Nov 10

Time Reconsidered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Who Eps: #13 ROBOT

FT3 comments • 1,045 views

or “Computers are very sophisticated idiots

… being a show-by-show TARDIS-esque (ie in effect random) exploration of Doctor Who Soup to Nuts, begun at LJ’s diggerdydum community, and crossposted at FT.

Fondly remembered old-school nut-and-bolts futuretech thriller — feat.idea as celebrated on countless pulp mag covers — which in xmas 1974 introduced the fourth doctor (BadBaker aka BB), plus companion-to-be chirpy Harry Sullivan, and (I believe) marks the end of UNIT’s regular co-presence in Who stories. Nutshell plot summary: large metal man programmed to obey orders and not harm humans is ORDERED TO HARM HUMANS Now read Asimovly on…

i: Let us start with the ROBOT! Which is combination awesome-and-ridic: awesome when it is experiencing the O NOES THE EXISTENTIAL PAIN OF DOES-NOT-COMPUTE, flailing around in dangerous spasm, ridic when you actually observe at how amazingly poorly designed it is for anything except walking through walls (its big clumsy metal claws wobble on limp boiled-celery wires for example). And it is UTTERLY aw WUVVABLE when we view its crimes-in-progress from its own POV, as it always takes v.careful time to scrutinise notices and labels stating ‘maximum security’ or ‘top secret’…
ii: Edward Burnham’s performance as robot-maker and maverick boffin Prof.Kettlewell is the most ancient of cartoon stereotypes, but you’re delighted whenever he arrives on screen terrific– all mounting irritable nervous panic and not seeing important consequences (a thermonuclear holocaust will perhaps not be eco-friendly!); and I’m not sure anyone ever had better Who-hair
iii: Since the thinktank is (excellently) named “THINK TANK”, the radical activist rationalist group SRS should I feel have stood for “Society for a Rational Society” rather than the somewhat feeble “Society for Scientific Reform”. Does it reappear elsewhere in the Whoverse: it seems a rich comic vein, a group of massively intellectual arrogant NITWITS whose Bond-villain-esque plan (hold the superpowers collectively to ransom with their own doomsday machineries and IT systems) requires a lair they have (it turns out) not reliably stocked with supplies. (“Have we got enough food?” “I don’t know”). It has a fine scaryfeminist bosslady — Miss WINTERS (full name N.CLEO WINTERS hoho) — with a VERY fine chief bumbling minion, and I’m a bit sad not to see more of their bungling shenanigans when a light entertainment episode is needed…
iv: FOUR aka BB is straightaway himself, jellybaby shtick and all, establishing the less-Pertwee-moar-Supertwee persona he will ride so hard for the next forbloodyever seven ad-lib-strewn years. And fair enough so early on: plus his insouciance very much suits this story (“There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes” <--- words to live by, eh?) v: Companionwatch: today's SJS I like, she's evolved into a much less annoying character, but then I found her tiresome (though it struck me her youthful mannerisms might actually work well for a journalist, and she's an effective trouble-stirring device); Harry S however will I fear be no substitute AT ALL for the Leth&Benton show (also struck me that Leth may actally be my favourite of all regular incidetal characters) vi: "Emotional intelligence" is not a phrase which will endear me to readers -- hi readers! I disdane you! -- but it's EXACTLY what Doctor and companions (where companions include UNIT) represent here, of course. They triumph because the pure cold logicof the thinking machine is so often so fkn silly. vii: And hence also the robot's massive teen !!PASH!! on SJS is both hilarious and cute and how-you-say OOERdipal: at kingkongoid climax it naturally tragically and desparately murders its dad, then tumesces to vast size, thrashes around -- and collapses into sad red shrivelled ruin. (Sadly I have not the chops for a full-on Zzzzyzzy Zizekian reading...) This is an enormously likeable goofy romp of little wider consequence. I don't actually recall it -- though I do remember the final Pertwee story, giant spiders from Tibet one, very clearly: maybe my anti-Baker t00d kicked in quick; maybe I was starting to get more weekend homework, I don't know.


  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 26 Nov 2010 #

    tha doc was no stranger to robots:

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 26 Feb 2011 #

    Part three of my attempt to trace a literary antecedent for every Doctor Who story;


  3. 3

    I’ve been meaning to say thank for these, billy!

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