Sue: Ooh, scary face. Tom Baker looks very serious, doesn’t he? But this is a much better title sequence. You don’t need to see the Doctor’s legs.
Sue: They still haven’t fixed the credits! That’s just lazy. They slapped the new titles over the old ones and hoped for the best. Will they ever sort that out?
Tom Baker’s opening gambit doesn’t go down well either.
Sue: Is Tom Baker always this hammy? I hope he tones it down soon. That was well over the top.
Meanwhile, something mechanical… oh sod it, a robot – the clue’s in the title – is up to no good.
Sue: Did that thing just kick two dogs to death?
Me: Perhaps it just injured them a little bit. Pretend that it just stood on their tails or something.
Sue: Like that’s going to make me feel any better. Two marks off and we’re only five minutes into the story.
Back at UNIT HQ, Sarah-Jane Smith is flirting with the Brigadier so she can get her paws on a press pass to a new government Think Tank (which is surely much more fascinating than a recently regenerated Time Lord that just happens to be sitting on her own doorstep). On her way out, she calls the Brigadier a swinger.
Me: Confirmation at last.
Sue: It’s the moustache that gives him away.
Meanwhile, the new Doctor has discharged himself from the infirmary but the medical officer, Harry Sullivan, manages to intervene before he can escape in his TARDIS. Distracted, the Doctor stares into a shaving mirror and proclaims that his nose is a definite improvement.
Sue: Your entire face is a definite improvement! Cheer up! You’re not Jon Pertwee any more!
The Doctor bamboozles Harry with an exceedingly strange medical, and Sue seems to enjoy it.
Sue: He is certainly larger than life and very charismatic – you certainly 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.
As the scene plays out, Sue laughs. A lot.
Sue: He’s very funny, but I’m not sure that the kids would have felt the same way. I think half of them would have been frightened by the Doctor’s eyes popping out of his head. He’s definitely the most alien Doctor we’ve seen so far. How did you take to him when you first saw him?
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; you can adjust to anything when you’re that young. I certainly don’t remember pining for Pertwee, although I did love those chocolate bars with his face on the wrappers. Yeah, I missed them.
As the robot is sent to murder another hapless sod, we are given another POV shot from the robot’s perspective.
Sue: I bet the robot looks shit. I’m preparing myself for the worst.
Meanwhile, back at UNIT HQ, the Doctor is trying on some new clothes.
Sue: It’s a shame the Brigadier wasn’t around when Colin Baker was picking out his costume. Has anyone ever said that before? Actually, that clown costume would have looked good on Peter Davison.
Now decked out in his iconic costume (Sue’s words), the Doctor finally investigates the scene of the crime.
Sue: My word, his teeth are scary.
And then, when the camera pulls out, Sue gasps.
Sue: You’d never see Jon Pertwee with his legs up on Bessie’s windscreen like that. His other self would knock his block off if he could see him now.
As the Doctor starts dishing out advice to UNIT like Sherlock Holmes on Valium, Sue isn’t impressed by his attitude.
Sue: It’s almost as if this Doctor can’t be bothered with this story. He’s treating the whole thing as a bit of a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
When we meet Kettlewell, I find myself wishing that Nicol was around to verify some of the dodgy science that is being bandied around, but Sue can’t get past the 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 babbles on about alternative energy sources, Sue decides to focus on Sarah’s choice of outfit instead. I’m surprised it took her this long.
Sue: This is not 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 pretty 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 a huge robot with a very striking design.
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 made me stick my head in one of its claws when no one was looking.
Me: Well, that was Tom Baker’s first episode. Was it a good start?
Sue: It was alright, I suppose. It’s far too early to tell.
Sarah isn’t killed by the robot. It gives her a sales pitch instead. It’s master, Jellicoe, mercifully switches it off before it can list every amazing role it can perform, but Sue has a suggestion of her own:
Sue: It can play a mean game of American Football.
I ask Sue for her opinion on the overall design of the K1 robot.
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 could pick anything up. Look at its wrists! I like its head, though. Especially the pink bits.
Jellicoe’s boss, Miss Winters, tells Sarah to keep her mouth shut or else they’ll issue a formal complaint against her.
Sue: The Press Complaints Commission are useless, pet. I bet Sarah Jane is quaking in her boots.
Later that night, Winters and Jellicoe 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 buy them himself especially?
Another decision that Sue can’t understand is entirely directorial.
Sue: This story is very dark. Not dark in terms of its subject matter or tone, but dark as in “What the hell am I supposed to be looking at?” Are the sparks out on strike? I can hardly make anything out in this scene.
The K1 robot is ordered to murder a cabinet minister and steal a Top Secret file. Sue can’t believe her eyes 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.
As the Brigadier grows more and more impatient for answers, Sue believes that he’s let himself go a bit.
Sue: His hair is getting very long; that’s definitely a non-regulation haircut by now. They must be very lax about that kind of thing at the United Nations.
Sarah tells the Brigadier and the Doctor that she is 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 any more? I didn’t realise that the Doctor’s companions were expected to hold down a day job between adventures. That’s a bit disappointing.
Sarah attempts to gain an audience with the SRS but the bouncers on the door aren’t very impressed with her attire either.
Sue: It’s not your trousers that are the problem, it’s that stupid thing you’ve got wrapped round your head. There’s room for only one scarf in this programme, love, and that’s not it.
Sarah is told to piss off, but as she leaves, the SRS tell her they hope she will give them a good write-up.
Sue: They need to hire a PR company to deal with front of house. You can’t kick people out on their arse before a gig starts and then expect a decent review. Idiots!
Meanwhile, the Doctor and the Brigadier are being escorted away from the Think Tank.
Sue: Oh look, there’s Paul McGann. Has a later version of the Doctor turned up to keep an eye on his younger self and offer advice?
Me: Yes, that’s exactly what just happened.
But as the Doctor leaves, Harry Sullivan arrives, dressed in an immaculate pinstripe suit and bowler hat and claiming to be from the ministry.
Me: Does this remind you of anything?
Sue: Yes, it’s Steel from The Avengers.
Me: That’s very close but I think you mean Steed.
Sue: Since when did the Navy work for UNIT? That’s what I don’t understand.
The Doctor races off in Bessie to visit Kettlewell.
Sue: That doesn’t look right. This Doctor needs to get himself a new car. He can’t drive around in Jon Pertwee’s cast-offs.
Me: What kind of car should the 4th Doctor drive?
Sue: I don’t know. A white Triumph Spitfire wouldn’t clash with his scarf.
It’s around this point that Benton brings the plot to a screeching halt when he decides to brandish his pointless promotion in Sarah’s face.
Sue: So UNIT doesn’t have a budget but they still gave Benton a raise? That’s nice.
Me: You know, I’m pretty sure that scene was inserted because some pedant wrote an irate letter to the Radio Times complaining about UNIT’s chain of command. But I could be wrong.
Sue: It sounds exactly like the sort of thing a specialist would do. Wow. That means they had specialists in the 1970s as well. What did they do with themselves before the Internet was invented?
The episode concludes with the Doctor sprawled out on the floor, about to be assassinated by the K1 robot.
Sue: Make your mind up, Tom. Where do you want to lie down? You just get yourself nice and comfortable. That’s it. Happy now? And cut.
Part Three kicks off with one of the longest episodes recaps we have ever seen.
Sue: They obviously don’t have enough material to stretch to four episodes. Does this mean that episode three is the new episode five? Is that how it works with four-parters?
Before the Doctor can be fatally felled by the K1 robot, Sarah arrives to save his bacon.
Sue: They are messing with the cliffhanger again. We never saw Sarah Jane arrive in the last episode. It’s a cheat. I can’t say that I’m very impressed by the direction in this story so far. It’s very safe.
Sarah tries to reason with the K1 robot but her pleas will not compute.
Sue: He’s like a petulant version of Siri.
Me: Is there any other kind?
The robot decides to make a run for it. Well, an amble for it.
Me: This is the only scene that I can definitely remember watching when I was five. Or maybe they used this sequence as a clip on another show and I’m remembering that instead. For some reason, my memories of this story are very foggy.
Sue: Was it the robot’s feet that you remember the most? Look at them! He’s going to trip over himself if he’s not careful. Whoever designed this thing was insane. Oh wait, we’ve met him; he is insane.
Benton tries to hold the robot back with a hail of bullets.
Sue: Look at Benton. He’s loving this. He’s in his element; he can barely hide his smile.
Sue realises that this sequence is very familiar fodder and we could be watching yet another Barry Letts story.
Me: This is a Barry Letts story.
Sue: What? I thought Barry had gone? In all those Jon Pertwee documentaries you made me watch recently, he was always going on and on about leaving the show.
Me: This is Barry’s last story. A new producer takes over the reins next week.
Sue: That’s a bit weird. That would be like Russell T. Davies producing Matt Smith’s first episode before swanning off into the sunset. So who cast Tom Baker as the Doctor?
Me: Well, it was Barry’s decision as the producer that sealed it.
Sue: Unbelievable. Thank God he left the new producer with somebody decent in the part! If Barry was a bad man he could have cast someone like Arthur Mullard for a laugh.
Me: That doesn’t bear thinking about.
At the SRS rally, Miss Winters is ranting about a new scientific order.
Sue: They look like a gathering of angry bus conductors.
And then Hilda reveals her secret weapon: a badly designed (and slightly unhinged) robot.
Sue: So this is what it would happen if the BNP ever joined forces with Metal Mickey? Scary stuff.
The robot identifies Sarah as a threat but just as things are looking bad for our badly dressed, but exceptionally plucky heroine, the Brigadier turns up to throw a spanner in the works.
Sue: Thank heavens for the Brigadier! He’s turned the lights on and I can actually see what’s going on for a change.
As the robot makes its way out of the meeting, it is clearly helped down the stairs by an SRS goon.
Sue: I realise that he might be using the robot as a shield, but I’m not convinced that the robot could get down those steps without his help. Does this robot require a constant supply of care workers?
UNIT decide to unleash hell.
Sue: Have UNIT ever shot and killed anything? Ever? They are hopeless.
In the aftermath of this fiasco, Harry calls the Brigadier with an update on the Think Tank’s ambitions.
Sue: Who’s this bloke again?
And there’s something else nagging at Sue:
Sue: So this lot are going to hold the whole world to ransom? And yet they can barely fill a meeting at a local town hall?
Me: Yes, it eerily prefigures contemporary American politics, don’t you think?
With the SRS holed up in a bunker, Benton decides to assault it the only way he knows how.
Sue: Wow! He just hit three things in a row! With one grenade! Benton really did deserve that promotion.
The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to detonate some mines surrounding the entrance to the bunker.
Sue: Alternatively, why not just walk directly up to the door – no one thought to put any mines in the path to the entrance itself. Idiots!
When they reach the door, the Doctor turns his screwdriver into a sonic lance.
Sue: It’s a Dremel.
Me: I have no idea what that means.
Sue: Don’t you know anything practical? Knowing how many episodes Terry ****ing Nation wrote is never – I repeat, never – going to help us. Knowing how to handle a Dremel might. Just so you know.
With the world’s governments playing hardball, Winters tells Jellicoe to arm the K1 robot with the disintegrator gun. Jellicoe hurries off to retrieve the gun, which is sitting a few inches away from a captive Sarah and Harry.
Sue: So they 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 that out. And how is the robot going to pick up that gun? It’s going to throw its balance right off.
The robot leaves the bunker to confront UNIT, but when it takes aim with its gun, Sue is overcome by a fit of the giggles.
Sue: Bless him. He can only point his gun at the ground. Look at that limp wrist! And his gun doesn’t even flash when he fires it. It’s pathetic!
And then UNIT’s reinforcements arrive (care of Palitoy).
Sue: Oh dear. That is not good at all.
Me: I had a tank like that when I was a boy. It’s an Action Man tank.
Sue: And today you have a toy version of the robot instead. Nothing much has changed, has it?
Me: It’s not a toy. It’s a collectible figurine.
Sue: It fell off your bookshelf when I was tidying up, once. I’m telling you, trying to get that thing to stand up straight again was a ****ing nightmare. The design of this robot is appalling!
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 a bit of trivia: Miss Winters wrote the theme tune to Minder.
Sue: Now you are 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 credits to the song is Dennis, but it isn’t – 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. So 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? Can you imagine it? No one is going to be truly happy in that triangle.
Thankfully, the Doctor manages to save the day with only two seconds left to spare. Or about fifteen minutes left to spare, given how long this episode still has left to run.
Just as Benton is thinking about sticking the kettle on, everyone suddenly notices that Sarah and the Robot have gone 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. Just look at him. Say what you like about Levene (whichever one it is, I really don’t care), he always gives it his all. Just look at him concentrating like mad in the background.
The K1 robot proclaims that it will make more machines like itself.
Sue: But with better wrists! And opposable thumbs!
The Doctor believes that the robot is probably suffering from a suppressed Oedipus complex.
Sue: That’s a bit heavy for a children’s television programme. I wonder how many children turned to their mothers at that point to ask them what an Oedipus complex was. Did you?
Sue: I thought you said your memories of this story were foggy? You are probably suppressing it.
However, while the Doctor ruminates on the robot’s neuroses, the Brigadier is far too busy shooting at it to give two hoots for its mental state.
And then, in a plot twist no one could see coming, the Brigadier shoots the K1 robot with the disintegrator gun and it begins to grow in size.
Sue: What the hell? Since when did that gun make things bigger? Okay, I’m really confused now.
The robot reaches for Sarah with its massive claw.
Sue: It’s turned into Godzilla, now.
Me: Don’t you mean King Kong?
Sue: That’s him. Look, it’s carrying a doll of Sarah Jane around with him. Have you got a Sarah Jane doll yet?
Me: Not yet.
Sue: Actually, it looks like the black-haired doll from Play School. What was her name?
Sue: It’s a bit silly. Barry really is addicted to CSO. He’s got Sarah Jane pretending to hold onto a photograph of a drain pipe, now. How much would it have cost them to have provided her with a real drain pipe to hold on to? In fact, they could have doubled-up with the big bazooka that UNIT are using. Just stand it up and Sarah Jane could pretend to hang off that instead. Who directed this rubbish?
And the Doctor turns up, armed with a bucket brimming with a metal-eating virus.
Sue: Why doesn’t it eat through the bucket’s handle?
Harry drives Bessie towards the giant robot at full pelt, and the Doctor throws the substance all over the robot’s clodhopping feet.
Sue: This is the closest the Doctor will ever get to a drive-by shooting.
The robot dies. But at least it has the decency to clean up after itself.
Back at UNIT HQ, and Sarah is feeling a bit sad. But never mind that, the Doctor is on hand to offer her a quick spin in the TARDIS. But just as they are about to leave, they are interrupted by some berk in cravat.
Sue: I didn’t know he was a companion. Who 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 didn’t make any sense at all. Tom Baker was okay, but he was just finding his feet, so I don’t want to judge him yet. He’s very funny, I’ll give him that. But it’s just the same old same old, only this time with a nicer Doctor. I was expecting a much bigger change than that. That was distinctly average.