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05 May 2019 @ 07:13 pm
Tom Baker's debut story, Robot is an odd story in many ways. It is a little "neither fish nor fowl" in that written, as it is, by departing Script Editor, Terrance Dicks it is looking back to the Pertwee Era and its UNIT stories but the hallmarks of Tom Baker's run are already there to see.

From the UNIT perspective, the Brigadier and Sergeant (now Warrant Officer) Benton are in place, together with new boy Harry Sullivan. We have a plot that is driven, in part, by Sarah's journalistic investigations. Our bad guys are also a group of mad scientists, reminiscent of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Tame Layman and I recently watched an early Avengers episode in which a similar group of mad scientists in vaguely Nazi uniforms were attempting to take over the world and it seems a bit zeigesty. While modern science fiction continues to draw both on evil mad scientists and on vaguely fascist organisations, it doesn't seem as interested in the idea of a group of fascist scientists intent on taking over the world and ruling in the name of rationality as the 1960s and 1970s were. That said there are oddities in this bunch of rationalists, typified by the functionary who criticises Sarah for wearing trousers despite the fact the whole organisation is basically run by the formidable Hilda Winters (admittedly in a skirt) who seems, like Liz Shaw, to be a Miss rather than a Dr. or Professor.

On the other hand we already have a story that is mining horror tropes. The first three episodes are riffing on Frankenstein's monster, though in a way that is rather more subtle than was to become common in later Hinchcliffe stories. The final episode feels a little tacked on the end. The fascist scientists are despatched with fairly quickly before the halfway point, leaving us with a sudden change of direction into a King Kong homage to finish the story.

The eponymous robot is of mixed success. It is nicely written as a genuine character, up until it goes mad in the final episode where it becomes fairly generic. Similarly it has a costume which is, I would say, a success from the elbows upwards and a failure from the elbows down.

Hindsight is a tricky thing. As a modern viewer I know that UNIT is on its way out, to gradually vanish from stories not with a bang but with a whimper. In that light, this looks like the beginning of the end, already impatient to get on and be a new sort of Doctor Who, helmed by Hinchcliffe and Holmes and starring Tom Baker. It's a good enough story but feels like one which, in some sense, the production team have already moved on from.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/576945.html.