Doctor Who has always been able to pull off homages to all kinds of storytelling genres by virtue of the show's immensely flexible format. It allowed for both subtle and dramatic twists on established storytelling methods over the last fifty years of the series existence in various forms of media.
Robots of Death is no exception, with the action playing out in such a manner that it might have been created by a futuristic Agatha Christie.
Written by Chris Boucher, the author that had also penned the previous adventure The Face of Evil, it was indeed conceived with the 1939 Christie novel Ten Little Indians in mind.
The traditional trappings are all there, from the rogue's gallery of potential murder suspects and the mounting body count as the mystery progresses to the shocking reveal of the true villain at the end.
The murder-mystery angle is well performed by both cast and crew all the way around, with the suspense and mystery maintained through the first three episodes quite nicely.
It also evokes feelings more firmly rooted in traditional science fiction, such as the Human reaction to robots as part of their daily lives. This aspect of Robots of Death echoes some as Asminov's greatest works on the subject of robotics, such as I Robot, with the three classes of robots in the serial having rules about interacting with the Human Miners.
In fact, as Mover Poul points out during the adventure itself: "They have rules for everything."
However, like any other artistic endeavor that draws a comparison to other works that have inspired it, it is the execution of those ideas that counts.
Besides being ripe with nods to printed fictional works, Robots of Death is also a classic Doctor Who tale from the wonderfully dark and gritty Phillip Hinchcliffe era. Leela makes her first journey in the Tardis memorable with an excellent performance, including a great scene at the start of episode one where the Doctor attempts to explain the ship's Dimensional Transcendentalism.
This is also a strong outing for Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, with his confrontation with Taren Capel and his interactions with robot detective D84 among some of Baker's best moments.
This is a testament to the excellent work of the resident Doctor Who design team over thirty-five years ago.
Combining these factors makes the episode great fodder for that ever elusive “bridge” episode that so many new Doctor Who fans seek out to really sink into the classic years of the series.
Robots of Death is certainly one of the most popular episodes of Doctor Who ever produced, and with good reason. This is one that everyone should see, it is a fine example of how ahead of its time Doctor Who was in terms of televised science fiction.
Although Star Trek certainly tried to bridge racial divides in the mid-sixties by having a multinational crew, it was always Doctor Who that pushed science fiction television and film away from the days of UFOs crashing into the White House and into its bright future. It can be argued that Doctor Who, along with Trek and Star Wars pushed the boundaries of what the general public accepted as proper science fiction.
It also inspired a generation of kids who grew up with Jedis and TARDISes to dream a little broader and perhaps think a little deeper as well. By the eighties, families were crying in theaters when ET dies in the film rather than hitting him with a salvo from a tank. Personally, I don't think we get there without the leaps and bounds made in filmed science fiction in the seventies.
Robots of Death certainly has become one of the most popular episodes of Doctor Who ever produced, and with good reason. This is one that everyone should see, it is a fine example of how ahead of its time Doctor Who was in terms of televised science fiction.
Unless you are bedridden with Grimewade's Syndrome, this is one hell of a fine example of classic Doctor Who.
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