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DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Robots of Death (Special Edition)

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The recent DVD release of several classic Doctor Who serials has been an extraordinary event for fans of the classic show, especially so for those of us in the United States. Sci-fi geeks like myself may have been somewhat familiar with the Doctor, but until recently it has been a challenge to catch the programs. Prior to the arrival of BBC America, it was usually a case of catching a Public Broadcasting marathon once in a while, and that was about it. The people at the 2 Entertain Company are rectifying this situation however, and one of their latest offerings is “The Robots of Death,” from 1977.

The Doctor is played by Tom Baker, who filled the role from 1974 to 1981, and was the fourth incarnation of the character. In “The Robots of Death,” the Doctor is joined by the sexy warrior Leela (Louise Jameson). The TARDIS takes them to an ore planet, which is being mined by a crew and their robot helpers. When the Doctor and Leela arrive, there is a crisis underway, as a crewmember has been found murdered. The whole crew seems to have a bit of a pirate element to them, but all are working together towards the common goal of filling the ship with treasure. It is understood that everyone will be rich when the outing is completed.

The Doctor and Leela are immediately considered to be the prime suspects in the murder. Hints that something far more sinister is going on quickly emerge though. Even as the Doctor and Leela are detained, other murders are discovered. Then there is the strange behavior of the robots themselves. For example there is the “D” series of robots, which stands for “Dumb.” They are not supposed to be able to talk, or think for themselves, yet some of them exhibit these traits. There is also a strange reddening of the eyes in some of them, which corresponds to actions being taken which were not ordered by the men and women of the crew.

It seems obvious to the Doctor that the robots must be responsible for the murders, but the captain finds this theory impossible to believe. In keeping with Asimov’s Rules of Robotics, the fundamental, core program installed in the mechanical men is to do no harm to humans. While the Doctor knows that any program can be altered, the ship’s inhabitants refuse to believe that such a thing is possible. It is not until the evidence becomes overwhelming that the few remaining crew members face the reality of the situation, and assist the Doctor in eliminating the threat.

“The Robots of Death” originally aired from January 29 – February 19, 1977 as four-part serial. The new single DVD of the show contains several extras. In addition to two audio commentaries, there are some highly informative features. The most significant of these is the 32-minute “The Sandmine Murders,” which is a great “making of” piece, with interviews with members of the cast and crew. The 11-minute “Robophobia” segment is a lot of fun too, as it takes a humorous look at the history of robots. Other bits include “Model Shots” (5 mins), a view of the studio floor plan for the big ship, and a photo gallery.

2 Entertain seems to be cherry-picking the best of the hundreds of Doctor Who programs from its long history, and “The Robots of Death” was well-chosen. This is a great, suspenseful story, and one in which the unassailable logic of the Doctor wins out yet again.

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About Greg Barbrick