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Doctor Who: The Robots Of Death

01/03/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Robots Of Death in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Robots Of Death in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: BBC MBI 6226. Price: about GBP 4.50 (UK) if you know where to look. DVDs. 4 episodes 96 minutes with extras) stars: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Russell Hunter and Pamela Salem .

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As you might have noticed from the serial number, this isn’t standard BBC but a European import. As some of you might end up considering the same route because of the low price, I didn’t see any harm in doing so myself. Although only having two extras, it’s still in English and unlike the label saying so, sub-titles do not come on automatically so you’re spared any remote control fiddling. One thing I did like is that unlike the BBC version, when watching through the individual episode option, the pointer doesn’t go back to the first episode but stays on the episode you just watched. Not perfect cos that would have the pointer going to the next episode but it is the better move (sic).

The Doctor (actor Tom Baker) with his new companion, Leela (actress Louise Jameson) arrive on a mining vehicle that houses a human crew with a robot work force just after one of the humans has been killed. Naturally, they are the first accused, not helped when the Doctor is found with the body of another dead human. However, it soon becomes apparent that is isn’t them but possibly one of the crew, until the Doctor speculates someone is manipulating the robots and then they are all in trouble. At this point, the Doctor has two fronts to worry about. Keeping out of the hands of the robots and finding out who adjusted the robots to murder.

In many respects, ‘The Robots Of Death’ owes much of its story to Isaac Asimov, liberally borrowing his Laws of Robotics but then borrowing from other sources seems to be the thing from producer Philip Hitchcliffe’s tenure. With all the robots looking the same except for colour for operation level and chest number, it would be easy to say they all came out of the same mould with a costume looking slightly Japanese or a royal card looking. If there is a problem, other than a nod of the head, if you were there, it might be difficult to decide who was speaking and seems a shame that a moving mouth hadn’t been considered.

The audio commentary is between producer Philip Hitchcliffe and scriptwriter Chris Boucher and I have to say this is really lacklustre, although admittedly they admit they get caught up in watching the story than talking about it. Although this was recorded a decade ago and indeed is the first ‘Who’ release on DVD, it still makes a sound argument that they should have watched the show privately the night before so they were better prepared. Saying that, there was some insight as to the change in Science Fiction circumstances after ‘Star Wars’ had came out the previous year this story was released and how series are now special effects driven than story driven. I’m not altogether sure about that, as demonstrated by their long silences while they watched. If viewers are captured by the story then they will ignore anything affected by budget and I doubt anyone would expect TV to have the same kind of budget as cinema even today, although they are a lot closer these days thanks to CGI.

Apart from a photo gallery, the only other extra is unused footage from the series. Considering that Hitchcliffe points out that this was one of the most important stories from his tenure, it’s a shame so little was done for extras to get the DVD series rolling. Saying that, if you’re collecting ‘Who’, then you don’t want to miss this story. It holds up well and even manages to hide who the real enemy is until the last episode.

GF Willmetts

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