a real world point of view
|The Robots of Death|
|Novelised as:||Doctor Who and the Robots of Death|
|Adapted into:||Robots of Death (stage play)|
|Main enemy:||Taren Capel|
|Main setting:||Sandminer Storm Mine 4, 2881|
|Number of episodes:||4|
|Premiere broadcast:||29 January - 19 February 1977|
|Doctor Who television stories|
|The Face of Evil||The Talons of Weng-Chiang|
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 minerals 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, 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 engineer named Zilda is murdered, and Poul - sent to the room to investigate Zilda's accusations of murder against Commander Uvanov over a tannoy system - finds the Commander over Zilda's body and has him confined to his quarters for murdering Zilda.
With Zilda dead, the sandminer's engines begin to run out of control, threatening the vehicle with destruction.
Part Three Edit
It is found that Borg, the human responsible for controlling power to the motors, has been viciously strangled, and the controls have been sabotaged. The Doctor saves the miner by cutting off the power to the motors, while Dask repairs the damaged 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, who 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. 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. A robot enters the workshop with orders to kill him.
Part Four Edit
Dask shuts down all of the robots whose programming has not been changed, leaving just the killer robots and D84 operational. Dask is later revealed to be the mad scientist 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. Leela shows the Doctor a damaged robot in the storage bay with its hand covered in blood - which the Doctor reasons is Borg's, guessing that Borg 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. The Doctor hides Leela in Taren's workshop 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.
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.
- The Doctor - Tom Baker
- Leela - Louise Jameson
- Uvanov - Russell Hunter
- Toos - Pamela Salem
- Dask / Taren Capel - David Bailie
- Chub - Rob Edwards
- Borg - Brian Croucher
- Cass - Tariq Yunus
- Poul - David Collings
- Zilda - Tania Rogers
- D84 - Gregory de Polnay
- SV7 - Miles Fothergill
- Robots - Mark Blackwell Baker, John Bleasdale, Mark Cooper, Peter Langtry, Jeremy Ranchev, Richard Seager
- Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
- Script Editor - Robert Holmes
- Writer - Chris Boucher
- Directors - Michael E. Briant, Peter Grimwade
- Designer - Kenneth Sharp
- Costumes - Elizabeth Waller
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Assistant Floor Manager - David Tilley
- Film Cameraman - Peter Chapman
- Make-Up - Ann Briggs
- Production Assistant - Peter Grimwade
- Production Unit Manager - Chris D'Oyly-John
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Duncan Brown
- Studio Sound - Tony Millier
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - Richard Conway
- The Doctor claims to have seen similar 'moving mines' on Korlano Beta.
- The Doctor uses a respiratory bypass system to avoid inhaling helium.
- The Doctor claims to be 750 years old.
- The human crew of the Storm Mine includes a commander, a pilot, a chief mover and a chief fixer. Also on board is a government meteorologist conducting experiments with weather balloons.
- 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.
- 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 'the Company', promising a 'robot revolution', which resulted them putting agents D84 and Poul on board the Storm Mine as a precaution.
- Kaldor City is mentioned. There are 20 founding families.
- The unnamed planet (on-screen) is covered in a hundred million miles of rocky uncharted desert.
- The Storm Mine has to keep moving otherwise it will sink into the 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.
- 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.
- Voc-class robots have over a million circuit constrainers to prevent them from harming humans.
- Deactivated robots are returned to construction centres bering deactivation discs, nicknamed corpse markers.
- 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.
- 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 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, and usually they have to be returned to the construction centers to be reactivated.
- Taren Capel alters them 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.
- 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.
- There have been several influences suggested for Robots of Death:
- This story was obviously based on Isaac Asimov's robot mysteries, such as I, Robot. In particular, the human/robot police duo Elijah Bailey and R Daneel Olivaw from Caves of Steel and its sequels may be the inspiration for the Poul/D84 pair. Prominent mention is made of Asimov's First Law of Robotics: "A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm."
- Another inspiration for the story was Agatha Christie's novel, And Then There Were None, in which several people on an island are murdered one by one.
- The sandminer setting is based on Frank Herbert's Dune.
- Poul's name is derived from science-fiction author Poul Anderson. In PROSE: Corpse Marker, also written by Boucher, the characters full name is given as 'Ander Poul'.
- Taren Capel's name comes from Karel Capek, whose play R.U.R. introduced the word 'robot'.
- Also, Uvanov's name suggests Issac Asimov; Borg's name suggests the word 'cyborg'.
- The story's thematic basis in body language was influenced by Desmond Morris' Manwatching. 
- 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.
- 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]
- Part 1 - 12.8 million viewers
- Part 2 - 12.4 million viewers
- Part 3 - 13.1 million viewers
- Part 4 - 12.6 million viewers
- 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 gin up 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.)
BBC rebroadcast Edit
On 24 December and 31 December 1977, the BBC rebroadcast 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
- The Doctor's scarf vanishes while he's detained in the crew's quarters.
- When Leela bandages Toos' 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 visible slipped low in her eye, showing her natural blue eye colour, while the contact can still be seen as a dark spot in the corner of her eye.
- The characters from this episode reappear in several of Chris Boucher's later novels, starting with PROSE: Corpse Marker, and continuing in the Kaldor City spinoffs.
- The Doctor offers Borg a jelly baby. When the Eleventh Doctor has a ganger made of him, the ganger has difficulty adjusting to the Doctor's memories, at one point blurting out, "Would you like a jelly baby?", in the voice of the Fourth Doctor. (TV: The Almost People)
- The Kaldor City Company would later cover up this incident. (AUDIO: Robophobia)
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.
- PAL - BBC DVD BBCDVD1012
- NTSC - Warner Video E1120
- In-Studio - Section of material without sound effects, music, or voice-dubbing.
- Continuities by Howard Da Silva (Region 1 only)
- Model Sequences
- Studio Floor Plans
- Photo Gallery
- Commentary: Chris Boucher and Philip Hinchcliffe
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
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.
- First Release:
Notes: This story was released in an edited movie-format.
- Second Release:
Notes: This story was released unedited.
- The Robots of Death at the BBC's official site
- The Robots of Death at BroaDWcast
- Detailed synopsis of The Robots of Death at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- The Robots of Death at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)