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Doctor Who: Robot

Doctor Who 4th Doctor

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#1 Virgil Vox

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 06:21 PM

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Well, here we go. This is the start of the 4th Doctor era, considered one of the best eras of Doctor Who with the best Doctor.

I have to say that Baker’s Doctor comes out more fully formed than the 3rd and 5th Doctors. In their respective regeneration stories both Doctors spend quite a bit of time comatose and acting odd. The 4th Doctor goes through a few minutes of that and then he is ready to go.

This Doctor is more energetic, hyper and Bohemian than the 3rd Doctor. There’s more of a sense of alien-ness to him than what we normally get from the Doctor. He has manic moments where he is going a hundred miles an hour.

I got a whiff of Sherlock Holmes from this Doctor. He definitely felt more like a detective than the 3rd or 5th Doctors.

Watching these four episodes almost felt like I had been watching this Doctor for a long time. There really wasn’t a getting to know you type transition period.

It helps that his introduction story is fairly good and entertaining and keeps the familiar elements of the 3rd Doctor era to help ease viewers in to a new era. While Baker has become known as the definitive Doctor Pertwee at that point had been in the role longer than any of the other actors and it was his era that helped save the show and made it a success again. There had to be some trepidation amongst the higher-ups about introducing a new Doctor.

As such, this is definitely a UNIT story starring the Brig, Benson, and Sarah Jane (even though she isn’t actually a member of UNIT). It has all the hallmarks of UNIT stories from the 3rd Doctor era. In some ways it feels like a swan song to that era. I believe that this story was done by the old DW team and that the next story sees a new executive producer and script editor take the reins.

The outfit montage was a hoot, with the Doctor wearing some outlandish clothes before finally donning his signature look. It is a good look for the Doctor though I will miss the 3rd Doctor’s style.

Good on Benson for finally getting a promotion. He deserved it.

I thought it rather funny that after the SRS starts the nuclear Armageddon countdown and after they have locked themselves in to their underground bunker they decide to see if they actually have enough provisions to last through the nuclear winter. These people are supposed to be the best humanity has to offer?

I did think that the SRS were effective villains despite being cut rate Nazis. It helped that their leader, Ms. Winters, was an effective villain in her own right. She knew when to be truly menacing and when to chew the scenery. They also almost succeeded in their scheme. They stole the nuclear missile launch codes and were literally two seconds away from ending the world. That makes them good villains in my book. Aside from not knowing if they have enough provisions, anyways.

The twist that Kettlewell was working for the SRS and was the one who changed the robot’s prime directive was a nice twist that I should have seen coming but didn’t. It did irk me when he expressed cold feet at the end. He knew what the SRS was about and knew their ultimate goal.

Sarah Jane was in top form here. Her reporter skills were out in force as she investigated the mysterious break-ins, the Think Tank, and the SRS. Only Sarah Jane would see a “No Admittance” sign and just boldly go right in.

Her relationship with the robot, K1, was the heart of the story and a nice homage to King Kong. It really was Sarah Jane’s feelings towards the robot, and Elisabeth Sladen’s superb acting, that made K1 a likeable and tragic figure.

My only complaint about Sarah Jane’s role in this story is that she never experienced any adjustment with the new Doctor. He regenerated and she just kind of shrugged her shoulders as if it was no big deal. I could maybe understand if the two Doctors were similar in personalities but 3 and 4 are as different as night and day.

It was somewhat more understandable for the Brig and Benson to take it in stride since they have been through this before.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Harry yet. The focus isn’t really on him that much. He’s a dapper looking gentleman and a bit old fashioned but that is all we really get to know about him, aside from he imagines himself as James Bond and he’s definitely not a super spy.

I had thought he might be the audience surrogate character. He has never met the Doctor before and knows nothing of Time Lords and TARDISes. I assumed that he would be the character demanding explanations so that the writers could fill in some facts for any new or lapsed viewers who decided to give this new Doctor a try. That doesn’t happen.

The effects when K1 grows to a large size don’t hold up well. Like, at all. Still, I give them points for trying and the director at least manages to squeeze some tension and action into the scenes.

I do not give them any points for that laughable toy tank. That was just atrocious.

The design of the robot itself was rather good, I thought. My only complaint would be with the pincers. K1 looked ridiculous holding anything, including the disintegrator gun.

I liked K1. He was a tragic figure in that he was created as a tool to help mankind and given strict rules about never harming people only to be turned into a weapon by the SRS and his “father” Kettlewell.

The end of the story sets up a new status quo, with this Doctor making it plain he won’t be Earth bound. He has wanderlust and wants to roam the stars.

All in all, Robot was a good introduction to the 4th Doctor. It quickly established that this was a very different Doctor while setting him inside the familiar framework of the 3rd Doctor era. The supporting cast was there to help ease the transition.

While I do miss the 3rd Doctor and I’m going to miss the UNIT family I’m excited to see the series go in a new direction and to see if the 4th Doctor lives up to all the hype.
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#2 Christopher

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Posted 02 August 2020 - 07:28 AM

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I got a whiff of Sherlock Holmes from this Doctor. He definitely felt more like a detective than the 3rd or 5th Doctors.

I never thought of that before, but I can see what you mean. As it happens, Baker's first post-Doctor role was as Holmes in a 1984 miniseries of The Hound of the Baskervilles, produced by Barry Letts and script-edited by Terrance Dicks, and featuring Caroline John (Liz Shaw) in a supporting role. And he basically cosplays as Holmes in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang."


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I believe that this story was done by the old DW team and that the next story sees a new executive producer and script editor take the reins.

Sort of. It was Letts's swan song as producer and was written by outgoing script editor Dicks, but it was also Robert Holmes's debut as script editor.


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Good on Benson for finally getting a promotion. He deserved it.

That's Benton.


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My only complaint about Sarah Jane’s role in this story is that she never experienced any adjustment with the new Doctor. He regenerated and she just kind of shrugged her shoulders as if it was no big deal. I could maybe understand if the two Doctors were similar in personalities but 3 and 4 are as different as night and day.

Well, she hadn't really known the Doctor that long. And I don't think she was as close to Three as Jo was, or as Sarah would become to Four.


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I’m not quite sure what to make of Harry yet. The focus isn’t really on him that much. He’s a dapper looking gentleman and a bit old fashioned but that is all we really get to know about him, aside from he imagines himself as James Bond and he’s definitely not a super spy.

I had thought he might be the audience surrogate character. He has never met the Doctor before and knows nothing of Time Lords and TARDISes. I assumed that he would be the character demanding explanations so that the writers could fill in some facts for any new or lapsed viewers who decided to give this new Doctor a try. That doesn’t happen.

Harry is basically a male chauvinist and a bit of an upper-class twit, an old-fashioned foil to Sarah Jane's feminism and the Doctor's Bohemian manner. He was introduced to be the "running and punching" guy based on the assumption that Baker would be a less physical Doctor than Pertwee, so that they'd have to go back to the pre-Pertwee pattern of having a male and female companion so there'd be a Big Strong Man on hand to do the fighting. Though it turned out that Baker could handle the action well enough on his own, which was why Harry only lasted one season.

As it happens, this was the season where a clash between unions (I think it was props vs. special effects) over which one should be responsible for the TARDIS console led to the producers just avoiding the issue and never showing the console room. So we never actually saw Harry inside the TARDIS. I think the only other companion that's true of is Liz. (And this was the first season I saw, so for my first six weeks, one serial per Saturday night, I had no idea what was supposed to be inside the police box.)


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The effects when K1 grows to a large size don’t hold up well. Like, at all.

They tried switching their chromakey (matte) color from a blue screen to a yellow one, and it turned out that the camera read the stage lights' reflections off the robot's skin as yellow. Whoops.

This was the first serial to do its outdoor location shoots on videotape instead of film, due to the FX requirements, and the first color serial to be entirely on videotape -- a contrast to Pertwee's debut, "Spearhead from Space," which was the only serial shot entirely on film (because the studio cameramen were on strike, but the film cameramen were in a different union). The next serial produced (and the third one for Baker in story sequence), "The Sontaran Experiment," was also fully videotaped. That wouldn't happen again until more than 11 years later, with the Trial of a Time Lord season, at which point it became standard.

Edited by Christopher, 02 August 2020 - 07:31 AM.

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#3 RJDiogenes

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Posted 02 August 2020 - 04:38 PM

View PostVirgil Vox, on 01 August 2020 - 06:21 PM, said:

I have to say that Baker’s Doctor comes out more fully formed than the 3rd and 5th Doctors. In their respective regeneration stories both Doctors spend quite a bit of time comatose and acting odd. The 4th Doctor goes through a few minutes of that and then he is ready to go.  
Pretty much every regeneration I've seen, the Doctor has spent the first storyline settling in to his new persona, so this is indeed odd.

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This Doctor is more energetic, hyper and Bohemian than the 3rd Doctor. There’s more of a sense of alien-ness to him than what we normally get from the Doctor. He has manic moments where he is going a hundred miles an hour.  

I like it when they remember that he is an ancient alien.

Quote

I thought it rather funny that after the SRS starts the nuclear Armageddon countdown and after they have locked themselves in to their underground bunker they decide to see if they actually have enough provisions to last through the nuclear winter. These people are supposed to be the best humanity has to offer?  

"What?  I thought you were going to bring the canned goods."  


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My only complaint about Sarah Jane’s role in this story is that she never experienced any adjustment with the new Doctor. He regenerated and she just kind of shrugged her shoulders as if it was no big deal.  

Especially after she was so traumatized last time.

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The end of the story sets up a new status quo, with this Doctor making it plain he won’t be Earth bound. He has wanderlust and wants to roam the stars.  

That's cool.  That's what I want to see.

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While I do miss the 3rd Doctor and I’m going to miss the UNIT family I’m excited to see the series go in a new direction and to see if the 4th Doctor lives up to all the hype.  

It sounds good.  It makes me wish again that I had been able to get into the show back in the 70s.
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#4 Virgil Vox

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Posted 03 August 2020 - 04:12 PM

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I never thought of that before, but I can see what you mean. As it happens, Baker's first post-Doctor role was as Holmes in a 1984 miniseries of The Hound of the Baskervilles, produced by Barry Letts and script-edited by Terrance Dicks, and featuring Caroline John (Liz Shaw) in a supporting role. And he basically cosplays as Holmes in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang."

That's interesting that he played Holmes right after Doctor Who and that it features Caroline John. I'll have to see if it is streaming somewhere and watch it. I've heard a lot of good things about "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and hope it lives up to the hype.

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Sort of. It was Letts's swan song as producer and was written by outgoing script editor Dicks, but it was also Robert Holmes's debut as script editor.

Good to know.

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That's Benton.

I can't believe I didn't catch that mistake. I've only written his name numerous times and heard it said hundreds.

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Harry is basically a male chauvinist and a bit of an upper-class twit, an old-fashioned foil to Sarah Jane's feminism and the Doctor's Bohemian manner. He was introduced to be the "running and punching" guy based on the assumption that Baker would be a less physical Doctor than Pertwee, so that they'd have to go back to the pre-Pertwee pattern of having a male and female companion so there'd be a Big Strong Man on hand to do the fighting. Though it turned out that Baker could handle the action well enough on his own, which was why Harry only lasted one season.

I think that could be an interesting dynamic between the three leads if done right. I'm about to start the next story so I guess I will see. Baker's Doctor doesn't scream action man but neither did Pertwee's until he busted out the Venusian karate.

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As it happens, this was the season where a clash between unions (I think it was props vs. special effects) over which one should be responsible for the TARDIS console led to the producers just avoiding the issue and never showing the console room. So we never actually saw Harry inside the TARDIS. I think the only other companion that's true of is Liz. (And this was the first season I saw, so for my first six weeks, one serial per Saturday night, I had no idea what was supposed to be inside the police box.)

That's an interesting bit of trivia. Obviously it eventually got settled but you'd think after all these years they would know who was responsible for the console. That must have been weird for you, watching Doctor Who for the first time and hearing about inside the TARDIS but never actually seeing it for that long.

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Pretty much every regeneration I've seen, the Doctor has spent the first storyline settling in to his new persona, so this is indeed odd.

By the end of the first episode the Doctor is settled into his new personality and the story hits the ground running. It was a bit weird but I appreciated it.

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"What?  I thought you were going to bring the canned goods."  

Essentially.

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That's cool.  That's what I want to see.

Yeah. It will make for a nice change of pace from the 3rd Doctor and his more Earthbound stories.
"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders."
--Jor-El


It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job: it's a depression when you lose yours.
-- Harry S. Truman

#5 Christopher

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Posted 03 August 2020 - 04:55 PM

View PostVirgil Vox, on 03 August 2020 - 04:12 PM, said:

I've heard a lot of good things about "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and hope it lives up to the hype.

It has some serious problems with racial stereotypes and yellowface casting, but aside from that, it's possibly Robert Holmes's most admired serial and one of the best Fourth Doctor stories. It also gets a bit racy for a kids' show, with a scene of Leela in wet, white Victorian underwear.



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That's an interesting bit of trivia. Obviously it eventually got settled but you'd think after all these years they would know who was responsible for the console.

It wasn't so much about not knowing as the different unions disagreeing about whose responsibility the console was. It was a prop and a special effect and a piece of scenery all at once, so each union said it was the other guys' responsibility, not theirs. Apparently the BBC unions have a history of being very contentious and getting into labo(u)r disputes over all sorts of things -- see the above point about "Spearhead from Space" being shot entirely on film because the video cameramen were on strike. With something complex like the console, ideally you want the different departments working together as a team, but it seems they were more prone to bicker a lot.


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That must have been weird for you, watching Doctor Who for the first time and hearing about inside the TARDIS but never actually seeing it for that long.

Not so much, really, because most of the season is structured so that the TARDIS isn't a factor. After they leave it at the start of "The Ark in Space," it's just sitting there in the background for the rest of the story, then they go off by transmat and go through various misadventures, and we don't see the TARDIS again until the end of "Revenge of the Cybermen," and then not again until the last scene of "Terror of the Zygons." So it was such a minor element in season 12 (and the start of 13) that I didn't really think about it much. And in the rest of season 13, we saw inside it a couple of times, but I got used to thinking of the TARDIS mostly just as a thing that delivered the characters to the story at the start and took them away at the end, without a lot going on inside it (except in portions of "Planet of Evil" and "The Pyramids of Mars").
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