Robot (TV story)

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Robot was the first serial of season 12 of Doctor Who. This story had numerous notable firsts and lasts.

In terms of firsts, Robot was Tom Baker's debut episode as the Fourth Doctor, which followed on directly from the end of Planet of the Spiders. It was also the first story to feature new companion Harry Sullivan, played by Ian Marter. It was the first story for which Robert Holmes was the script editor.

In terms of lasts, this was the final story produced by Barry Letts. It was the last story in which Nicholas Courtney had a regular role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, as the character did not appear again until Terror of the Zygons the following season. After that, he was entirely absent from the series until Mawdryn Undead in 1983. Likewise, John Levene's newly promoted Warrant Officer John Benton made his final appearance as a regular character. His only subsequent appearances were in the aforementioned Terror of the Zygons and The Android Invasion.

Outgoing script editor Terrance Dicks saw this as an opportunity to quickly secure a contract now that he had returned to the ranks of freelance writing. He convinced his replacement, Robert Holmes, that the programme had a tradition of departing script editors being commissioned by their successors, and so was assigned the task of writing this story.


Trouble is brewing once again; a series of robberies are taking place which seem linked to plans for a top secret disintegrator gun. All evidence seems to point to the culprit being a sentient robot, created by an eccentric professor and owned by a think tank. However, the robot's basic programming prevents him from killing, providing a contradiction to the clues.

At the same time, the Doctor is recovering from his latest regeneration; can he regain his senses and help UNIT solve the case before time runs out?


Part one[[edit]]

The Doctor regenerates.

Sarah Jane Smith and the Brigadier watch as the Third Doctor's features fade into those of the Fourth Doctor. The newly regenerated Doctor is delirious, waking to spout random lines from past adventures before again falling unconscious. The Brigadier summons the base medical officer, Lieutenant Harry Sullivan, to take the Doctor to sickbay and care for him.

Meanwhile, something large and mechanical enters a Ministry of Defence advanced research centre. It kills a guard, scares a guard dog and breaks easily through a gate to steal documents from a vault. In the Doctor's laboratory, the Brigadier confides to Sarah that the plans are for a disintegrator gun. Sarah asks the Brigadier to arrange for a visitor's pass to the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, or "Think Tank", which admits journalists only rarely. The Brigadier is glad to help. The two leave for his office just as the Doctor, dressed in a nightshirt and the previous Doctor's black velvet jacket, sneaks into the laboratory. Finding the TARDIS locked, the Doctor discovers the key in one of his boots. However, before he can enter his ship, he is interrupted by Harry, who tries to persuade him to return to sickbay.

When Sarah and the Brigadier return to the lab, they find Harry shut up in a locker and hear the wheezing sound of the TARDIS starting to take off. Sarah bangs frantically on the police box doors, causing the takeoff sound to stop and the Doctor to pop his head out. Sarah tries to coax the still unstable Doctor out of the TARDIS, saying they need his help to find a stolen secret weapon. She almost fails, until the Doctor recognises the Brigadier and her.

The Doctor has entered the TARDIS to find a new wardrobe. He emerges in a Viking outfit, complete with horned helmet, much to the Brigadier's annoyance, who points out that UNIT is supposed to be an undercover organisation. The Doctor tries again, but comes out wearing the costume of a playing card jack, which he immediately goes back in to change. His third attempt is a Pierrot clown outfit, complete with face-paint, which is also met with disapproval. His fourth attempt has him emerge in what will be his regular outfit, with a long multi-coloured scarf and floppy hat; the Brigadier decides this look is much better than the ones before.

The mechanical creature breaks into another facility, this time stealing components from a vault. The Brigadier brings the Doctor to investigate the break-in, but the Doctor seems more interested in a pulverised dandelion on the grounds. He points out that the force needed to do that would have to be about a quarter ton. He also deduces from the stolen items that whoever is doing this is stealing the components of a disintegrator gun. The last component is a focusing generator. The Brigadier orders the factory where it is housed to be guarded.

Sarah visits Think Tank. She is shown around the grounds by the director, Hilda Winters, and her assistant, Arnold Jellicoe. Think Tank is a pure research facility — once research reaches a certain stage, it is handed to another organisation with more resources, like the government. The initial work on the disintegrator gun was done by Think Tank. Sarah notices a door marked "No Admittance" and pushes her way through into the former robotics section run by Professor J.P. Kettlewell. She remembers that Kettlewell left Think Tank after he turned against conventional science. He now works on alternative energy facilities. Sarah nearly slips on a wet patch as she looks around. Jellicoe insists, however, that there is nothing in the section. Winters and he escort Sarah out.

At Emmett's Electronics, UNIT sets up barriers against the thief. The Doctor observes they have covered all directions... except down. Sure enough, the mechanical thing tunnels upward into the vault where the generator is kept. By the time the others arrive, all that is left is a dead guard and a hole in the floor. At the other end of the tunnel in the woods, Benton discovers a giant, rectangular and very deep footprint.

Sarah goes to see Kettlewell, who brusquely tells her that Think Tank cannot be carrying on his robotics research because no one else has the ability to do so. Still suspicious, she drives back to Think Tank and sneaks back into the robotics section, discovering the wet patch was actually oil. At that moment, a set of doors opens, and a giant, gleaming robot lumbers menacingly towards her, demanding to know who she is and what she is doing here.

Part two[[edit]]

Sarah, panicked, runs to where she came in and meets Winters. The director explains that since Sarah was so insistent on seeing what was in there, they activated the robot as a joke. In response to Sarah's questions, the robot identifies itself as Experimental Prototype Robot K1. Its purpose is to replace human beings in carrying out hazardous activities like mining or handling radioactive materials. Sarah asks if the robot can be dangerous. Winters demonstrates by ordering K1 to kill her. K1 is unable to do so and the conflicting impulses cause it distress. Jellicoe explains that K1's prime directive is to serve and not harm humanity. Sarah observes that that was a cruel demonstration and apologises to K1 for its distress, despite Winters claiming that the robot has no feelings. After she leaves, Jellicoe tells Winters that the demonstration was dangerous. K1's programming had just been reset.

Jellicoe and Winters adjust K1 again before sending it out. They show K1 a picture of Cabinet Minister Joseph Chambers, telling it that Chambers is an enemy of humanity. Meanwhile, Sarah reports what she has seen to UNIT. The Brigadier cannot act without more evidence. They decide to send Harry to Think Tank, undercover, to gather information. The others go to see Kettlewell, who is hostile at first but warms up when the Doctor shows interest in his work. Kettlewell tells them that he reluctantly ordered K1 dismantled because its capacity to learn and its power began to frighten him. He scoffs at the idea that Winters or Jellicoe would have the ability to alter the robot's programming but concedes that, if they had, it would drive the robot mad.

K1 enters Chambers' home, kills him and disintegrates the door of his safe to steal a set of documents. At UNIT, the Brigadier has discovered that many Think Tank scientists, including Winters and Jellicoe, belong to the Scientific Reform Society, a fringe group advocating a society ruled by a scientific elite. K1 arrives at Kettlewell's lab in a confused state, knowing it has gone against its programming. It asks its creator for help. When the Doctor and the Brigadier go to Think Tank, Winters tells them K1 has been dismantled, but Winters is aware the Doctor knows she is lying. Meanwhile, Harry arrives at Think Tank disguised as a medical inspector.

In his lab, the Doctor receives a call from Kettlewell, who tells him of K1's presence. The Doctor agrees to go over but leaves a note tacked up on the TARDIS in case it is a trap. Indeed, after Kettlewell hangs up, Winters and Jellicoe enter the professor's lab. When the Doctor arrives, he finds the place empty except for K1, who has been ordered to kill the Doctor as an enemy of humanity. Although the Doctor tries to get away, it knocks him out and raises its arm to deliver the coup de grace.

Part three[[edit]]

An enthusiastic Winters unveils the robot

Before K1 can land the killing blow, Sarah (having read the note) arrives. K1 recognises her as the person who showed concern for its well-being. When Sarah tells it that Think Tank are deceiving it, K1 flails about in confusion and distress. At that moment, Benton and a squad of UNIT soldiers arrive, but it easily shrugs off their gunfire and escapes. They find Kettlewell tied up inside a cupboard and take him back to UNIT headquarters. There, he confirms that Jellicoe and Winters altered the robot's programming and made it unstable. He explains that K1 is made of a living metal he invented, one that can grow like a living organism. That led him to another discovery, a virus that could biodegrade metal into a recyclable form.

When Sarah discovers that Kettlewell is still a member of the Scientific Reform Society, she persuades him to attend that evening's meeting and let her in secretly. When Benton protests, she points out that neither of them are under UNIT's jurisdiction, and they leave. When the Doctor wakes up, he has realised that Chambers must have had access to some kind of ultimate threat. The Brigadier explains that some months before, to ensure peace, the governments of Russia, China and America decided to give the locations and launch codes of their nuclear weapons to a neutral country, Britain, for safekeeping, with the intention that Britain could publish these codes if war was imminent and allow things to cool down. Chambers was holding on to these destructor codes. If Think Tank has them, they could hold the world to ransom. When Benton tells them that Sarah has gone off with Kettlewell, the Doctor is alarmed.

At the SRS meeting, Kettlewell opens a side door to let Sarah in. She hides in the meeting room as Winters addresses the membership, ranting that soon they will rule as is their right. To Sarah's shock, she credits this to one man: Kettlewell, who joins them on stage, as does K1. The robot senses Sarah's presence and homes in on her, just as the Doctor arrives to provide a distraction. He knew Kettlewell was the only one capable of altering K1's programming; the attack on him was a ruse to gain UNIT's confidence. Kettlewell explains that for years he had tried to persuade people to stop destroying the environment. Now with Think Tank, he can make them stop. The Doctor points out that in science, as in morality, the ends never justify the means, and Kettlewell gets an inkling of Winters' ruthlessness when she orders the Doctor and Sarah killed.

UNIT arrives at that moment, but using K1 as cover and Sarah as a hostage, Winters, Jellicoe and Kettlewell make their escape. Harry contacts the Brigadier from Think Tank, reporting that the scientists are evacuating to a bunker, but is knocked unconscious by Jellicoe and Phillips and taken captive before he can relate any more. UNIT troops proceed to Think Tank's atomic shelter but are held off by its automated defences. Winters contacts the Brigadier; they have already given the governments of the world their demands. Unless these are agreed to, in full, in thirty minutes, she will use the destructor codes.

Benton and his men knock out the bunker's machine gun nests while the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to detonate the mines surrounding the entrance. Winters sends K1 out, armed with the disintegrator gun, which he proceeds to use on a soldier, then a UNIT tank. It warns that it will destroy them all.

Part four[[edit]]

In the bunker, Winters has Kettlewell make the international computer linkups so they can use the destructor codes. Kettlewell still believes Winters is bluffing, but she disabuses him of the notion. If the world governments do not give in, she will fire the missiles. The countdown begins.

Kettlewell has a change of heart and tries to stop the countdown, but Jellicoe pulls a gun on him. Harry and Sarah have escaped their bonds, and Harry knocks Jellicoe to the ground. Kettlewell holds the countdown while the other two open the doors. As they exit the bunker, K1 swings the disintegrator gun on them. Sarah tries to convince K1 that Think Tank are evil. K1 struggles with the dilemma and fires the gun, disintegrating Kettlewell. With a wail, the robot cries out that it has killed its creator and collapses. With K1 apparently disabled, the Doctor and the UNIT troops make their way into the bunker.

Winters has resumed the countdown. Although she moves away from the console when ordered, she is confident that no one can stop the countdown. She has not reckoned on the Doctor, who reprograms the computer and cancels the order. In the mop-up, nobody notices that K1 has revived and has taken Sarah with it into the bunker. The Doctor realises that K1 is in a state of emotional shock after killing its "father" and has developed an Oedipus complex. K1 intends to carry out Kettlewell's last orders and ensure the destruction of humanity, although the robot assures Sarah that she alone will be saved.

Benton tells the Doctor of Kettlewell's description of the robot's living metal and the accompanying virus he developed. The Doctor is delighted and tells the Brigadier to find the robot while Harry and he go to Kettlewell's lab to cook up a batch of the virus. K1 locks the bunker and restarts the countdown. This time, the world governments' fail-safe procedures are activated in time. The missiles remain unfired.

As K1 exits the bunker, the Brigadier fires at it with the disintegrator gun. Instead of being destroyed, the robot grows to gigantic size. It picks up Sarah like a doll and heads towards the nearby village.

It places her on a rooftop as a pitched battle takes place between K1 and UNIT troops, while the Doctor races back with the virus. Driving by K1's feet in his roadster, Bessie, the Doctor throws the batch of virus at it. The virus instantly spreads over the robot, throwing its growth into reverse. It shrinks to doll size and then dissolves completely.

The end of K1.

Back at the Doctor's laboratory, Sarah is saddened by K1's demise. She realises the Doctor had to do what he did, but it had seemed so human. The Doctor observes it was capable of great good as well as great evil, so one could say that it was human. He suggests a trip in the TARDIS to cheer Sarah up. She agrees but wonders why the Doctor wants to do so right now. He has been invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace. Unlike his predecessor, the Doctor finds much of his work at UNIT to be boring. He simply doesn't wish to do so much work. Harry enters, asking where they are going. When the Doctor tells him, Harry considers the idea that a police box can go anywhere in time and space absurd. The Doctor invites Harry to step inside the TARDIS too, just to prove it is no illusion. Harry does so and is heard by the Doctor and Sarah to exclaim in surprise; they follow him in, grinning. The TARDIS dematerialises just as the Brigadier enters the lab. Seeing the empty corner where the TARDIS was, the Brigadier muses to himself that he will have to tell Buckingham Palace that the Doctor will be a little late for dinner.


Uncredited cast[[edit]]


Uncredited crew[[edit]]



The Doctor performs a trick after gatecrashing the meeting.

Cultural references from the real world[[edit]]

  • Sarah makes a mocking comparison between Harry and James Bond.
  • At one point the Doctor mentions the Titanic and its supposedly unsinkable design.
  • The Doctor attempts a card trick.
  • In his confusion immediately after his regeneration, the Doctor mistakes the Brigadier for Hannibal.
  • While discussing unappreciated scientists, Professor Kettlewell mentions Galileo and Copernicus.
  • When the Doctor empties his pockets, he takes out a Lumar Disney Donald Duck yo-yo.


The Doctor[[edit]]



Story notes[[edit]]

  • This story had the working title The Giant Robot. The existing camera script for part one also lists Robot as a working title. (REF: The Scripts: Tom Baker 1974/5)
  • This is the last time that the Third Doctor's lab is seen.
  • This is the last story to feature Bessie until The Five Doctors. It is also the last occasion that the current Doctor drives her until Battlefield with the Seventh Doctor.
  • This was the first Doctor Who serial to have location as well as studio material shot on videotape, as opposed to the more usual BBC television drama practice of the time of shooting studio interiors on videotape and location exteriors on film. This was due to the large number of video effects involving the eponymous robot required in exterior scenes, which were easier and more convincing to marry to videotape than to film. The next serial to be produced completely on videotape was The Sontaran Experiment later that season. Beginning with The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986, videotaping exteriors became standard practice for the remainder of the 1963-89 series' run. The revived (2005-) series, by comparison, is largely shot on digital using ARRI ALEXA Camera, ARRI ALEXA XT Camera, Sony Betacam (Unknown) Camera, Sony CineAlta F35 Camera, Sony HDW-F900 Camera and editing was done on the Apple Final Cut Pro 7.
  • As a consequence of the above point, this was the first colour serial to be recorded entirely on videotape. (REF: The Fourth Doctor Handbook)
  • The seeming disappearance of the robot's legs when it grows was due largely to a change in the way in which colour separation overlay was achieved. Generally, Barry Letts had ordered blue as the background to all CSO shots during the Pertwee era. However, as with the previous story, Planet of the Spiders, yellow was used. While this switch had produced generally desirable results for the shots of the Whomobile in flight in Planet of the Spiders, it didn't work so well in this story, due to the fact that the reflection of the studio lights on the silver of the robot's body registered as yellow to the camera. When the growing robot was keyed into the shot with Sarah, the CSO process removed all yellow from the shot, which took away not just the yellow background, but also those parts of the robot's body which the camera saw as yellow.
  • Benton is promoted to Warrant Officer, thus entitling him to be addressed as "Mister". This is not reflected in the closing credits, which continue to give his rank as Sergeant.
  • This story features the debut of another new opening and closing title sequence, again designed by Bernard Lodge and realised using the "slit scan" process, but in this instance featuring Tom Baker rather than Jon Pertwee and, for the first time, the TARDIS's police box exterior. It is the first time in which the title sequence is changed, but the series' logo is not.
  • The Radio Times programme listing for part one was accompanied by black-and-white head-and-shoulders publicity stills of the Third and Fourth Doctors which depicted a four-stage "regeneration" sequence via trick photography, with the accompanying caption, "Who's Who? The Time Lords never die, they just sort of transmute... and become...? Tom Baker takes over as Dr. Who this evening in Robot: 5.35". (original published text)
  • Terrance Dicks later said that two major influences for this story were King Kong and Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Indeed, the scenes in which Sarah Jane is carried by the robot greatly resemble scenes from King Kong.
  • This is the first story which makes note of the Brigadier's full name: Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Before this story, his middle name had never been revealed.
  • Parts of this story were recorded at the same time as parts of Planet of the Spiders. This not only meant that Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were literally playing the Doctor at the same time, but also that Elisabeth Sladen and, to a lesser extent, Nicholas Courtney and John Levene, were rushing back and forth between the two productions.
  • The TARDIS interior is not seen throughout this serial, nor indeed at any point until Planet of Evil, the first post-Harry Sullivan story.
  • Director Christopher Barry considered Colin Baker for the role of Arnold Jellicoe. (REF: The Fourth Doctor Handbook)
  • Terrance Dicks's novelisation Doctor Who and the Face of Evil suggests that the Doctor's first unrecorded visit to the planet of the Sevateem took place early during this story; he left in the TARDIS one night, performed his initial repair work on the Mordee expedition's spaceship computer and then returned to UNIT H.Q. before anyone noticed he had been gone. This was not derived from any information given in the televised version of The Face of Evil.
  • This is the first introductory story for a new companion since The Wheel in Space to not be written by Robert Holmes.
  • Professor Kettlewell's hair was a suggestion from Edward Burnham, as his hair actually did go like that naturally if he grew it out long enough.
  • The King of Hearts outfit that the Doctor wears originates from a 1972 musical version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, although he's wearing it with the hat worn by the Knave of Hearts (presumably because of his unusually large hat size).
  • Terrance Dicks drew on The Avengers episode "The Mauritius Penny", which he co-wrote with Malcolm Hulke, most notably for the scenes in which Sarah Jane infiltrates the meeting of the Scientific Reform Society.
  • Tom Baker thought it would be a great idea for the robot to sing "There's An Old Mill by the Breeze", as Michael Kilgarriff had a lot of knowledge of music hall songs. He decided against suggesting this to Barry Letts.
  • Terrance Dicks later admitted that he had no idea what the Fourth Doctor would be like at this stage, so he largely based him on Tom Baker himself.
  • Eaglemoss Collections released a special issue magazine that included a hand painted figurine of Robot K1 on 2 September 2014. It was presented as the fourth special in the Doctor Who Figurine Collection.
  • Doctor Who Battles in Time released a rare card number 787 of Robot K1 in the Ultimate Monsters which was part of the other card category collections of Exterminator, Annihilator, Invader and Devastator.
  • Christopher Barry defended the infamous model tank shot by saying that Barry Letts and designer George Gallaccio didn't take him seriously when he said a model tank wouldn't do.
  • Nicholas Courtney regretted the length of his hair in the serial. He cut his hair prior to his next appearance in Terror of the Zygons.


  • Part one - 10.8 million viewers
  • Part two - 10.7 million viewers
  • Part three - 10.1 million viewers
  • Part four - 9.0 million viewers

Filming locations[[edit]]

  • Wood Norton Hotel, Evesham, Worcestershire, WR11, 4YB (PRIVATE) (Small amount of scenes are NO ACCESS at all due to BBC studio)
  • BBC Television Centre (TC3 & TC7), Shepherd's Bush, London

Production errors[[edit]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • The robot's legs keep vanishing after growing. (This was because the shiny metal of the costume reflected the chromakeyed background, thus causing the robot's legs to disappear. For the DVD release, the Doctor Who Restoration Team corrected this error by recreating the missing limbs electronically.)
  • The Doctor chops a brick in half, but it sounds like balsa wood when it hits the ground.
  • The close-up shot of the Doctor's note shows the opening paragraph says "Professor Kettlewell tells me that he has the robot hidden at his cottage". But when Sarah reads the note aloud, she says "house" rather than "cottage" and also reads it as starting with "Sarah".
  • The height of the robot is inconsistent after it grows to a huge size.
  • When the robot picks Sarah up off the ground the chromakeyed blanket she is wrapped in can be seen from the creases. When it places her on the rooftop and she grabs the chromakeyed object mapped to the chimney, it clearly wobbles.
  • After the giant robot has placed Sarah on the chromakey rooftop, some UNIT soldiers attack it with missiles and grenades. In the quick special effects shot that follows, the smoke from these explosions rises in front of the backdrop of the houses but behind the figure of Sarah (who is supposed to be clinging to the rooftop).
  • Outside Kettlewell's lab, when the soldiers attack the robot, the robot loses it footing and almost falls over.
  • When the robot knocks a UNIT soldier unconscious as it escapes from Kettlewell's lab in part three, the robot's hand visibly doesn't come into contact with the soldier, but the soldier collapses anyway.


Home video and audio releases[[edit]]

DVD releases[[edit]]

This story was released as Doctor Who: Robot.





Digital releases[[edit]]

This story is available:

  • in non-UK iTunes stores (Australia, Canada, France, Germany and US) as part of the Doctor Who: The Classic Series collection Doctor Who Sampler: The Fourth Doctor, which additionally includes the story Logopolis;
  • for streaming through BritBox (Canada and US) as part of Season 12 of Classic Doctor Who.

Video releases[[edit]]

This story was released as Doctor Who: Robot.


External links[[edit]]