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Dr. Who: The Robots of Death
Features: Full Screen, Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Stereo), Subtitles: English. Producer and writer commentary track, Model test video, Production and publicity photo gallery, Studio plans, Who's Who.
The Robots of Death:
The Robots of Death may not be the greatest Dr. Who adventure but it certainly is one of the most tightly scripted and classically formulaic of the Tom Baker era. Coming between Faces of Evil and (one of the best Baker episodes) The Talons of Wen-Chiang, The Robots of Death originally aired in four parts from January 29th through February 19th 1977.
The story is straight Science Fiction. When the Doctor and his newly acquired companion Leela arrive on a gargantuan mining ship they find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery. One by one the crew of the Sandminer is being killed off, but by whom? The ship's officers, confounded in their investigation detain the Doctor and Leela thinking that these strangers must be the prime suspects. After a bit of the usual Tom Baker magic the time/space travelers win their freedom and join the hunt for the killer.
The Sandminer is a commercial vessel manned by highly decadent humans doing little more than administrative duties and staffed by a large number of finely crafted automatons. These metal skinned robots are soft spoken, single minded and strikingly Deco in design. They're also (at least theoretically) incapable of murder and mainly ignored by the humans. Even the Doctor himself has doubts about the robot's ability to commit homicide. His investigation quickly reveals a mastermind behind the machines, one Taren Capel. But what is Capel's motivation and where is he hiding?
The Robots of Death has a lot to offer Tom Baker fans. The dialogue, particularly between Baker and Louise Jameson (Leela) is crisp and witty. The story, borrowing heavily from Asimov, is interesting enough to keep you watching and the design of the sets and costumes is top notch. Of particular note are the similarities to 1977's big screen space adventure Star Wars. The Robots of Death features various design elements that mirror Star Wars' counterparts including simple green screen displays, banks of unlabeled control switches and lights and of course the robots themselves which look like shoestring budget versions of C3-P0.
As with the other installments of the Dr. Who series on DVD the BBC presents us with a lovingly created transfer. The episode was taken from 1991 era D3 copies of the original Quadraplex video masters. The resulting files were then treated to digital noise reduction, dirt and scratch removal and each scene was adjusted for color balance. The result is a beautiful image on screen that matches and in some cases surpasses the original broadcast clarity.
As with the visual elements the sound for this episode is very crisp and clear. The original stereo soundtrack has been cleaned up and sounds as good as it did when originally aired. You won't find any fancy panning across the sound stage or artificially enhanced thundering lows, just a clean, serviceable audio track that does the episode justice.
One of the great things about the BBC's handling of these releases is that they're adding some great special features to each disc. In this case you get a commentary track with producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher who fondly recall their involvement with Dr. Who in general and the mechanics of this episode in particular. Next is a set of unused shots of the exterior of the mining vehicle. These clips, once the property of the Dr. Who Production Office and now part of a private collection, were loaned out for inclusion here. Additional extras include a production and publicity photo gallery, a floor plan of the sets that were used and the same Who's Who section that's included on all of the US Dr. Who discs.
I'm not a big fan of The Robots of Death but for many it's a Baker favorite. As usual the BBC offers a fantastic disc with great images, good sound and a surprisingly eclectic collection of extras. If you're a Doctor Who fan you'll want each and every one of these discs in your collection. If you're new to these shows and interested in sampling Dr. Who this would be a great place to start. Highly Recommended.