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Doctor Who - The Robots of Death

BBC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . PG . PAL


If you ask anyone to describe Doctor Who, they're likely to say "a tall man, with lots of curly brown hair, and a very long, multi-colored scarf." Of course, they're describing Tom Baker, the man who received the longest stint as the Timelord from Gallifrey, appearing in episodes made between 1974 and 1981. His fame is such that he even has his own website unrelated and apart from the BBC's Official Dr Who website.

The eight Doctor's have appeared in over 150 stories that were created for television, each story running for 2 to 6 episodes in length. The Robots of Death was Baker's 16th Dr Who story, and the 90th story for the show.

The TARDIS materialises inside a giant sand mining vehicle that is combing a desert world for precious minerals. Crewed primarily by robots, the human command team takes charge when sand storms occur, directing the miner to new sites promising riches.

Unfortunately, this trip out is proving less than profitable as the crew are being killed off, one by one, by someone on board. The Doctor and Leela are accused of the crimes, but the Doctor believes that one of the robots to be responsible. Can the Doctor convince the crew that a robot has over-ridden its programming before the crew is completely wiped out?

Only Time will tell.


While not astounding, the video quality on this disc is passable, especially considering the age of the source material. Most notably, is the graininess of the image, attributable to the original from which the transfer has been lifted. This grain has led to the other, minor flaws in the picture - less than stunning black levels, some aliasing, and the occassional compression artifact.


The audio, too, suffers from age, the simple stereo mix suffering from a noticeable hiss. That aside, dialogue and music are quite clear, well mixed, and achieving requirements for the purpose it was created.


What would a DVD of a cult TV series be without a swag of extras? A boring disc that fans would still buy, I'm guessing. Fortunately, the BBC have done well, and included a whole bunch of things you or I wouldn't normally get to see.

First up, we have the Studio Floorplans, showing how the set was laid out at the BBC studio in which the story was filmed. They're a little blurry, and the text is somewhat illegible, but after viewing the main feature you can mostly make out what is where in the diagrams.

Secondly, there's a Photo Gallery containing 17 black and white, and 13 colour photographs - some made while cameras were rolling, others obviously between takes.

Next off the block, we have two items rolled into a single featurette. A short piece of footage, shown without the final production sounds effects, and a collection of model shots showing the sand miner in operation. While somewhat interesting, the model sequences continue for a great deal of time, and given that many were never used in production, the video quality can leave a bit to be desired.

Finally, we have an Audio Commentary with the series producer at the time, Phillip Hinchcliffe, and story writer Chris Boucher. The two provide some interesting insight into what went on during that period of the show, as well as the actors and feeling of the public. Be warned, however, it can be a bit dry, and the pair lapse into silence on a number of occasions, as it seems they haven't seen these episodes since they were originally filmed. Definitely more for the die hard fans than the casual viewer.


A very pleasant Doctor Who mystery that goes beyond the extraordinary situation in which it occurs, The Robots of Death is a fine showpiece, demonstrating the series' ability to deal with human stories, without needing to resort to a rubber-monster-suit. Overall, an excellent disc when you take into consideration the age of the material, and the fact that many episodes have been lost or destroyed.

Most fans won't need to be told to pick it up, but the choice of story may help those not usually inclined towards science-fiction to look past the sci-fi exterior, to the who-dunnit that lies beneath.

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      And I quote...
    "If only we had a TARDIS, we could get all of those destroyed Dr Who episodes on DVD."
    - Andrew MacLennan
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