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The Robots of Death (TV story)

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RealWorld
The Robots of Death
D84 and Leela
Novelised as: Doctor Who and the Robots of Death
Adapted into: Robots of Death (stage play)
Doctor: Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): Leela
Main enemy: Taren Capel
Main setting: Storm Mine 4
Key crew
Writer: Chris Boucher
Director: Michael Briant
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Release details
Story number: 90
Number of episodes: 4
Season/series: Season 14
Premiere broadcast: 29 January - 19 February 1977
Premiere network: BBC1
Format: 4x25-minute episodes
Production code: 4R
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Memorable moment
Which box is bigger? - Dr Who - BBC sci-fi01:25

Which box is bigger? - Dr Who - BBC sci-fi

Another memorable moment
Would You Like a Jelly Baby? - Doctor Who - Robots of Death - BBC01:33

Would You Like a Jelly Baby? - Doctor Who - Robots of Death - BBC

Behind the scenes video
Special Feature - Corpsing - Doctor Who - The Robots of Death01:35

Special Feature - Corpsing - Doctor Who - The Robots of Death

More behind the scenes stuff
Special Feature - Mouse - Doctor Who - The Robots of Death02:06

Special Feature - Mouse - Doctor Who - The Robots of Death

The Robots of Death was the fifth story in season fourteen of Doctor Who. It saw the Super-Voc, Voc and Dum robots make their first, and only televised, appearance. The serial was based on the works of Agatha Christie, with a series of unexplained murders.

Chris Boucher was asked to write Robots after another serial fell through. He was chosen as his work on the preceding story The Face of Evil, had been widely appreciated. It was Philip Hinchcliffe who pushed the idea of a "robot story", despite script editor Robert Holmes' opinion that they were dull. Holmes was confident that he could produce a good script for an inclosed space, as the crew were aware the serial would be a studio bound one. Hinchcliffe suggested a setting akin to the machines featured in the 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, and so the sandminers were created.

Tom Baker was reportedly highly critical of the script. He complained to Boucher during the initial read through and later voiced his derogatory opinions of the story to director Michael E. Briant. According to Briant, this was because Baker wanted the Doctor to display certain characteristics of his imagining. (DOC: The Sandmine Murders)

Synopsis Edit

The Fourth Doctor and Leela land aboard a sandminer, whose crew are being murdered one by one.

Plot Edit

Part One Edit

On a distant planet, a huge sandminer vehicle, Storm Mine 4, is slowly scraping the surface of a vast, barren desert in search of precious minerals. The sandminer is manned by nine humans and numerous robots - black 'Dums' that cannot speak, pale green 'Vocs', and a silver 'Super-Voc' which controls all the 'Dums' and 'Vocs'. The robots conduct a routine scan of the area and locate a large sandstorm, which the humans decide to pursue, as the storm will bring heavier and more valuable minerals such as lucanol to the surface. One of the humans, a meteorologist called Chub, goes to collect an instrument package to place into his weather balloon to study the storm. However, he is later found strangled.

At about this time, the TARDIS materialises in one of the scoops. After the Doctor and Leela emerge from the TARDIS, it is removed by a large mechanical arm as it is blocking the scoop. Later, the Doctor and Leela are brought out of the scoop by two robots and locked in a room. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, and goes in search of the TARDIS, while Leela finds Chub's body being taken away by some robots.

The human crew suspects the two time travellers of murdering Chub, and tensions increase when it is found that they have left the room in which they were locked. The Doctor and Leela are separated, with the Doctor finding a second dead man, Kerral, in a hopper which starts to fill with sand that buries them both...

Part Two Edit

The Doctor survives by using a blowpipe poking up through the sand which he breathes through. Both he and Leela, who has found a third dead man, Cass, and a 'Dum' robot which can secretly speak, are recaptured. Commander Uvanov orders them to be locked up in the robot storage bay, on suspicion of killing all three humans.

One of the humans, Chief Mover Poul, believes the Doctor and Leela to be innocent, so he frees them and shows them where Chub was murdered. There, the Doctor convinces Poul that a robot may have killed the meteorologist. While this is happening, a female crewmember named Zilda is murdered, who accuses Uvanov of murder over the tannoy system. Poul - sent to Uvanov's quarters to investigate - finds the Commander bending over Zilda's body. He has him confined to his quarters on suspicion of murdering Zilda.

Shortly afterwards, the engineer, Borg, who is responsible for controlling power to the motors is found dead, and the sandminer's engines begin to run out of control, threatening the vehicle with destruction. A frantic Toos shrieks "She's going!!"

Part Three Edit

The Doctor saves the miner by cutting off the power to the motors, while Dask repairs the damaged - and sabotaged - controls so that the miner can continue on its way.

The Doctor goes to see the 'Dum' robot that Leela claimed could speak, D84. The robot reveals that it and Poul are undercover agents for the mining company. They were placed on board the miner as a precaution to threats of a "robot revolution" by a scientist called Taren Capel, who was raised by robots and considers himself to be one. D84 itself is unique in the fact that it can function autonomously from Super Voc SV7's commands, and appears to possess a high level of logical reasoning.

The Doctor and D84 search the miner for proof that Taren Capel is on board, and find a secret workshop where the robots' programming has been changed to enable them to kill humans. The Doctor arranges for all the remaining humans to go to the command deck. Uvanov arrives after escaping confinement to confront the Doctor, but is surprised to see a robot enter the workshop. It proves to have orders to kill the Doctor, and grabs him by the throat...

Part Four Edit

The Doctor and Uvanov manage to escape and head for the control deck. Someone (presumably Dask, whose responsibilities include robots) shuts down all of the robots whose programming has not been changed, leaving just the killer robots and D84 operational. Looking around the miner, Leela stumbles on Poul hiding in the storage bay: he has gone mad and is suffering from robophobia. She then tracks down Toos in her quarters, who has just been attacked by another rogue robot, and takes her to the control deck to join the Doctor and Uvanov. The human crew are surprised by D84's arrival carrying a near-catatonic Poul, but the Doctor explains the pair's real functions as undercover agents. Looking at his Chief Mover, Uvanov sadly remembers another crewmember losing his mind to robophobia years earlier who ran outside to escape them and died; it was Zilda's brother, hence her accusation of murder. SV7 - whose programming has now been changed - tells them to come out and die, but Toos and Uvanov decide to defend themselves.

Dask is later revealed to be Taren Capel, intent on "releasing [his] 'brothers' (the robots) from bondage to human dross" and "programming them with an ambition to rule the world".

Taren Capel orders his modified robots to destroy the remaining humans and the Doctor and Leela. Uvanov and Toos get to work on modifying some Z9 explosives to destroy the robots. In the storage bay Leela finds a damaged robot with its hand covered in blood - which the Doctor reasons is Borg's. He had been the only one strong enough to even try to fight back, and may even have sabotaged the engine controls in a suicidal attempt to destroy the miner and all the killer robots on board. The Doctor dismantles the damaged robot and creates a final deactivator - a device that will destroy any still functioning robots at close range. In the process, he tries to explain to Leela how robophobia works. Robots do not display any body language, which the sensitive Leela had already picked up - calling them "creepy mechanical men" - and despite the fact most robots are built in humanoid form, some people are so unnerved that they become terrified of them. The pair head back to Taren Capel's hidden workshop, where the Doctor hides Leela with a canister of helium gas, telling her to release it when Taren comes in. The Doctor hopes that this will change Taren's voice, so his robots - unable to recognise him - will not obey his orders and turn on him.

Robots kill taren

The Doctor tricks and evades the killer robots.

Taren arrives and damages D84, but the robot is able to activate the Doctor's device to destroy a killer robot, knowingly sacrificing itself in the process. Leela releases the helium gas, causing Taren's voice to become high-pitched and squeaky, and Taren is killed by SV7 when it fails to identify his voice. The Doctor then destroys SV7 with a laser probe.

The robot threat over, and a rescue ship coming to collect the surviving humans, the Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS and leave the sandminer.

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

References Edit

Individuals Edit

  • The Doctor claims to have seen similar 'moving mines' on Korlano Beta.
  • The Doctor uses a respiratory bypass system to avoid inhaling helium; Leela, however, can't avoid the squeaky-voiced results and is promptly dubbed "mouse" by the Doctor, much to her annoyance.
  • The Doctor claims to be 750 years old.
  • The human crew of the Storm Mine includes a Commander (Uvanov), a Pilot (Toos), a Chief Mover (Poul) and a Chief Fixer (Dask). Also on board is a government meteorologist (Chub) conducting experiments with weather balloons.
  • Zilda is a member of one of the Founding Families, which is apparently in some financial difficulty (Uvanov: "Cheer up, Zilda, I'll make your family rich again."). Her (unnamed) brother died on a storm mine under Uvanov's command years earlier, and she may have joined the crew with the intention of exposing his actions.
  • Uvanov first commanded a storm mine 10 years ago. He is known for getting good results, and such expects to be richer than some of the Founding Family members. This record saved his career after Zilda's brother died after developing robophobia and fleeing the miner he (Uvanov) was commanding. As the mere idea of a Founding Family member developing robophobia would have been scandalous, the affair was hushed up, with only a note in his personal record about the incident.
  • Taren Capel was an important scientist in the field of robotics before he disappeared. He lived with robots as a child, and so thinks of himself as one. He previously sent threatening letters to the Company running the sandminer promising a "robot revolution", which resulted them putting agents D84 and Poul on board the Storm Mine as a precaution.

Locations Edit

  • Kaldor City is mentioned. There are 20 Founding Families, who have higher status than others.
  • The unnamed planet (on-screen) is covered in a hundred million miles of rocky uncharted desert.
  • Storm Mine travels across the shifting deserts, extracting minerals such as zelanite, keefan and (most importantly) lucanol.
  • The Storm Mine is 8 months into a 2 year tour of the desert.

Objects Edit

  • The Doctor's pockets contain a breathing tube and a pocket-sized torch.
  • A satellite distress beacon can be used to contact base from the Storm Mine.
  • Explosives are kept on board the Storm Mine — half a dozen Z9 electron packs, capable of destroying one robot per charge.
  • The Storm Mine is capable of recycling the water on board, but ruins the taste in the process.

Robots Edit

  • Voc-class robots have over a million circuit constrainers to prevent them from harming humans.
  • Deactivated robots are returned to construction centres bearing deactivation discs, nicknamed "corpse markers" by technicians.
  • Robophobia is an irrational fear of robots. 'The Loii' refer to it as 'Grimwade's Syndrome', Grimwade being a theorist in this field.
  • 10 years ago aboard a sandminer, under Uvanov's command, a young man got robophobia and ran out into the desert and died. The incident was hushed up because of Uvanov's outstanding results for the Company, with only a note in his records. The youth was Zilda's brother.
  • There are officially three classes of robots:
    • Dums, single-function labour models, incapable of speech.
    • Vocs, capable of speech, make up the largest part of the robot population aboard Storm Mine Four.
    • Super-Voc, acts as a co-ordinator, capable of issuing instructions to other robots; only one - SV7 - is aboard Storm Mine Four.
      • D84, seemingly none of the above although officially classed as a Dum in order to remain undercover. It is self-willed and is capable of showing emotion.
  • Robots are capable of outrunning humans.
  • Robots have been known to go wrong, but only when there's an error in their programming.
  • A stop-circuit can be used to turn off all the robots. Usually they have to be returned to the construction centres to be reactivated once this has occurred.
  • Taren Capel alters the robots by using a secondary command channel and/or a Laserson probe to turn them into killers.
  • It is the Chief Fixer's job to attend to damaged robots.

Allusions Edit

  • Leela's tribe has a saying: "If you're bleeding, look for a man with scars."

Story notes Edit

  • This story had the working titles The Storm-Mine Murders and Planet of the Robots.
  • This is one of the few stories which explains, in relative simplicity, using a demonstration with two boxes, how the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental.
  • This story is the last one in which the wood-panelled TARDIS control room appears, as the wooden walls warped whilst the set was in storage.
  • There have been several influences suggested for Robots of Death:
  • Robophobia — an irrational fear of robots — is at one point referred to as 'Grimwade's syndrome'. This was an in-joke reference to production assistant Peter Grimwade (later to become a director and writer on the series) who had bemoaned the fact that the stories on which he was assigned to work almost always involved robots. However, the description of robophobia given by the Doctor in fact coincides with a real-life phenomenon called the Uncanny Valley.
  • An observant viewer would know the identity of the murderer as early as part two, from the scene in which Capel delivers a corpse marker to a robot. While only his legs and feet are shown, the distinctive grey and black stripes of Dask's pants are visible.
  • The precise setting of this story is disputed. Some expanded universe material places it on Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, despite the fact the story suggests the atmosphere outside the sandminer is breathable and the presence of a vast sandy desert is somewhat integral to the plot (neither of which would be the case on Io). (PROSE: Legacy) COMIC: Crisis on Kaldor places it on the planet Kaldor. The Kaldor City audio series does not explicitly state name of the planet, although the inference seems to be that the planet's name is Kaldor. Regarding the year the story takes place (which is never given onscreen), The Doctor Who Programme Guide places it circa 30,000, but The Terrestrial Index (by the same author) redates it to the 51st century. Timelink places it in 2777. A History of the Universe and the first two editions of aHistory arbitrarily places the story in 2877, but the third edition redates it to 2881, based on evidence from the Kaldor City audio series.
  • Decades later, the episodes The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and Planet of the Ood would also feature subservient creatures (albeit living ones this time) turning on their masters after being manipulated; like the robots, the Oods' eyes would also glow red when under this influence.
  • The Heavenly Host in TV: Voyage of the Damned bear many similarities to the robots in this story. Not only do they look vaguely similar, they also have a habit of chanting, "Kill, kill, kill!", and one even has to remove its hand after getting it trapped in a door.
  • A sound clip from this serial is used in TV: The Almost People, when the Eleventh Doctor's ganger at one point blurts out, "Would you like a jelly baby?" in the voice of the Fourth Doctor. [source needed]

Ratings Edit

  • Part one - 12.8 million viewers
  • Part two - 12.4 million viewers
  • Part three - 13.1 million viewers
  • Part four - 12.6 million viewers

Myths Edit

  • The production team considered keeping Pamela Salem (Toos) on as a regular. (This was never considered, but Salem's publicist encouraged members of the press to believe it, to gain publicity for his client.)
  • A Storm Mine is commonly known as a 'Sandminer' . (According to Chris Boucher, these vehicles are officially called 'Storm Mines' and 'Sandminer' is just the word the Fourth Doctor uses. As the Doctor has seen this sort of thing before on Korlano Beta, it is likely that 'Sandminer' is specifically the Korlano name, not used in these parts.)[2]

BBC repeat Edit

On 24 December and 31 December 1977, the BBC repeated The Robots of Death as a holiday season special during an interval between its broadcasts of TV: The Sun Makers and TV: Underworld. The four episodes were edited together to form two approx. 50-minute episodes. This is the earliest known occasion in which Doctor Who was broadcast in this format, which would be attempted again with TV: Resurrection of the Daleks, then again for one season in 1985, and finally become the standard beginning in 2005.

Filming locations Edit

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • The Doctor's scarf vanishes while he's detained in the crew's quarters.
  • When Leela bandages Toos's arm, someone is visible on the edge of the set.
  • In spite of editing, Leela's knife throw is clearly travelling way off-target (on a downward trajectory) and could not possibly have hit its mark (the robot) as shown.
  • When Leela and the Doctor are talking about the robots after having been placed in a crew lounge, one of Louise Jameson's contacts can be seen to have slipped down, showing her natural blue eye colour. The contact can still be seen as a dark spot in the corner of her eye.

Continuity Edit

Home video and audio releases Edit

DVD releases Edit

Released as Doctor Who: The Robots of Death, this was the first 'proper' title in the BBC DVD range of Doctor Who DVDs. It marked the debut of the 'roundel' template that didn't prove popular with fans (although it has remained to date as the DVD template) and is the only one in the range not to feature production subtitles. The continuities were meant to be an Easter Egg, but an error was made by the Authoring House and they were included as a regular menu item. This early DVD release lacks subtitles.

Released:

PAL - BBC DVD BBCDVD1012
NTSC - Warner Video E1120

Extra features:

Rear Credits:

Notes:

A special edition of The Robots of Death DVD was released on the Revisitations 3 boxset, on the 13th February 2012. Other stories in the boxset are The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Three Doctors. The special edition features these extras:

  • Commentary #1 (from original release): producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher
  • Commentary #2: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Pamela Salem (Toos) and director Michael E. Briant
  • The Sandmine Murders: making-of documentary
  • Robophobia: humorous look at the history of robots by Toby Hadoke
  • Studio Sound: an example of a studio scene before the robot voices were added
  • Model Shots
  • Studio Floor Plan
  • Continuity Announcements
  • Radio Times Listings
  • Info Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • Coming Soon Trailer
  • Digitally Remastered Picture and sound quality.

VHS releases Edit

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Robots of Death.

Released:

  • First Release:
  • UK April 1986
PAL - BBC Video BBCV4108
NTSC - Warner Video E1120

Notes: This story was released in an edited movie-format.

  • Second Release:
  • UK February 1995
PAL - BBC Video BBCV5521

Notes: This story was released unedited.

External links Edit

Footnotes Edit

  1. 'The Discontinuity Guide' by Paul Cornell et al, page 205. Virgin Publishing Ltd, 1994.
  2. 'About Time, Volume 4: 1975-1979' by Lawrence Miles et al, page 140. Mad Norwegian Press, 2004.


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