.... and bellow for a third that's coming shortly!

Robots of Death was repeated later that same year (and very early the next) as two 50-minute episodes on the Saturday 31 December at 6:25pm & Sunday 1 January 1977 at 4:45pm. Terrance Dicks novelised Robots of Death in the middle of his "one book every month" phase. It isn't the greatest or indeed longest book in the range. It was released on video first as a compilation tape in 1986 and then as an episodic tape in 1995. I'd never had that much enthusiasm for the story from what I read about it and didn't buy it during my initial phases of video buying. I acquired it while at University (Royal Holloway College, University of London) and can remember sitting down with some friends to watch in in my room and thinking "my goodness, this is rather good really". Doctor Who - The Robots Of Death was the second DVD release on 13th November 2000 and as such isn't quite up to the technical quality of some of the later titles. The commentary in particular, the first to be recorded, featuring writer Chris Boucher & producer Philip Hinchcliffe is a bit flat and is the only one just to feature production personnel. This made Robots of Death the ideal candidate to be revised and it will be included in the Revisitations III box set along with Tomb of the Cybermen (which needs VIDFiring) & The Three Doctors (which had a fault). New documentaries, a brand new commentary featuring Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Pamela Salem (Toos) & Director Michael Briant.

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