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Tom Baker
The Robots of Death
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Synopsis


Leela and Robot D84
Leela and Robot D84
 On a distant, barren planet, Storm Mine 4 trawls across bleak deserts and through fierce duststorms in search of rare and valuable metals. Onboard the Sandminer is a small skeleton crew, who alternate between indulgent relaxation and skilled mining work. The mundane, day-to-day duties of the mine are attended to by a much larger complement of servile robots.

 This is a society that is dependent on robots for all areas of life, the people comforted by the knowledge that the strictest safeguards are built into each and every robot’s programming. So when one of the Sandminer crew is murdered, suspicion falls on two new arrivals…

 The Doctor and Leela arrive on board, and are immediately accused of being the suspects. But The Doctor deduces that the Killer is possibly not human. More deaths occur - can he persuade the remaining crew members that the killer may be a robot?

Source: BBC DVD


General Information

Season: Fourteen
Production Code: 4R
Story Number: 90
Episode Numbers:444 - 447
Number of Episodes: 4
Percentage of Episodes Held:100%
Working Titles:"The Storm-Mine Murders" and "Planet of the Robots"
Production Dates: November - December 1976
Broadcast Started: 29 January 1977
Broadcast Finished: 19 February 1977
Colour Status: Colour
Studio: Ealing Television Film Studios and BBC Television Centre (TC1 and TC8)
Location: None
Writer:Chris Boucher
Director:Michael Briant
Producer:Philip Hinchcliffe
Script Editor:Robert Holmes
Production Assistant:Peter Grimwade
Production Unit Manager:Chris D'Oyly-John
Assistant Floor Manager:David Tilley
Designer:Kenneth Sharp
Costume Designer:Elizabeth Waller
Make-Up Designer:Ann Briggs
Cameraman:Peter Chapman
Incidental Music:Dudley Simpson
Special Sounds (SFX Editor):Dick Mills
Studio Sounds:Tony Millier
Lighting:Duncan Brown
Visual Effects:Richard Conway
Title Sequence:Bernard Lodge
Title Music:Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Arranged by Delia Derbyshire
Number of Doctors: 1
The Doctor: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor)
Number of Companions: 1The Companion: Louise Jameson (Leela) Additional Cast: Russell Hunter (Commander Uvanov), Pamela Salem (Toos), David Bailie (Dask), David Collings (Poul), Brian Croucher (Borg), Tania Rogers (Zilda), Tariq Yunis (Cass), Rob Edwards (Chub), Gregory de Polnay (D.84), Miles Fothergill (S.V.7), Mark Blackwell Baker (Robot), John Bleasdale (Robot), Mark Cooper (Robot), Peter Langtry (Robot), Jeremy Ranchev (Robot), Richard Seager (Robot)Setting: A Sandminer (Storm Mine 4) on an unnamed planet Villain: Taren Capel

The Episodes

No. Episodes Broadcast
(UK)
Duration Viewers
(Millions)
In Archive
444Part 129 January 197724'06"12.8PAL 2" colour videotape
445Part 205 February 197724'15"12.4PAL 2" colour videotape
446Part 312 February 197723'51"13.1PAL 2" colour videotape
447Part 419 February 197723'42"12.6PAL 2" colour videotape

Total Duration 1 Hour 36 Minutes


Audience Appreciation

Average Viewers (Millions) 12.7
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (1998)85.44%  (Position = 5 out of 159)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2003)841 Points (Position = 8 out of 159)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2009)86.83% Higher (Position = 9 out of 200)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2014)87.00% Higher (Position = 11 out of 241)


Archives


 All four episodes exist as PAL 2" colour videotapes.



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Notes


This story is considered by many fans a classic and arguably one of the show’s most popular stories.

"The Robots of Death" was written by Chris Boucher, who had also penned the previous story, "The Face of Evil", and was inspired by Frank Herbert’s novel "Dune" as well as the "Robot" series by Isaac Asimov. In particular the human/robot police duo Elijah Bailey and R Daneel Olivaw from "Caves of Steel" and its sequels may be the inspiration for the Chief Mover Poul/D84 pair. Prominent mention is also made of Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics: ‘A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm’.

Commander Uvanov's name is a reference to Isaac Asimov, while Chief Mover Poul is a reference to Poul Anderson. While the villain of the story, Taran Capel, is a reference to Karel Capek, who is credited with first coining the word ‘robot’.

The murder plotline also owes a great deal to Agatha Christie - notably her novels "Ten Little Indians" in which several people on an island are murdered one by one.

David Collings, who plays Chief Mover Poul, previously appeared as Vorus in the 1975 story "Revenge of the Cybermen" and would later appear as Mawdryn in the 1983 Fifth Doctor story "Mawdryn Undead". He also played the part of an alternative incarnation of The Doctor in the Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who Unbound audio drama "Full Fathom Five".

Pamela Salem, who played the part of Toos, had been a finalist for the role of Leela. She would later appear as Professor Rachel Jensen in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks".

Brian Croucher, who plays Borg, became more renowned for his portrayal of Travis in Blake’s 7.

Russell Hunter, who plays Commander Uvanov, is well known for his role as Lonely in the counterespionage series Callan.

Michael Briant had only reluctantly returned to the show to direct this story, and although Graham Williams (the Producer of Season Fifteen) was eager for him to helm another story, Michael Briant resisted all such entreaties - so bringing his Doctor Who career to an end. Michael Briant went on to direct episodes of Blake’s 7, Secret Army, Howards’ Way, and the Emmy Award-winning 1980 version of A Tale of Two Cities.

Designer, Ken Sharp, based his concept, for the look of the Sandminer and the robots, on an art deco style. This idea was also carried forward into the make-up and the costumes for the human crew.

There are three ‘classes’ of robots: Black ‘Dums’ that cannot speak which are used as a general workforce, the more intelligent pale green ‘Vocs’, and a silver ‘Super Voc’ (SV7) which controls all the ‘Dums’ and ‘Vocs’. It is revealed that the robots have over one million circuit constrainers to prevent them from harming humans. Deactivated robots are returned to construction centres bearing deactivation disks (nicknamed ‘corpse markers’). The corpse markers are actually bicycle reflectors.

Robophobia, an irrational fear of robots, is at one point referred to as ‘Grimwade's Syndrome’. This was an in-joke reference to Production Assistant Peter Grimwade (later to become a director and writer on the show) who had bemoaned the fact that the stories on which he was assigned to work almost always involved robots.

Peter Grimwade directed, uncredited, all the film insert sequences for this story.

This story includes the famous scene where The Doctor tries to explain why the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental to Leela. However, his demonstration, using two differently sized blocks at varying distances, turns out not to be very helpful, indicating more of the nature of optics than physical space.

Although it was not realised at the time, this story marks the final appearance of the wood-panelled secondary TARDIS Console Room which had been introduced in "The Masque of Mandragora" at the start of this season. The set was not required for the next story, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", and so was placed in storage. However, it was discovered that the wood had become damp and warped before the start of recording in Season Fifteen, necessitating its replacement. The Big Finish Productions’ Companion Chronicles audio story "Empathy Games", written by Nigel Fairs and released in October 2008, gives a possible explanation for its loss.

The music played to the crew in part one is "None but the Weary" by Tchaikovsky and "Girl with the Flaxen Hair" by Debussy.

Listen out in the scene where Leela throws her knife at an attacking robot. It makes a cartoony ‘shhhh doinkk!’ noise.

Though not named the planet being mined is one of many such worlds. The precise setting of this story has been disputed by fans. Some expanded universe material places it on Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, despite the fact the story suggests the atmosphere outside the Sandminer is breathable and the presence of a vast sandy desert is somewhat integral to the plot (neither of which would be the case on Io). One story places it on the planet Kaldor. However, the Kaldor City spin-offs do not name the planet where the city is located. (see the Virgin Books’ The New Adventures novel "Legacy", written by Gary Russell, and the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip "Crisis on Kaldor").

The Sandminers travel across the shifting deserts, extracting minerals such as Zelanite, Keefan and (most importantly) Lucanol.

It is revealed that The Doctor’s has an immunity to the vocal-altering effects of helium. It is not clarified whether this is due exclusively to Time Lord physiology (such as his respiratory bypass system), or to a technique he learned (like Venusian aikido).

Mention is again made of The Doctor having two hearts and respiratory bypass system. This was previously referred to in the 1970 Third Doctor story "Spearhead From Space" and the 1975 Fourth Doctor story "Terror of the Zygons".

Robophobia, an irrational fear of robots, is at one point referred to as 'Grimwade's syndrome'. This was an in-joke reference to production assistant Peter Grimwade (later to become a director and writer on the show) who had bemoaned the fact that the stories on which he was assigned to work almost always involved robots.

It is mentioned that V35 to V40 are the robots who searched the ore hoppers. Despite V35 spending the entire story in the robot storage bay.

The Tenth Doctor 2007 Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned" references this story with the look of the Hosts’ faces, various scenes from this story such as the Hosts’ chanting ‘Kill’ and the scene of a Host having its hand caught in a door and then having it fall off.

There is also a similar story construction between this story and in the 2006 Tenth Doctor story "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit" where the Ood are a slave race (albeit living ones this time) turning on their masters after being manipulated and like the robots, the Ood's eyes would also glow red when under this influence.

Writer Chris Boucher, who was instrumental in the writing and production of the BBC series Blake's 7, wrote a sequel to this story, the BBC Book’s The Past Doctors Stories "Corpse Marker", as well as commissioning the Kaldor City series of audios produced by Magic Bullet Productions - although these stories do not feature The Doctor. In the Kaldor City audios Russell Hunter reprised his role for four stories until his untimely death in 2003. These audios also revive a Blake's 7 character, inexorably tying the two shows’ universes together for the first time.

This story was repeated on BBC One as two compilation episodes in 1977/78. Part one was 50 minutes in length and part two was 45 minutes.

A novelisation of this story, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in May 1979. This novelisation was the shortest released in this range. This novelisation is also infamous for featuring the character of Cass attending a meeting after being murdered in the previous chapter.

This story was released on DVD on in November 2000. It marked the debut of the ‘roundel’ template that at first didn't prove popular with fans. Strangely in the subtitles while actor Tom Baker is speaking he is credited as ‘Doctor Who’ instead of ‘The Doctor’. Also it was intended that the Continuities were to be a hidden ‘Easter Egg’, but an error was made and they were included as a regular menu item.

Episode 1 of this story was released on DVD in 2006, as a promotional item in a cardboard case with The Sun newspaper.

A sequel to this story, titled "Robophobia", was released by Big Finish Productions in July 2011.



First and Last

The Firsts:

 The first trip in the TARDIS for new companion Leela played by Louise Jameson.

 The first story released on DVD using the ‘roundel’ template for its cover artwork.


The Lasts (Subject to Future Stories):

 The final appearance of the TARDIS's secondary control room.

 The last Doctor Who story to be directed by Michael Briant.


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The Plot

WARNING: May Contain SpoilersHide Text
Robot SV7
Robot SV7

The TARDIS materialises in the scoop of a massive sandminer, Storm Mine 4, which is slowly travelling over of a vast, barren desert, on a distant planet, scraping its surface in search of precious minerals (lucanol and zelanite amongst others) for a mining company. The sandminer is being run by a small human crew, commanded by Commander Uvanov, with the aid of numerous robots split into three classes: black ‘Dums’ that cannot speak, pale green ‘Vocs’, and a silver ‘Super Voc’ which controls all the ‘Dums’ and ‘Vocs’.

As The Doctor and Leela, his new travelling companion, explore their surroundings they are, at first, unaware that they are in grave danger. Sensors on the sandminer have detected a large sandstorm nearby, which the humans decide to pursue as the storm will bring heavier minerals to the surface and so greater payments for the human crew. As the sandminer closes in on the sandstorm The Doctor becomes aware of the fast approaching cloud and also that they are in one of the scoops that will be used to channel the fast moving sand and precious minerals into the sandminer.

Realising the sand will destroy anything in its path The Doctor and Leela try return to the safety of the TARDIS. But unfortunately the TARDIS has been removed by a large mechanical arm when its presence in the scoop had been detected as a blockage. Luckily for them the sandminer’s approach of the sandstorm is aborted when the murder of one of the sandminer’s crew is discovered. Unbeknown to the time travellers arrival on the sandminer has coincided with the start of some mysterious deaths, beginning with the strangulation of mineralogist Chub who had earlier gone to a store room to collect an instrument package to place into a weather balloon to study the sandstorm.

The Doctor Tries to Educate Leela
The Doctor Tries to Educate Leela

The Doctor and Leela’s presence in the scoop is detected and they are brought out of the scoop by two robots who then escort and lock them in a room. After being questioned The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door so as to go in search of the TARDIS. Leela follows him but in the corridors they soon become separated. Investigating on her own Leela witnesses a dead body being taken away by some robots.

After locating the TARDIS, The Doctor also discovers another dead body, in one of the ore hoppers. However, as he investigates he becomes trapped inside the hopper as it is filled with ore. His presence in the ore hopper is detected and he is rescued by SV7 (the silver ‘Super Voc’ robot). Meanwhile Leela has also discovered another dead body. She also discovers, even though she is not at first aware of doing so, a ‘Dum’ robot which can secretly speak. D84 asks her not to reveal his ability just before another robot arrives and takes her to be questioned by the crew. There she is reunited with The Doctor.

On the Sandminer's Bridge
On the Sandminer's Bridge

They immediately come under suspicion for the deaths despite The Doctor’s attempts to convince them otherwise. Unconvinced Commander Uvanov orders them to be locked up in the robot storage bay. However, one of the humans, Chief Mover Poul, believes The Doctor and Leela to be innocent, so he frees them and shows them where Chub was murdered. There, The Doctor convinces Chief Mover Poul that a robot may have killed the mineralogist. But Chief Mover Poul claims this can not be possible due to an inbuilt inhibitor that prevents the robots from directly or indirectly harming humans. However, while they are in the storage area a woman named Zilda is murdered. When he becomes aware of the latest fatality Chief Mover Poul is convinced that The Doctor and Leela are innocent. When he arrives at Zilda’s room he is shocked to find Commander Uvanov standing over Zilda's body and so has him confined to his quarters for murdering Zilda.

Suddenly the sandminer’s engines begin to run out of control, threatening to destroy the sandminer. It is found that Borg, who is responsible for controlling the power to the motors, has been viciously strangled, and the controls have been sabotaged. To save the sandminer, and all inside it, The Doctor takes desperate measures by cutting off the power to the motors. But this causes the powerless sandminer to sink below the sand. The Doctor’s actions though has bought them enough time for Chief Fixer Dask to repair the damaged controls so allowing the sandminer to continue on its way.

On learning about the ‘Dum’ robot, that Leela claimed could speak, The Doctor decides to search for D84. He soon locates the unusual robot and forces D84 to reveal why it is not dumb like the others of its kind. D84 reveals that he is in fact a Super Voc posing as a Dum and can function autonomously from Super Voc SV7’s commands. He is also working with Chief Mover Poul who is in fact an undercover government agent. They have been placed on the sandminer as a precaution against a number of threats the mining company has received about a robot revolution being lead by a scientist called Taren Capel. Raised by robots, Taren Capel regards them as superior to humans and so the most likely candidate for all the human deaths on the sandminer.

Commander Uvanov
Commander Uvanov

The Doctor, with help from Leela and D84, starts a search for proof that Taren Capel is aboard the sandminer. In doing so he discovers a secret workshop, which is being used to change the robots’ programming enabling them to kill humans, confirming his suspicions that Taren Capel is aboard the sandminer and is responsible for the murders. The Doctor arranges for all the remaining humans to go to the command deck for their safety. At the same time Chief Fixer Dask shuts down all of the robots whose programming has not been changed, leaving just the killer robots operational. This does not affect D84 who stays operational. But The Doctor is unaware that Chief Fixer Dask is in fact Taren Capel and he had ordered his modified robots to destroy all the remaining humans – including The Doctor and Leela.

Leela then shows The Doctor a damaged robot in the storage bay that she had discovered with its hand covered in blood - which The Doctor reasons is Borg’s. The Doctor dismantles the damaged robot and creates a final deactivator - a device that will destroy any still functioning robots at close range. Back in the secret workshop The Doctor hides Leela in a cupboard with a canister of helium gas, telling her to release it slowly as soon as Taren Capel enters the room.

It is not long before Taren Capel arrives. The Doctor manages to trick Taren Capel into outlining his plans for conquest but not before he damages D84. D84 however, is able to activate The Doctor’s device to destroy a killer robot, when it attacks The Doctor, knowingly sacrificing itself in the process. Leela on hearing the arrival of Taren Capel releases the helium gas, causing Taren Capel’s voice to become high-pitched and squeaky – exactly as The Doctor had planed. SV7 then arrives but is unable to recognise its master’s voice and so obey Taren Capel’s orders. Having being ordered to kill all the humans, SV7 kills Taren Capel and The Doctor then destroys SV7 with a laser probe.

With the robot threat over, and a rescue ship coming to collect the surviving humans, The Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS, which dematerialises from the sandminer.

 
Toos
Toos
Poul and Leela
Poul and Leela
Leela and Robot D84
Leela and Robot D84
The Doctor and Leela Held Captive
The Doctor and Leela Held Captive
 
A Possessed Robot
A Possessed Robot
Leela Tries to Escape
Leela Tries to Escape
Kill The Doctor!
Kill The Doctor!
Taren Capel
Taren Capel




Quote of the Story


 'It is a Laserson probe. It can punch a fist-sized hole through six-inch armour plate, or take the crystals from a snowflake one by one.'

D84



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Release Information

FormatTitleRelease Date (UK)Code NumberCover ArtRemarks
Audio
LP
Science-Fiction Sound Effects No. 191978REC 316Sound Effects
Audio
Tape
Science-Fiction Sound Effects No. 191978Sound Effects
Video
VHS
The Robots of DeathApril 1986BBCV 4108Photo-montageOmnibus format
Video
VHS
The Tom Baker YearsSeptember 1992BBCV 4839PhotoClip only Introduced and commented on by Tom Baker Double cassette release
Video
VHS
The Robots of DeathFebruary 1995BBCV 5521Photo-montageEpisodic format
Video
DVD
The Robots of DeathNovember 2000BBCDVD 1012Photo-montage
Video
DVD
The Robots of DeathFebruary 2012BBCDVD 3003Part of the 'Revisitations 3' box set Released along with "The Tomb of the Cybermen" and "The Three Doctors"
Video
Blu-Ray
Doctor Who: The Collection - Season 14 (Limited Edition)May 2020BBCBD 0478Photo-montageBlu-Ray Limited Edition boxed set containing 6 specially restored stories


In Print

FormatTitleRelease Date (UK)PublisherAuthorCover ArtRemarks
Novel
Novel
Doctor Who and the Robots of DeathMay 1979Target No. 53Terrance DicksJohn GearyISBN: 0-426-20061-6
Novel
Novel
The Further Adventures of Doctor Who1985TargetTerrance DicksUS in hardback. Released along with "Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin" and "Doctor Who and the he Face of Evil"
Novel
Novel
The Robots of DeathFebruary 1994Target No. 53Terrance DicksAlister PearsonVirgin new cover reprint.
ISBN: 0-426-20061-6
CD
CD
The Robots of DeathFebruary 2018Target No. 53Terrance DicksJohn GearyAudio version of the Target Novel read by Louise Jameson (Leela).
Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision)Issue 20 (Released: November 1989)
Doctor Who Magazine - NostalgiaIssue 136 (Released: May 1988)
Doctor Who Magazine - ArchiveIssue 296 (Released: October 2000)
Doctor Who Magazine - Time TeamIssue 354 (Released: March 2005)
Doctor Who Magazine Special - Archive1982 Summer Special (Released: 1982)
Doctor Who DVD FilesVolume 54 (Released: January 2011)

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Photo Gallery


The Doctor and Companion

 
Tom Baker
The Fourth Doctor

   

 
Louise Jameson
Leela
 
   




On Release

Audio LP - Sound Effects No. 19
Audio LP - Sound Effects No. 19

BBC
AUDIO
Original VHS Video Cover
Original VHS Video Cover

BBC
VIDEO
Tom Baker Years VHS Video Cover
Tom Baker Years VHS Video Cover

BBC
VIDEO
Re-released VHS Video Cover
Re-released VHS Video Cover

BBC
VIDEO
   
DVD Cover
DVD Cover

BBC
VIDEO
Revisitations 3 DVD Cover
Revisitations 3 DVD Cover

BBC
VIDEO
The Collection Season 14 Limited Edition Blu-Ray Cover
The Collection Season 14 Limited Edition Blu-Ray Cover

BBC
VIDEO



In Print

Target Book Cover
Target Book Cover

Target
NOVEL
The Further Adventures of Doctor Who Cover
The Further Adventures of Doctor Who Cover

Target
NOVEL
Reprinted Virgin Book Cover
Reprinted Virgin Book Cover

Virgin
NOVEL
Target Audio CD Cover
Target Audio CD Cover

BBC
CD
   



Magazines

Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision): Issue 20
Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision): Issue 20

CMS
Doctor Who Magazine - Nostalgia: Issue 136
Doctor Who Magazine - Nostalgia: Issue 136

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine - Archive: Issue 296
Doctor Who Magazine - Archive: Issue 296

Marvel Comics
   
Doctor Who Magazine - Time Team: Issue 354
Doctor Who Magazine - Time Team: Issue 354

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine Special - Archive: 1982 Summer Special
Doctor Who Magazine Special - Archive: 1982 Summer Special

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who DVD Files: Volume 54
Doctor Who DVD Files: Volume 54

GE Fabbri
   

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