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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who: The Robots of Death (Special Edition/Tom Baker/BBC DVD)

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” delights. 


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


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