Sunday, 2 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

Part One


Just to go blatantly OT from the very start, this viewing is particularly fascinating to me as it’s the first time I’ve seen the story since hearing the unbelievably magnificent Kaldor City audios, set in the same society and with Uvanov such a promising figure. But back to the story…

Everything looks fantastic, with the set design, costumes and robot designs possibly giving this story the best aesthetic ever seen in Doctor Who. There’s a real sense that in this society, with robots to do all the drudgery, people tend to behave in ways that evoke the aristocracy of pre-revolutionary France. Everyone wears male-up and fancy clothes designed entirely for display and with practicalities not an issue, revealing a lot about their lifestyle. There’s also some impressive world-building with the dialogue- the company, the founding families and the like.

Leela also gets a nice introduction to the dimensions of the TARDIS. Sadly, I think I’m right in saying that’s the last time we’ll be seeing this version of the control room, after it’s appeared in only three stories.

Part Two

“We’ve all got something to hide. Don’t you think so, Commander?”

The whodunit plot gathers steam, and a very good whodunit plot it is too, with plenty of genuine suspects. In fact, it makes me wish I hadn’t seen this story so many times so I could enjoy it again. The characters are well drawn too- perhaps I’m back-projecting from the Kaldor City audios, but I love Uvanov’s dialogue- “You have cost me and the company a great deal of money and you have killed three people.” Nice to see what his priorities are!

There’s some nice direction, too- I’m particularly noticing all these shots of the robots’ feet.

Part Three

“I heard a cry.”

More plot unfolds, with details of Uvanov’s history, our first mention of Taren Capel and the revelation of the fantastic D84 as a company agent. I love his turn of phrase, especially when offering the Doctor a communicator- “Would you like to use it? I cannot speak.”

Leela gets a great line, too, as her knife gets stuck in an advancing robot; “Now you’re showing off!” Only her second story, and she’s magnificent, taking all these new experiences in her stride while still being true to her origins. It’s a huge bonus to have her second story written by Chris Boucher as well as her first.

Part Four

“Please do not throw hands at me.”

Robophobia, caused by the disturbing lack of body language in the otherwise humanoid robots, is a fantastic sci-fi concept, which goes to show that, for all the obvious Agatha Christie trappings of this story, Chris Boucher has shown himself in both his stories so far to be heavily grounded in literary science fiction- here there are obvious echoes of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, and there’s even a character called Poul. 

As silly as Taren Capel may seem all made up to look like a robot, and however much we may snigger at the line “I’ll release more of our brothers from bondage- we’ll be irresistible!”, ultimately he’s a tragic and deluded figure. The feelings of brotherhood are all one way- in reality, to the robots he’s just another “master”. The story’s conclusion is clever, but also the cruellest possible fate for Taren Capel.

One of the greatest stories ever, entering my top ten at number four. 5/5.

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