Friday, January 28, 2011

Hang On...

Robots of Death is utter bollocks!

It's amazing, but it seems after all these years of fandom self-hypnosis and Kaldor City's reinterpretation of basic facts, but the scales have fallen from my eyes.

I suppose the first clue was the production team decrying the whole script as rubbish and coming up with way-out sets and fashions to distract the audience from the plot. And, yes, admittedly, the Big Brother killer robots basic plot is a pretty neat idea, the acting is pretty decent and you'd have to be a total git not to put it in the top twenty BUT...


Just think about the plot and why things happen in the story.



Exactly, it's utter crap!

OK, you want more evidence?

Take Taren Capel. Does anything about this guy make sense? He was raised from a child only by robots. Why? What happened to his family? Someone must have paid for the upkeep of his robots! It all suggests the Capels were one of the Founding Families, the rich elite, which makes it even wierder that if - say - some disaster killed all but baby Taren, the other families wouldn't chip in and help out. The FF's loyalty to each other is mentioned time and time again. What's more, even D84 thinks Taren's a freak for being brought up by machines, so why didn't anyone stage an intervention for the first thirty years of the guy's life?!

The lunacy doesn't end there. Taren becomes a recluse, meets no one, has no photographs taken, no one ever sees him... yet he becomes an incredible computer genius that the mighty Company respects and fears. But they never saw him face to face or even, apparently, spoke to him. He only ever communicated by LETTERS.

Yes, and why isn't Kaldor City paperless given there ARE NO BLOODY TREES ON THE PLANET?!?

One can only imagine how Taren got his reputation - did he post revolutionary new ideas bit by bit in return for cash? It was lucky the Company didn't find out his post code and raid the place. But even if this strange relationship evolved, we have to wonder why Taren "KILL ALL HUMANS" Capel wanted their money in the first place as he clearly had some kind of huge income to raise him and, of course, pay for all his machinery and stuff. I mean, why did he want to get in the good books of the people he wanted to murder? The moment he worked out how to break the Asimov rules in one robot he had, according to the Doctor and others, the means to end civilization.

So. You're Taren Capel. You have worked out the incredible truth you can make every robot a killer with five minutes and a laserson probe, the equivalent of brain surgery with a buzzsaw and a carrot - even Chris Boucher balked at the idea you could perform such a change and later retconned this. But go with it. You have the power to overthrow civilization.

What do you do?

Well, Taren Capel wrote some really mean letters.

Yes. Just that. We never find out what the hell he wrote in them, but apparently he threatened to end civilization as Kaldor City knows it unless... actually, Taren didn't really HAVE an "unless", did he? He wanted to overthrow humanity. It was unlikely getting SuperVocs tea breaks would stem his blood-dimmed tide. So, basically, Taren wrote to the company and WARNED them what he was going to do. Yet, a huge part of his plan seems to rely on no one ever suspecting robots can harm human beings. Sending a letter saying he will do just that might kill the mood.

Now, the Company apparently decided to take these warnings seriously.


They chose their most robophobic agent... paired him with a ROBOT... and then installed him on a sandminer.

Hang on a minute. WHAT?

Why do they think Taren Capel's going to start his reign of robot rebellion on Storm Mine 4? Why not in the robot factories in the city or whatever creepy swinging bachelor pad Taren lives in? The only answer is either

a) Taren actually TOLD them he's be on SM4
b) the stamp on the letter accidentally gave it away.

So, let's look at that again. The Company knows that Taren Capel is on SM4. They know he is an evil genius and going to give the old college try to make robots go insane. Now, the best thing would be would be to stop the Sandminer leaving town, refuse anyone admittance and maybe blow the damn thing up. A thorough check might be a good idea at the very least. But no, they do nothing. They let the crew go aboard, none with any idea some nutter might be hiding aboard the ship with a vendetta. Does the Company care so little of human life? Probably, but consider what happens if Capel kills them all - no ore mined, civilization ends. Having the crew warned would make it utterly impossible for Taren Capel's plan to work, since they'd never fall into a false sense of security or be allowed to wander alone. Hell, the crew might have quit, so no mining, no chance for Taren Capel to work converting robots.

They don't do this.

They send in Anders "WALKING DEAD MEN!!!" Poul. With a robot SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to stalk him. And a robot that has no protection if he randomly gets converted by Taren Capel. Meaning that, since Taren can expect them to investigate (what him WARNING THEM ALREADY), he can ambush them right from the start.

Does Taren do this?

No. He does absolutely sweet FA for six months until they're way out into the desert. Given there's no communication with KC, he could have struck five minutes into the tour. So why not? KC the series gives us the lame excuse that Taren was the master strategist, plotting his murders for maximum drammatic impact as though he was trying to make an entertaining sci-fi serial rather than a serial killing rampage. And isn't Taren very good at mingling with humans given he should surely be suffering reverse-robophobia at being surrounded by living people? Who he has never learned to live with since he spent his entire life with robots?

And then, to top it off, whenever he's in the same room as Poul, he makes a point of bigging up how awesome robots are in a clipped and precise manner that the Doctor spots a mile off. Even though everyone else on the mine thinks robots are lazy, dozy gits that are more trouble than they're worth.

I mean... WHAT?!

And so, six months after doing absolutely everything he can to be caught, Taren starts with the murders. Now, to demonstrate how awesomely powerful robots are, you think having them go on a Steve-Foxx-Style disembowling rampage would be a good move - five minutes of blood carnage, the whole crew dead, all the evidence the Company needs that the robots can go bad. Now, maybe you're thinking "Well, old TC doesn't want the Company to destroy all the robots in the city in rabid paranoia and so is going subtle". Well I say, SENDING THEM A DAMN LETTER wouldn't help?

Now, who is the first victim?

Is it Commander Uvanov which would cause panic confusion and the like?

No, it's some guy called Kerril no one cared about or even mentioned.

And then it's Chub.

And how are they killed? Only in such a way it could easily be blamed on human murderers rather than robots - which is hardly going to convince anyone of how dangerous the robots are. Taren THEN ensures all the murder victims are marked with discs that only HE on the ENTIRE mine could have known about or have access to. Like I say, it's a good thing the rest of the crew were morons or TC would have been sunk. It's only a fluke that D84 and Poul didn't round up the lot of them at the start of the tour on suspicion of being Taren Capel.

So, you think the insanity would dull off about now the TARDIS has arrived? But no.

Taren can't really be blamed for not factoring the Doctor and Leela into his plans...

...yet he seems to do exactly that.

At the end of part one, the Doctor is lured into a hopper with Kerril's body. Said hopper is then shut and filled with sand. Only a fluke of the Doctor's MacGuyver skills and SV7's spot check save him. The Doctor suggests that the murderer was trying to dispose of him because a "dead stowaway" is more suspicious than a live one. Say what now?

For a start, how the hell does Taren Capel organize this evil little stunt when he's shown to be stuck in the crew room with everyone else - it's not like he can sneak into the next room, put on his inquisition gown and order his robots to hunt down the Doctor and Leela, is it? How can he know the Doctor will go to the TARDIS? How can he know the Doctor and Leela will escape anyway? True, there IS a robot suspiciously listening to our heroes' banter but

a) it's not got the evil eyes
b) is presumably supposed to be D84 in the first place
c) it's gone before the Doctor and Leela mention their plan to escape back to the TARDIS in any event

All of this is borderline irrelevent: Taren wants the Doctor and Leela killed because...? What, they might not instantly get blamed for the murders? Despite the fact they do anyway? If Taren wants the crew to think the killer is human, the Doctor and Leela are perfect scapegoats. If he wants the crew to think the killer is a robot - which is what he's said to have been doing since day one - leading everyone to assume it was down to some complete strangers (who managed to appear in the middle of his secret experiment via undisclosed means that he should really be interested in just in case Company Security use similar methods to bring his ass down) is just stupid.

I mean, OK, maybe TC's just decided he wants such random factors killed. So why does he stop Borg strangling the Doctor - which would cast suspicion on both parties and keep everyone confused for his sick and sadistic pleasure?

Still, that's nothing compared to Poul. He's on the mine specifically because of threats of turning androids into murderers by someone smart enough to do it. Then murders start that clearly aren't down to human origin and, as the Doctor points out, very likely to be down to robots simply by logic. And not only does he fail to twig he actually goes to ask the Doctor, get TOLD, then laughs uproarishly at the very idea. Is this down to robophobia? Cause it just looks like Poul is dumber than the blokes who made that 3d trailer for Season Fnarg.

Meanwhile, Taren Capel decides to have Zilda murdered - clearly working his way through the ethnic groups. Luckily, Zilda is busy uncovering evidence that (oh so conveniently) paints Uvanov as a psychopathic killer who has managed to get on the same trip as two witnesses to his secret shame and suddenly decided to kill them all. Uvanov runs to find Zilda and is discovered apparently throttling her to death. Perfect for Capel to pass off as the real murderer and keep everyone confused.

And what does he do? Dismiss Zilda's claims as her going crazy.

"The killings have effected her mind," he says. Pot. Kettle. Black.

But then Taren Capel's whacky schemes just get worse and worse. He has Cass murdered next - presumably to cast blame on Borg - then stops Borg from incriminating himself further. Then has Borg murdered by the most pathetic robot ever who gets half its head caved in and hand covered in grapefruit juice, which TC makes absolutely no attempt to hide or clean up despite leaving the evidence LITERALLY ON DISPLAY. Lucky the only person to see it is Poul who can have an immediate nervous breakdown, huh?

Then it gets worse! Someone sabotages the engines of the Storm Mine and sets them to explode.

Because, that really makes sense.

Who the hell does that?

Is it Taren Capel? Wanting to destroy himself and all aboard? You might bluff it was somehow accidental damage caused by the epic Brian-Croucher-fights-headless-robot-with-fruit-juice, but the Doctor and plenty of others refer to it as "sabotage". And then Taren Capel, despite all his very good reasons for staying alive, decides to PREVENT the Doctor from stopping the entire mine from exploding.

For the love of Led Zeppelin...

Compared to this, his stupidity in not twigging he can fix the engines even though he is the only person ON THE MINE capable of doing it is forgivable. Or having to use a videophone to take over SV7 instead of writing a letter. Or wearing a mask.

Or causing a main power failure just when he's trying to kill everyone at once, having decided there is "no longer" a need for secrecy (WHEN WAS THERE EVER A NEED?!). This power failure means that the Doctor, Leela, Uvanov, Toos and Poul to escape. Taren Capel then has the cunning move of shutting down all the robots on the sandminer bar his dozen or so liberated army.

Yet Taren Capel himself established the emergency stop button is one-use-only and it would take all of Kaldor City's robot factories to undo it. OK, he's an evil genius and maybe he can reboot them, but are we thinking he's going to have to do each one individually (because that is how he has to reprogram them). This still means that he's killed all the people who can pilot the sandminer and switched off all the robots that could fill in for them, given the mine is damaged and risky anyway and - oh, by the way, Taren Capel ensured they are in the middle of nowhere and can't be rescued any time soon if the mine starts to sink again...


Just why do the robots need to be all shut down instantaneously UNLESS they can go insane? It's not the Company sensibly installing one, because it's an established thing and even Toos knows about it as history. (In Corpse Marker, Boucher fobs us off with the vague idea that there have been previous robot revolutions but everyone in Kaldor City is a stupid prick and never thought the robots were a bad idea. In Kaldor City, this is fobbed off even MORE by saying it's all down to the Fendahl.)

So, with the last survivors locked on the flight deck, Taren Capel decides it's time to paint himself green and THEN try and trick Uvanov into opening the door. Because he wants them to open the door and feel damn stupid, apparently, since the robots can easily break through. Or switch off the air. Or leave them to rot helplessly. In a room full of high explosives. And then Taren Capel is amazed that "weak creatures of flesh and blood" can kill a robot, even though he himself has seen Borg kill one with his bare hands.

What the hell is WRONG with this moron?

In a certain audio series we're told TC is a cunning manipulator and control freak, so I'm struggling to reconcile with the foam-at-the-mouth nutter who spends the last part of the episode STABBING RANDOM PEOPLE IN THE HEADS WITH GIANT SYRINGES. And then it turns out that Taren Capel, the genius, never bothered to program the robots to recognize his face - just his voice. Which makes it wierd that he insisted on giving them orders in a hissy, silibant voice rather than his normal tones. It's amazing he wasn't throttled earlier on. The fact he tries to get home with his downies by calling all the robots brothers but have them refer to him as "our controller" is pretty dumb too.

And then the story ends with everyone dead. Poul - last seen sobbing in front of a wall which promptly exploded in a fireball; Uvanov - getting cybernought bitch-slapped; Toos - getting throttled by a robot. The Doctor is left standing surrounded by bodies and then fobs Leela off with a promise they'll sort themselves out while they get the hell out of here. Like Warriors of the Deep done by the Simpsons.

If this was Hungry Beast, this story would be part of the "Little Bit Bullshit" section.

Am I right or right?

(patiently awaits the vengeance of Nala Snevets.)


Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

I do have to say that, much as I love the story, it was considerably weaker than I rememebered when I saw it on DVD. I think pretty much every problem you said stems from the fact that it started with Bob Holmes suggesting Murder on the Orient Express in a sci-fi setting, and the rest of the work of the story was working backwards from that point.

(But, this being Doctor Who there's sadly not much mystery - especially when, as you point out, there's a dearth of logic behind the murders which makes it all difficult to follow)

Really, Robots of Death has to be right up there with Classic Who's biggest triumphs of style over substance - which makes it appropriate for it to be the progenitor of Kaldor CIty, really.

When you look at it, Corpse Marker is really an effort to retcon the odd bits of the story into making sense, with things like making Taren Capel into a semi-legendary figure and, as you mentioned, a bizarrely forgotten history of robotic revolutions. And, you know, to fascinatingly re-write the ending in absentia by making Uvanov, Toos and Poul survive even though they are clearly meant to be dead when the series ends. (Boucher has said that as he's gotten older as a writer he's become more reluctant to kill of characters. Fair enough. Better men than him have done Lucases worse than this...)

So, yes, it's a strange beast that maybe, just maybe, doesn't warrant a fully-fledged spin-off series...

Youth of Australia said...

I do have to say that, much as I love the story, it was considerably weaker than I rememebered when I saw it on DVD.
Let's be clear on this
a) I love ROD. I saw it when I was a babe. In black and white. It is marked "awesome" in my DNA.
b) I genuinely had this epiphiny yesterday. It just popped into my head out of heat-choked nowhere.

Yet the wierd thing is that people tear apart the plot of Pyramids of Mars (specifically someone in Egypt deciding to fire a missile from England) while admitting it still works on The Rule of Cool, yet Robots has never ever had anyone point out a similar state.

Really, Robots of Death has to be right up there with Classic Who's biggest triumphs of style over substance - which makes it appropriate for it to be the progenitor of Kaldor CIty, really.
Meow... nah, totally agree. And ironic, it's all KC's attempts to create subtext in the original that made me realize how rubbish said original was.

Oh, bone of contention #876:
In KC, Uvanov is an uncontrollable psychopath who wants every possible person he doesn't like dead. In ROD, he is shown to be riddled with guilt after he failed to prevent Zilda's brother committing suicide, and even allowed people to assume he was a negligant asshole to help the family cope with the shame. But that would make the man character halfway human, and we can't have that in an ultraviolent tale of media manipulation, can we?

And, you know, to fascinatingly re-write the ending in absentia by making Uvanov, Toos and Poul survive even though they are clearly meant to be dead when the series ends.
I mean, yes, the Doctor is seen standing over the bodies asking "You all right, Toos?" in a non-sarcastic manner, but consider that - for me - a couple of hours later we have Horror of Fang Rock. Why the hell shouldn't they all be dead?

Imagine it...

DOCTOR: Right, blue eyes, back to the TARDIS.
LEELA: Shouldn't we check on the Colonel and Vince to ensure they survived the lethal zaps of the Rutan?
DOCTOR: Oh, I dare say they'll be all right now the fog's lifted.


Boucher has said that as he's gotten older as a writer he's become more reluctant to kill of characters.
Apart from that ONE time everyone remembers...

Course, in his TV stories the only interesting characters he killed were Neeva and D84. Was he seriously considering sequels in the 1970s?

So, yes, it's a strange beast that maybe, just maybe, doesn't warrant a fully-fledged spin-off series...
I know. I mean, there is a VAGUE line to explain it:

"Who is Taren Capel?"
"A mad scientist. A VERY mad scientist."

So if we just assume TC is completely, utterly, smearing-his-shit-on-the-walls crazy, yeah, the demented plot KIND of makes sense with his stupid mistakes and the like. But the spin offs keep saying he was actually a criminal genius and visionary...

...who liked painting himself green and wearing washing up gloves...