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SV7 & D84 Robots

Doctor Who
by Artemis

Picking favourites is fraught with peril among any fandom - there are as many opinions as there are fans, and in a long-running show like Doctor Who, where everything up to and including the lead character has changed wildly with the passing of years (heck, the Doctor wasn't even meant to be the lead character at first), there's ample room for people to agree they love the show while violently disagreeing on why. That said, if you find a fan of the classic series who doesn't like 1977's "The Robots of Death", buy a lottery ticket - you're beating the odds something fierce.

"Doctor, what is 'robophobia'?"
"It's an unreasoning dread of robots. You see, most living creatures use non-verbal signals. Body movement, eye contact, facial expressions, that sort of thing."
"Body language!"
"Exactly. But while these robots are humanoid, presumably for aesthetic reasons, they give no signals. It's rather like being surrounded by walking, talking dead men."
- Leela and the Doctor

Nowadays we'd say "uncanny valley", but most people had never heard the term back then - it had only been coined seven years earlier, and with CGI barely a glimmer in visual effects artists' eyes, creating a human replica lifelike enough to be creepy was too expensive for many examples to exist; indeed, the titular robots lack the mobile-but-vacant faces we typically think of today as valley material (which is not to say they didn't have just enough of a human look to quality for the valley - referred to formally in the story as Grimwade's Syndrome, poking fun at production assistant Peter Grimwade's notorious griping about always being assigned to work on stories involving robots). But it was an interesting and thought-provoking idea in an episode full of them - the novel setting on Storm Mine 4, a gigantic Dune-esque sandminer, the eye-catching sets, costumes and makeup, the well-crafted secondary characters with their own particular motives and rivalries, and the serial being the first to feature Leela, the fourth Doctor's new companion and quite a break from tradition in style, away from her original setting.

The robots are what everyone remembers though, with good reason - given a shoestring budget and the need for several robots, the costume department invented relatively affordable "robots" by creating a clearly advanced yet deliberately stylised form, with no need for expensive and complicated molded "mechanical" parts beyond the heads. Padded diamond-pattern suits with metallic cuffs cover them, with decorated tabards in the same material over their torsos - on the action figures, both the tabards and trouser legs are soft plastic, allowing articulation beneath them, while the arms, in solid plastic, are a very good match. Silver gloves and long, metal-soled boots finish off the robot wardrobe - and the clever notion that what you're looking at isn't an actor in a costume, but a robot in a costume, which is a lot easier to accept, and easier to make on a budget to boot.

The first series of Doctor Who Classic figures contained two of the three classes of robots: the black-and-dark-green "Dum" (so called because they had no speaking voice) tasked with heavy-duty labour away from the crew areas, and the silver "Super Voc," the overall commander of the storm mine's robot workforce (the lighter green Voc class, for interaction with a direct service of the human crew, completed the set in the second series). With the robot costumes being nigh-identical, paintwork is almost all that separates the Dum and Super Voc figures - the Super Voc (or SV7 to use his serial number - only one was aboard Storm Mine 4, so the figure represents a character, not a generic army-builder type) mimics the more complex decoration on the tabard and cuffs with finer paint work than the Dum's wide, plain stripes, but the figure does sport unique forearms, so as to have its extra bands on the cuffs, and communicator below the left elbow.

Paint aside, the heads too are identical: the sculpted, stylized human appearance shared by all of the robots, with their intricate courtly wig-like "hair" and handsome, kind-looking faces. SV7's face is very pale gold, matching the mantle on his tabard - accurate to the show - with silver around the eyes and black picking out the irises, as well as the hollows of the nose and mouth. The Dum robot's head is all one colour, face and hair, a dark green that looks almost black until you get it under bright light - again accurate - and sports silver detailing around the edges of its facial features. (Mine also has a small smudge of silver on the back of its wig - a minor error on an otherwise impressive product.)

Both figures of course feature the same articulation: swivel neck, swivel shoulders and biceps, pin elbows, swivel wrists, swivel waist and thighs, pin knees and swivel boot tops, those last two hidden beneath the trouser legs. The lack of double-axis joints at the shoulders and hips is a shame - especially the shoulders, with the tabard hiding them - but this slightly limited articulation is what Character Options has been doing with its Doctor Who range almost from the beginning, and it still counts as a credible effort.

BAF-bit aside, SV7 has no accessories to call his own, but the Dum robot gets two. The first is the "final deactivator", a short-ranged robot killer MacGuyvered out of a damaged robot head. The broken face is painted in the lime green of a Voc, with red on the back - a bit plain for the intricate bits of robo-brain still clinging on there, but it's pleasing to get the accessory nonetheless. The other accessory is actually a sticker sheet, with four serial numbers, allowing the Dum - packaged with its number plate blank - to be marked as D33, D64, D84 or D88. I imagine most collectors will want D84; the figure is even sold under that name, so it shouldn't be any surprise that there's something in the story's plot that makes it stand out (but don't expect us to ruin it for you).

The aforementioned BAF bits are the legs of the K1 Robot, which was spread across the first Classics series - since the legs are symmetrical it hardly matters which is which, and since the robots are so similar, it is kind of cute that they get matching Robot parts as well.

The Dum robot's sticker sheet is the kind of thing that I often find appealing in the Doctor Who line - something that didn't need to be included (and which many a company wouldn't have bothered with), but which adds that little bit of extra value. On a larger scale though, these are one (or two) of the figures that sell themselves - to fans they represent a serial that was not just individually great, but part of a cluster of very highly regarded stories, one of the show's golden ages, and to casual collectors, well, they look damn cool. It may seem a bit odd at first glance to include two virtually identical figures in a series - with both needed to complete the BAF - but if you watch the story, you'll understand why just one wasn't enough, and the figures don't disappoint at the practical end of the scale either.

-- 07/20/10

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