Doctor Who #447: The Robots of Death Part 2

"You know, you're a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.5 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Leela are captured, but Poul frees them. More people die. Could it be... robots?

REVIEW: Though the script keeps throwing suspicion around and lighting everyone's paranoia, Michael Briant's direction is doing the opposite. I mean, what's the point of having Borg mark Cass with a bicycle reflector, or Zilda find some damning evidence in Uvanov's quarters, if you're just going to show the bottom of the villain's color-coded pants as he gives his robot(s) the next kill order? That's a major directorial flub, and while I keep thinking of Briant as one of Who's major directors - probably because I remember his name and see him often on DVD extras - he's really only batted .500 on his stories, hasn't he? Robots is the best of the lot, and still, he's punctured and let a lot of the air out of it. Note also the confused cliffhanger with people looking around at... what? Even the Doctor's big suggestion, that the robots might have done it, while it comes equipped with some nice procedural detective work (like the reenactment), isn't really telling us something we didn't already know. We saw the first murder, and we know the story's title. Because there's someone behind the killer bots, I think that element should have been hidden entirely until at least the next episode, never mind revealing the person's identity to anyone paying the least bit of attention. It undermines the script's attempt to fill in the characters' backgrounds with things that might condemn or exonerate them, like Uvanov's interrupted rom-com with Zilda. He's better off, if THE WORST-ACTED SCENE IN DOCTOR WHO is anything to go by, Zilda was quite the drama queen.

That said, I like how this small-scale whodunit has more far-ranging implications. In addition to the danger threatening the crew, the fact that robots are involved could also mean the end of this particular (let's call it Kaldorian) civilization. The story is a warning about over-dependence on technology (he said, having spent all day on the Internet) without making a point of it. That's what I like about Boucher's two successive Doctor Who scripts (he'll be missed after he goes off to Blake's 7), he lets the ideas speak for themselves. That's all in the background. At its core, the story is still a murder mystery in the Agatha Christie vein, though I can't be sure if the Doctor and Poul are playing at Hercule Poirot or Elijah Baley. Though the idea was there in Robot a couple of seasons ago, the idea that robots can't harm human beings here feels like a given, as if all science fictional universes play by Asimov's rules.

And finally, the Doctor gets to interact with the cast, but gets into trouble with his trademark insolence, taking lots of humorous shots at Uvanov and Borg. Hey, you don't slap his jelly babies away. You just don't. Leela gets a bit less to do, but she does meet the not-so-mute D84, who seems to be proof that the robots are capable of escaping their programming and evolving, though that will turn out to be a red herring. Leela's wit is sometimes in character ("They can't speak." "Has anyone told HIM that?"), sometimes not (the mock-posh "thank yewww"), but is usually entertaining. At least, when she's not being aggressively insulting (moments that work less well like "you must be more stupid than you look"). Interestingly, the Doctor chastises her for her intuition, making it a part of her ingrained belief in magic, but she really does have a sixth sense. It may be the same kind of ability the Tesh evidently had, bred into the Sevateem as well, but from a right brain perspective. He'd do well to listen to that intuition later.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Directorial mishaps undermine what the script is trying to do, so even though the Doctor is in rare form, throwing brilliant aphorisms around in that Boucher style, the episode is left wanting in several respects.

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