Monday, June 04, 2007

Doctor Who - Robot

As is now regular, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this month's DVD release, Robot:

A strong new start

Few new Doctors hit the ground running faster than Tom Baker does in this story. By the second episode it already seems as though he's been there for ages, such is his domination of the story. Wisely there's little substantial made of the Doctor's change in appearance in the story and instead it focuses on the task at hand.

From a production point of view, Robot has hardly aged at all. The use of video for the location scenes, combined with a robot that looks imposing and expensive, results in a look that remains as fresh and modern today as it did back in 1974. Chris Barry's direction is strong and only let down in a few areas such as the obvious use of a toy tank and a few problems with the CSO and modelwork in the final episode. The rest of the story remains vibrant and full of life.

On the acting side, Ian Marter makes a strong debut performance as Harry Sullivan, although his role in this story is more as a replacement for Mike Yates than as a new companion. Elizabeth Sladen, John Levene and Nicholas Courtney all give their usually strong performances, though UNIT is still being sent up at times such as in their initial assault on the bunker.

The guest cast are a mixture, from Patricia Maynard who brings a fierceness to Miss Winters to Edward Burnham whose Kettlewell is so confused that at times it is utterly unclear what side he is on.

On the scripting side, it is often noted that Robot is exactly the sort of story that was typical throughout the Jon Pertwee years. However it is also a strong sign of the future, being a reworking of a classic movie (in this case King Kong). The Doctor's role in the story is strong, dominating proceedings to the point of often being able to direct UNIT through the Brigadier. The main weaknesses of the story come from Kettlewell's confused position which doesn't add up upon consideration and from the repeated climaxes in Part Four as first the SRS are captured then the second countdown is aborted and then the Robot goes on the rampage.

The Robot itself is nothing short of impressive physically and a highly sympathetic character. It is hard not to feel sorry for it at the end, driven insane by the way it has been tampered with and then by killing its creator. A true victim of events it would have made an interesting addition to the regular UNIT team.

If there's one thing lacking in the story, it's a clear sign of the direction in which Tom Baker is to take his portrayal of the Doctor. He brings a highly manic attitude at times, whilst discreetly focusing on the issue at hand and thus confuses his enemies and the viewer. However he makes a strong performance and gives much hope for later tales. 8/10
Robot can be purchased from here.

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