‘Doctor Who’ Rogues Gallery: The Robots (Of Death)


This blog is going to be a moment of  personal catharsis from my youth, and as such, there may be repressed emotions at play that I can’t control, and I won’t know they’re on the way until they pop up, so bear with me. Suffice to say that while some people hid behind the sofa when the Daleks rolled out onto the screen, and others dove under cushions to protect themselves from Cybermen, my strongest memory of being paralysed by fear watching Doctor Who as a child features this lot: the golden robots from the sandminer vehicle Storm Mine 4.

*deep breath in*

*exhales* OK, let’s DO this.

So, there’s this mining ship, and most of the work is done by robots. There are nine humans in charge, and they instruct the head robot, a silvery-gold Super Voc. He then relays his needs to his subordinate Vocs (they’re green), and then there are the mute Dums who do all the work. They are painted black (let’s assume this was for innocent reasons, and move on).

No matter what the color, even when they are behaving in a perfectly benign fashion, there is something hugely creepy about those blank faces, as Leela is quick to point out:

Now, the Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive in one of the sand scoops (and nearly die), and then a meteorologist called Chub is found strangled. This is poor timing on their pair, to say the least. And this only gets worse when they escape from the room in which they were locked, at around the same time that a further two bodies are discovered. Oh and a talking Dum called D84.

On further investigation, the Doctor becomes convinced that Chub was killed by a robot. Then another human body is found, and this time it looks like the ship’s commander did it. Oh and the ship’s controls have been damaged, on purpose, but not before the  engineer is murdered.

It’s at this point that the Doctor interrogates the talking Dum, and discovers he was put there to prevent a robot revolution, led by a human called Taren Capel (who was, it’s important to note, raised by robots, and dresses accordingly). The Doctor discovers a hidden workshop, where Capel has been secretly converting the mining robots into killers, to overthrow the human overlords.

Here’s the Super Voc being hypnotised:

So, all the robots that are not killers are then switched off, leaving D84, and a bunch of killers with placid faces and warm voices, against the remaining crew, the Doctor and Leela. Then there is a lot of this sort of thing:

In the end, the Doctor rigs up a doohickey which can destroy the robots at close range, and some of those calm faces get a bit mutilated (*picks up cushion*), and D84 sadly dies (*twists cushion in fingers*), and… and…. and then Taren Capel is killed when his voice is altered using helium gas, causing a robot to turn on him:

(*from underneath cushion*) For a child, the most terrifying thing is when you think there’s no one in control. Monsters are scary, but they’re far scarier when they’re unrestrained, unleashed, trailing chaos in their wake. It’s almost better when the person in charge is winning, hatching his devious plan and all that, because that’s the kind of reality you’re used to, grown-ups deciding how things will be and you putting up with their decisions. So the moment which still freezes the blood, even after 30-odd years, is the bit where the Super Voc turns on Taren Capel, and he can’t stop it. Because once he’s dead, there’s no one to prevent those robots from killing everyone in sight. And doing it really, really calmly.

Luckily it’s all sorted out fairly quickly. But not before children all over Britain (and Australia) realised the horrific truth, that one day the person holding back the chaotic forces that scare us all might not be there any more, and THEN what?

Yeah, that was a LONG night of no sleep.

It’s not all horror, though. The Robots of Death is also the Doctor Who story which provides the most convincing (or entertaining, at the very least) explanation as to why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside:

PS: And yes, the Angel Hosts in Voyage of the Damned DO look awfully familiar, don’t they?

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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