CRRRaSh! 324 Doctor Who: Robot

By Roy Mathur, on 2020-07-23, at 23:00:00--23:46:05 BST, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

June was amazing. I managed to meet my promise of recapping a classic Doctor adventure and also producing the usual geek show each week.

On the negative side I experimented with not directly tweeting MP3 links and my download count halved.

If you want to help, please subscribe in one of the many ways I provide and send in your comments. Comments are still averaging about one per year, which is patently ridiculous, in light of how hard (perhaps too hard) I have tried to engage listeners. If there is anything I can do to improve the show, please let me know.

Cast and Production Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith: Elisabeth Sladen
Director: Christopher Barry
Writer: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts
Serial 1 of season 12, following Planet of the Spiders covered in 321, 4 x 25 minutes, first broadcast from 28 December 1974 to 18 January 1975.

On this Day in the UK

Number 1 in the UK was the song Lonely this Christmas by Mud. We're getting to the stage of the rewatch where I am old enough to remember these songs.

What Happens

The Doctor regenerates from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker and is left to recover with the help of with naval doctor and future companion Harry Sullivan. After a few false starts, because of the Doctor's regeneration confusion, he helps UNIT look into plans stolen from a research establishment headed by Miss Winters.

We find out the Winters is a leader of the elitist fascist Scientific Reform Society who are using a large robot built by Professor Kettlewell to steal plans for a disintegrator ray gun as a means to ultimately obtaining nuclear codes and then threaten the world with destruction should their demands for power not be met. The plans almost succeed, but are foiled at the last moment by the Doctor's computer hacking skills.

Unfortunately, the conflict within the robot's prime directive makes it go berserk. The situation is exacerbated by the Brigadier's use of the disintegrator ray gun, which makes the already big robot into a giant robot. Luckily, the Doctor is again there to save the day and deploys a metal eating virus, previously developed by the environmentally concious Kettlewell, that he has weaponised to destroy the robot.

What I Thought

The titular robot is Frankenstein's monster, full of classical gravitas. On one actor, Michael Kilgarriff is credited for the role of the robot. Roles like this often aren't, e.g. Darth Vader, but I could find no information to the contrary. The point is, Kilgarriff impressively employs the full actor's repertoire of ethos, pathos, and logos to portray an intimidating, though sympathetic character through both gesture and voice. He went on to play Cyber Controller in Attack of the Cybermen in 1985.

The robot suit is amazing, both intimidating and powerful, though the arms and grippers are a bit pathetic and don't live up to the rest of the suit.

Even without researching the production, it was obvious that the serial turns into a bit of a King Kong rippoff when the robot, grown to giant proportions by the Brigadier's careless application of the captured disintegrator gun, kidnaps Sarah and leaves her high atop a tall building. Sarah's previous kindly interaction with the machine makes her a fine Fay Wray.

When the virus shrinks the robot, I thought it would stop when the robot had shrunk to the size of a toy, and then it would totter around in a little circle; later to perhaps become a cute ornamental keepsake in the TARDIS. Not only would that have been a funny, clever, and less sad ending, but think of the merchandising.

We are, of course, meant to sympathise with the robot, but it's end, like Kong's, is inevitable. The means of it's demise through the rust virus, however, seems dangerous to me. What if the virus escaped into the environment and carried on eating every metal structure? It's the escaped virus trope common to SciFi, but not even considered in the world's longest running SciFi series.

SRS's runic logo, the Hugo Boss Nazi-type uniforms, and Winter's speech; delivered Adolf Hitler-like; including wild hand gestures, leaves us in no doubt that SRS is a fascist organisation.

Sarah Jane Smith is still the companion I relate to the most because she is a reporter, but her ambiguous smile is still throwing me. What the hell does it mean? Peril? Joy? Sarcasm? Fright? Roll the dice.

Tom Baker pronounces Sarah, "sera". He does not say, "saara", which was the way I always thought he said her name. Did I dream up the posher pronunciation, or is that the way I prefer to hear the name? I do tend to do that in real life.

Trivia

Robot costume:

"The impressive looking robot costume clearly has some unfortunate issues with its large heavy feet, causing the actor to stumble a few times, and at one point it requires some none too subtle help from another actor to manage to negotiate some stairs."---IMDB, Trivia
The robot costume was on display at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff until it was closed in 2017.

Dialogue:

"Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart: A few months ago, the superpowers, Russia, America, and China, decided upon a plan to ensure peace. All three powers have hidden atomic missile sites. All three agreed to give details of those sites plus full operation instructions to another neutral country. In the event of trouble, that country could publish everyone's secrets and so cool things down. Well, naturally enough the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain.
Doctor Who: Naturally, I mean the rest were all foreigners.
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart: Exactly."---IMDB, Quote
As we can see, Tom Baker had some really great dialogue either written for him, or his occasional ad libs.