The Robots of Death

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PRODUCTION INFO

Name

The Robots of Death

Serial Code

4R

First Transmitted

29 January 1977

Final Ratings
13.10m

DVD RELEASE

DVD

VHS RELEASE

VHS

GALLERY

The Robots Of Death
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CAST

Regular Cast


Tom Baker (Doctor Who), Louise Jameson (Leela)

Guest Cast


Russell Hunter (Uvanov), Pamela Salem (Toos), David Bailie (Dask), David Collings (Poul), Brian Croucher (Borg) [1-2], Tania Rogers (Zilda) [1-2]*, Tariq Yunus (Cass) [1-2], Rob Edwards (Chub) [1] Gregory de Ponlay (D.84), Miles Fothergill (S.V.7), Mark Blackwell Baker, John Bleasdale, Mark Cooper, Peter Langtry, Jeremy Ranchev, Richard Seager (Robots).

CREW

Written by Chris Boucher
Directed by Michael Briant
Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe

RATINGS

1 “Part One” 24:06 29 January 1977 12.8m
2 “Part Two” 24:15 5 February 1977 12.4m
3 “Part Three” 23:51 12 February 1977 13.1m
4 “Part Four” 23:42 19 February 1977 12.6m

SYPNOSIS

On a distant, barren planet, Storm Mine 4 trawls across bleak deserts and through fierce duststorms in search of rare and valuable metals. On board the Sandminer is a small skeleton crew, who alternate between indulgentrelaxation and skilled mining work. The mundane, day-to-day duties of the mine are attended to by a much larger complement of servile robots. This is a society that is dependant on robots for all areas of life, the people comforted by the knowledge that the strictest safeguards are built into each and every robot’s programming. So when one of the miner crew is murdered, suspicion falls on two new arrivals…

The Doctor and Leela arrive on board, and are immediately accused of being the prime murder suspects. But The Doctor soon realises that perhaps the killer isn’t human. More deaths occur”, can he persuade the remaining crewmembers that the killer may be a robot?

PLOT


PART ONE

On a distant planet, a huge sandminer vehicle, Storm Mine 4, is slowly scraping the surface of a vast, barren desert in search of precious minerals. The sandminer is manned by nine humans and numerous robots — black “Dums” that cannot speak, pale green “Vocs”, and a silver “Super-Voc” which controls all the “Dums” and “Vocs”. The robots conduct a routine scan of the area and locate a large sandstorm, which the Commander, Uvanov, decides to pursue, as the storm will bring heavier and more valuable minerals such as lucanol to the surface.

One of the crew, the disliked scientist Chub, is going to collect an instrument package.

Uvanov is angered at Chub for taking so long, and Poul goes to look for him.

The package is stuck, and Chub sends for a robot. V45 arrives but is acting strange. V45 corners and strangles Chub, killing him.

In the corridor, Poul hears Chub scream. He finds Chub’s body. Poul goes to the control deck and tells Uvanov about the murder. Uvanov does not want to go to investigate it, as they will lose the storm, but the other crew make him go to investigate. They find a strange object on Chub’s hand — a “corpse marker”.

At about this time, the TARDIS materialises in one of the scoops. After The Doctor and Leela emerge from the TARDIS, it is removed by a large mechanical arm as it is blocking the scoop. Later, The Doctor and Leela are brought out of the scoop by two robots and locked in a room. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door and goes in search of the TARDIS, while Leela finds Chub’s body being taken away by some robots.

The human crew suspects the two time travellers of murdering Chub, and tensions increase when it is found that they have left the room in which they were locked. Uvanov orders the robots to recapture them. The Doctor and Leela are separated, with the Doctor finding a second dead man, Kerrill, in a hopper which starts to fill with sand that buries them both…

PART TWO

The Doctor survives by using a blowpipe poking up through the sand through which he breathes. Both he and Leela, who has found a third dead man, Cass, and a “Dum” robot which can secretly speak, are recaptured. Commander Uvanov orders them to be locked up in the robot storage bay, on suspicion of killing all three humans.

Poul believes The Doctor and Leela to be innocent, so he frees them and shows them where Chub was murdered. There, The Doctor convinces Poul that a robot may have killed the meteorologist. While this is happening, a female crewmember named Zilda is murdered, who accuses Uvanov of murder over the tannoy system. Poul — sent to Uvanov’s quarters to investigate — finds the Commander bending over Zilda’s body. He has him confined to his quarters on suspicion of murdering Zilda.

Shortly afterwards, the engineer, Borg, who is responsible for controlling power to the motors, is found dead, and the sandminer’s engines begin to run out of control, threatening the vehicle with destruction. A frantic Toos shrieks, “She’s going!”

PART THREE

The Doctor saves the miner by cutting off the power to the motors. Once the sandminer has stopped moving, sinking under the sand dunes is imminent. Dask sets on quickly repairing the damaged — and sabotaged — controls so that the miner can continue on its way.

The Doctor goes to see the “Dum” robot that Leela claimed could speak, D84. The robot reveals that it and Poul are undercover agents for the mining company. They were placed on board the miner as a precaution to threats of a “robot revolution” by a scientist called Taren Capel, who was raised by robots and considers himself to be one. D84 itself is unique in the fact that it can function autonomously from Super Voc SV7’s commands and appears to possess a high level of logical reasoning.

The Doctor and D84 search for proof that Taren Capel is on board and find a secret workshop where the robots’ programming has been changed to enable them to kill humans. The Doctor arranges for all the remaining humans to go to the command deck. Uvanov arrives after escaping confinement to confront The Doctor, but he is surprised to see a robot enter the workshop. It proves to have orders to kill The Doctor and grabs him by the throat…

PART FOUR

The Doctor and Uvanov escape and head for the control deck. Someone (presumably Dask, whose responsibilities include robots) shuts down all of the robots whose programming has not been changed, leaving just the killer robots and D84 operational. Looking around the miner, Leela stumbles on Poul hiding in the storage bay: he has gone mad and is suffering from robophobia. She then tracks down Toos in her quarters, who has just been attacked by another rogue robot, and takes her to the control deck to join The Doctor and Uvanov. The human crew are surprised by D84’s arrival carrying a near-catatonic Poul, but The Doctor explains the pair’s real functions as undercover agents. Looking at his Chief Mover, Uvanov sadly remembers another crew member losing his mind to robophobia years earlier who ran outside to escape them and died; it was Zilda’s brother, hence her accusation of murder. SV7 — whose programming has now also been changed — tells them to come out and die, but Toos and Uvanov decide to defend themselves.

Dask is later revealed to be Taren Capel, intent on “releasing [his] “brothers” (the robots) from bondage to human dross” and “programming them with an ambition to rule the world”.

Taren Capel orders his modified robots to destroy the remaining humans and the Doctor and Leela. Uvanov and Toos get to work on modifying some Z9 explosives to destroy the robots. In the storage bay Leela finds a damaged robot with its hand covered in blood — which The Doctor reasons is Borg’s. He had been the only one strong enough to even try to fight back, and he may even have sabotaged the engine controls in a suicidal attempt to destroy the miner and all the killer robots on board. The Doctor dismantles the damaged robot and creates a final deactivator — a device that will destroy any still functioning robots at close range. In the process, he tries to explain to Leela how robophobia works. Robots do not display any body language, which the sensitive Leela had already picked up — calling them “creepy mechanical men” — and despite the fact most robots are built in humanoid form, some people are so unnerved that they become terrified of them. The pair head back to Taren Capel’s hidden workshop, where The Doctor hides Leela with a canister of helium gas, telling her to release it when Taren comes in. The Doctor hopes that this will change Taren’s voice, so his robots — unable to recognise him — will not obey his orders and turn on him.

Taren arrives and damages D84, but the robot is able to activate The Doctor’s device to destroy a killer robot, knowingly sacrificing itself in the process. Leela releases the helium gas, causing Taren’s voice to become high-pitched and squeaky, and Taren is killed by SV7 when it fails to identify his voice pattern. The Doctor then destroys SV7 with a laserson probe before Leela calls from her hiding place in a high-pitched voice “Will somebody let me out!?”

With the robot threat over, and a rescue ship coming to collect the surviving humans, The Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS and leave the sandminer.

NOTES

  • This story had the working titles The Storm-Mine Murders and Planet of the Robots
  • This is one of the few stories which explains, in relative simplicity, using a demonstration with two boxes, how the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental.
  • This story is the last one in which the wood-panelled TARDIS control room appears.
  • There have been several influences suggested for Robots of Death including:
    This story was obviously based on Isaac Asimov’s Robot mysteries, such as I, Robot. In particular, the human/robot police duo Elijah Bailey and R Daneel Olivaw from Caves of Steel and its sequels may be the inspiration for the Poul/D84 pair. Prominent mention is made of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics: “A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.”
  • Another inspiration for the story was Agatha Christie’s novel, Ten Little Indians, in which several people on an island are murdered one by one.
  • The Sandminer setting is based on Frank Herbert’s Dune.
  • Robophobia, an irrational fear of robots, is at one point referred to as ‘Grimwade’s syndrome’. This was an in-joke reference to production assistant Peter Grimwade (later to become a director and writer on the series) who had bemoaned the fact that the stories on which he was assigned to work almost always involved robots. However, the description of robophobia given by The Doctor in fact coincides with a real-life phenomenon called the Uncanny Valley.
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