In a final rush to get this done before tonight’s probable spate of reviews here goes,
The Robots of Death
I absolutely love this era. For me, it’s Doctor Who at its best: a healthy amount of violence, a couple of jokes and loads of fun. Robots of Death probably isn’t the best example (step up Talons) but it is proof that even the stories not remembered as liquid gold classics can stand up to scrutiny.
"It’s unpretentious and bloody entertaining"
There is a case for designing a season in the old style of having each adventure primarily concerned with telling a story because then you don’t get rubbish filler episodes like Idiot’s Lantern or Fear Her. The downside is you lose the irresistible, sweeping saga which has become main-stream, thanks in no small part to the great Joss Whedon. That doesn't necessarily make them “good bad” pieces of writing – a topic which came up in Stu's recent thread, just a differnt type of good. It’s unpretentious and only interested in being bloody entertaining.
First of all, the main characters are adorable – the contrast between them and that slightly prickly relationship they have could probably carry a 4-parter all in itself. Baker and Jameson are on top form, the latter managing to get the balance between a convincing savage and a hackneyed device almost perfect. In my rather incoherent notes it says, “Leela could charm the socks off a Clanger” and that the Doctor “goes a bit Shining”.
"Poul’s quiff was definitely from the David Tennant school of hair-dressing"
Of the rest of the mining crew, only Zilda left a large impression, mainly because of the dreadful scene where she has to cry. The costumes are far more memorable than the characters in most cases: Toos had a skwonk Statue of Liberty thing on her head and Poul’s quiff was definitely from the David Tennant school of hair-dressing.
Aside from costume, the design is excellent. The robots are dead creepy (especially because of their glittery eye-shadow) and the sets are, considering the studio’s size, very impressive. I love the model shots, even if they do re-use them. The interior ones in particular help you get an impression of the space and are used to neatly book-end the story.
"unashamed fun that puts a smile on your face"
The script, while it has its draw-backs (the random re-call of the murder-bots only to issue the same instructions is very weak) is fantastic; it packs enough pace, wit and zeal into the 100 minutes or so to make them fly by. Some of the dialogue is bordering on the poetic; I like the description of the Laseron Probe “it can punch a fist-sized hole in 6’’ armour plate or take the crystals from a snowflake one by one.” The prop in question is clearly just a plastic tube but those words are so evocative it’s barely an effort to take it seriously. I also liked the way real science is used to solve problems. Voice responsive robots? Just change their evil genius’ voice with helium! It’s simple and practical.
Hopefully, over the coming weeks we’ll see some Doctor Who like this – exciting, sharp and fun. That’s been missing lately and there’s little more satisfying than a scary thriller with a hyperactive-5-year-old mentality. I really do hope season 3 will turn out like that: unashamed fun that puts a smile on your face.