‘Robot’ (Book)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

‘There Is No Cause For Alarm…’

This has been an interesting book to read from the mind of a ‘Doctor Who’ director!

Peter Grimwade is well-known nowadays to ‘Doctor Who’ fans for directing four stories from the 1980s. He directed ‘Full Circle’ and ‘Logopolis’ with Tom Baker as well as ‘Kinda’ and ‘Earthshock’ with Peter Davison. But it’s very easy to forget that Peter Grimwade was also a ‘Doctor Who’ writer.

Part of the reason why Peter Grimwade is regarded more as a ‘Doctor Who’ director than a ‘Doctor Who’ writer is because the stories he delivered weren’t executed well as he had envisaged on screen. But that’s not to say the stories he wrote weren’t good. On the contrary, I’ve enjoyed them.

It’s just that the directors assigned to handling Peter Grimwade’s ‘Doctor Who’ stories as a writer misinterpret in the way he envisaged him. Also Peter Grimwade found himself under a lot of pressure when given a shopping list of tasks to include certain ingredients for his ‘Doctor Who’ tales.

The stories Peter Grimwade wrote for ‘Doctor Who’ include ‘Time-Flight’, ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and ‘Planet of Fire’. Whilst ‘Time-Flight’ isn’t regarded highly by fans (even though I’m personally fond of it), ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and ‘Planet of Fire’ are regarded as passable efforts despite their many flaws.

Peter Grimwade was meant to contribute a fourth story as a writer, but sadly it never materialised. He was also meant to direct the aborted Season 20 finale of ‘Doctor Who’ called ‘The Return’ which eventually became ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. Sadly, he and producer John Nathan-Turner fell out.

Despite not writing and directing for ‘Doctor Who’ again after the Peter Davison era ended, Peter Grimwade did novelize his ‘Doctor Who’ scripts into Target books including ‘Time-Flight’, ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and ‘Planet of Fire’. I’ve read the ‘Time-Flight’ and ‘Mawdryn Undead’ novelizations by this point.

Peter Grimwade also wrote an original novel for children that’s not ‘Doctor Who’. This was the book called ‘Robot’, not to be confused with Tom Baker’s first ‘Doctor Who’ TV story called ‘Robot’, which was published in 1987 by Star Publishing. It was before Peter Grimwade sadly passed away in 1990.

How did I come across this original book by Peter Grimwade you may ask? Well, I discovered it when I was watching the ‘Myth Makers’ interview with Peter Grimwade on the ‘Myth Makers: Sarah Sutton and Peter Grimwade’ DVD. Sarah Sutton read an extract from that book during the interview.

I was intrigued by this original children’s book Peter Grimwade wrote after he worked on ‘Doctor Who’ that I decided to purchase it from Amazon.co.uk. I purchased the book in 2016. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but I eventually read it for the Easter holidays in March/April 2018.

The book is divided into nine chapters with a prologue at the beginning and an epilogue at the end. It’s interesting that Grimwade wrote this book as I wondered what it would be like and whether it would grab my interest. I had an idea of what to expect from reading his ‘Doctor Who’ novelizations.

The book is essentially about a boy named Tolemy. He’s fifteen years old who’s been plagued by the most extraordinary dreams. He gets to be the owner of a toy company called Tinkerbell Toys. What does he do in his free time? He creates and builds a robot. This soon causes chaos in where he lives.

On the back of the book, there are three characters identified as being the ‘three unwitting pawns in a great cosmic game of good and evil’. These include Tolemy of course as well as a general named Spiby and the brilliant but blind scientist called Melmo. I had to identify with these three characters.

The story is essentially about two alien robotic warring factions that come down to Earth to fight their war there which began millennia ago on their own planet. This is an idea that’s been done before – ‘Transformers’ anyone? But it was interesting to find how Peter Grimwade told it in his tale.

I wouldn’t say that this story excited me as I was reading it, but it was fairly enjoyable. The issue I have with this book is that it tends to be really technical and verbose in its descriptive detail. I was able to home in on the dialogue between characters, but sometimes I tended to drift from reading it.

This isn’t something that’s uncommon in Peter Grimwade’s works as a writer. I get the impression that he tends to be impatient in his writing and prefers to get to the action quickly in the plot rather than focus too much on character development. There were a few character moments that I did like.

There are also a number of subtle ‘Doctor Who’ references which you would need a keen eye to look out for when reading the book. For example, the place that Tolemy lives in is called Turlow New Town. Turlow is clearly a take on the name of the ‘Doctor Who’ companion Turlough from the series.

There are also other names of people Peter Grimwade’s worked with in ‘Doctor Who’ to give names to his characters. This includes Derek Bidmead, which is taken from Christopher H. Bidmead, who was the script-editor of the TV series for a time. The ‘Doctor Who’ TV show gets mentioned in the book.

In terms of the two warring robotic alien races featured in this story, they include the Vardons and the Kosnaks. I assume that the Vardons were taken from the name Vardans in the ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Invasion of Time’. I don’t think Peter Grimwade worked on that as a production assistant.

I also assume that Kosnaks was another name given to the Russians during the Cold War that was happening at the time. This book would have had a Cold War atmosphere subtly influenced in the tale. It’s not referred to openly, but I assume this was the case considering the military featured in it.

The action does feel slow early on for the first few chapters of the story. It’s only by the time we come to the end of Chapter Four that we get the first appearance of Drumnadrockit, the robot that Tolemy builds on Stonehenge. For a while, Drumnadrockit was the main focus to worry about in this.

This would be changed when more robots come to be built fighting for the Vardons as well as their enemies fighting for the Kosnaks. It was intriguing to find a variety of robots on the Vardon side, like a cat robot and a Margaret Thatcher robot. The Vardons were good whereas the Kosnaks were evil.

The chapters themselves are quite lengthy and there’s a lot to absorb in each of them. Having read the book once isn’t enough to appreciate the full story. You will need to read the story more than once to gain a clearer picture and understanding of the visual aspects including those action scenes.

I enjoyed Tolemy’s character. He was intriguing to read as a smart 15-year-old boy building robots at Tinkerbell Toys as well as going to school at the same time. I liked his scenes with his best friend Eddie (a girl whose full name is Edwina). I did find Tolemy’s scenes easy to read compared to others.

General Spiby’s character isn’t what I would call a great one. He seems to be a typical military type who wants to make Britain great again and uses robotics to do it. Spiby seems to be in competition with Tolemy’s company. It did get intriguing when he got infected by Kosnaks speaking through him.

Professor Melmo is a character that is easily likeable as a friend and ally for Tolemly. He has a cat called Pythagoras, based on Peter Grimwade’s love for cats presumably. It was sometimes easy to forget that Melmo is a blind man in the story. It was shocking when Melmo got killed off in the story. Or does he?

Drumnadrockit is what I would call the main robot featured in this story. He seems to be a polite robot that seems willing to help the humans when he comes about alive, walking and talking. But the robot has this impulsive side to him when he steals a car and goes off to investigate something.

The last chapter ends with a battle scene between the Vardons and the Kosnak robots in London itself. Sarah Sutton read an extract of that scene in the ‘Myth Makers’ interview for Peter Grimwade. I wondered where the scene was as I was reading the book in order to hear Sarah’s voice reading it.

The story ends with Tolemy being offered a choice on whether to shut the robots down or not after the Vardons have defeated the Kosnaks. It’s left open-ended and I assume that Tolemy is going to let the robots live. The epilogue ends with General Spiby seemingly alive after presumed dead. Or is he?

‘Robot’ by Peter Grimwade as a book is okay. I wouldn’t say it was an invigorating read, but it has allowed to me to see how Peter Grimwade writes an original book and not a novelization for a change. He’s clearly into writing the action aspects of a plot rather than the character development.

I would need to read this book again to get a clearer picture of what the story’s about. I’m surprised Peter Grimwade’s ‘Robot’ never got turned into a TV serial in the 1980s. It’s a good book to be turned into a movie, but don’t give it to Michael Bay as he can possibly ruin it due to his reputation.

It’s a shame that this never got made into an audiobook when it was published in 1987. I don’t know if Peter Grimwade’s ‘Robot’ will get an audiobook today – probably not. But if it did, I wouldn’t mind Sarah Sutton reading it. I would be engaged with the tale more if Sarah Sutton read this on audio. 😀

All in all, I’m glad I’ve read ‘Robot’ by Peter Grimwade. I wouldn’t claim it to be a classic children’s book, but it’s a decent writing effort by him. It does require more than one read and you would really need to get into the fast-paced action of the story as well as the technical aspects to the plot.

‘Robot’ by Peter Grimwade rating – 7/10

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