Sue: Ooh, scary face. Tom Baker looks very serious, doesn’t he? It’s a much better title sequence than the last one, though. You don’t need to see the Doctor’s legs.
Sue: They still haven’t fixed the titles! That’s just lazy. They’ve slapped the new titles over the old ones and hoped for the best. Do they ever sort that out, Neil?
She isn’t impressed with Tom Baker, either.
Sue: Is Tom always this hammy? I hope he tones it down eventually. That was well over the top.
Elsewhere in the home counties, a robot is up to no good.
Sue: Did that thing just kick two dogs to death?
Me: Perhaps it just injured them. Pretend it stood on their tails or something.
Sue: Like that’s going to make me feel any better. That’s two marks off already, and we’re only five minutes in.
Back at UNIT HQ, Sarah Jane Smith flirts with the Brigadier so she can get her hands on a press pass to a new government Think Tank, which is clearly a lot more interesting than a recently regenerated Time Lord. On her way out, she calls the Brigadier a swinger.
Me: Confirmation at last.
Sue: It’s his moustache that gives him away.
The new Doctor discharges himself from the infirmary but the medical officer, Harry Sullivan, manages to intervene before he can escape in his TARDIS. The Doctor believes that his nose is a definite improvement on the last one.
Sue: Your entire face is a definite improvement! Cheer up! You’re not Jon Pertwee any more!
The Doctor bamboozles Harry during an exceedingly strange medical, but Sue seems to enjoy it.
Sue: He’s definitely larger than life and very charismatic – you can’t take your eyes off him. But he will tone it down eventually, won’t he? He’s a bit full on at the moment.
Doesn’t stop her laughing though.
Sue: He’s very funny, but I’m not sure the kids would have felt the same way. I think the Doctor’s eyes popping out of his head would have frightened half of them to death. He’s definitely the most alien Doctor so far. How did you take to him when you first saw him, Neil?
Me: I don’t remember ever not liking him. I’m pretty sure I took to him like a duck to water. I was only five years old at the time; you can adjust to anything when you’re that young. I certainly don’t remember pining for Jon Pertwee, although I loved those chocolate bars with his face on the wrappers. Yeah, I definitely missed those.
The robot murders another hapless sod.
Sue: I bet the robot looks shit when we finally get to see it. I’m preparing myself for the worst.
Meanwhile the Doctor is searching for a new outfit to wear.
Sue: It’s a shame the Brigadier wasn’t around when Colin Baker chose his costume. Has anyone ever said that before, Neil? Actually, that clown outfit would have looked pretty good on Peter Davison…
Now that’s he decked out in his iconic costume (Sue’s words, not mine), the Doctor agrees to investigate the scene of the crime.
Sue: My word, his teeth are scary.
And then Sue gasps.
Sue: You’d never catch Jon Pertwee with his feet on Bessie’s windscreen like that. His other self would knock his block off if he could see him now.
The Doctor dishes out advice to UNIT like he’s Sherlock Holmes on Valium.
Sue: It’s as if he can’t be bothered. He’s treating the whole thing as a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
When we are introduced to Kettlewell, Sue points at the mad professor’s hair.
Sue: Has he been playing with a Van de Graaff generator?
Me: I think he’s more of a Hawkwind fan.
As the professor starts babbling on about alternative energy sources, Sue shifts her attention to Sarah’s outfit.
Sue: This isn’t a good look for Sarah Jane. It makes her look old and frumpy. I don’t know what she was thinking when she got out of bed this morning. I’m sure that look was never fashionable.
Sarah is politely escorted away from Think Tank’s premises, but she immediately sneaks back in again, and the episode concludes with her being menaced by the titular robot.
Sue: Oh, it’s that robot! I was attacked by that thing at the Doctor Who Experience, wasn’t I? Well, I say attacked – you told me to stick my head in its claws when no one was looking.
Me: Well, that was Tom Baker’s first episode. Was it a good start?
Sue: It was all right, I suppose. It’s too early to tell.
I ask Sue to comment on the robot’s unique design.
Sue: How long have you got? First of all, it’s top-heavy. Secondly, it can’t walk properly. And thirdly, I don’t see how it can possibly pick anything up. Look at its wrists! I like its head, though. Especially the pink bits.
When Sarah is discovered on Think Tank’s premises, Miss Winters tells her to keep her trap shut or they’ll issue a formal complaint.
Sue: I bet Sarah Jane is quaking in her boots.
Later that night, Miss Winters is joined by a colleague named Jellicoe, and together they mess with the robot’s brain.
Sue: I like his pink marigold gloves. Do you think he stole them from a cleaner or did he actually buy them himself?
Sue leans forward.
Sue: This story is very dark. Not in terms of its subject matter. It’s more like, “What the hell am I looking at? I can’t see a thing.”
The K1 robot is programmed to murder a cabinet minister and steal a top-secret file, and Sue can’t believe it when it manages to grasp the manila folder in its claw without dropping it.
Sue: I’d like to see it pick up a large hardback book. I bet it couldn’t do that. It’s not exactly the Terminator, is it? Living metal, my arse.
The Brigadier wants answers.
Sue: His hair is very long. That’s definitely a non-regulation haircut. They must be very lax about that sort of thing at the United Nations.
Sarah informs the Brigadier she’s popping out to report on a meeting of the Scientific Reform Society.
Sue: Why is Sarah Jane still working as a journalist? Isn’t she the Doctor’s full-time companion now? I didn’t realise the Doctor’s companions were expected to hold down a job between adventures.
Sarah’s attempts to interview the SRS fall on deaf ears, mainly because the bouncers on the door aren’t impressed with her attire either.
Sue: It’s that stupid thing you’ve got wrapped round your head, pet. There’s only room for one scarf in this programme.
The SRS tell Sarah to piss off.
Sue: They should hire a PR company to deal with their front of house. You can’t kick people out and still expect a decent review. Idiots.
But all is not lost, because Harry has successfully infiltrated the organisation by pretending to be a man from the ministry.
Sue: It’s Steel from The Avengers.
Me: I think you mean Steed.
Sue: Since when did the Navy work for UNIT? That’s what I don’t understand.
The Doctor takes Bessie for a spin.
Sue: This doesn’t look right to me. He needs a new car. He can’t drive around in one of Jon Pertwee’s cast-offs.
Me: So what kind of car should this Doctor drive?
Sue: I don’t know. A white Triumph Spitfire wouldn’t clash with his scarf.
And then, apropos of nothing, Benton brandishes his recent promotion in Sarah Jane’s face.
Sue: UNIT don’t have a budget to fight aliens, but they still gave Benton a raise? That’s nice.
Me: I’m sure that scene was inserted into the episode because some pedant wrote an irate letter to the Radio Times complaining about UNIT’s chain of command.
Sue: That sounds like the sort of thing a Doctor Who specialist would do. Wow. That means they had specialists in the 1970s as well. Is this what they did before the internet was invented?
The episode ends with a murderous robot towering over the Doctor, who’s sprawled out on the floor.
Sue: Make your mind up, Tom. Where do you want to lie down? Get yourself nice and comfortable… That’s it. Happy now? And cut!
Sarah arrives in the nick of time and saves the Doctor’s bacon.
Sue: They’re messing with the cliffhangers again. We never saw Sarah Jane arrive in the last episode, so it’s a cheat. I can’t say I’m impressed with the direction in this story so far. It’s very safe.
Sarah tries to reason with the K1 robot, but her pleas do not compute.
Sue: He’s like a petulant version of Siri.
Me: Is there any other kind?
The robot makes a run for it. Actually, it ambles for it, but you get the general idea.
Me: This is the only bit I can remember seeing when I was five. Or maybe they showed this clip on another programme and I’m remembering that instead. My memories of this are very foggy.
Sue: Do you remember the robot’s feet? I mean, look at them! He’s going to trip over himself if he’s not careful. Whoever designed that thing was insane. Oh wait, we’ve already met him. He is insane.
Benton showers the robot with bullets.
Sue: Look at Benton. He’s loving this. He’s in his element today; he can barely hide his smile.
Sue suddenly realises that she could be watching a Barry Letts story.
Me: This is a Barry Letts story, love.
Sue: What? I thought Barry had left? In all those Jon Pertwee documentaries you made me watch, he was always going on about leaving.
Me: This is Barry’s last story. A new producer takes over next week.
Sue: That’s weird. That would be like Russell T Davies producing Matt Smith’s first episode before he swanned off. So who cast Tom Baker as the Doctor, then?
Me: It was Barry who sealed the deal.
Sue: Unbelievable. Thank God he left the new producer with a decent actor. If Barry was a bad man he could have cast Arthur Mullard for a laugh.
Miss Winters addresses an SRS rally.
Sue: They look like a gathering of angry bus conductors.
Hilda reveals her secret weapon: a badly designed (and slightly unhinged) robot.
Sue: So this is what will happen if the BNP ever join forces with Metal Mickey? Scary stuff.
The robot identifies Sarah as an outsider and targets her, but thankfully the Brigadier turns up to throw a spanner in its works.
Sue: Thank heavens for the Brig! He’s turned the lights on and we can actually see what’s going on for a change.
As the robot makes its way out of the hall, it’s helped down some stairs by an SRS goon.
Sue: I’m not convinced that it could get down those steps without any help. Does the robot require a constant supply of care workers?
UNIT unleash hell.
Sue: Have UNIT ever shot and killed anything? Like, ever? They’re hopeless.
Harry calls the Brigadier with an update on Think Tank’s ambitions.
Sue: Who’s this bloke again?
And then she puts her finger on something that’s been bugging her for ages.
Sue: So this lot are going to hold the world to ransom, but they can barely fill a meeting at a local town hall?
Me: Yes, this story eerily prefigures contemporary American politics.
With the SRS holed up in their bunker, Benton assaults it the only way he knows how.
Sue: Wow! He just hit three things in a row! With one grenade! Maybe Benton deserved that promotion after all.
The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to detonate the mines surrounding the bunker’s entrance.
Sue: It’s a Dremel.
Me: I have no idea what that means.
Sue: Don’t you know anything practical, Neil? Knowing how many episodes Terry ****ing Nation wrote is never – I repeat never – going to help us. But knowing how to handle a Dremel might.
Miss Winters decides to arm the robot with a disintegrator gun, so Jellicoe hurries off to retrieve it from a cell that’s currently occupied by Sarah and Harry.
Sue: They actually left the gun in the same room as their prisoners? That’s a bit stupid. It’s a good job Steed and Sarah didn’t work out what it was. And how is the robot going to pick up that gun, exactly? It’ll throw its balance right off.
When the robot aims the gun, Sue can’t stop giggling.
Sue: Bless him. He can only point it at the ground. Look at his limp wrist! And his gun doesn’t even flash when it fires. It’s pathetic!
UNIT reinforcements arrive (care of Palitoy).
Sue: Oh dear…
Me: It’s an Action Man tank. I had one of those when I was a boy.
Sue: And now you have a toy version of that robot instead. Nothing much has changed, has it?
Me: It isn’t a toy, dear. It’s a collectible figurine.
Sue: It fell off your bookshelf when I was tidying up, once. Getting it to stand up straight again was a ****ing nightmare.
Me: You remember how Tommy from Planet of the Spiders wrote several episodes of Terry and June?
Sue: Only because Steve O’Brien told me.
Me: Yes, well, we can go one better with this story. How’s this for some trivia: Miss Winters wrote the theme tune to Minder.
Sue: Now you’re just taking the piss.
Me: I’m serious. Patricia Maynard married Dennis Waterman and she wrote the theme to Minder. People assume that the Waterman identified in the song’s credits is Dennis, but it isn’t him, it’s her.
Sue: I could be so good to you?
Sue: Love me like you want me to?
Me: Yes, but we should probably finish Robot first.
Sue: So Dennis Waterman didn’t write the theme tune and sing the theme tune? He just sang the theme tune?
Me: That’s right, which means Little Britain got it wrong, which brings us seamlessly back to Tom Baker.
As Winters, Jellicoe and Kettlewell wait for the world to end, Sue spots a fatal flaw in their plan.
Sue: How are these three idiots going to repopulate the world after a nuclear war? No one will be happy in that triangle.
The Doctor saves the day with two seconds to spare (or about 15 minutes, given how long this episode still has left to run). And then, just as Benton is about to stick the kettle on, they notice that Sarah and the robot are missing.
Sue: How can you lose a bloody robot? How did it get back on its feet without the aid of a crane?
But it’s not all bad news.
Sue: Benton is acting his face off this week. Say what you like about Levene (whichever one it is, I don’t really care), but he always gives it his all. Look at him concentrating like mad in the background…
The robot wants to create more machines like itself.
Sue: But with better wrists! And opposable thumbs!
The Doctor believes the robot is probably suffering from a suppressed Oedipus complex.
Sue: That’s a bit heavy for a children’s programme. I wonder how many children turned to their mothers and asked them what an Oedipus complex was. Did you, Neil?
Sue: You’re probably suppressing it. You said your memories of this story were foggy.
The Brigadier is too busy shooting at the robot to care about its mental state. And then, in a plot twist nobody – and I mean nobody – saw coming, when the robot is shot with the disintegrator gun, it begins to grow in size…
Sue: What the hell? Since when did that gun make things bigger? Okay, now I’m really confused!
The robot reaches for Sarah with its massive claws.
Sue: It’s turned into Godzilla, now.
Me: Don’t you mean King Kong?
Sue: That’s the one. Look, it’s carrying a Sarah Jane doll around with him. Have you got a Sarah Jane doll?
Me: Not yet.
Sue: Actually, it looks like the doll from Play School. (Laughing) What was her name again, Neil?
Sue: It’s a bit silly. Barry really is addicted to CSO, isn’t he? He’s got Sarah Jane pretending to hold on to a photograph of a drainpipe. How much would it have cost them to have provided her with a real drainpipe? In fact, they could have just doubled-up the big bazooka that UNIT are using. Just stand it up and Sarah Jane could cling to that instead. Who directed this rubbish?
The Doctor fills a plastic bucket with a metal-eating virus.
Sue: Why doesn’t it eat through the bucket’s handle?
Harry drives Bessie towards the giant robot so the Doctor can throw the contents of the bucket over its clodhopping feet.
Sue: I bet this is the closest the Doctor ever gets to a drive-by shooting.
The robot dies, which makes Sarah feel sad. Thankfully, the Doctor is on hand to offer her a quick spin in the TARDIS. But as they are about to leave, they’re interrupted by some berk in a cravat.
Sue: I didn’t know he was a companion. Who the hell is he?
Me: That’s Harry.
Sue: Never heard of him. Is he always this wet?
Sue: The story was pants. It didn’t make any sense! The villains disappeared five minutes into the final episode, and their plan was insane. Tom Baker was okay, but he’s still finding his feet, so I don’t want to judge him yet. He’s very funny, I’ll give him that. But it was just the same old, same old, only with a nicer Doctor. I was expecting a bigger change than that. It was distinctly average.