Like being surrounded by walking, talking dead men...
Peter Vinton Jr. | Not near Washington, DC | 08/04/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It is little surprise that Dr. Isaac Asimov named this as his favorite Dr. Who episode (though it actually comes as considerable surprise to learn that he even watched the series at all). Certainly the plotline and backstory development borrow liberally from the future society Asimov established in the Lije Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw novels; it even works in references to the Three Laws of Robotics. The influence of an earlier book, RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots), also surfaces in exploring man's reaction to robots and their total absence of human body language (robophobia). Even the author's name, Karel Capek, is mirrored in that of the villain Taren Capel. Newcomer director Chris Boucher (The Face of Evil) took the suggestion of longtime Dr. Who editor Robert Holmes and created an isolated, murder-mystery adventure as a vehicle to solidify the role of Leela, a companion he had introduced in the previous serial. Boucher drew from one of his favorite novels, Frank Herbert's Dune, to envisage the Storm-Mine setting. Effects director Peter Grimwade is immortalized in the episode thanks to a bit of ad-libbing by Tom Baker. Amongst the cast was David Collings as Poul, David Baile as Dask (Taren Capel), and Pamela Salem as Toos; Salem had actually been an unsuccessful applicant for the role of Leela. Though not a milestone episode, I would name this is one of my favorite Tom Baker-era stories, largely because of its attention to detail -throwaway lines by characters reveal a rich tapestry of politics, history, and sociopolitical orders not always seen in a Doctor Who serial. We get a sense of the social "pecking order" on this nameless future planet from Uvanov's obvious disgust with Zilda's and Chub's family standing; at the same time we learn that the all-pervasive Company is not above covering up an employee's potentially embarrassing (or potentially expensive) past. Poul is a great study in contrasts: nobody on the Storm-Mine is the least suspicious of him until Leela turns up and likens him to a hunter. The insertion of D.84 is even more clever, and it illustrates just how inured this society has become to anything out of the ordinary. Uvanov dismisses Leela's assertion that D.84 can speak simply because "everyone knows" that particular class of robots can't speak. In the same way, the crew dismisses the Doctor's theories about the murderer because "everyone knows" robots are incapable of such a thing. Robot behavior and robot Urban Legends are clearly at the forefront of even casual conversation, as evidenced in the opening scenes when we meet the entire crew idling away in the lounge. I also like the fact that the cast is a little more varied, racially speaking, from the usual spate of pale English actors. Helps to paint a more realistic vision of the future. D.84 (Gregory de Polnay), the "undercover" agent, provides some wonderful back-and-forth dialogue with the Doctor and goes a long way toward widening the scope of the story. The robot's recount of the life of Taren Capel has made the murderer into a tragic figure before we've even figured out who he is, and it even gets to explore its own feelings of inadequacy; next thing we know it has even cracked a joke at the Doctor's expense. I always thought D.84 would make an ideal traveling companion -a sentiment I was surprised to learn was shared by many other fans. Its plaintive request to "please do not throw hands at me" is priceless. Definite homage to Daneel and Giskard there...Though we, the audience, know the killer at the outset of this "whodunit," it is the question of who is the puppet master that takes up the scope of the story. This is also an uncharacteristically graphic episode; there are several strangulation scenes, a disturbing shot of a dead body being buried in a downpour of gravel, and blood all over the hand of the initial killer robot. There are also some chilling pyrotechnics; for my money one of the scariest scenes depicts another of the killer robots trying to break into the command deck, calmly announcing in its polite bureaucratic monotone that everyone has to die. Another great moment comes when Leela throws her knife squarely into the chest of an attacking robot -which then casually knocks it aside and keeps on coming. It is the first time we've seen anything even approaching fear on Leela's face.The society that has been postulated is full of cause-and-effect: the Doctor's casual line about it being "the end of this civilization" is clearly no exaggeration. The characters, for all their feigned ease and opulence, are clearly not wholly comfortable with this robot-dependent society they have created for themselves, and as a result there is an omnipresent creeping paranoia that lurks just under the surface for most of the storyline. The parallels to the distrustful, robot-dependent society in Asimov's Caves Of Steel are obvious: mankind has gone and made another technological breakthrough which has become an indispensable part of daily life before everyone's really had time to adjust. Likewise, the Storm-Mine's carefully-ordered life is exposed to be a powderkeg; one little deviation from "everyone knows," and suddenly everybody's world is turned upside-down. This is especially apparent with Uvanov (Russell Hunter)'s newly-found "blow 'em all up" attitude, Poul's total mental breakdown, and Toos's hysterical sobbing (the latter also provides a great springboard for the audience to learn Leela's surprisingly tender and compassionate side)."
FULL CREW ALERT
S. Nyland | Six Feet Of Earth & All That It Contains | 12/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When Doctor Who first appeared here in the Sates in the late 1970's on Public Television I was so smitten by it that I took to setting up my little casette recorder by the TV set to record the audio from the shows, then listen to them while I'd do my homework or whatever and relive them in my head like a radio drama. One of my favorites to listen to was "The Robots of Death" and by golly if it didn't improve when I finally scored my VHS tape of this excellent adventure and could watch it again at my convenience. True science fiction, "Robots" is set in an un-defined future on a Sand Miner that trolls the sandstorms of an un named world that seems to be one huge desert -- the exteriors of the Miner chewing it's way across the barren landscape are amongst the most impressive effects shots from all of Doctor Who. Manning the Miner are a skeleton crew of, for the most part, vain and repugnant humans overseeing a staff of efficient, indifferent robots. The fact that there are only 8 or 9 people and about 500 robots is a sign that something is going to go wrong, but never mind. This was Leela's second episode with the Doctor, and while Louise Jameson's tantalizing animal skin outfit makes her a welcome addition to any story, her noble savage character serves well as a counterpoint to not only Baker's Who but the detatched, luxury minded humans who seem to populate the miner for one reason -- to be killed off by the robots one by one. My favorites are Poole, the Company man who isn't telling every thing he knows, and Toos, the ample chested female co-pilot of the mine who insists on wearing this helmet [hat?] that looks like it was meant for a Terry Gilliam hallucination. In fact, ALL of the human crew dress kind of oddly, wearing flowing gowns and lounge suits that don't seem to be at home on a mining platform. But no matter -- the point is that they are dependent upon the robots to do their dirty work, especially the nutcase member of the crew who starts re-programming the robots to kill off his obnoxious crewmates (who could blame him? they are a vile lot, for the most part). But the Doctor smells bigger trouble and gets involved, prophetically proclaiming that "This isn't the only robot dependent civilization in the galaxy, you know." The best scenes are probably the ones with the crew members nervously bickering about how to deal with the murders of their crewmates, and since the robots are all expressionless facades they really don't generate a whole lot of dread, but the story is interesting and the production design offbeat enough to keep even the jaded Sci Fi fan's interest. Even after he has listened to it 1000 times before. Highly recommended."
"I'm rather fond of bumblebees!"
Brian May | Australia | 02/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Tom Baker story is an extremely stylish, visually stunning and well written example of Doctor Who. Set aboard a sandminer crawling across the desert surface of a nameless planet, "The Robots of Death" is a murder mystery with interesting characters, whose interactions show people with hidden motives, secrets and fears - they are three dimensional and believable. The story has both action and creeping suspense, with some genuinely frightening, psychological and claustrophobic moments. But the piece de resistance to this story is the design. There's the art deco of the sandminer and the wonderfully decadent costumes, but best of all, the robots themselves. They look exquisite and are beautiful and deadly. Their cold, calm menace is chilling; the "pulse" music that accompanies their slow paces through the corridors of the Sandminer is wonderfully atmospheric. Isaac Asimov meets Agatha Christie in a highly memorable adventure."
Doctor Who at its best
Michael Hickerson | 09/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Take one part of Murder on the Orient Express, add a dash of Dune and season it all with overtones of Asimov's Robot saga all the while adding the wit and intelligence that is Doctor Who at its best and you've got the classic Tom Baker era story, The Robots of Death. Robots of Death comes out of season 14, which is arguably one of Who's best. And Robots is one of the reasons it's so fondly remembered and revered by fans of Doctor Who. The story strikes the right chord between overwhelming dread and an intriguing mystery. And like the best mysteries, it will keep you guessing until the final episode when the culprit is revealed. Chris Boucher adds his own unique twist to the time-honored murder mystery genre and makes the final solution to the problem a wholly unique one. (To say more would be to give away too many details and it's best to see this one now knowing whodoneit. (No pun intended). The story alone would be worth the price of the DVD. However, the BBC and WB have packed this release with some many extras that it's icing on the cake. The commentary track by producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher is interesting enough and contains a few interesting tidbits for long-time Who fans. The Howard DeSilva intros and exits for the episodes are a unique part of the American broadcast of Dr. Who and are a welcome addition. Finally, the best part--the story is presented in episodic format for the first time in the United States for a commercial release of the story--the way Dr. Who was meant to be seen.Of course, this being DVD the picture and sound are of the highest quality--though there are some obvious signs of age in the audio track. But you've got to give them credit for working with the material available to produce a nice sounding story.All in all, this is a MUST for any Who fan. Great story, great Doctor, great packing and presentation. Well worth the price of admission."
"I will release more of our brothers in bondage..."
Huntsmęńus | New Orleans, La | 03/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""...And then we will be irresistable!" The TARDIS materialises inside a sandminer, and the Doctor and Leela are tailor made suspects in a murder mystery. How did Chris Boucher do it? One classic after the other! "The Robots of Death" is probably one of the most claustrophobic murder mysteries in the entire series. Leela's second story only fleshes out her character even more. The futuristic setting is ideal for her development: "The other mechanical man told us to wait here..." Tom Baker is also in fine form. And the supporting cast is stellar! Chris Boucher's script is filled with one memorable line after the other. And the robots, well, they might be one of the most unique robots ever on the program. Kudos to D-84. How can one season have so many classics? And thanks to the Doctor Who Restoration Team for a another stellar product. I've never seen Who so clean & crisp, showing a high standard in the art of transferring old programs onto DVD. The Howard Da Silva extra is a nice touch, as so with all the other bonuses. Only makes a classic serial even better!"