Thursday, 19 August 2010

Blast from the Past: The Robots of Death

Tom Baker’s era is famous amongst fans of the show for having the strongest run of stories, in particular during his first three seasons, and ‘The Robots of Death’ falls within this time. The quality of acting, script writing, editing, and directing makes this story a ‘classic’, and it will always be remembered amongst the other popular stories from this era. Although the title gives away the enemy in these episodes, there are plenty of surprises along the way…

Chris Boucher’s script is a particularly strong one, offering terrifying images and creating believable characters (apart from one squealing girl who cries a lot). It has all of the elements of a classic gothic tale, including a remote location under attack from a mysterious force, a futuristic world where technology is fighting back, and a villainous man who betrays his own side to the enemy, before they fight back and destroy him as well.

One of the most terrifying shots in this tale is of a damaged Robot with dried blood on its hands, which is particularly morbid as it shows the true horrific power of these creatures. Gothic images like this were common during Robert Holmes’ era as the Script Editor of the programme, and are part of the reason why Tom Baker’s first three series are so fondly thought of, as the production team could introduce horror into the show whilst still keeping it child-friendly at the same time (unlike the Colin Baker era, where it was kill, kill, kill! ).

If there had to be a negative about these episodes, then it would simply be that the lighting of the studios is very bright, which slightly ruins the dark and sinister atmosphere of the story. However, over-lighting was a common feature of programmes in the twentieth century, as the BBC were supposedly worried that elderly people would think that there televisions had broken if the picture wasn’t bright. (What were the BBC smoking?)

‘The Robots of Death’ is a thrilling tale of betrayal and the problems of technology, and is one of many fantastic stories which Doctor Who produced during this era. Sadly, this long run of triumphs would soon disintegrate into a run of mediocre stories, as Robert Holmes left the show after his third season in the job. While he was the Script Editor though, the programme had never been so popular amongst fans, and he ensured that Saturday nights would remain as ‘Doctor Who night’ for many years to come…

Tomorrow: Earthshock

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