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A sandminer drills its way through a god-forsaken desert planet in some
equally god-forsaken corner of the galaxy ... and it seems the miner has
been on the planet too long since the skeleton human crew - a moneyhungry
and greedy bunch - starts getting on each other's nerves but good. Then a
murder occurs - and the captain, Uvanov (Rusell Hunter), doesn't even want
to stop operations long enough to investigate, afrait to lose a promising
At roughly the same time Doctor Who (Tom Baker) and his new companion,
the savage Leela (Louise Jameson) - who had joined him only in the
previous episode, The Face of Evil, rather against his will -
arrive on the miner int eh Doctor's timemachine TARDIS, and when the
robots, who do most of the word on the miner anyway, detect and apprehend
them, Uvanov seems to have his tailor-made suspects to calm the crew and
get then to go back to work. The Doctor's suggestion that the service
robots on the ship could be behind the killings is not even ignored - only
the audience knows the Doctor is actually right.
But wait, one of the crew, Poole (David Collings), believes that the
Doctor and Leela are innocent, frees them and asks them to help against
the robots gone amock - and then there's robot D84 (Gregory de Polnay),
who is supposed to be a dumb, low-class robot, but who seems to be doing
an investigation all of his own
Poole reveals himself to the Doctor and Leela to be an undercover
investigator, with D84 being his aide, and they are trying to find out
more about threats of a robot revolution, and about one Taran
Capel, a human brought up by robots who wants to lead them into battle ...
and his trail seems to lead to the miner.
Meanwhile, the crew continues to die like flies, and eventually even
Captain Uvanov gets in the center of suspicion ... and ultimately only 4
crewmembers survive, Uvanov, his second in command Toos (Pamela Salem),
Poole, who has been stricken by a serious case of robophobia, and chief
engineer Task (David Bailie), who of course turns out to be Taran Capel.
And then there's of course the Doctor and Leela, who together with D84 go
on the offensive, using an anti-robot bomb and helium ...
Why helium ?
Because it alters Task's voice, and in the decisive moments the robots
can't identify his voice pattern anymore and kill him because he is one of
the humans. From there on, to turn of the kill-crazy robots is a walk in
the park, and the miner is saved once more ... though I'm not sure if the
miner had previously been saved.
Even if my synopsis does not sound like much, this episode is
wonderful, a serial killer whodunnit in a science fiction setting,
featuring uniformly strong supporting characters, who all seem to have
stories of their own which are frequently hinted at, and stringent,
exciting storytelling that, even if the culprit is easy to spot early on,
keeps one on the edge of one's seat throughout. And then there's of course
those fantastic sets. For once, a sci-fi show does not rely on
pseudo-futuristic designs but everything, from the sets to the outfits to
the robots, has a definite art deco touch to it. It might not
always be convincing (especially the robots look silly), but it is just so
nice to look at, and it gives the whole episode the feel of conceptional
art. One just has to love this one.