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Robot

Production Code: 4A

First Transmitted

1 - 28/12/1974 17:35

2 - 04/01/1975 17:30

3 - 11/01/1975 17:30

4 - 18/01/1975 17:30

Plot

A newly regenerated Doctor joins UNIT in an investigation into the theft of top secret plans and equipment from supposedly secure premises. Sarah discovers that the raids have been carried out by a robot invented by scientist Professor Kettlewell while he was working for Think Tank, a body involved in developing emerging technologies.

The robot has been reprogrammed on the orders of Miss Winters, the director of Think Tank, and used to obtain the means for constructing a disintegrator gun with which the Scientific Reform Society - of which she is a leading member - can steal the computer codes controlling the nuclear weapons of the world's leading powers. In this way, the SRS hopes to hold the world to ransom unless its demands for a purer way of life are met.

Kettlewell is killed by the robot after he balks at Miss Winters' ruthlessness. The robot then suffers an electronic mental breakdown and tries to activate the nuclear weapons.

The Brigadier attempts to destroy it with the disintegrator gun, but this merely causes it to grow to gigantic proportions, following which it goes on the rampage.

The Doctor, assisted by UNIT medical officer Harry Sullivan, destroys it with a metal virus described in Kettlewell's notes.

Episode Endings

Sarah, suspicious of a patch of oil she found on the floor of Kettlewell's deserted lab at the Think Tank, sneaks back there to investigate further. Suddenly, with a loud grating noise, a hidden door opens and a huge silver robot strides forward demanding to know who she is and why she is there. Sarah backs away in panic as the robot advances.

The Doctor is contacted by Professor Kettlewell, who asks the Time Lord to meet him at his lab. When he gets there, he is confronted by the robot who has instructions to kill him. The robot knocks the Doctor to the ground and advances.

The Doctor manages to open the doors to the SRS's underground bunker, but the robot emerges armed with the disintegrator gun. It vaporises a soldier and a tank before giving its ultimatum: the Doctor and UNIT are to go now or it will destroy them all.

Sarah is upset at the destruction of the robot and the Doctor suggests a trip to cheer her up. Harry arrives and believes that the idea of the Doctor travelling around in a police box is absurd. The Doctor invites him to take a look inside, just to prove how absurd it is, and Harry agrees. The Doctor and Sarah follow him inside and the TARDIS departs. The Brigadier arrives to ask the Doctor about 'dinner at the Palace'. Seeing the TARDIS dematerialising, he muses to himself that he will have to explain that the Doctor will be a little late.

Roots

King Kong.

King Kong Meets Godzilla.

Gog.

Alice in Wonderland.

Asimov's I, Robot.

The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Forbidden Planet.

The Mutations and Toulouse Lautrec (Tom Baker's costume design).

The Avengers The Mauritius Penny.

Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts.

The Doctor quotes from a traditional skipping chant ('Mother, mother I feel sick, send for the doctor quick, quick, quick').

There is a reference to James Bond.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Never cared much for the word "impregnable". Sounds a bit too much like "unsinkable"."

Harry Sullivan : "What's wrong with "unsinkable"?"

The Doctor : "Nothing. As the iceberg said to the Titanic."

Harry Sullivan : "What?"

The Doctor : "Gloop, gloop, gloop, gloop, gloop, gloop, gloop."

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "You know, just once I'd like to meet an alien menace that wasn't immune to bullets."

The Doctor : "There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : [On neutral monitoring of superpower missile bases] "Naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain."

The Doctor : "Naturally, I mean, the rest were all foreigners."

Double Entendre

Sarah : "Brigadier, you're a swinger"

Continuity

The Doctor keeps the TARDIS key in his boots (see Spearhead from Space) and thinks his nose is 'a definite improvement!' His costume is his fourth choice after a Viking, a playing card royal and a clown. His phenomenal typing speed is seen. His pockets contain jelly babies [from the second Doctor?], a scroll said to be the 'freedom of the city of Skaro' [given to him by the Thals in Planet of the Daleks?], a pilot's licence on the Mars-Venus rocket run (see The Time Monster), a galactic passport and honorary membership of the Alpha Centauri table tennis club. 'Tricky opponents. Six arms, and of course six bats.' (See The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon [Alphan table tennis clearly works on different principles from the Terran equivalent - two arms, one bat.]) The sonic screwdriver explodes land mines (see The Sea Devils), and can convert into a sonic lance to cut through locks.

Benton is promoted to Warrant Officer (the Brigadier should have a Major and a Captain serving under him but, because of financial constraints, Benton is to fill the gap).

Location

London, [April 1973: Sarah's pass].

Links

Trivia

Robot features the debut of another new opening and closing title sequence, again designed by Bernard Lodge and realised using the 'slit scan' process, but in this instance featuring Tom Baker rather than Jon Pertwee and, for the first time, the TARDIS's police box exterior.

This is the first Doctor Who story to have all its location scenes recorded on outside broadcast (OB) video rather than shot on film (although its interior scenes were still recorded in studio in the normal way).

Benton reveals in Part Two that he has been promoted to Warrant Officer, but this is not reflected in the closing credits, which continue to give his rank as Sergeant.

Goofs

K1 with doll Sarah and Action Man tank. His legs keep vanishing as well.

The SRS goes to great lengths to get the disintegrator gun, and then all they use it for is to blow open a safe door. (Couldn't they have found an easier way into the safe?)

Miss Winters' feminist views (her comments to Sarah in episode one) don't accord with SRS views on women.

Ketterwell changes from a good boffin to the villain of the piece in a most unconvincing way (just as Jellicoe can't decide if he's a squeamish villain or a Nazi maniac).

The robot's motives change from scene to scene (and show contradictory programming regarding obeying orders and striving for self preservation).

The Doctor chops a brick in half, but it's clearly a block of balsa wood (listen for the noise when it hits the ground).

Fashion Victim

Sarah's headscarf and blouse combo.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Tom Baker

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney

Harry Sullivan - Ian Marter

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

Sergeant Benton - John Levene

Jellicoe - Alec Linstead

Miss Winters - Patricia Maynard

Professor Kettlewell - Edward Burnham

Robot - Michael Kilgarriff

Short - Timothy Craven

Crew

Director - Christopher Barry

Assistant Floor Manager - David Tilley

Costumes - James Acheson

Designer - Ian Rawnsley

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Judy Clay

OB Cameraman - unknown

Producer - Barry Letts

Production Assistant - Peter Grimwade

Production Unit Manager - George Gallacio

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Nigel Wright

Studio Sound - John Holmes

Studio Sound - Trevor Webster

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Clifford Culley

Writer - Terrance Dicks

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'What's the point of being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes?' A steady, rather than spectacular, start for the new Doctor. A fun runaround, with lots of good bits, rather spoiled by silly scenes with the robot.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Robot was not perhaps the best choice of story to launch a new Doctor. It lacks both the popular returning monster of the second Doctor's debut adventure, The Power of the Daleks, and the freshness and originality of the third Doctor's, Spearhead from Space. Despite this, it does have some redeeming features.

First and foremost is the Doctor himself. Admittedly Tom Baker's shambling, bohemian eccentric is initially a little hard to take after Jon Pertwee's dashing and debonair 'dandy'. In fact, the high humour content of the early part of Robot - well exemplified by the scene in which the Doctor tries on the costumes of a Viking warrior, a playing card jack and a pierrot clown before settling on his standard outfit - echoes that of The Power of the Daleks and Spearhead from Space, almost as though the production teams responsible always felt it necessary to resort to this approach as a way of smoothing the transition between Doctors. As in those earlier cases, however, the latter part of the story sees the new Doctor really getting to grips with the problem at hand and starting to make his mark on the series.

Jonathan Way, writing in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988, liked the way the Doctor was presented: 'The fourth Doctor's character is highlighted and thrown into sharp relief against the familiar background of characters and situations that we'd seen for years. A lot of the fun of Robot is to see how the new Doctor will deal with a situation that we all knew the third Doctor could have dealt with admirably.'

Robert Cope also appreciated Tom Baker's performance, as he explained in DWB No. 96, dated December 1991: 'Tom Baker's debut performance is formidable, his charismatic qualities outshining all those sharing the screen. The rapport between Sladen and Baker is instant; even the almost intrusive presence of Ian Marter's Harry Sullivan cannot disguise the fact that Baker's [over the top] madcap approach contrasts marvellously with Sladen's no-nonsense nosy but vulnerable Sarah... This Doctor is a bohemian to the core, the weirdly alien qualities that comprise the fourth Doctor's persona evident from the outset.'

It is really the regulars, both old and new, who carry this story. Nicholas Courtney gives his usual dependable performance as the Brigadier, despite again being handed some rather poor material to work with; it is good to see John Levene's stalwart Benton at last getting a promotion; Elisabeth Sladen shines as Sarah; and Ian Marter makes a promising debut as Harry Sullivan, marking the welcome return of the male companion figure after over five years without one.

None of the other characters in this tale of Nazi-like scientists at work makes much of an impression - none, that is, except the eponymous robot, otherwise known as K1. Designed by James Acheson and constructed by Allister Bowtell, this is a masterpiece of costuming, being both visually impressive and functionally practical - even to the extent of being able to walk up and down steps.

The concept of a machine that thinks for itself and develops emotional responses is not exactly original, but is nevertheless well handled in Terrance Dicks's scripts. The fact that it ends up taking a liking to Sarah is somewhat strange, but this does lead to the final episode's pleasing pastiche of the 1933 RKO film King Kong where, courtesy of CSO, it is enlarged to giant size by the disintegrator gun and carries Sarah off to safety before being cut down by the Doctor's timely application of a metal-eating virus. Ultimately the viewer is made to feel sorry for the robot, which is a tribute to Michael Kilgarriff's sterling performance, both physical and vocal.

The story's climax is less impressive than it should be, however, owing to some poor visual effects. 'B-movie freaks will revel in the final episode sequence when K1 is fired on by the Brigadier and starts a growth acceleration of tacky CSO proportions,' suggested Cope. 'As the military back-up moves in on the attack, [a] model [tank gets destroyed], K1 throws some Action Man [toys] around and generally things adopt a Blue Peter sticky-backed plastic feel.'

The BBC's Audience Research Report on Part One indicates that contemporary viewers had rather mixed feelings about it: 'A minority of about three in ten felt it was definitely enjoyable (some were long-term followers of the series) while a smaller group were distinctly unimpressed. It was suggested, here and there, that this episode had been slow - the story had not got very far by the end.'

Naturally enough, the major subject for comment was the new Doctor himself. 'At this early stage,' it was reported, 'many did not know whether they were going to like him or not; viewers often said he would "take some getting used to". First impressions among those who volunteered an opinion were seldom entirely favourable. Some considered the new personality too clownish and eccentric (occasionally, "too stupid for words") or too unlike the previous Doctor. Also, Jon Pertwee had been a favourite with some viewers, and they missed him. On the other hand, a small group seem to have been instantly attracted, or won over by the end of the episode. The new Doctor had "more life and humour", it was said, and seemed likely to "buck the series up".'

The report highlighted in particular the reactions of younger viewers amongst the sample. Specific comments included: 'The new Doctor is not quite as good as Jon Pertwee, but the programme is still just as exciting' (boy aged eleven); 'It was nice and creepy but I like the other Doctor Who best' (boy aged twelve); 'My little boy didn't like the new Doctor, he thought he was too silly. Loved the robot' (parent); 'I would like him calmed down a bit, because he's crazy' (boy aged eight); and 'It was ever so good. I liked that tin thing with the clippy hands' (girl aged eight).

Robot is perhaps best seen as being a showcase for the talents of Tom Baker - after all, no one knew whether or not the series could survive yet another change of lead actor - and in that at least it does succeed.

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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