Doctor Who and the Giant Robot

Author: Terrance Dicks
Read by: Tom Baker
BBC Audio
RRP: £17.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 67794 3
Available 05 November 2007

“Look, Brigadier! It’s growing!” screamed Sarah. The Brigadier stared in amazement as the robot began to grow... and grow... swelling to the size of a giant. Slowly the metal colossus, casting its enormous shadow upon the surrounding trees and buildings, began to stride towards the Brigadier. A giant metal hand reached down to grasp him... Can the Doctor, only recently recovered from his regeneration into his fourth incarnation, defeat the evil forces controlling the robot before they execute their plans to blackmail - or destroy - the entire world...?

Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor himself, reads this unabridged audio presentation of Terrance Dicks’s novelisation of the 1974-5 serial Robot, originally published in 1975.

Baker has proven reluctant to reprise his role as the Time Lord in ventures such as Big Finish Productions’ audio plays, so it’s extremely gratifying that he is willing to lend his rich vocal talents to talking books like this one. This tale marks the Fourth Doctor’s debut, and Dicks’s novelisation of his own script presents some amusing point-of-view sequences as the Time Lord awakes from a lengthy coma, gets his bearings, gets used to his new physical form and tries to make off in the TARDIS. These descriptions are made all the more endearing when read by the actor who realised the role on screen.

The author also gets into the heads of characters such as the Brigadier, who recalls the Doctor’s recent transformation (in the television serial, this event comprised the opening scene, rather than being an incident in the past) in terms of a worn-out body being traded in for a new one. Unfortunately, Baker’s vocalisation of the Brig comes across as too gruff for my ear, though it settles down over time. Other voices come across better, including that of the robot, which is treated electronically.

Dicks uses the prose medium to free his robotic creation from the limitations of its television counterpart, which would have been physically unable to sort through buff folders, use a keyboard, fall to its knees, lie down and rise up again as the robot does here. The creature also has a tendency to lay down its victims “almost tenderly” and is said to use “curiously human gestures” whenever it experiences conflict in its programming. The author repeats both of the quoted phrases, a characteristic tendency of his writing.

In other respects, Dicks sticks close to his television script. The robot’s Prime Directive is a clear homage to Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which prevent robots from harming humans, while the Scientific Reform Society continues a trend of mid-’70s Who for sinister scientific elites (see also the recent Invasion of the Dinosaurs / The Dinosaur Invasion and the subsequent Genesis of the Daleks). Though the novelisation is re-titled The Giant Robot, the robot doesn’t truly become a giant until near the end of the story, in scenes that are inspired by King Kong.

Though it is, to date, the shortest of BBC Audio’s Classic Novels series of Doctor Who talking books, at 3 hours 40 minutes duration, this hefty four-CD release remains a force to be reckoned with, thanks largely to the august tones of Tom Baker.

Richard McGinlay

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