Doctor Who – Robot

After the massive catch-up of a few days ago, it’s time for some more of those outstanding DVD reviews. There were more Doctor Who DVDs released in 2007 than in any previous year, and it’s taken me a while to get round to talking about them, what with having a longish period of “not being bothered” and my usual tuit shortages. Anyway, I’ll make a start with this one, which is a story that stuck in my mind from the first time it was shown in December 1974 and January 1975.

This was the start of a new series, and the start of Tom Baker’s long run as the Doctor. A “new Doctor” story is always something of a challenge for the programme makers – they have to quickly establish a new actor taking over the lead role and tell a decent story. It helps if there is a bit of continuity – a companion carried forward from the outgoing Doctor is a great help.

In this case, the carried forward companion is the wonderful Sarah Jane Smith, who had accompanied Jon Pertwee’s Doctor for the previous year. Also around for the start of the series was Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT. We also meet Harry Sullivan for the first time. Harry

But continuity wouldn’t help much if the new Doctor failed to make an impression, and it was quite clear from the beginning that Tom Baker was going to be a very different Doctor from his predecessor – brilliant, mind-bogglingly eccentric, and more fun than any Doctor before or since. After a regeneration lacking in the trauma, disorientation and incapacity that we’d come to expect in later years, the Doctor is involved in yet another threat to life on Earth as we know it. This time, it’s a group of scientists bent on making the world a better place by, err, taking it over and killing anyone who gets in the way.

Their plot involves the use of a rather intelligent robot to steal the components for a disintegrator gun. Obviously, you can’t have a good disintegrator gun and not have someone use it, can you? So naturally, it’s the Brigadier who uses it on the robot. Unfortunately, the robot is made of some fancy metal that doesn’t take to being disintegrated too well, and the robot grows to enormous size, giving the Doctor an even bigger problem to solve. After that, the Doctor offers to take Sarah on a trip, with Harry coming along for the ride.

Perhaps the best part of this story is the way Sarah becomes fond of the robot, which has a real personality. The worst bit has to be the visual effects. The 1970s version of the now seamless green screen, known as CSO (colour separation overlay), was always prone to losing bits, and this was quite noticeable in this story when the robot grows to its maximum size. But I tend to ignore the limitations of the medium and just enjoy the story, which is well worth watching.

Extras on this DVD include the usual production subtitles and assorted bits and pieces plus:

  • Are Friends Electric? – a documentary on the introduction of Tom Baker and the making of the story
  • The Tunnel Effect – a look at how the title sequences were created

This is one of the better releases – highly recommended.

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