Five Best (& Worst) Robots in DOCTOR WHO - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Five Best (& Worst) Robots in DOCTOR WHO

Is this a collection of awesome and terrible robots from Doctor Who? Afirmative.
Across its almost 60 years and 17billion episodes, or therabouts, the writers, producers and designers of Doctor Who have realised a staggering number of robotic creatures for us to marvel at. From artificial intelligence par excellence to some sub-standard factory rejects, some of these robots have been on hand to assist the Doctor in his/her adventures in time and space, others have nefarious interests or are controlled/programmed by a higher order to do their evil bidding.

We've rounded up five of our robotic favourites, each of which will be given a lifetime supply of WD-40, alongside five kaput-catastrophes which need decommissioning and sent to the great scrap-heap in the sky. But before we get to the countdown and y'all scream "But where are the Daleks? Where are the Cybermen?" Well, it would be too easy to include them really, wouldn't it? Plus, y'know, they're not actually robots per se, they're mutants with robotic upgrades. Every robot below is pure A.I., but does your favourite make the list?
10. (Worst) K1
A logical robot behaving utterly illogical and some of the worst visual effects in Doctor Who's history (I'm looking at you little model of a tank), the Fourth Doctor's debut adventure, coincidentally titled Robot, does actually have a lot going for it, sadly K1 isn't anywhere near the highlights. To be fair, when he's clearly a man in a robot suit, K1 looks pretty good, but the CSO used to supposedly display K1 of enormous size is pretty dire, even by 1975 standards.
9. (Best) Raston Warrior Robot
Robot, the Fourth Doctor's debut adventure above, was written by the great Terrance Dicks who over the years gave us some marvelous characters and stories. Occasionally Dicks seems to have had the mindset of "Fuck it! This'll be cool". A massive robot like K1 absolutely could've been cool but was perhaps just too much for the budget of the day. The Raston Warrior Robot on the other hand was a masterstroke.

I love The Five Doctors. It is stuffed to the gills with characters, both good and bad; returning Doctors, companions, Time Lords, Daleks, Cybermen, you name it it's there. Even Bessie makes an appearance. The whole story is a love letter to the first 20 years of the series, as it rightly should be. But there in the middle Dicks chucked-in one of the finest single-use villains to ever grace Doctor Who screens for simply no other reason that he'd look "fucking cool". And he pretty much steals the show. And boy did he look fucking cool! With lightning fast movement, zipping in and out the shot, firing arrows from his hands and decapitating Cybermen like the Ted Bundy of Gallifrey, the Raston Warrior Robot is long overdue a return visit to our screens (if you're listening Mr Chibnall).
8. (Worst) Kamelion
The only thing weaker that Kamelion's will was the design of this shape-shifting android's default form. Kudos to John Nathan-Turner for trying to introduce a true computer controlled robot character to Doctor Who, but the sad fact is the Kamelion prop just didn't work. Meaning after the initial excitement of the Fifth Doctor having a robot humanoid as a companion dissipated, you soon realised that Kamelion was destined to sit pretty much every adventure out, slumped in a heap in the corner of the TARDIS with only a lute to keep him company.
7. (Best) Clockwork Droid
Used wonderfully in both The Girl In The Fireplace and Deep Breath, Steven Moffat's Clockwork automata are exceptionally well realised in both design and story. From camouflaging themselves into surroundings, to harvesting human skin and organs, to breaking all the clocks to disguise their tick-tock noise, they remain, arguably, the finest robotic creation since the show's return in 2005 (What? You thought I was gonna go for the EmojiBot in Smile???). Talking of the show's return in 2005...
6. (Worst) Trin-E, Zu-Zana, Davinadroid, Anne Droid
Bad Wolf, the finale of the first series of Doctor Who back in 2005, is, for me, spoiled by Russell T Davies including waaay too many pop-culture references of the day whilst actually having the events of the story taking place in the year 200,100. Like we, as a human race, reached the pinnacle of entertainment circa 2005 with Big Brother, What Not To Wear and The Weakest Link. I refuse to believe that to be true.

Trine & Zu-Zana, Davinadroid and Anne Droid, you are the weakest robots of the revived series, goodbye.
5. (Best) Auton
OK, so, Autons have changed significantly over the years and can now appear fully lifelike without the plastic sheen. For me, it sorta dampens their presence as a foe. But back in 1970, in their original shop mannequin dummy design in Spearhead From Space they were a truly unsettling sight. That split second where a seemingly ordinary and innocent thing springs to life and starts shooting people down in the street is an iconic moment from Doctor Who, worthy of inclusion in this list.

And I say worthy of inclusion as one could argue that the Autons are more mutant than robot. However, even though they have been bought to life by the Nestene Consciousness they are automatons (although that's not why they're called Autons; they get their name from 'Auto Plastics', the company that was infiltrated by the Nestenes and subsequently manufactured their Auton shell).
4. (Worst) Kandyman
This pathological, psychopathic android, employed as an executioner by the egocentric Helen A, delights in inflicting torture and destruction with confectionery. One of the Kandyman's favourite methods is drowning people in pipes filled with its "Fondant Surprise". Dirty boy!

The Kandyman absolutely has his fans, and it's not for me to tell them they're wrong. I'm just not one of them though. He's essentially Bertie Bassett, the Liquorice Allsorts mascot, on steroids. And talking of drugs (!) do not, I repeat DO NOT watch The Happiness Patrol under the influence of halacanagenics as one glimpse of the Kandyman will mess with your mind!
3. (Best) Sandminer Robots
Is there a better example of an art-deco style robot than the slave androids from 1977's The Robots of Death? Originally built to perform menial tasks, they came in three distinct designs...
  • D-class, colloquially known as Dums, were incapable of speech and merely followed orders.
  • V-class or Vocs were capable of verbal response and performing slightly more complex tasks, but ultimately no more intelligent than the D-class.
  • SV-class, or Supervocs were capable of reason and decision-making, and were used to co-ordinate the other robots in an organisation. Supervocs have been utilised in detective work.
The story itself, as well as being a stone cold classic from season 14 of Doctor Who, is a homage to the work of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Agatha Christie. Also, as you can see the screengrab above featuring D84 and Leela attempting to produce a nice art-deco vase, The Robots of Death went on to be a heavy influence for the 1990 Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie Ghost. Perhaps.
2. (Worst) Quarks
Appearing just one time in the 1969 Second Doctor adventure The Dominators, some people may argue that it was one time too many for the Quarks. They are pretty rubbish, in every possible way. Like a blocky version of Dusty Bin from 3,2,1, you'd be gutted to be taking this consolation prize home.

And that may be why the Quarks were never destined to be top-level Doctor Who foes as they were created in an attempt to produce a new monster with the same merchandising potential as the popular Daleks, but crucially a monster to merchandise that didn't involve having to pay Terry Nation an expensive licensing fee. When you set about trying to recreate bottled lightning, you're only ever going to end up with a poor imitation. And so the consolation prize that is the Quarks became the worst Doctor Who robot from across the show's long history.
1. (Best) K9
So many great robots from Doctor Who failed to make our list (from the Yeti to the Kerb!am man), as did many production line duds (Mechanoids and that robot from Robot of Sherwood spring to mind), but was there ever a doubt in anyone's mind that K-9 would not be number 1? I think not.

There's a symmetry that we started this countdown with K1 and end it with K9, as this faithful robot dog is easily nine times better than the lumbering robotic humanoid. Created by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, to whom rights to the character still belong (as that non-Doctor Who Australian series will attest), K9 first appeared in 1977 in the Fourth Doctor adventure The Invisible Enemy where he was originally intended to be a one-time character but was kept in the show following his expected popularity with the younger audience. There have been at least four separate K9 units with the first two being companions of the Fourth Doctor. K9 then returned in 1981 for the one-off K-9 and Company, and then again in 2006 for School Reunion followed by The Sarah Jane Adventures (and that aforementioned 2009 Australian K-9 series).

Is K9 the greatest robotic character ever to appear in Doctor Who? Affirmative.

And there you have it! Our favourite Doctor Who robots, interspersed with a selection of scrapheap duds. Good or bad, did your favourites make the list?

1 comment:

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