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Doctor Who - Robot [1974] - 12.98

Tom Baker's reign as the venerable British science fiction hero Doctor Who began with this four-part serial from 1974-75; it also marked the dawn of what was arguably the most popular period in the program's history. Written by Terrance Dicks, Robot also introduces the late Ian Marter as the Doctor's companion-to-be Harry Sullivan, a UNIT medic who is pulled into the adventure after treating the Doctor, who is recovering from his fourth regeneration (third Doctor Jon Pertwee appears briefly at the beginning of the first episode). Meanwhile, Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) investigate a series of robberies involving a top secret weapons project that seem to have been carried out not by humans, but a colossal object. Could the mysterious "Think Tank" and its robotics division be involved? Robot is a terrific launching point for "The Baker Years"--the star himself is charming and amusing, and the story itself is brisk, involving, and quite suspenseful at times. In short, it's an excellent point for Who newcomers to introduce themselves to this most well-loved of Doctors.

The single-disc DVD includes commentary by Baker, Sladen, Dicks, and producer Barry Letts, as well as a 40-minute documentary titled "Are Friends Electric?" which recalls the production of Baker's first serial via interviews with the cast and production team, including producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and director Christopher Barry. "The Tunnel Effect" is a 13-minute interview with graphic designer Bernard Lodge on how he created the memorable "infinite tunnel" titles for the Baker stories, and there's a clip from children's program Blue Peter, which was broadcast from the set of Robot. The by-now standard photo gallery, production notes, and a PDF of the Radio Times listings round out the extras. --Paul Gaita

Customer reviews (av rating: 4.0):

Rating: 4:
Workman-Like Start : This was the first of Tom Baker's stories so obviously, no-one had any knowledge of how Tom would develop the role.

There's little evidence of the eccentricity that he would bring to the role very quickly after this and that had attracted the production staff to him in the first place. Sarah, as always, was in fine fettle as she investigated the mysterious disappearing equipment and we're introduced to Ian Marter as permanent companion Harry Sullivan who actually gets to play the role in a serious fashion - later stories would see him sinking to Mickey like comedic side kick.

There are a number of interesting extras ranging from how the new Doctor was cast and the rest of the cast assembled round him to how the various title sequences were constructed (this *was* interesting - honest!).

Rating: 4:
Introducing Tom Baker : First broadcast in 1974, Robot was the story that would introduce the 4th and longest serving Doctor Who, as memorably played by Tom Baker. Despite its important role in Doctor Who's history, Robot is not one of the better debut stories for a new Doctor. It lacks the excitement and grittiness of Jon Pertwee's debut, Spearhead from Space. It certainly is nowhere near as stronger opener as the debut stories of the most Doctor's were, although is still superior to Sylvester McCoy's dire opener, Time And The Rani, and Colin Baker's much maligned The Twin Dilemma. In introducing a new Doctor, the outgoing production team opted for a fairly straight forward story, clearly influenced by King Kong. In tone and style it is rather like a later Jon Pertwee story, and it is in no way reflective of the more adult horror style programme that it would become under the leadership of Philip Hinchcliffe, who would make his debut with the very next adventure. It is generally accepted that Jon Pertwee's last season was the weakest of his 5 year run, by the this point the concept of The Doctor working for the army UNIT in modern day Earth and helping to prevent aliens or organisations taking over the Earth had runs its course and the series certainly needed a new direction which as stated Hinchcliffe would bring in. Robot can be seen then as the beginning of the end for the Unit era. The organisation would feature only 3 more times after Robot during Tom Baker's tenure, disappearing completely and not even getting mentioned during the latter part of his era. Tom Baker himself was a largely unknown out of work actor when he was appointed to the role, working on a building site when he was offered the position. It is hard today to imagine one of the top parts in television been offered to an actor the public are unaware of. Tom Baker gives an energetic performance similar to how he would play the role during the comedy influenced Graham Williams's era. After the suave and sophisticated Jon Pertwee, it is hard to imagine what the public would have made of Tom Baker's somewhat scruffy, Doctor, with his long scarf and coat. We are also introduced to a new companion, Harry Sullivan, excellently portrayed by the late Ian Marter. Harry was brought into the series, in case the new Doctor was played by an older actor, allowing Harry to take on the action sequences. Although of course the appointment of the relatively young Tom Baker, meant that he could undertake such sequences.
As well as the story itself, as usual there are some excellent additional documentaries on the disc.

Rating: 3:
A Baker In Pertwee's Clothing.. : Robot is somewhat of an oddity. It marks the start of a new era, while bearing all the hallmarks ofan old one. The setting and the writng by Terrance Dicks is positively Pertwee; UNIT battling a power mad scientific faction on Earth had already been done, most obviously in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. But the changes are there. Gone is Pertwee's suave arrogance, and in is a wide eyed, positively manic at times Tom Baker. While there are still some edges to be smoothed out here (and they would be smoothed out pretty quickly) in his performance, there is no doubt that from the offset, Baker was in charge, and because of this presence he won the fans over spectacularly.

The performances from the regulars are good, Nick Courtney being given the chance to be able to play the Brigadier as a real soldier again, Ian Marter makes a strong debut as Harry, John Levene gets a little more leg work as Benton, and Liz Sladen is ever reliable as Sarah. You can't be quite as glowing as the regulars with the guest artists, although all of them manage to create the right mood for their characters effectively. You have to give special mention to Michael Kilgariff as The Robot itself, wearing that costume and delivering a perfomance cannot have been easy (the fact he trips up on camera in clear shot highlights this).

The plot itself, being Terrance Dicks is a solid enough idea, yet it seems a little stretched in places. The finale, an homage to King King has degrees of success and failure. The fact that the whole thing was shot on video helps the special effects along well, it's a big improvement on Invasion of the Dinosaurs! However, the 'model' Sarah, the actual CSO 'growing' where parts of the Robot disappear, and as Dicks quite happily admits 'the Action Man tank' do tend to let the overall effect down, and I have to agree, a touch of CGI in the modern world would have been a welcome addition.

All in all a pretty solid story, but one that is certainly not reflective of either era, and has some trouble getting going in places. Tune in next week for The Ark In Space and you see how it really has all changed.

Extras are all good, the documentary Are Friends Electric being particularly worth watching.

Rating: 5:
Welcome to the TARDIS Mr Baker... : I already own this and found it thrilling and exciting especially when the Robot starts to grow bigger but to find out how the Doctor destroys it you will have to buy this DVD watch it and find out.
I would recommend this DVD to any Doctor Who fan as it marks the debut for Tom Bakers time in the TARDIS.
I wouldn's say this is the best story but it is a must have for Doctor Who fans of all ages...

Rating: 5:
When Extras are worthwhile : Tom's first story - what can you say. I can still remember watching it over that Christmas when I was 13. It made a huge impact on me, despite being someting of a curate's egg.

What makes this DVD release so special is the sheer amount of quality materials in the extras. Absolutely breathtaking. Te first time I think I've ever heard Tom being interviewed, rather than rambling on on his own.

A must have if you want to call yourself an anorak

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