Doctor Who #448: The Robots of Death Part 3

"My tribe has a saying. If you're bleeding, look for a man with scars."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.12 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The robots are sent to kill all humans. Leela thinks robots invulnerable to her knife are just showing off.

REVIEW: The serial continues to impress with its script, but disappoint with its direction. So while Boucher's dialog is memorably infused with clever aphorisms ("Failure is one of the basic freedoms") and D84's accidental robot poetry (the bit about snowflakes), Briant insists on keeping up the pretense that the audience hasn't figured out that Dask is the villain. The filter on his communications is pointless (he's quite recognizable), and hiding him under a gold KKK hood is needless. It's too bad because Uvanov might have been a real option had Briant not given away the game. His action also needs a polish, as the less said about Toos fighting off a robot with a small piece of pottery the better.

Now, I've always had a problem with how quickly Poul goes mad with robophobia in this episode - it's all very sudden - but when you think about it, it makes a sort of sense. Robots are as ubiquitous in their society as plants or statues are in ours. In stories where every day things attack, we understand and even share the terror. If my cat or my couch were to suddenly turn into maneaters, I'd be justified in letting my mind snap, wouldn't I? Well, that's what's happening to Poul, and to some degree, Toos. The scenes in which Toos shoos away SV7 as if he were a pesky pet tell that very story, but we're one step too removed from the metaphor for us to embrace it immediately. It's taken me 25 years, personally. One place where it DIDN'T take me so long to feel the fear factor is in the scene where the Voc is opened and reprogrammed. His squirming hands are very creepy indeed, and somehow more gory than any human corpse or bloody hand. It implies distress, which is far more shocking than SF violence.

Another theme is the idea that robots are not very good replacements for human beings, at once a condemnation of this culture's indolence and a warning that we'd do well to exercise self-reliance. Obviously, this is evident in the robot revolution plot - Skynet obviously watched this serial - but more subtly, we can see it in D84's lack of imagination. He fails to think of the obvious and finds himself in repetitive dialog loops. The inference is that it takes the Doctor to solve these unusual crimes because neither the human Poul nor his R. Daneel Olivaw, D84, are able to think outside the box. Robots lack that imagination, but humans have been sapped of it too. Not artistically, if we go by the fashions or Toos' seashell bed (oh Pamela Salem, sometimes I'm sorry you didn't get the companion gig), but in their problem-solving certainly.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - By now, it's looking a lot like New Who's Voyage of the Damned indeed poached all of this serial's best bits, so it's worth watching for that alone. Sure, there are directorial problems, but they are outweighed by the rich dialog and neat designs.

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