Doctor Who: The
Robots of Death (Special Edition/BBC DVD)
Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: A+ Episodes: A+
Hot on the heels of Leela’s debut in story no. 89’s “The Face of Evil,” writer Chris Boucher
and director Michael E. Briant turn things up a notch further with the stylish
thriller “The Robots of Death” in
story no. 90. Tom Baker turns in a
sterling performance in the titular role, and Louise Jameson hits her stride as
the savage Leela. The pair find
themselves on strange alien planet, their TARDIS materialising aboard a
massive, almost city-sized mining machine.
The vehicle’s crew consists of humans and humanoid robots. The robots, built with strange, beautiful
faces, are forbidden to harm their human masters, but something goes horribly
wrong, and the Doctor and Leela wind up in the thick of a murder mystery
inspired by Agatha Christie.
This four-episode arc combines many excellent elements that make it a
classic of the old Doctor Who’s
amazing run. A clever story that leaves
you guessing as to which crew member is behind the robot murderers sets the
stage. Strong casting of the sand-miner
crew members means not a single line of dialogue goes to waste.
Amazing costumes and set designs blend to create a futuristic world
that still looks cutting edge even today.
The designers looked to Art Deco for their primary inspiration, and
carried this theme through everything from costumes, to sets, to furniture, to
the design of robots themselves. Mr.
Briant expertly blends these elements into a virtuoso mix of “whovian”
This special edition includes loads of extra material that sheds light
on the production of this arc. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson highlight a
featurette called “The Sandmine Murders,”
which also features interviews and commentary from director Briant and several
other cast members. One of the things
that stands out most from this excellent documentary is just how much fun
everyone seemed to be having while making these episodes. Now well over thirty years on Baker and the
rest offer vivid memories of funny incidents during the show’s production, and
producer Philip Hinchcliffe and others discuss the specific hurdles they had to
overcome in set and costume design. The
still-lovely Pamela Salem (Toos) provides some fun insights into the various
cast members playing the mining crew.
Toby Hadoke’s silly feature “Robophobia”
provides a fun look at the long history of robots in the classic Who
series. Other extras include
commentaries, PDF promotional material, a brief radio promo, a photo gallery,
and a few other odds and ends.
Few other Doctor Who stories
so perfectly blend top performances from a stellar cast with such a fun and
well-directed story. While shot entirely
in studio on video tape, clever use of techniques like CSO, or Chroma-key, make
the action scenes seem like they’re taking place in a vast, rolling mining
facility set 500 years in the future.
This special edition’s wealth of extras will really allow Who fans to
fully appreciate the love, hard work, and fun that went into “The Robots of Death.”
- Scott Pyle