Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Robot
Tom Baker doesn't get post-regenerative trauma. He's
just that awesome.
Doctor Who - Season 12, Story One - Robot
Written 15/5/13

I tell you, going back into Classic Who is like greeting an old friend. I originally abandoned my plans to go through Tom Baker's era, but I've since had a change of heart. Thus, we find ourselves at the beginning and the end of an era. Jon Pertwee, at that time the longest-serving Doctor, left the show in '74, and it was down to Producer Barry Letts to hire his replacement - long-term Character Actor and short-term Builder, Tom Baker was the perfect choice, reflecting Pertwee's staunch establishmentarianism with a madcap persona that nonetheless just felt right.
     Robot, for all of its trappings of a new era, has the same producer and production team as the previous season, meaning that the plot has a lot of the tropes of its predecessor. Kitch 70's standard sci-fi, with evil scientific organisations (a dime a dozen in Doctor Who) and a gaudy cardboard monster. As The Doctor recovers from his regeneration, he is drawn straight into the action as he investigates a scientific cult with utilitarian aims, using a sentient Robot designed by a Doctor Kettlewell to steal plans that will allow them to nuke everyone on Earth. The day is saved, etc, and The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are joined by the odd Dr. Harry Sullivan.
     Tom Baker's first performance as the Doctor has all of the charm and humour of his more famous hours, not bothering with Spearhead Syndrome and firing straight towards the action. Perhaps it's just the added benefit of hindsight, but it feels like Baker slips into the role with incredibly fluency, rolling off witty one-liners and odd statements (his first words being, "I tell you Brigadier, there's nothing to worry about. The Brontosaurus is large, and placid. And stupid!") while still coming off as an authoritative presence.
Totally, girlfriend.
     The plot of the episode is a tad underwhelming for a premiere story; something more akin to mid-season filler, but despite this it still has a certain undeniable charm. As well as Baker's mere presence making things more interesting, the characterisation dished out to the K1 robot is quite charming, that of a young child with a very literalist interpretation of the world. It's actually done rather well, as long as you can ignore certain moments that reveal how cheesy the ideas really are, such as the Hammer-Horror style cry of "I have destroyed my Creator!"
     And as the era of the constant UNIT presence ends, the era of Tom Baker begins. Robot may not be the perfect story to begin the reign of what would become one of the most-loved Doctors, but in it's own way it's a send-off to the previous five years that both salutes that time and makes way for a future with a great number of possibilities. Over the next six months, I'll be showing just how many possibilities they were, taking us through the Hinchcliffe glory days and the later days of Graham Williams. See you there.


NEXT WEEK: The Doctor fights green bubble-wrap insects... is humanity's last hope on The Ark In Space?

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