THE ROBOTS OF DEATH
“You know, you’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain”
The Doctor to Borg, episode 2
Leela's first journey in the TARDIS is to a Sandminer, an ocean liner-sized machine trawling the deserts of a wind-lashed planet in search of precious ores. There are only a handful of humans commanding this huge vessel, but a much larger crew of human-shaped and elegantly dressed robots carries out all essential work.
Tom as the Doctor aims a Laserson Probe at Robot D84 played by Mark Blackwell Baker in part three of The Robots of Death. Picture © BBC
Their arrival coincides with a series of unsolved murders aboard the vessel, so immediately suspicion falls upon the Doctor and Leela. Suggesting that a robot could have been responsible falls on deaf ears. Robots, they are told, are incapable of harming humans due to their programming. Yet, as the Doctor investigations progress, more deaths occur, and a terrible suspicion dawns that someone has found a way to subvert this programming.
Matters worsen as an act of sabotage brings the Sandminer to a halt and all the robots, assumed to be so perfectly programmed, begin to turn against their masters…
Analysing the skills needed to achieve this enables the Doctor to pinpoint a deranged scientist among the crew – Taren Capel (David Bailie) – who, masquerading as the ship’s robot engineer, is intent upon liberating robots from “human dross”; freeing them to kill their “oppressors”. But not all the robots see their status as killers. One of their number sacrifices itself to free the Doctor from Capel’s clutches, and in a final irony, Capel is killed by a robot after the pitch of his voice – altered by the Doctor releasing helium gas into the air – changes past a point where other robots recognise his authority.