In which UNIT investigates a series of bizarre thefts, whilst the Doctor recuperates from his regeneration. The thefts are all of advanced technological items, and the Brigadier is perplexed as to how they were carried out. Electrified fences have been ripped down, vaults torn open. The one common factor is that all the stolen items are the work of the Thinktank group - a secretive organisation comprising top scientists who carry out work for the British Government. Sarah sees the opportunity for a story - a piece on the group. The Brigadier obtains a day pass for her. She meets the Director, Hilda Winters, and her assistant, Jellicoe. One thing she wants to know about is Professor Kettlewell's recent high profile departure from Thinktank. He was an expert in the field of robotics. After being told that the experimental K1 robot was dismantled, Sarah discovers that it is still at Thinktank. To demonstrate that it is harmless, Miss Winters orders it to attack Sarah - but its prime directive prevents this. Sarah shows concern for the creature.
The Doctor, meanwhile, is in the care of Lt Surgeon Harry Sullivan, on secondment to UNIT from the Royal Navy. He tries to make off in the TARDIS but Sarah convinces him to stay and help the Brigadier. After selecting a new outfit - including an overlong multi-coloured scarf and wide-brimmed hat - he deduces that the thief is probably some kind of huge robot. He also realises that the stolen items are the components for a powerful energy weapon - a Disintegrator Gun. On hearing of Sarah's experiences at Thinktank, he decides to investigate the organisation. Miss Winters claims that the robot had to be dismantled after the incident with Sarah earlier. The Doctor visits Kettlewell and learns that he left Thinktank due to differences of opinion with Winters and Jellicoe. He wants to pursue research into new, cheap energy production. He warns that if Thinktank tried to tamper with the robot's prime directive, it could drive it insane. The Doctor is later lured back to Kettlewell's lab where he is attacked by the robot. He is saved by Sarah, as the robot seems to respond to her.
The robot next steals the launch codes for the world's nuclear arsenals, which were in the safekeeping of a British civil servant. Sarah investigates the Scientific Reform Society, a fascistic group who want to run the planet along scientific, rational lines. Most Thinktank personnel are members. Kettlewell is revealed to be still working with Winters and Jellicoe, and Sarah is taken hostage, along with Harry - who had been sent into Thinktank under cover. Winters and her people retreat into an impregnable bunker, from where they plan to blackmail the world's governments. If their demands are not accepted, they will activate all the nuclear weapons. The robot stands on guard with the Disintegrator Gun. Kettlewell helps Sarah escape when he realises Miss Winters is prepared to use the weapons. The robot accidentally kills its creator, and collapses. UNIT break into the bunker and stop the missile launch sequence and arrest Winters and Jellicoe. The Doctor and Harry go to Kettlewell's lab in search of a weapon to use against the robot - a metal virus. The Brigadier shoots the robot with the Disintegrator, but this causes it to absorb the energy and grow to colossal size. It picks up Sarah and goes on the rampage. The Doctor uses a solution of the metal virus to destroy it. Sarah is saddened at its destruction - as it had been abused by evil people. The Doctor offers her a trip in the TARDIS and, when he refuses to accept what the ship can do, Harry is invited to join them.
This four part adventure was written by Terrance Dicks, and was broadcast between 28th December, 1974, and 18th January, 1975.
It is the first story of Season 12, despite being filmed concurrently with The Planet of the Spiders as part of the previous season. Lis Sladen is on record as saying that at times she was confused as to which story she was filming.
It is the final story to be produced by Barry Letts, and the first to be script-edited by Robert Holmes (though he had been carrying out this role uncredited for a while).
As such, Robot has a very "Pertwee era" feel to it - despite launching the new Doctor, Tom Baker. We are Earthbound, and UNIT plays a prominent role. There is another dodgy organisation - akin to Operation Golden Age.
Terrance Dicks invented a "tradition" whereby the outgoing story editor got to write the script for the next adventure. He took as inspiration the classic movie King Kong (1933) - most noticeably in the final episode when the K1 robot grows to enormous size, but also in the creature's almost romantic affinity with the female lead.
A couple of years previously, a female villain had been vetoed by Letts' superior, but now it was acceptable. Miss Winters (Patricia Maynard) becomes the first villainess since Maaga in 1965's Galaxy 4. The Bond films had featured female baddies from the very beginning (though a woman would not be principal Bond villain until 1999).
Other guest artists include Alec Linstead as Jellicoe, who had already appeared in the programme as Sgt. Osgood in The Daemons, and Edward Burnham (The Invasion) as the wild-haired Prof. Kettlewell.
Ian Marter, who had been first choice for the part of Mike Yates, and had featured in Carnival of Monsters, finally gains a recurring role in the programme. It is common knowledge that the production team were considering an older actor to play the Fourth Doctor, and Harry Sullivan was introduced to cope with the more demanding physical action scenes.
The star of the story is the robot itself - designed by future Oscar winning designer James Acheson. It is a brilliant design, though proved to be a nightmare for actor Michael Kilgariff to operate. All credit to him for suffering for his art.
Episode endings for this story are:
- Suspicious, Sarah has sneaked back to the robotics workshop at Thinktank. A wall panel opens and the huge robot bears down on her.
- The Doctor is lured back to Kettlewell's home and finds it is a trap. The robot is here, and it has orders to kill him. He is knocked to the ground...
- The robot appears at the bunker entrance. If UNIT do not withdraw, it will destroy them all...
- The Brigadier arrives in the UNIT lab with an invitation of lunch at the Palace for the Doctor - just as the TARDIS dematerialises. He will let the Palace know that the Doctor might be a little late...
Overall, not a bad little story. A solid introduction for Tom Baker, with a lot of humour in his early scenes. One of the greatest robot costumes ever. Such a pity about that Action Man tank...
Things you might like to know:
- For many years, the robot costume was housed in the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) on London's South Bank. It was visible from outside, and Terrance Dicks reports he used to pop along and admire "his" robot. I saw it there many times myself. It is now at the Cardiff DW Experience.
- Benton gets a promotion - to Warrant Officer. The end credits still have him as a Sergeant, however. He'll always be Sergeant Benton to us.
- All of the location filming is done on video rather than film - due to all the CSO work that would be required for Episode 4. Unfortunately, because of the robot's shiny surfaces, parts of it do tend to disappear from time to time as the camera picks up the reflected CSO colour (yellow in this case).
- References to the past to watch out for include the Doctor having the TARDIS key in his shoe (as in Spearhead From Space), detonating another minefield with the Sonic Screwdriver (The Sea Devils), and mentions of Sontarans, dinosaurs, Skaro and Alpha Centauri.
- This story is believed by some to be tied into The Face of Evil. It is wondered when the Doctor, in his fourth incarnation, can have encountered the Mordee Expedition. The theory goes that he slipped away from UNIT HQ whilst still not recovered from the regeneration - hence why he made such a hash of fixing Xoanon and his lack of memory about doing it.
- An actor named Colin Baker was considered for the role of Jellicoe. Lord only knows what happened to him...