We continue the 12 Days of Doctors, the count up to 12th’s first adventure with “Robot.” “Robot,” is the first adventure of and our introduction to the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker. The writer for this story was Terrance Dicks and director was Christopher Barry. How did Tom Baker do taking Jon Pertwee’s place in his first adventure? We’ll explore that in the assessment.
The story begins with the Doctor regenerating into his Fourth Incarnation in front of The Brig and Sarah Jane Smith. They immediately get him to the doctors and Brig puts Harry Sullivan on the Doctor to watch him. Before this we see a robot infiltrate a military base and steal something. We find out from The Brigadier that Nuclear Plans for all the major powers were stolen. From here a plan is devised with Harry going undercover in “The Think Tank,” as Sarah does the same as a reporter. From here they learn of the “Think Tank’s” plan to use the Robot to destroy the Earth so that they may survive and create the race of those worthy of leading…what they didn’t count on besides the Doctor and his companions were the Robot and the Robot’s inventor Kettlewell. From here the story unfolds between the different factions and the Robot’s inner turmoil.
Here is the assessment of the episode:
The Pros: The Fourth Doctor / The 4th Doctor – Tom Baker is fantastic as the Doctor. He adapts to every situation, plays the fool, but also has a lot of fun along the way. He also has a pretty big ego since he only stays because Sarah and the Brig say they need him. He has great chemistry with all of them, and definitely some hangups over being trapped with UNIT for so long. This is contrasted with Sarah who is trusting and is a rule breaker like him versus Harry and the Brig who are military men of UNIT who are well intentioned but more traditional in their approaches. One of the best lines at the end is the Doctor’s recognition of the Robot’s humanity and all life’s capacity for good and evil and offering Sarah Jane Smith a jelly baby before their next adventure with Harry. He of course has one of the best get-ups too with his distinctive multi-colored scarf, long coat and hat.
The Companions – Harry and Sarah are both active in this story, in Harry’s case trying to figure out what “The Think Tank” wants, and in Sarah’s case, trying to convince the Robot not to destroy and that humanity is worth being saved. They both do their roles well and both need to be rescued by the Doctor and UNIT, establishing the threat of antagonists in the process. Also, Sarah Jane Smith is one of my all time favorite companions.
The Brigadier – The Brig is once again fantastic, though his cons are much more apparent as his distrust of people who are different than him (which the Doctor brilliantly mocks…I’m guessing he does learn based off past episodes) and manages to use UNIT to hold off the Robot.
k1 the Robot – K1 is the robot created by Kettlewell and is for all intents and purposes the child learning how to be good. It has built into it’s program to protect humanity and not to kill humans, but “The Think Tank” keeps having it go against it. This could have been handled much better, but that has more to do with “The Think Tank,” than the Robot, who actually has a pretty cool design and an interesting character arc where the hypocrisy and lying eventually makes it go mad. I wish we could have got more time of it exploring itself since I don’t remember it having any deep conversations with the Doctor, all those conversations happened with Sarah Jane Smith.
Cons: “The Think Tank” – This organization was so contrived, did they want to make them scientists, businessmen or Nazis? Did they want money or just to destroy the world? Why did they think the way they did about their own superiority? Gah, I hated these guys. Every time they were in they were an evil organization cliche and it wasn’t hammed up enough to be interesting. I didn’t care about any of them, even Kettlewell’s coming out as their leader and later changing his mind felt unbelievable. It felt driven by the plot and not the characters…which really brought down the episode in a major way. One of the more forgettable villains in Doctor Who for sure.
So how does the episode hold up? The companions are great, Tom Baker is great as the 4th Doctor, Harry is good and Sarah is fantastic…and the Robot is even good too. But the writing and “The Think Tank,” are just bad. I mean really really bad. The premise had so much promise but than the things that should be explored more (The Robot’s formation of morality) are left to the side for boring mustache twirling villainy from an uninteresting organization of baddies. This really brings the episode down. Because of this, I would hesitantly recommend this episode…there is a lot of good, but the bad is really bad.
My final score for this episode is 7.4 / 10