DOCTOR WHO: THE ROBOTS OF DEATH
DVD / BBC Video / November 2000
“The Robots of Death” is a perfect example of how ageless Doctor Who is when it’s done well.
Originally aired in the late 70s, this four-part story featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as his traveling companion Leela still holds up well when you take a hard look at the story, even if the sets and costumes look rather dated.
The Doctor and Leela arrive on Storm Mine 4, a “sandminer” trawling a desert planet for rare and value minerals. The miner is staffed by a skeleton crew of humans and a complement of robots that handle the mundane day-to-day chores.
When a member of the crew is murdered, no one believes it possible that a robot could have committed the crime – they have numerous fail-safes to prevent it – but of course the Doctor and his companion are immediately suspected of the crime.
What follows is a murder mystery as more crewmembers turn up dead, but also a complex tale that intelligently wonders how people will truly deal with artificial beings, especially when it’s impossible to judge what a robot might be thinking without the benefit of facial expressions and body language.
The supporting cast gives able performances, and the characters are reasonably well-developed. In fact, some are not what they originally appear to be, which adds to the who-dunnit story.
Tom Baker is really on his game as the Doctor, and Louise Jameson as Leela comes across as both simple as her savage upbringing dictates but intelligent at the same time – often plot points are explained through her questions to the Doctor about what’s going on.
As for the DVD extras, they’re average at best. The commentary by writer Chris Boucher and producer Philip Hinchcliffe provides an occasional interesting tidbit, but most of it doesn’t directly relate to the action on the screen and the mind quickly wanders.
Some of the features, such as the alternate beginning of episode one, studio plans and even photo galleries would be much more interesting with some description or commentary.
Overall, as Doctor Who stories go, Robots of Death is one of the best examples of how the series is still relevant in large part due to great storytelling.
Originally published on Outpost Gallifrey