‘THE ROBOTS OF DEATH’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
The Sandmine Murders with the Fourth Doctor and Leela
For David Collings
I love ‘The Robots of Death’! Even after seeing it again on Blu-ray, I still consider it one of the best ‘Doctor Who’ stories ever to be made in the Tom Baker era. Couple that with ‘City of Death’ and ‘The Keeper of Traken’, which I consider highlights in the Tom Baker era, it’s a deserved landmark classic!
As one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories, it stars Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. It’s a great classic adventure from the TV series that is essentially a murder mystery adventure with robots, set in the future. It’s a pretty well-directed story by Michael E. Briant.
‘The Robots of Death’ was originally released on DVD in 2000. The first time I purchased ‘The Robots of Death’ on DVD was on that 2000 release whilst I was on a holiday camp in Chichester. I purchased that along with ‘Battlefield’ with Sylvester McCoy. The original ‘Robots of Death’ DVD was appalling.
It had some badly designed menus and it had very few special features. There wasn’t even a making-of documentary to enjoy. Thankfully, the story was later re-released as a 2-disc Special Edition DVD in the ‘Revisitations 3’ DVD box set in 2011 (along with ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ with Patrick Troughton and ‘The Three Doctors’ with Jon Pertwee). I was very pleased to find that they re-released the tale.
I was very impressed with how the Special Edition DVD release of ‘The Robots of Death’ was presented compared to the efforts of the original 2000 DVD release. I’m very pleased with how ‘The Robots of Death’ now looks on Blu-ray with its DVD special features and its new Blu-ray ones added.
I’ve had the Special Edition DVD cover of ‘The Robots of Death’ signed by Louise Jameson at the ‘Pandorica 2014’ convention in Bristol, September 2014. As I said before in my review for ‘The Face of Evil’, Louise is a lovely lady to meet and chat to at conventions. I’ve had very nice photos with her.
It’s interesting to watch this as Leela’s second story in the ‘Doctor Who’ TV series and this was Leela’s first trip in the TARDIS with Tom Baker’s Doctor. I liked that first scene they had in the TARDIS where she practiced with a yoyo and she became annoyed, not realising she was meant to enjoy it. 🙂
It was also fun to see how the Doctor demonstrated to Leela how the TARDIS was bigger on the inside than it was out on the outside. It’s one of my favourite moments as the Doctor explains it to her with two boxes – one small and one big. In the end, Leela says the Doctor’s explanation was silly.
It’s one of those scenes in ‘Doctor Who’ where it’s not necessarily part of the story but it’s good to have it in featuring a scene between characters like the Doctor and Leela. I’m sure the Doctor’s explanation made sense to those watching ‘The Robots of Death’ at the time. It made sense to me. 😀
‘The Robots of Death’ is a four-part adventure by Chris Boucher, who of course previously wrote Leela’s debut in ‘The Face of Evil’. As I understand, Chris was brought in to write his second ‘Doctor Who’ story at the last minute due to a previous story falling through. Not sure which story that was.
It was probably a similar situation David Fisher went through when he provided two stories for ‘The Key To Time’ season. Or not as the case maybe! Either way, Chris Boucher provided two ‘Doctor Who’ stories for Season 14. It’s incredible that he wrote ‘The Robots of Death’ as an incredible piece.
The inspiration for this story came about from producer Philip Hinchcliffe who wanted to do a story about robots. Script editor Robert Holmes was reluctant about the idea, but Philip Hinchcliffe was very keen on exploring the concepts of robots which were established by the author Issac Asimov. 🙂
It was also decided to have the story written in the style of an Agatha Christie murder mystery-type of adventure. This I was pleased with when watching this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure. I’ve done a similar murder mystery with robot elements featured in my ‘Fifth Doctor’ story ‘The Space Hotel’. 😀
In the story, the Doctor and Leela visit this huge sandminer on a deserted alien world. They soon meet the human crew of the sandminer and they get drawn into a murder mystery where the crew get killed off one by one. It seems that the murderers happen to be their elegant robotic servants. 🙂
Now with the Agatha Christie elements of this story, there is a sense of the story being loosely based upon the novel called ‘And Then There Were None’. Not that I’ve read that book, but I’ve seen the 2015 BBC production (unfortunately) and I know what Agatha Christie’s style and approach is about.
I’ve also seen the film called ‘I, Robot’ with Will Smith, which was based on the novel of the same name by Issac Asimov. So I know about Asimov’s law of robotics which are three laws involving humans not permitted to harm other humans. This takes a turn for the worst in this TV adventure. 😮
With the human crew aboard the sandminer, most of them are an unsavoury bunch. They’re not the people you’d want to spend your time socialising with. They’re also not idealised ‘Star Trek’ types that get on well with each other in the idyllic future where poverty, greed and war are non-existent.
The sandminer crew are eager for profit after the end of their exploits in this two year mission they have. There’s also backstabbing and treachery involved, especially when the commander of the sandminer, Uvanov, is dismissing people and doesn’t seem to regard life highly above profits in this.
I’m not sure I want to live in the decadent landscape that’s featured in this story where the humans are dependent upon robotics and have lost their moral values. Their eye make-up is also undesirable. Who would want to walk around wearing eye make-up as ridiculous as that in this tale?
Also the idea of humanity being dependent on robots is a little disturbing when you think about it. It almost put me in mind of the Ood who were subservient to humans before they rebelled against their servants. I do wonder if the robots for this story were getting fed up of their human masters. 😀
The sets and the costume designs aboard the sandminer are beautiful mind. I would’ve done without the headdresses they wore, particularly Pamela Salem’s, but I like the Art Nouveau approach that director Michael E. Briant’s gone for in the costumes and the set designs for this story.
It is sort-of echoed in ‘The Keeper of Traken’ art design in costumes and sets too. 🙂 I’ve met Michael E. Briant once at the ‘Pandorica 2015’ convention where he signed my ‘Sea Devils’ cover for me. I enjoyed chatting to Michael at the convention and he’s clearly an inventive chap for this adventure.
Tom Baker is excellent as the Doctor in this adventure. I enjoyed how he and Leela interacted with each other in this story and it’s hard to believe that there was any tension between the two behind-the-scenes in the making of the series. It looks like Tom and Louise got on well with each other here.
In the story, the Doctor and Leela get accused for murdering people. It’s the Doctor who points out where no-one has considered that the robots could’ve done the killings. I liked it when the Doctor explained to Leela what Robophobia is and how a man like Poul has been affected by it in this story.
Louise Jameson is equally good as Leela in this adventure. As well as the first TARDIS scene between Leela and the Doctor, Leela does come across as pretty feisty as well as intelligent, despite being savage. She picks things up about what’s going on with the killings happening aboard the sandminer.
It’s almost amusing when Louise Jameson shares the story that she almost killed a cameraman when making ‘The Robots of Death’ when trying to throw a knife at a robot. It’s still amusing though when Leela got a squeaky voice after releasing helium from a canister for the murderer to be thwarted. 😀
The murder suspects featured in this story are as follows. There’s Russell Hunter as Commander Uvanov. In the story, Uvanov is rather belittling of people and is clearly concerned about making profits from the sandminer expedition more than the wellbeing of his crew. But is he the murderer?
Pamela Salem guest stars as Toos. I’ve seen Pamela Salem in an episode of ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ and she would later play Rachel Jensen in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and the ‘Counter-Measures’ audio series. Pamela/Toos is a very beautiful woman featured in this story, but is she the murderer?
David Collings guest stars as Poul. David Collings has been in ‘Doctor Who’ before in the story ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ and he later did ‘Mawdryn Undead’. He also played Legolas in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ radio series. Poul is willing to hear the Doctor and Leela’s story, but is he the murderer?
David Bailie guest stars as Dask. David Bailie would later do another ‘Doctor Who’ story with Big Finish where he played the Celestial Toymaker in ‘The Nightmare Fair’. Dask is clearly an expert on robots, knowing about the corpse marker devices they have, but does that mean he’s the murderer?
Brian Croucher guest stars as Borg. Brain Croucher would later go on to play Travis in the second series of ‘Blake’s 7’ after Stephen Greif played the character. Borg does come across as a jerk in this story, even telling the Doctor to shut up when being offered a jelly baby and even beating him up. 😮
Tania Rogers guest stars as Zilda. Zilda clearly doesn’t like Commander Uvanov and is even cruel to people like Borg when telling him that he has no friends. There seems to be this family history going on with Zilda and Uvanov as she lets out her anger on him on an intercom, accusing him for murder.
Tariq Yunus guest stars as Cass. Not really much to say about Cass, although it is nice that director Michael E. Briant has the crew aboard the sandminer being multi-national as possible, much like they did it in Cybermen stories from the 1960s like ‘The Moonbase’. But is Cass the murderer in this? 😐
Rob Edwards guest stars as Chub, who is the first person to get killed in the story. Yeah, there’s got to be a first person who gets killed in the story. Chub gets rather impatient when he asks one of the robots to help in a storage area before he realises he is about to get strangled and screams for help.
It’s good this story is self-contained inside the sandminer. We don’t go outside since it’s all filmed inside a studio. Any one of these people aboard the sandminer could be the murderer and you have to keep guessing and follow all the clues about what’s occurring and how these murders were made.
The landscape outside the sandminer is pretty harsh. I wonder how the sandminer crew are able to cope with being inside the sandminer all the time, even though they have luxurious rooms to contend with. They do run into obstacles once the sandminer crosses into some treacherous terrain.
The robots of death featured in this story are splendid! The sandminer robots have the look of being Edwardian servants. They’re not bog-standard robots that look outdated. They also have elegant and unnerving voices that sound very polite and friendly, before they’re about to kill you. 😀
The actors playing the robots are as follows. There’s Mark Blackwell Baker, John Bleasdale, Mark Cooper, Peter Langtry, Jeremy Ranchey and Richard Seager. The leader of the robots is SV7, played and voiced by Miles Fothergill. Miles Fothergill had to redub the robot’s voice after doing it in studio.
The robots are classed into three categories. There are the D-class robots (also known as Dums); the V-class robots (also known as Vocs) and the SV-class robots (also known as Super-Vocs). The Dums do not speak compared to the Vocs and the Super-Vocs as those robots are more sophisticated here.
However, there is one Dum robot that does speak and that happens to be Gregory de Polnay as D84. I like D84 as he’s a friendly robot that doesn’t kill. He helps the Doctor and Leela when investigating the murders and he happens to be working as an undercover spy along with another human aboard.
I liked some of the lines D84 says in this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure such as well as Leela attacks him and he goes, “Please do not throw hands at me!” It was also funny when D84 kept telling the Doctor “I heard a cry!” and the Doctor kept telling him, “That was me!” not realising Leela is in trouble here.
I’m surprised D84 didn’t end up joining the Doctor and Leela as a companion. I think that would’ve been a great idea had the production team pursued it. It certainly would’ve been a better robot companion than Kamelion. Though I suppose we should be happy we got K-9. K-9 is a superb dog! 😀
It is quite disturbing when we see people about to be killed off by robots from the robots’ point of view. Toos pleads, upset, with the robot that’s about to kill her. Leela is very brave however when a robot is about kill her. She even calls a robot a ‘show-off’ when her knife can’t kill it in this. 😀
The story concludes with the Doctor and Leela heading back into the TARDIS and the Doctor calls Leela a mouse since she spoke with the high-pitched voice at the end. I’m curious about what happens next after this story as I’m sure Uvanov, Toos and Poul have a lot of things to sort out after all this.
It’s amazing how ‘The Robots of Death’ is considered one of the most popular ‘Doctor Who’ stories ever made in the TV series and is rated highly by fans. There are even sequels to this story including the book ‘Corpse Maker’ with the Fourth Doctor and the audio ‘Robophobia’ with the Seventh Doctor.
Incidentally, the Robophobia concept that Poul suffers from once he’s seen the bloodied hand of a robot is also called Grimwade’s Syndrome. I’m pretty sure that name was based on the production assistant at the time, Peter Grimwade, who would direct many ‘Doctor Who’ adventures afterwards.
Peter Grimwade also wrote a few ‘Doctor Who’ stories and wrote his own children’s book which happens to be called ‘Robot’. I wonder if Grimwade was ever influenced by ‘The Robots of Death’ to write his ‘Robot’ book. Probably, but possibly not! Either way, it’s a very nice connection in this tale.
The original DVD special features were as follows. There was the making-of documentary called ‘The Sandmine Murders’. There was also an amusing featurette about robots in ‘Doctor Who’ called ‘Robophobia’, presented by Toby Hadoke. There was also a studio sound scene; model shots; a studio floor plan and a BBC continuity announcement with a slide. There was also a photo gallery of the story; a stereo sound audio mix option for the story and two DVD audio commentaries. The first DVD audio commentary is with producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher. The second DVD audio commentary is with Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Pamela Salem and director Michael E. Briant. There was also an info-text commentary option to enjoy and a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story. There was also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘The Face of Evil’ with Tom Baker and Louise Jameson (which is now included on ‘The Deadly Assassin’ Blu-ray disc for the Season 14 Blu-ray box set).
On Disc 5 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 14’ Blu-ray, ‘The Sandmine Murders’ making-of documentary; the ‘Robophobia’ featurette; the studio sound scene; the model shots; the stereo sound audio mix option for the story and the two DVD audio commentaries can be found on there. The BBC continuity announcement with a slide for ‘The Robots of Death’ has been updated into BBC trailers and continuity announcements for 2020 on the Blu-ray. The photo gallery and the info-text commentary option for ‘The Robots of Death’ have been updated for 2020 on the Blu-ray.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘The Robots of Death’ with Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela) and producer Philip Hinchcliffe as well as Peter Purves (Steven) and Sophie Aldred (Ace). There’s also the ‘Swap Shop’ interview with Louise Jameson (taken from ‘The Face of Evil’ DVD); the ‘Serial Thrillers’ documentary (taken from the ‘Pyramids of Mars’ DVD) and ‘The Panopticon Archive’ panel for ‘The Robots of Death’.
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there are also production documents and scripts. The studio floor plan from ‘The Robots of Death’ DVD is now presented as a PDF on the Blu-ray disc.
I enjoyed ‘The Robots of Death’ very much when I first saw it on DVD and have greatly enjoyed it more on its 2-disc Special Edition DVD release and very recently on its Blu-ray disc release in the Season 14 Blu-ray box set. It’s definitely one of my favourite TV adventures from the Tom Baker era.
I would place ‘The Robots of Death’, ‘City of Death’ and ‘The Keeper of Traken’ as my top three favourite Tom Baker ‘Doctor Who’ stories. It’s a great story full of murder-mystery, intrigue and robots along with the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Just be careful when you have a robot serving you in your own house! 😀
‘The Robots of Death’ rating – 10/10
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