Doctor Who #386: Robot Part 3

"Well, naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain." "Well, naturally, I mean, the rest were all foreigners."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.11 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Kettlewell is the Scientific Reform Society's messiah. Sarah and Harry are held hostage in a bunker from where the SRS want to launch missiles at the world, while the Robot keeps UNIT at bay.

REVIEW: You know, it's a good thing the regular cast is doing so well, because the plot (and consequently,its guest characters) is complete rubbish. Though it's only to set up the next episode, Professor Kettlewell's explanation that K1 is made of "living metal" that can "grow" isn't just ridiculous, but just doesn't seem borne out by the robot's look. If it were more supple, even liquid, like Robert Patrick, maybe. But it's a jangly modular thing that's kind of silly and sad even if the production isn't too bad at showing its feats of strength. Even more ridiculous (if possible) is the idea that various nuclear powers would give their launch codes and missile locations to Britain for safekeeping as a "neutral" country that would publish all the info if any of them stepped out of line to "cool things down". WHAT? First, the USSR really thinks the UK ISN'T pulling for the USA in this scheme? Second, how would publishing nuclear launch codes cool ANYTHING down?! It's the stupidest Cold War detente story I've ever heard. Now the SRS, who dress like green Nazis, have gotten their hands on the codes with their heist-bot, and are planning to hold the world for ransom with the missiles. It sounds like Revenge of the Nerds, their only motivation being that they were once called names. Kettlewell is revealed to be their exalted leader (though not one particularly compliant with the more extremist elements of the group like Winters), but that role, just like the scenes where he earnestly seems to denounce the SRS, are undermined by his silly hairdo. And then we have the whole SRS clan meeting disrupted by the Doctor, and the audience just laughs and laughs as if this were scheduled entertainment. So yeah, Robot is almost irredeemably STUPID.

What does manage to redeem it is the cast. As usual, the Doctor's energy carries much of the episode, figuring things out while unconscious so that we don't have to sludge through an expository scene where he puts 2 and 2 together. There's some fun involving his infinite pockets and what eclectica might be found within, even as he uses the scarf to trip up the doorman. There are card tricks and playing dead at the first sound of a gun shot (when the Brig arrives, all butch and heroic). And he even sends up the UNIT era he's putting an end to, with lines like " I really think we've had enough bangs and flashes for a bit, don't you?", even if his alternative is the much maligned sonic screwdriver (with lance attachment). Sarah Jane trusts the wrong people - she does that - but is otherwise as watchable as ever, and though Harry's whole inside man bit comes to an anticlimactic close, it's worth it just for Sarah's disappointed reaction. Poor Harry's not just a foil for the Doctor, it seems.

THEORIES: In this one, Sarah tells Benton he has no jurisdiction over her since she's not a member of UNIT, and he has to let her go. But the issue of Sarah Jane Smith's connection to UNIT is one that deserves exploring. After all, though a magazine journalist, she does seem to have some rather important access to UNIT facilities and personnel (even if the Doctor isn't there, as in Planet of the Spiders). The Brigadier gives her passes and trusts her with top secret information, and seems to know her and accept her presence as far back as Invasion of the Dinosaurs, which was their first onscreen meeting. In The Time Warrior, she got into the facility by pretending to be her aunt Lavinia, but it would seem pretty poor security on UNIT's part if that were the whole story (Sarah mistaken for a much older woman?). In The Sarah Jane Adventures, she says she's had UNIT training, but that could have happened after the Doctor dropped her off. However, even in the classic series, we see her use unexpected skills, like sharpshooting in Pyramids of Mars. So is there more to her than meets the eye? Does UNIT perhaps hire journalists (and other civilians) as informants and spies? Could Sarah's story in The Time Warrior be a cover as she tries to find out if it's an inside job, reporting either to the Brig or Geneva or some other coordinating contact? (The fact that she suspects the Doctor means she's not under the Brigadier's direct command, probably). Benton can't give her orders, ok. Either her connection to UNIT is unofficial and deniable, comes with training but not a rank (did Liz have one, or was she "attached" to UNIT the same way?), or Benton's too low on the totem pole to really know about it.

- The Doctor, Sarah, the Brig, Benton and even Harry with so little to do, keep making it reasonable for you to like this serial. But check your brain at the door.


Anonymous said...

The line you quoted is one of my all time favorite Tom Baker-isms and I love the Brigadier's reflexive, "Exactly."

Siskoid said...

It's a great one. It's moments like those that make me miss the Brig all the more. There was never a better foil for the Doctor.


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