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The Robots of Death

The Robots of Death is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from January 29 to February 19, 1977.

Synopsis

In a remote desert on a distant planet, a vast mobile sandminer is on an extended expedition in search of rare and valuable ores. The vessel is commanded by a crew of indolent or avaricious human staff - many of whom have secrets to hide - but they are easily outnumbered by the elegant and efficient robots employed in various duties. It is a happy partnership until the human crew start being murdered one by one...

Plot

On a distant planet, a huge sandminer vehicle, Storm Mine 4, is slowly scraping the surface of a vast, barren desert in search of precious minerals. The sandminer is manned by nine humans and numerous robots - black 'Dums' that cannot speak, pale green 'Vocs', and a silver 'Super Voc' which controls all the 'Dums' and 'Vocs'. The robots conduct a routine scan of the area and locate a large sandstorm, which the humans decide to pursue, as the storm will bring heavier minerals to the surface. One of the humans, a meteorologist called Chub, goes to collect an instrument package to place into his weather balloon to study the storm. However, he is later found strangled.

At about this time, the TARDIS materialises in one of the scoops. After the Doctor and Leela emerge from the TARDIS, it is removed by a large mechanical arm as it is blocking the scoop. Later, the Doctor and Leela are brought out of the scoop by two robots and locked in a room. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, and goes in search of the TARDIS, while Leela finds Chub's body being taken away by some robots.

The human crew suspects the two time travellers of murdering Chub, and tensions increase when it is found that they have left the room in which they were locked. By the time they are both recaptured, the Doctor has found a second dead man, and Leela has found both a third dead man and a 'Dum' robot which can secretly speak. Commander Uvanov orders them to be locked up in the robot storage bay, on suspicion of killing all three humans.

One of the humans, Poul, believes the Doctor and Leela to be innocent, so he frees them and shows them where Chub was murdered. There, the Doctor convinces Poul that a robot may have killed the mineralogist. While this is happening, a women named Zilda is murdered, and Poul - sent to the room to investigate Zilda's accusations of murder against Commander Uvanov over a tannoy system - finds the Commander over Zilda's body and has him confined to his quarters for murdering Zilda.

The sandminer's engines begin to run out of control, threatening the vehicle with destruction. It is found that Borg, the human responsible for controlling power to the motors, has been viciously strangled, and the controls have been sabotaged. The Doctor saves the miner by cutting off the power to the motors, while a man named Dask repairs the damaged controls so that the miner can continue on its way.

The Doctor goes to see the 'Dum' robot that Leela claimed could speak, D84. The robot reveals that it and Poul are undercover agents for the mining company, who were placed on board the miner as a precaution to threats of a robot revolution by a scientist called Taren Capel, who was raised by robots. D84 itself is unique in the fact that it can function autonomously from Super Voc SV7's commands, and appears to possess a high level of logical reasoning. The Doctor and D84 search the miner for proof that Taren Capel is on board, and find a secret workshop where the robots' programming has been changed to enable them to kill humans. The Doctor arranges for all the remaining humans to go to the command deck.

Dask shuts down all of the robots whose programming has not been changed, leaving just the killer robots and D84 operational. Dask is later revealed to be the mad scientist Taren Capel, intent on 'releasing [his] 'brothers' (the robots) from bondage to human dross' and 'programming them with an ambition to rule the world'. Taren Capel orders his modified robots to destroy the remaining humans and the Doctor and Leela. Leela shows the Doctor a damaged robot in the storage bay with its hand covered in blood - which the Doctor reasons is Borg's, guessing that Borg sabotaged the engine controls in a suicidal attempt to destroy the miner and all the killer robots on board. The Doctor dismantles the damaged robot and creates a final deactivator - a device that will destroy any still functioning robots at close range. The Doctor hides Leela in Taren's workshop with a canister of helium gas, telling her to release it slowly when Taren comes in. The Doctor hopes that this will change Taren's voice, so his robots - unable to recognise him - won't obey his orders.

Taren arrives and damages D84, but the robot is able to activate the Doctor's device to destroy a killer robot, knowingly sacrificing itself in the process. Leela releases the helium gas, causing Taren's voice to become high-pitched and squeaky, and Taren is killed by SV7 when it fails to identify his voice. The Doctor then destroys SV7 with a laser probe.

The robot threat over, and a rescue ship coming to collect the surviving humans, the Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS and leave the sandminer.

Cast notes

Continuity

  • This story reveals the Doctor's immunity to the vocal-altering effects of helium. It is not clarified whether this is due exclusively to Time Lord physiology (such as his respiratory bypass system), or to a technique he learned (like Venusian aikido).
  • The BBC Books spin-off novel Corpse Marker by Chris Boucher is a sequel to this serial, as are the Kaldor City audio plays, although the latter do not feature the Doctor.
  • This serial marks the final appearance of the wood paneled secondary TARDIS console room.
  • The 2007 Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned" references the story with the look of the Hosts' Faces, various scenes from this episode such as the Hosts' chanting "Kill" and the scene of a Host having its hand caught in a door and then having it fall off.

Production

  • Early titles for the script included "Planet of the Robots" and "The Storm-mine Murders".

Outside references

  • The murder plotine owes a great deal to Agatha Christie; notably Ten Little Indians and The Mousetrap.
  • The treatment of robots in this serial has many intentional nods to Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.
  • The villain of the story is named Taran Capel, which is a reference to Karel Čapek, who is credited with first coining the word "robot". Uvanov's name is a reference to Isaac Asimov, while Poul is a reference to Poul Anderson
  • The script several times refers to Robophobia (the irrational fear of robots) as 'Grimwade's Syndrome', an inside joke reference to Peter Grimwade, a production assistant who directed some of the filmed scenes in the episode. Grimwade had frequently lamented that he was always working on material involving robots.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in May 1979.

VHS and DVD releases

  • This story was released in the omnibus format in April 1986 and in the complete, episodic format in February 1995.
  • This story was released on DVD in the United Kingdom on November 13, 2000.
  • When subtitles are used in the 2000 edition of the DVD the Doctor is credited as 'Doctor Who' while actor Tom Baker is speaking. However in other DVDs he is simply referred to as the Doctor.
  • DVD commentary is provided by writer Chris Boucher and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
  • Part 1 was released on DVD in 2006, coming free with The Sun as a promotional item. It was housed in a cardboard case.

References

External links

Reviews

Target novelisation

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