Doctor Who #387: Robot Part 4

"The trouble with computers, of course, is that they're very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed, even if you order them to kill you."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.18 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Robot turns into a giant and the Doctor must destroy it with a metal virus.

REVIEW: So we've been having a good time, but now the plot needs a resolution, so let's give it our fuller attention... unfortunately. Though we do get some fun character moments, most of this episode is in fact the dreaded STORY. Winters and Jellicoe are quite easily defeated at the top of the half-hour, never to be seen again. I would complain about the anti-climax, but I never cared for them. Then the Robot goes Oedipal and kills its father - or rather, itself, since it was based on Kettlewell's mind, which is slightly more interesting - and decides to destroy humanity except for Sarah. I like that K1 and Kettlewell both have the same moral dilemma and that neither can handle it, but the robot's ultimate solution wouldn't have been the Professor's and is the weaker for it. And then the Brig decides he can win without the Doctor's help - hubris! - and uses the disintegrator on K1, which makes it turn into a metal King Kong, except you know, worse effects. Oh ok, they're at least trying, and there's a double-CSO shot with both background and foreground elements, but the tiny Sarah Jane doll is terrible, as is the shot of her clinging to a grainy photographed chimney. The Doctor and Harry rush to the lab to get Kettlewell's metal virus and make a pass at the robot with a plastic bucket (watch out not to damage Bessie!). The machine's cries are so pathetic that the Doctor's smile seems really out of place. The audience is probably more with Sarah, looking into the distance, half-traumatized by these events.

This time, there's so much action and ridiculous mad science that there's hardly time for crackling dialog or even a sense of victory. It's all very much an anti-climax in its execution. The villains are defeated and immediately disappear from view. The Doctor stops the countdown with mad computer skills, well, that's just fast typing and it's over. The robot re-sets it, but the various countries involved turn on the failsafe and THAT'S over with a simple screenshot. And the virus attack, after some quick lab action, is just a simple drive-by that hits its mark on the first try. In previous episode, the Doctor's ease with the situation was a statement that he didn't need UNIT anymore. In the story's finale, that statement becomes its main weakness. If there's no challenge, how can we feel engaged by it?

Once again, we take refuge in the main cast, even if they have fewer character moments of note. I like that the Brigadier is looking to get out of the Doctor's shadow, though his line about alien menaces always being bulletproof is kind of awkward since this isn't an alien. Benton does well, disarming the monster and later coming up with the crucial information on the virus, and amusingly, the Brig won't let him enjoy his moment. Sarah as Fay Ray (or Rose from "Dalek" maybe) is adequate, but doesn't manage to really affect the situation. Her jeopardy is a red herring too. So it's really down to the last (departure) scene to save the episode and the story. It does deliver. The fourth Doctor offers his first jelly babies, symbolic of an invitation in the TARDIS, and breaks her mood. It's noteworthy that he agrees with her that the robot is "human" since it had the capacity for both good and evil, noteworthy because it's not made as a judgmental comment. Imagine the third Doctor saying the same line, and you get a bitterness and impatience. By contrast (and this Doctor will go so far as famously exalt humanity in the next story), it would seem the most integrated and human Doctor (Pertwee's) is also humanity's harshest critic. Speaking of things the third Doctor might have thought or done, it's equally notable that the fourth wants to leave quickly because he doesn't want to do the paperwork, which suggests the third was doing that sort of thing by the end of his stay with UNIT. Perhaps K'anpo was more right than we think in sending him to his death/face his fear. He'd become, shall we say, henpecked, and no longer true to himself. It's no surprise that Sarah agrees to the trip, but Harry? They basically bring him along to mock him for not believing in the TARDIS. Is a real companion? The Doctor takes away his jelly baby. He'll have to prove himself. And the Brig gets the last word, taking the Doctor's disappearance in his stride with his usual gift for understatement. We'll return to UNIT a couple times over the next couple years, but this is really the end of UNIT as an expected, recurring element, and it's tied up in a nice little bow by the character that best exemplifies it.

THEORIES: The Doctor tries to break a brick and only hurts his hand, the same kind of brick he broke easily in Part 1. So... Regeneration energy? He didn't need to grow an extra hand, but was it enough to give him fantastic strength?

VERSIONS: The Target novelization, Doctor Who and the Giant Robot, has a few small changes, like the bucket being made with a UNIT land rover instead of Bessie.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A dumb, dumb episode rescued, once again, by the cast.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The thing about "Story Rewatchability" is that it takes into account that people might not watch them in order. Yes, it's Tom Baker's first story, and he's quite funny in it, but it's really a third Doctor plot (it's written by the preceding era's script editor, after all) and let's not mince words, it's really, really stupid. I wouldn't blame anyone for considering The Ark in Space the fourth Doctor's first true story. It's certainly Harry's - he gets little to do in Robot - and this particular TARDIS crew's (AND producer Phillip Hinchcliffe's). Let the new era begin! It hasn't happened yet!

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