Robot (Doctor Who)
|075 – Robot|
|Doctor Who serial|
The Robot prepares to take Sarah captive
|Script editor||Robert Holmes|
|Incidental music composer||Dudley Simpson|
|Length||4 episodes, 25 minutes each|
|Date started||28 December 1974|
|Date ended||18 January 1975|
Robot is the first serial of the 12th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 28 December 1974 to 18 January 1975. It was the first full serial to feature Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, as well as Ian Marter as new companion Harry Sullivan.
Following his third regeneration, the Doctor briefly becomes delirious and then falls unconscious in front of Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT. The Brigadier has Lieutenant Harry Sullivan take the Doctor into his care. Soon, the Doctor wakes, eludes Harry, and tries to sneak off in his TARDIS, but the Brigadier and Sarah Jane stop him, convincing him to help in finding the culprit in the theft of top secret plans for a disintegrator gun. The Brigadier takes the Doctor to the Ministry of Defence advanced research centre where the plans were stored, where the Doctor observes crushed flowers and a rectangular footprint. UNIT sets to protect factories where critical parts for the gun are manufactured, but find the culprit is able to outwit them, including burrowing up underground to collect the final component necessary for the weapon.
Meanwhile, Sarah Jane investigates the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, colloquially known as the "Think Tank". There, she finds that director Hilda Winters and her assistant Arnold Jellicoe are developing a robot, Experimental Prototype Robot K1, to be used to perform tasks in hazardous locations in place of humans. Sarah Jane learns that K1 was originally built by Professor J.P. Kettlewell, a former member of the Think Tank who has now turned his sights on alternative energy. Kettlewell attests that he had disassembled K1 after finding its thought processes were growing too quickly, and further asserts that Winters, Jellicoe, nor anyone at the Think Tank have the capacity to program it correctly, and that if they have tampered with its programming, the robot is likely suffering an existential crisis. Sarah Jane takes sympathy on the robot. Later, K1 appears at Kettlewell's residence and attempts to kill him, but when the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and UNIT arrive, the robot becomes confused and escapes.
Unknown to UNIT, Winters and Jellicoe have instructed K1 to kill Cabinet Minister Joseph Chambers as "an enemy of humanity", and to use the completed disintegrator gun to steal papers from his personal safe. UNIT discovers this death, and the Brigadier explains the importance of Chambers; the stolen papers were launch codes for the nuclear weapons of the major nations, given voluntarily to British as a neutral entity to only be released in the time of great need. Further, Winters, Jellicoe, and others of the Think Tank are found to be members of the Scientific Reform Society, seeking to put scientists in charge of the world believing they can make better decisions for humanity than the current governments. Learning of a Reform meeting that night, UNIT prepares to move out, while Sarah Jane, after discovering Kettlewell is also a member, convinces him to go to the meeting to allow her to sneak into it.
At the meeting, Sarah Jane is stunned to learn that Kettlewell was the mastermind behind the plot; he had rebuilt K1 with Winters and Jellicoe so as to get the launch codes to force humanity to change its ways, and had feigned K1's attack at his home. K1 discovers Sarah Jane's presence, and Winters orders K1 to kill her; Kettlewell had never expected to put Sarah Jane in harm and realises Winters is more vicious than he originally thought. When UNIT arrives, Winters, Jellicoe, Kettlewell, and K1 escape with Sarah Jane as their hostage. Harry, having entered the Think Tank under the guise of medical inspections, sees the group enter a bunker and warns UNIT before he is captured.
Winters sends a list of demands to the world governments and gives them thirty minutes to comply, and subsequently orders Kettlewell to connect to the launch computers and prepare to send the launch codes. Kettlewell, who never expected their plan to get to this stage, hesitates, and in the ensuing discussion, Sarah Jane and Harry attempt to escape with Kettlewell's assistance. Winters orders K1 to stop the pair, but the robot, already conflicted to its programming, inadvertently fires the disintegrator gun at Kettlewell, killing him. The death of its creator puts K1 in a further confused state, falling to the ground and apparently shutting down. Winters attempts to program the countdown, but the Doctor arrives and successfully counters it. As UNIT forces take Winters and Jellicoe away, K1 reactivates and begins to attack UNIT. K1 seeks out Sarah Jane to protect her, a result of an Oedipus complex it developed from Sarah Jane's previous compassion, according to the Doctor. UNIT fires the disintegrator gun at the robot but the blast is absorbed, causing the robot to grow to an enormous size. Realising the growth is due to the living metal that Kettlewell used in constructing K1, the Doctor races back to Kettlewell's lab to synthesize a batch of metal-biodegradable virus, a side discovery made by Kettlewell. The Doctor throws a bucket of solution containing the virus onto K1, and the robot slowly shrinks down in size before it vanishes.
As they regroup back at UNIT headquarters, Sarah Jane is saddened by the loss of K1. The Doctor offers to cheer her up with a trip in the TARDIS, extending the invitation to Harry as well. The TARDIS dematerialises just as the Brigadier comes into the laboratory, and frets about letting Buckingham Palace know that their guests will be late for a celebratory dinner.
The newly regenerated Doctor, still not entirely conscious, mutters "change the course of human history," which Sarah Jane confirms has to do with when she and the Doctor first met. This refers to the Third Doctor story The Time Warrior, which introduced both Sarah Jane and the Sontarans. The Twelfth Doctor will later utter this same line upon awakening in the TARDIS in the episode "Listen". The Doctor then sits up and states, "The brontosaurus is large and placid ... and stupid." This is a direct quote from the Third Doctor to the Brigadier in episode 3 of Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
The Doctor later discovers the TARDIS key hidden in one of his shoes; this is a reprise of the same plot device that was used in Spearhead from Space. This serial marked the final appearance of the Doctor's automobile, "Bessie", until The Five Doctors.
The end of this serial leads directly into the opening of the next one, The Ark in Space. It can be considered the first of a continuous series of adventures for the TARDIS crew continuing through to Terror of the Zygons,[Note 1] although the story itself is a direct continuation of Planet of the Spiders.
The novelisation for the later serial The Face of Evil suggests that the Doctor's first visit to the planet of the Sevateem takes place early during this story, when Sarah witnesses the newly regenerated and still delirious Doctor starting to leave in the TARDIS, the Doctor returning so quickly and his mind so addled as a result of his recent regeneration that he never consciously remembered his time away until his return. Elements of this story have surfaced in the Big Finish Productions audio plays. In the Bernice Summerfield play The Relics of Jegg-Sau, Kettlewell's robot designs are revived in the 26th century, where the Robots once again go mad. Hilda Winters (again played by Patricia Maynard) returns to bedevil Sarah in the first series of the Sarah Jane Smith audios.
As the Doctor was transitioning from the third to the fourth incarnations, changes were also occurring in the production department of Doctor Who. Long-time producer Barry Letts was leaving the series but would stay on to cast the part of the new Doctor as well as produce the first story, Robot. Letts would be replaced for the next story by incoming Producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
Veteran Script Editor Terrance Dicks was also leaving the series, being replaced by the new Script Editor Robert Holmes. Holmes had been a writer for the show since season six, having penned several stories including The Krotons, The Space Pirates and Spearhead from Space, the Third Doctor's first serial. Though Dicks was leaving as the script editor, he would still be involved with the series as a writer and had previously helped write the serials The Seeds of Death and The War Games and it would be Dicks who would write the first story for the incoming Fourth Doctor.
Conception and writing
Robot was written by Terrance Dicks, who had joined the series in 1968 as assistant script editor and took over the script editor position soon after. Dicks stated that a major influence for this story was King Kong. The initial script was written before Tom Baker had been cast as the Fourth Doctor, and there was some discussion of returning to an older actor. This would have required a younger character to handle the action scenes, so the character of Harry Sullivan was created. This was Sullivan's debut story, but he had been mentioned in the final episode of the preceding serial, when the Brigadier telephoned him, requesting medical help for the Doctor.
Dicks included a number of elements from the Third Doctor's transition story Spearhead from Space including the Doctor being disoriented after regeneration; going to hospital to recover; escaping from hospital in a hospital gown, which led to a costume change for the new Doctor; viewing himself in a mirror to see the change; and storing the TARDIS key in his shoe. These elements helped the audience with the transition between actors.
It was known beforehand that Jon Pertwee would be leaving his role as the Third Doctor and that a new Fourth Doctor would need to be cast for the part. Tom Baker was an out-of-work actor who had been working in construction at the time. Baker had been a television and film actor, having major parts in several films including The Vault of Horror (1973). He had written to Bill Slater, the Head of Serials at the BBC, asking for work. Slater suggested Baker to Doctor Who producer Barry Letts who had been looking to fill the part. Letts had been the producer of the series since the early Pertwee serials in 1970. He had seen Baker's work in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and hired him for the part. Baker would continue in his role as the Doctor for seven seasons, longer than any other actor to play the part.
Elisabeth Sladen had renewed her contract to play Sarah Jane during the previous season. Nicholas Courtney and John Levene reprised their roles as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Sergeant Benton respectively. Levene had started his role with the Second Doctor story The Invasion (1968) as a member of the military organisation UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Courtney started a year earlier in The Web of Fear, with his character's rank being a Colonel. They, along with Sladen, would be the transition cast to carry through from the Third Doctor to the Fourth Doctor, though this would be the only UNIT story for the twelfth season. The Earth-based stories involving UNIT that had dominated the Third Doctor's period on the show, were an effort to reduce production costs by Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin, the show's previous producer and script editor. This effort had been scrapped during the Third Doctor's run by producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks who were just leaving the series as the Baker was taking his role as the Fourth Doctor.
Edward Burnham portrays the wild-haired, bespectacled boffin, Professor Kettlewell, who creates the titular K1 robot. Along with Courtney and Levene, Burnham had also played a part in The Invasion where he had the role of Professor Watkins, another scientist-type character. The part of the K1 robot is played by Michael Kilgarriff who had played another robotic part in the 1967 story The Tomb of the Cybermen where he had part of the Cyberman Controller. Patricia Maynard is cast in the part of Miss Hilda Winters, the director of the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research. Miss Winters' assistant, Arnold Jellicoe, is played by Alec Linstead. Linstead had played the part of Sergeant Osgood—a member of the technical staff at UNIT—in the 1971 serial The Dæmons.
This was the first Doctor Who serial to have its location material shot entirely on OB videotape, as opposed to the more usual BBC television drama practice of the time of shooting studio interiors on videotape and location exteriors on film. This was due to the large number of video effects involving the eponymous robot required in exterior scenes (shot at the then BBC Engineering Training Department at Wood Norton, Worcestershire), which were easier and more convincing to marry to videotape than to film. The team had learned that lesson during the previous season's Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The Wood Norton facility was chosen for location shooting because it had an underground bunker, which director Christopher Barry felt would be suitable for the entrance to the underground complex in the story; however, they were refused permission to shoot in that area.
Broadcast and reception
|Episode||Broadcast date||Run time||Viewers
|"Part One"||28 December 1974||24:11||10.8|
|"Part Two"||4 January 1975||25:00||10.7|
|"Part Three"||11 January 1975||24:29||10.1|
|"Part Four"||18 January 1975||24:29||9|
Robot was the first serial of the twelfth season of Doctor Who. Part one of Robot was first broadcast on BBC One on Saturday, 28 December 1974 and had a viewership of 10.8 million, which was higher than the first serial for season eleven. The next three parts were broadcast over the next successive Saturdays, each having an audience of over 10 million with the exception of the part four on Saturday, 18 January 1975 which only had viewership of 9 million.
Viewer reaction was mixed as defined in an Audience Research Report conducted by the BBC. About 30% felt the show was "definitely enjoyable" with a lower percentage being "distinctly unimpressed". A number of viewers thought the new Doctor would "take some getting used to", but most younger viewers gave positive comments about the serial. As with all of the Doctors, Baker received some criticism by the audience, who felt he was a "loony" and presented as "stupid".
Critical reception of Robot was generally positive. Jonathan Way felt the episode was fun and Robert Cope praised Baker's performance as the new Doctor and also noted that the relationship between Baker's Doctor and Sladen's Sarah Jane worked well. David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker, writing in The Television Companion, admired the performances of Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen and felt Marter's debut as Harry Sullivan was promising. They also commended the K1 Robot costume, which was built by Allister Bowtell and designed by James Acheson. Howe and Walker, however, criticised the use of CSO (colour-separation overlay) effects for a number of shots involving the K1 Robot, as did Robert Cope.
Mark Braxton of Radio Times praised the introduction of Baker and Marter, as well as the K1 concept. However, he felt that the villains were stereotypical and wrote that Robot "boasts perhaps the show's worst visual effect ever". IGN reviewer Arnold Blumburg gave the story a rating of 7 out of 10, attributing its success to Baker. He too criticised the effects, feeling that it made the story "[fail] when trying to present an epic conclusion". DVD Talk's Nick Lyons wrote that it "may not be the most original episode, but it is one of the stronger episodes of the Baker years simply because it never drags and is a breezy action-adventure. It doesn't hurt that the robot itself is a nifty villain". He gave the serial three and a half out of five stars. In 2010, SFX named the scene where the Doctor tries on many different costumes as one of the silliest moments in the show's history.
Robot has had a number of commercial releases on video, in print and audio.
|Cover artist||Peter Brookes|
|Series||Doctor Who book:
Sarah Jane Smith, the Brigadier, Harry Sullivan
|13 March 1975|
A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in 1975, titled Doctor Who and the Giant Robot. A second edition was released in 1978 by W. H. Allen Ltd with new cover art; a third edition, retitled Doctor Who - Robot and using the VHS release artwork, was released in 1992.
It was also one of two Doctor Who serials to have a second novelisation written, aimed at younger readers using simpler language (the other being Junior Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius). Also written by Dicks, this edition was titled Junior Doctor Who and the Giant Robot.
An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Tom Baker was released on compact disc on 5 November 2007 by BBC Audiobooks. The audio book was released as Doctor Who: The Giant Robot on 4 CDs for an American audience in 2008 by Chivers Children's Audio Books. The audio book was released a third time as a pre-loaded Playaway digital audio book in 2009 by BBC Audiobooks.
BBC Video first released Robot on DVD in the United Kingdom on 4 June 2007. It was released later in the United States on 14 August 2007. The DVD release received generally positive reviews and was praised for the extras, including a documentary titled Are Friends Electric? detailing the production and casting of the show. Robot was released as part of issue 49 of Doctor Who DVD Files, published 17 November 2010.
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Eventually a suggestion by the wife of BBC drama head Bill Slater was followed up and the production team found the wild-eyed and naturally eccentric Tom Baker mixing cement on a building site.
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Letts found casting a new Doctor more difficult, however, until a tip-off from his boss Bill Slater. An unemployed actor, then working on a building site, called Tom Baker had written to Slater asking for work. In, arguably, one of the best decisions ever made on Doctor Who, Letts cast Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor.
- Rawson-Jones, Ben (14 October 2009). "A tribute to 'Doctor Who' legend Barry Letts". Digital Spy. New York City, New York, USA: Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
Having seen unknown hod-carrier Baker in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, Letts took the goggle-eyed aspiring actor away from the building site and into the Tardis in 1974.
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- Doctor Who: The Giant Robot (CD). North Kingstown, Rhode Island, USA: Chivers Children's Audio Books. 2008. ISBN 9781405657914. OCLC 271893995.
- Doctor Who and the Giant Robot (Digital audio). Bath, Somerset, England, UK: BBC Audiobooks. 2009. ISBN 9781408415313. OCLC 752431922.
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- Robot at BBC Online
- Robot at Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- Robot at the Doctor Who Reference Guide