A murder mystery set in space finds the Doctor and Leela playing Agatha Christie. It would be the second outing for Leela, but would play up its mystery angle to great effect. I said that Face of Evil gets overshadowed by better stories and this is one of them.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) materialize on board a massive sandminer vehicle combing an alien world for precious minerals. The miner is run by a small human crew, Commander Uvanov (Russell Hunter), Toos (Pamela Salem), Task (David Bailie), Poul (David Collings), Borg (David Croucher), Zilda (Tannie Rogers), Chub (Rob Edwards), and Cass (Tariq Yunus), with the aid of numerous robots split into three classes: Dums, Vocs and a single controlling Super Voc.
Things get back for our intergalactic stowaways when the crew starts to be picked off one by one and the Doctor and Leela are blamed. After all it couldn’t be the robots as they are programmed to never harm a human.
After adding Leela to the TARDIS, she and the Doctor find themselves on a sandminer that is getting its crew picked off one by one. They certainly owe their troubles to author Agatha Christie as this sort of plotline was candy to the old gal. The art deco of the liner, inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune but done on a BBC budget, also seems from her time, although the costumes seem a bit much with their silly hats and makeup.
What doesn’t seem silly are the passive Romanic faces of the Robots, also in an art deco style. We’re told that they cannot kill because of their programming, taking a cue from Isaac Asimov, but we the audience sees that isn’t the case in the first murder. Of course, the Doctor and Leela are blamed for the murders but have to put on their Hercule Poirot hats to figure out who the real murderer is.
The acting is top notch with kudos going to the lovely Salem and Hunter as the authoritarian captain. Writer Chris Boucher, who also penned Face of Evil which preceded this one, weaves a wonderful mystery and resolution to this well-remembered adventure.
The Robots of Death is presented in fullscreen. Special features include an older commentary with producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher, a new commentary with actors Baker, Jameson, and Salem, and director Michael E. Briant, a pop up trivia track, the 32 minute “Sandmine Murders” is a making of, the 11 minute “Robophobia” takes a humorous look at the history of robots, a 1 minute look at a scene before and after sound effects, 8 minutes of model shots, an interactive studio floor plan, 1 minute of continuity shots, a photo gallery, and the Radio Times listings on DVD-ROM.
The Robots of Death has a great story behind it, even though the usual BBC limitations might not look great by today’s standards. However, it’s the story and characters that fans cling to and Robots of Death delivers them in abundance.
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