You may be ‘a’ Doctor, but I’m ‘the’ Doctor. The definite article, you might say.
By the 1970s, people had gotten used to the fact that the Doctor regenerates. The anticipation for the next Doctor was growing, but nobody could have expected what was to come.
Robot starts with the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) regenerating into his brown haired successor, and from the very start, with that enormous grin and gibberish lines, we knew this Doctor was going to be very different to the three elderly gentlemen that preceded him. The regeneration is witnessed by the Brigadier and Sarah Jane, so this gives us a stable continuity within the show that assures us we are watching the same programme.
The majority of this episode is the Doctor finding himself. The memorable scene with the Doctor trying on different silly outfits is not only very funny, but also a great introduction into this new Doctor, clearly showing the audience how the Fourth doctor is going to change the show. With other actors, this could be seen as a childish sequence that’s too silly for this show, but Tom Baker pulls it off with aplomb. Can you imagine William Hartnell considering a sparkly jester outfit or Jon Pertwee trying on a Viking costume? Of course not. This scene has helped the ‘new costume’ moment become a tradition, where the Doctor can have a bit of fun choosing a new outfit and we get to see what he might look like in different clothes.
This episode introduced us to some items that have become just as synonymous with the show as the Doctor himself. Early on we get the trademark scarf, which itself has become an icon of the show. Not many people could get away with lugging around a 13ft scarf, but again this is where Tom Baker’s unique performance and character really sells it to us that he is an alien; perhaps the most alien he’s ever been. Then at the end of the episode we get that marvellous catchphrase “Would you like a jelly baby?” Although the Second Doctor enjoyed the sweets too, it’s the Fourth that really made them popular and used them to great effect, especially to show his innocence and fun during debates with authority figures.
Sarah Jane quickly adapts to the new Doctor, but is somewhat preoccupied with investigating the missing plans of a disintegrator gun. This episode is one of Sarah Jane’s finest, with her investigative powers on full form as she helps UNIT and the Doctor to uncover the secrets behind the Think Tank and the K1 robot.
Once the newly regenerated Doctor has had his fun, he joins in with the investigations. When he visits the Scientific Reform Society meeting, we again get to see his brilliant humour as he empties his pockets to reveal random items including a fake pigeon and a yoyo. Again, this joke has been reused in Doctor Who numerous times, with the Fourth Doctor being a template for how the Doctor can be clever and funny at the same time.
The characters in this episode are a mixed bag. Although Winters and Jellicoe are mildly threatening, we also have Professor Kettlewell, who is a character we can’t help but sympathise with. He’s a clever man who has been taken advantage of, and the scene where the K1 robot ‘accidentally’ kills its creator in a moment of frustration, it is actually quite an emotional moment. The K1 robot itself is a great character, because he’s a bad guy who never wanted to be bad. He is just following orders, but his moments of self doubt make us empathise with the robot and makes us root for the thing that’s killing everyone. Near the end of the episode the robot grows massive. Although the effect is not very convincing, it’s a good attempt which makes Sarah Jane at least a bit sad. This makes her question the Doctor’s actions, which again brings us back to how the Doctor has changed and will continue to change in this new body. The whole ensemble of the scarf, the hat, the wild hair, the big eyes, the wide grin and the childish sense of fun really made this Doctor appear the most alien he has ever been, with an inimitable style and character that helped make Doctor Who skyrocket into the public eye and embed the show in their hearts.
Tomorrow we look at the Doctor that had to follow this perfect performance, as Suman reviews Peter Davison’s debut episode, Castrovala.