Tom Servo is a fictional character from the American science fiction comedy television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). Tom is one of two wise-cracking, robotic main characters of the show, built by Joel Robinson to act as a companion and help stave off space madness as Joel was forced to watch low-quality films. (Ironically, Servo, along with the other bots, is actually made of the parts that would have otherwise allowed Joel to control the film.) At least during the Comedy Central era, he was somewhat more mature and cynical than his companion Crow T. Robot. Servo, more often than the others, signals the need to exit the theater to perform host segments, as he has to be carried in and out of the theater; an air grate near the entrance limits his ability to hover. Initially performed by J. Elvis Weinstein, Kevin Murphy took over puppetry and voice duties for Servo beginning with the second nationally-broadcast season. In the current online cartoon series, the voice of Tom Servo is provided by James Moore.
His arms are a pair of small white ventriloquist's dummy hands on the ends of springs that are not really functional as arms, a point that is commented on occasionally throughout the series. Some episodes feature Tom with objects already in his hands, raising the unanswered question of how they got there; possibly Servo's arms are only functional on a sporadic basis. However, in the television series' official episode guide it is comically stated that the reason both his and companion Crow T. Robot's arms only work intermittently is because they are "run by lazy, shiftless puppeteers who just don't care." His shoulders are made from the front of an Eveready Floating Lantern. Because Servo's head is transparent, chromakeyed images appear projected through it, and thus a second puppet was built for use in the theater segments, entirely spray-painted black.
Servo's appearance has changed over time. In the pilot for MST3K, the robot who would become Servo was named "Beeper," who just spoke in beeps that only Crow could understand. He was an all-silver robot vaguely shaped like the ultimate Servo, with funnel-shaped shoulders, silver rubber tube arms, and a clear plastic candy container for a head. The puppet used for "Beeper" was built by series creator Joel Hodgson the night before filming of the pilot. Sometime between the pilot and episode #K03: Star Force: Fugitive Alien II the character was renamed 'Servo' (after a vending machine called the Servotron). Servo's head was replaced with the now-familiar gumball machine for most of the series. (MST3K archival site mst3ktemple.com presents a substantive argument that this replacement was probably done before or during episode #K01: Invaders from the Deep, based on an analysis of related set and costume changes. ).
In Season 1 on the Comedy Channel, the puppets were redesigned by Hodgson and writer/cast member Trace Beaulieu. Servo was now given a dark red color, longer black tube arms, squared white shoulders, a different hoverskirt, and the Carousel Snack Dispenser gumball machine head with a white beak. Beginning with episode 104 and for the remainder of season 1, Servo's head was changed to an older model Carousel Dispenser head. The "neck" was slightly wider which made his beak (now painted silver) appear smaller. For Season 2, the black tubing used for his arms was replaced with a pair of small white spray-painted springs (left bare silver from season 3 onward) and his more familiar model of Carousel Dispenser head design (KTMA era/Early season 1 version) returned. In episode 201 and as shown in the season 2-5.5 opening robot roll call, Servo's head could retract up and down (this was done with a black painted dryer cord). Tom Servo's season 2 physical form would pretty much remain the same throughout the remainder of the series, save for a brief flirtations and minor changes (during episodes #205: Rocket Attack USA and #206: Ring of Terror) Servo's head was replaced again this time with a cylindrical Carousel Dispenser head to try to reduce the screen area Servo's head obscured. It was introduced as a "robot haircut" that Joel gave Servo, but was quickly abandoned as it was never intended to be a permanent change. In early season 3, the cap from Servo's season 2 "haircut" head was used as a Fez hat worn by Servo in a couple of episodes and later used as a tea ball base. By mid season 3 an extra cap from another Carousel Dispenser was permanently added just below the "bubble" making Tom's head appear slightly taller and slimmer. Briefly in early season 4, Servo's white hands were left unpainted beige/flesh colored before returning to white after only a few episodes. During season 5 the number of black tyco train molds used on Servo's hover skirt were reduced and they were more widely spaced apart. By season 6, Servo's season 1-4 hover skirt configuration was restored.
Servo's voice and personality also changed during the show's early years. While Josh Weinstein operated Servo during the KTMA season, Servo spoke rather slowly with a squeaky voice not unlike that of Pee-wee Herman, and was somewhat immobile during host segments but oddly very active in the theater. In episode K06, Weinstein switched to a lower voice that Servo repeatedly proclaimed as his new "MIGHTY VOICE!" which in reality is Weinstein's actual speaking voice. He used a higher pitched voice for Dr. Erhardt. Weinstein's Servo had a more sarcastic and acerbic personality with a hint of a superiority complex. When Weinstein left at the end of Season 1, Kevin Murphy took over Servo's operation and tried to match Weinstein's Servo voice and personality very early on, but quickly developed his own signature Servo sound and character (though Murphy has a fairly deep voice himself). This was explained as tinkering by Joel in episode 201. (One fan was famously displeased with Murphy's voice and sent a large banner on computer paper: "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE!", which was quickly dismissed and laughed off.) During Murphy's tenure, Servo took many opportunities to showcase his excellent Irish tenor-voiced singing. He also has an extensive underwear collection (as seen in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie and enumerated in episode #810, The Giant Spider Invasion), as well as a large number of duplicates of himself that he made in episode #420: The Human Duplicators (also seen in episode #1004: Future War, and episode #1013: Diabolik). In the new Internet-only series of animated shorts, Servo is voiced by James Moore.
Whenever a member of the cast is required to dress in drag for a sketch, Servo usually does the honors. This is both because of the dichotomy of women's clothes amusingly contrasted with puppeteer Murphy's strong baritone voice and because, in Murphy's words, "Servo looks better in a dress than Crow." Also, Servo is the only robot whose entire body can be seen on the show, since Crow's legs are behind the desk and Gypsy's body is several yards long.
Servo normally has a condescending personality and at times can make literary and technical references that are above his companions' heads. Just as Trace Beaulieu gives Crow regular Monty Python references, Kevin Murphy, a self-confessed Tolkien fanboy, gives Servo occasional Lord Of The Rings references. Servo frequently attempts to seem physically imposing to others, once acquiring "lifts" for his hover skirt to increase his size (accused by Mike of suffering "short man's disease") and on another occasion showing off a small arsenal he had acquired while drifting through space. Almost invariably, however, any attempts at confronting danger or displaying his intellectual skill cause him such frustration that he ends up crying. During "The Final Sacrifice" Pearl randomly brought him down to Castle Forrester to try and rule him, as part of a plan to rule the world, 'one person at a time.' Interestingly enough, Pearl could not recognise him, through his entire time in the castle.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is also known to contain a reference to Tom Servo's Used Robots in the directory to the station's Promenade business area, though it is unlikely that this reference ever appeared onscreen.
Servo also appeared on a table in an episode of 3rd Rock From The Sun during a visit to a Scifi convention.