\In an interview for a DVD extra, author Terrance Dicks notes that one aspect of his career he’s most proud of is his ability to meet deadline. As a person who understands the importance of writing on deadline, it’s easy to admire that about Dicks.
However, it’s also easy to lament that having to meet that deadline for a lot of Target Doctor Who novels in the mid-70’s means the adaptations are a bare-bones retelling of the script with little or no room for expanding the story. The image of Dicks handcuffed to his typewriter and having to churn out a new adaptation of a fourth Doctor script often springs to mind when I think of this era in Doctor Who publishing.
Which is what makes it a shame that Dicks wasn’t given the time to embellish and enhance stories like “The Robots of Death” like he did with “The Auton Invasion” or “Day of the Daleks.”
One of the best regarded stories of the Phillip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes era (the story was one of the first fourth Doctor stories to hit both the VHS and DVD lines), “Robots of Death” is a Doctor Who version of a locked-room mystery. Arriving aboard an isolated sand miner in the middle of the desert, the Doctor and Leela discover that the human crew is being picked off one by one by (in case you missed the title) robots. The duo are prime suspects in the murders until it becomes apparent a robot revolution led by the megalomaniac Taren Capel is underway.
With a richly realized cast of characters, all of whom have plenty of motives to eliminate each other and a fascinatingly hinted at society, “The Robots of Death” on-screen is a richly realized corner of the Doctor Who universe. The implications of robot revolution with Capel able to override the robots’ first rule that no harm can come to humans and what that means if the robots get loose on the larger world of this story is fascinating and part of what drives the final two episodes of the story.
But, it’s sadly not as well developed here. Yes, we get hints and Dicks brings in the references from Chris Boucher’s original script. But they’re brought up and quickly dropped again. It’s easy to imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” spending a short chapter examining things in Kalador City so the reader really understands why the crew has to stay isolated until the robot revolution is quelled. The book left me wondering, “What if” and how it could have been so much richer.
It also reminded me of why this one may not have been part of my Target collection back in the day.
As an audio production, there is little, if anything, to fault here. Louise Jameson continues to be an asset to the audio range with her reading of the story. The sound effects and music enhance the listening experience and help elevate this adaptation. I tend to listen to these books while running, so having a straight-forward adapting of screen to page wasn’t necessarily the worst thing for this audiobook.