Doctor Who #942: Robot Gladiators

"I know understand what they mean by the dim past."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 31 2010.

IN THIS ONE... K9 and the kids go undercover to stop an underground robot fight club.

REVIEW: Director James Bogle keeps making something out of the frequently naff scripts he's handed, in this case giving the kids' grift job a yellowed filter and music reminiscent of The Sting's (i.e. The Entertainer, which is also the baddie's handle - cute). Using Freddie's "TV pizazz" font for transitions doesn't work quite as well - too cheesy! - but the fact there are transitions at all is a step up from K9's usual fare. As usual, Bogle offers some interesting camera shots, and in this case, surrealism. After all, this is an episode in which K9 shares gladiator barracks with two clowns/mimes. But it's really the grift element that takes center stage, played for laughs, but with a good understanding of the tropes that makes it a full story, not a mere spoof. The kids get up to some Hustle / Leverage / Mission: Impossible fun.

The villain, with his gross peanut bowl, isn't very smart, and his crass "Crush Club" (a spoof of such shows as Robot Wars, though the stakes are higher because robots are somewhat sentient) is tacky, but Thorne's intervention means the kids are being played while they play Freddie, and THEN turn the tables on them both, which is what you want to see from a good grift story. Particularly fun is Jorjie trying to channel her mother as a rather young-looking revenue service agent. I'm less enthused by Gryffen in this episode, and not just because he can't leave the house and get to play in this world. As the "mastermind", he's rather dumb, and needs Darius to tell him Freddie's weakness is money. Well, duh. And this is the guy who, despite his apparent youth, was instrumental in creating a sentient A.I. that is now being misused in robot fight club? Not that a 'bot like Painmaker looks at all intelligent. I guess 2050's technology made a huge leap maybe 10 years ago when he was in his productive 20s...

As for K9, he goes undercover in some packing peanuts and becomes a gladiator. There's some humor there as he's forced to bunk with clowns which is natural arrogance paints as primitives. Of course, they'll become valued friends. Just, you know, the kind you'll disown in front of your cool gang. Oh K9. Such a role model. If we look back at an early episode like The Korven, in which K9 used violence to defeat his enemy, we can see the show has found its voice since then. It's not always a GREAT voice, but it's a lot more consistent with the Whoniverse's ethical rules that K9 find a way to avoid violence even in a gladiatorial arena.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Again, this is compared to other K9 episodes, not the whole Whoniverse canon. A fun little episode borrowing from a specific genre and doing so with a light touch and better-than-average direction.

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