While the Doctor is recovering from his latest regeneration, there are a number of thefts of secret plans threatening global security, with the guards killed. The culprit appears to be a robot, created by the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, however, his basic programming prevents him from killing.
Tom Baker’s debut story marks the start of his seven-year tenure as the Doctor. Viewed by many as the definitive incarnation of the Time Lord, the Fourth Doctor is an arguably more eccentric character than his predecessors, bringing a booming voice, imposing height and a frankly extraordinary amount of teeth to the role. Robot, sadly largely feels like a Third Doctor story largely down to the presence of UNIT and the holdover of production team for this story.
The story’s biggest strength is undoubtedly Tom Baker, who clearly knows how he wants to play the part from the off. This incarnation of the Doctor is much more alien and much less concerned with the affairs of Earth than his immediate predecessor – the moment that he is left alone with his TARDIS, he makes a move towards leaving UNIT and Sarah Jane behind. The most marked change between Baker and Pertwee is their relationship with the Brigadier. Whilst Pertwee and the Brigadier mostly got on during the Doctor’s time on Earth, he would also get much more frustrated with the Brigadier for going against him. In this story, we see the Doctor treat him with much more humour, whilst retaining the same level of obvious affection for the man despite his pomposity. Baker brings a sense of unpredictability to every scene that he is in and even when he is not speaking, the viewers’ eye is drawn to him to see just what he will do next. He has some great facial expressions here too, especially the first time he sees the TARDIS and realises he has the opportunity to get away and when he walks through a door marked ‘Positively No Admittance’.
Naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain.
Naturally, I mean, the rest were all foreigners.
The Brigadier and the Fourth Doctor
Baker is ably supported by his continuing companion, Sarah Jane Smith, as well as the Brigadier and faithful and newly promoted Benton. Sladen, Courtney and Levene do their best here to provide the comfort blanket for the audience to introduce this new Doctor, and the first two certainly find the more eccentric personality of this new Doctor exasperating at times. This story finally introduces us to a new companion in the shape of Harry Sullivan, who was mentioned in Planet of the Spiders, and is played by Ian Marter. Harry is a rather old fashioned sort of man, however, he is played with a sense of charm which makes him endearing to the viewer, even if he may doubt Sarah’s capacity to help in their investigation of the Scientific Reform Society.
Unfortunately, the story does suffer from some forgettable villains. Miss Maynard and Jellicoe and the Scientific Reform Society fit into the role of generic scientific baddies with the titular robot perhaps saving this story from monotony. I am loathed to criticise the special effects of the classic era of Doctor Who, but the effects towards the end of part four when the robot grows really hasn’t aged well and picks up Sarah Jane, and the less said with the bit with the toy tank, the better. That being said, The Doctor’s fight with the K1 Robot in the Kettlewell’s laboratory is really enjoyable.
Verdict: A mediocre start to the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, with a strong central performance from Tom Baker. 6/10
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), John Levene (Warrant Officer John Benton), Patricia Maynard (Miss Maynard), Alec Linstead (Jellicoe), Edward Burnham (Professor Kettlewell), Michael Kilgarriff (Robot)
Writer: Terrance Dicks
Director: Christopher Barry
Broadcast Dates: 28 December 1974 – 18 January 1975
Behind the Scenes
- The first introductory story for a new companion not to be written by Robert Holmes since The Wheel in Space.
- Despite the production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks stepping down, they were involved in the casting of the new Doctor. Originally, they considered casting an older actor, hence bringing in Harry Sullivan, who was name-checked in the previous story. Terrance Dicks wrote this story, whilst Barry Letts produced it, with incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe shadowing him.
- Tom Baker was working on a building site at the time of his casting as the Fourth Doctor.
- The last appearance of the Third Doctor’s lab, and the last time Bessie is seen until The Five Doctors. The incumbent Doctor would not be seen to be driving Bessie until Sylvester McCoy did so in Battlefield.
- This story reveals the Brigadier’s full name as being Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
- This story was in production at the same time as Planet of the Spiders, meaning that both Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee were playing the Doctor simultaneously. Additionally, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, and John Levene were involved in both productions.
- This can be seen to be the last regular appearance of UNIT. The role of the organisation had been gradually phased out since The Three Doctors when the Third Doctor was able to travel in time and space again, but UNIT still reappeared. They would reappear in Terror of the Zygons, The Android Invasion and The Seeds of Doom, however in the latter, neither the Brigadier nor Benton appeared.
- Christopher Barry considered casting future Sixth Doctor Colin Baker as Arnold Jellicoe. Ultimately, the part went to Alec Linstead, who had previously played Sergeant Osgood in The Daemons.
- Ian Marter had previously been cast in the part of Yates, however, was forced to drop out due to other commitments. He appeared in the Third Doctor serial Carnival of Monsters and became the third actor to be cast in a regular role following a guest appearance after Peter Purves and Nicholas Courtney.
- Michael Kilgariff had previously played the Cyber Controller in The Tomb of the Cybermen.
- Edward Burnham appeared alongside John Levene and Nicholas Courtney in The Invasion.
The skipping scene with Harry in part one.
Never cared much for the word “impregnable”. Sounds too much like “unsinkable”.
What’s wrong with unsinkable?
Nothing. As the iceberg said to the Titanic.
The Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan
Next time: There’s a dinosaur in London, as the Twelfth Doctor makes his debut!