Then portrayed by Tom Baker and his giant, 1977-friendly ’fro, the good Doctor and his pretty yet primitive companion, Leela (Louise Jameson), are stuck in a “metal world” in outer space until they can find their beloved TARDIS, which has gone missing. (For show virgins — or near-virgins like me — that’s the iconic time-traveling police box.
At the beginning, Leela is kept busy by a yo-yo she sees as magic, while the Doctor is more concerned about getting the hell out of the place. That’s because they’re amid robots that are killing the ship’s crew in the mystery genre’s venerable one-by-one fashion. (Both Baker and Jameson participate in one of the disc’s two commentary tracks.)
Never a fan of the show, I was always put off by its low production values and shot-on-video look whenever it played PBS weekend nights of my 1970s youth. Even at such a young age, I realized I held on to an unpopular opinion, because friends loved it, postponing play for half an hour. I’m going to blame Star Wars on their fascination, because back then, everything with even a hint of sci-fi became the talk of the grade-school playground.
Everything they loved (and likely still do) is everything I disliked (and today find quaint), and all on display in these “Robots” episodes, from odd costuming that suggests loaners from a community theater (right down to tinfoil shoes) to Ziggy Stardust-style makeup. What should be the coolest element — the robots, duh! — are just guys wearing metallic-esque masks with mouths that do not move. It’s hard to take those seriously when they make me think, “Trick or treat!”
The BBC’s modern versions are far better, benefiting greatly from the decades’ technological leaps and bounds, not to mention creative forces. But for those who prefer the old-school Who, this is among four fan-favorite, feature-heavy special editions being released March 13; the others are the episodes “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” “The Three Doctors” and “The Face of Evil.” —Rod Lott