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Doctor Who XIV.5: The Robots of Death

April 25th, 2008 (03:25 pm)

There is not a lot I can say about this story which hasn't already been said elsewhere. Insights following a viewing last night included:

Firstly, the stylised costumes of the Sandminer crew very much remind me of sea creatures. This is ironic considering the sand which they are mining is part of a vast ocean of desert.

Secondly, it is a sign of how far my fan appreciation of Doctor Who has been recoloured by the internet that I wondered whether there was any Leela/Toos fic out there. There is an interesting dynamic established once Leela binds Toos's arm; the Doctor seems cheered by Leela adopting the role of nurse - "You can fulfil the traditional feminine role of the companion after all! You are welcome aboard my patriarchal TARDIS!" - but Toos seems to cling to Leela for much of the rest of the episode, suggesting a particular 1970s male view about women in command; I was reminded of Ronnie Marsh (BBC head of serials in the early 1970s) vetoing the casting of Susan Jameson as Morgan in Colony in Space because he thought the placing of a woman as head of a futuristic paramilitary command structure would automatically be read by the audience as an indication of unconventional sexuality.

Thirdly, the notorious colour-distorted image of David Bailie as Dask - is it meant to hide that he is Taren Capel or not? Yes and no. I think that it was anticipated that part of the audience would recognise him, perhaps the children who were more used to the visual language of television, and that the answer to the question would be held back until Taren Capel and the robots try to break through onto the bridge.

Fourthly, I remembered that when this first episode went out I was in a car heading back home from my grandparents. I remember looking at the dashboard clock as we passed the chemical processing wasteland next to the Gateshead western by-pass where the MetroCentre now is, and reflecting that I'd be lucky to get back to see any of the promised episode at all. I knew from the Radio Times that it was about robots of death, and was underwhelmed by what I saw when I switched on the television, which was the Doctor in a small room being smothered by a fall of corn flakes as the closing titles screamed in...


Posted by: brewsternorth (brewsternorth)
Posted at: April 25th, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)

Secondly, it is a sign of how far my fan appreciation of Doctor Who has been recoloured by the internet that I wondered whether there was any Leela/Toos fic out there..

Seriously. I'm quite surprised considering how much subtext there is that it hasn't already been Rule 34'd big-time. (That the subtext is too blatant, a possible objection, never stopped the Jack/Ianto 'shippers in Torchwood fandom.)
I never knew that about Colony in Space, I'll admit. If it were a production on BBC America in these times, the likelihood would be that the gay subtext would not only be present, but played up for all it was worth. Tempora mutantur.

And yes, not the best cliffhanger in that season, even if it did make for an unintentionally hilarious story.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 25th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)

There's a case to be made that, at least with pre-1980 Doctor Who, the subtext was always text...

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 25th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)

I saw Robots of Death again not that long ago after a gap of many years, and I felt that it hadn't really stood the test of time as well as some other rated-at-the-time stories.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 25th, 2008 07:03 pm (UTC)

I'm still very fond of it. I think that Michael E. Briant and Kenneth Sharp both thought that it was a dull script which needed livening up by attention to design and performance; and from having listened to his contribution to Kaldor City, I think that Boucher's writing style has definitely dated. This is still a strong contribution to a strong season, though, and makes me wonder what we might have seen had Philip Hinchcliffe not been reassigned to Target. (I think the infamous "Hello Graham. What are you doing here?" moment happened during one of the studio sessions of this story.)