“These people aren’t dead, Harry, they’re asleep. The entire human race awaiting the trumpet blast” – The Doctor
We can forgive Tom Baker for Robot because it is immediately followed by the classic The Ark in Space. This is really the story that launches the fourth Doctor’s era and is the cornerstone of a very strong first season. Tom Baker’s portrayal is much more assured and easy in the role. After a bit of fun bickering, Sarah and Harry work together with him wonderfully well as they team up at different points in the story. Their relationships even build before our eyes, like how the Doctor’s seeming tearing down of Sarah to motivate her ends up deepening their trust of each other. The sets are also really well done—especially the beacon corridor—and the guess acting (like Noah’s internal struggle) is great.
At the heart of the story are tons of very interesting sci-fi ideas: a cryogenically frozen remnant of humanity and nature wait on a space station to repopulate the decimated Earth, a space-roaming band of wasp-like creatures that lay their eggs inside unwary hosts whom they then eat and absorb the knowledge of, that mankind’s society and education have shifted to a rigid division of class and labor such that interaction with our group seems almost alien at first, that the seemingly evil Wirrn were actually driven from their home breeding grounds by mankind’s colonies.
Most significantly, writer Robert Holmes really hits his stride here with not just a story that is epic in feel with creative ideas but also full of sparkling dialogue, not the least of which are several monologues that deserve to be quoted in full:
“Homo sapiens. What an inventive and invincible species. It’s only been a few million years since they’ve crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They’ve survived flood, famine and plague. They’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They’re indomitable. Indomitable!”
“Hello, Space Station Nerva. This is the Earth High Minister. The fact that you are hearing my voice in a message recorded thousands of years before the day in which you are now living, is a sure sign that our great undertaking, the salvation of the human race, has been rewarded with success. You have slept longer than the recorded history of mankind, and you stand now at the dawn of a new age. You will return to an Earth purified by flame, a world that we cannot guess at. If it be arid, you must make it flourish. If it be stony, you must make it fertile. The challenge is vast, the task enormous, but let nothing daunt you… Remember, citizen volunteers, that you are the proud standard bearers of our entire race. Of the millions that walk the world today, you are the chosen survivors. You have been entrusted with a sacred duty, to see that human culture, human knowledge, human love and faith, shall never perish from the universe. Guard what we have given you with all your strength. And now, across the chasm of the years, I send you the prayers and hopes of the entire world. God speed you to a safe landing.”
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
Thinking of poor doomed Dune having the egg chute of the Wirrn queen emptied into him such that they hatch and ate him from the inside out is definitely gruesome to think of. [Famously, this idea is supposed to have inspired the later Alien franchise.]
- The Fourth Doctor refers to his scarf in the third person (and notes it was made by Madame Nostradamus—something I’d never caught before!)
It’s a great story but the effects to let it down a bit throughout the third episode as the ‘laser blasts’ and the overlaid face of Noah on the creature do not work that well.