Entertainment Magazine

Review #3089: Classic Doctor Who: “Robot”

Posted on the 27 October 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Written by Terrance Dicks
Directed by Christopher Barry

This is the very first serial with the Fourth Doctor, but it might as well be a coda for the entire Third Doctor era. It has all the standard trappings of the Pertwee years: involvement with UNIT, an Earthbound problem borne out of a societal metaphor, and even some similarities with “Spearhead from Space”. Of course, it’s also the sendoff for the production team behind the Third Doctor era, so perhaps this makes a bit of sense.

Review #3089: Classic Doctor Who: “Robot”

Legend has it that this script was developed before they even had the Fourth Doctor cast, so the writers were hedging their bets to a certain extent. The result is a rather pedestrian start to a classic era, with the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and upcoming companion Harry Sullivan trying to defeat a robot gone amuck. To say that this is a thinly-veiled commentary on the proliferation of technology is an understatement.

As someone more versed in the NuWho era, I always find myself seeing elements of the classic Doctors in the new incarnations. In this case, I am once again impressed by how the Eleventh Doctor is a neat amalgamation of so many previous versions. While there is a lot of the Second Doctor in the Eleventh, his manic side could very well be a combination of the Fourth and Tenth Doctors. As portrayed at the start, at any rate, the Fourth Doctor returns to the clownish qualities of the Second, but with all the shrewd and arrogant intelligence of the Third.

In contrast, Harry plays something of the straight man to the Doctor’s mania, though not without a certain level of whimsy of his own. This is a good thing, because it seems that the writers realized that it was getting too formulaic to have just a young woman traveling with the Doctor, leaving a large cast of lesser recurring characters to fill out the stories. With a return to the space/time travels just around the bend, after all, it couldn’t be just the Doctor and Sarah Jane.

As semi-sendoffs go, this is not the worst showing for UNIT and the Brigadier. Sure, the Doctor makes him look stupid far too often (actually, the writers use him to make the Doctor look more intelligent and perceptive), but he does show some of the old spark as the looming nuclear threat takes hold.

The biggest problem is that the titular robot is just plain silly. It’s just another stand-in for yet another menacing artificial intelligence. It doesn’t matter which version of the Doctor it is; some plots just get tedious. If it wasn’t for the fact that the new Doctor practically begs the audience to notice all the quirky personality differences, this would have been even more boring than it already was.

But for all the Third Doctor trappings, it does address the one thing that had been hanging over the series since “The Three Doctors”: why does the Doctor remain bound by seeming obligation to UNIT anymore? The Fourth Doctor’s arrival makes it somewhat moot; he simply doesn’t consider himself bound by those constraints, and that’s that.

In the end, if “Robot” succeeds at all, it has little to do with the script, and everything to do with Tom Baker’s take on the role of the Doctor. As written, the wrong actor could have made a mess of it. Instead, this firmly establishes Baker in the central role, and the chemistry between the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry is evident from the start. With “Robot” now out of the way, the swan song of the Third Doctor story mentality, the series can start off the new era properly.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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