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"I thought it was part of the magic!"
The Robots of Death
Series: Doctor Who - TV Stories
Season Number: Season 14
Story Number: 90
Doctor: Fourth Doctor
Companions: Leela
Enemy: Taren Capel
Setting: A Sandminer
Writer: Chris Boucher
Director: Michael Briant
Broadcast: 29th January - 19th February 1977
Format: 4 25-minute Episodes
Previous Story: The Face of Evil
Following Story: The Talons of Weng-Chiang



The Doctor and Leela land in the cargo hopper of a Sandminer, whose crew are being murdered one by one. Suspicion falls on the two visitors, but they are freed by Poul. He reveals that he is an undercover policeman sent to locate a mad roboticist named Taren Capel, whom he believes to have infiltrated the Sandminer. Unfortunately, Poul suffers a nervous breakdown upon learning that the murders are being committed by robots reprogrammed by Capel. It is revealed that Capel has assumed the guise of Dask, the ship's engineer. However, the Doctor manages to trick the robots into killing Dask by using helium to alter the madman's voice, so the robots don't recognise him...


On a distant planet, a huge sandminer vehicle, Storm Mine 4, is slowly scraping the surface of a vast, barren desert in search of precious minerals. The sandminer is manned by nine humans and numerous robots - black 'Dums' that cannot speak, pale green 'Vocs', and a silver 'Super Voc' which controls all the 'Dums' and 'Vocs'. The robots conduct a routine scan of the area and locate a large sandstorm, which the humans decide to pursue, as the storm will bring heavier minerals to the surface. One of the humans, a meteorologist called Chub, goes to collect an instrument package to place into his weather balloon to study the storm. However, he is later found strangled.

At about this time, the TARDIS materialises in one of the scoops. After the Doctor and Leela emerge from the TARDIS, it is removed by a large mechanical arm as it is blocking the scoop. Later, the Doctor and Leela are brought out of the scoop by two robots and locked in a room. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, and goes in search of the TARDIS, while Leela finds Chub's body being taken away by some robots.

The human crew suspects the two time travellers of murdering Chub, and tensions increase when it is found that they have left the room in which they were locked. By the time they are both recaptured, the Doctor has found a second dead man, and Leela has found both a third dead man and a 'Dum' robot which can secretly speak. Commander Uvanov orders them to be locked up in the robot storage bay, on suspicion of killing all three humans.

One of the humans, Poul, believes the Doctor and Leela to be innocent, so he frees them and shows them where Chub was murdered. There, the Doctor convinces Poul that a robot may have killed the mineralogist. While this is happening, a women named Zilda is murdered, and Poul - sent to the room to investigate Zilda's accusations of murder against Commander Uvanov over a tannoy system - finds the Commander over Zilda's body and has him confined to his quarters for murdering Zilda.

The sandminer's engines begin to run out of control, threatening the vehicle with destruction. It is found that Borg, the human responsible for controlling power to the motors, has been viciously strangled, and the controls have been sabotaged. The Doctor saves the miner by cutting off the power to the motors, while a man named Dask repairs the damaged controls so that the miner can continue on its way.

The Doctor goes to see the 'Dum' robot that Leela claimed could speak, D84. The robot reveals that it and Poul are undercover agents for the mining company, who were placed on board the miner as a precaution to threats of a robot revolution by a scientist called Taren Capel, who was raised by robots. D84 itself is unique in the fact that it can function autonomously from Super Voc SV7's commands, and appears to possess a high level of logical reasoning. The Doctor and D84 search the miner for proof that Taren Capel is on board, and find a secret workshop where the robots' programming has been changed to enable them to kill humans. The Doctor arranges for all the remaining humans to go to the command deck.

Dask shuts down all of the robots whose programming has not been changed, leaving just the killer robots and D84 operational. Dask is later revealed to be the mad scientist Taren Capel, intent on 'releasing [his] 'brothers' (the robots) from bondage to human dross' and 'programming them with an ambition to rule the world'. Taren Capel orders his modified robots to destroy the remaining humans and the Doctor and Leela. Leela shows the Doctor a damaged robot in the storage bay with its hand covered in blood - which the Doctor reasons is Borg's, guessing that Borg sabotaged the engine controls in a suicidal attempt to destroy the miner and all the killer robots on board. The Doctor dismantles the damaged robot and creates a final deactivator - a device that will destroy any still functioning robots at close range. The Doctor hides Leela in Taren's workshop with a canister of helium gas, telling her to release it when Taren comes in. The Doctor hopes that this will change Taren's voice, so his robots - unable to recognise him - won't obey his orders.

Taren arrives and damages D84, but the robot is able to activate the Doctor's device to destroy a killer robot, knowingly sacrificing itself in the process. Leela releases the helium gas, causing Taren's voice to become high-pitched and squeaky, and Taren is killed by SV7 when it fails to identify his voice. The Doctor then destroys SV7 with a laser probe.

The robot threat over, and a rescue ship coming to collect the surviving humans, the Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS and leave the sandminer.




  • The Doctor uses a respiratory bypass system to avoid inhaling helium.
  • The sandminers travel across the shifting deserts, extracting minerals such as Zelanite, Keefan and (most importantly) Lucanol.
  • The Doctor claims to have seen similar 'moving mines' on Korlano Beta.
  • Robophobia, an irrational fear of robots, is at one point referred to as 'Grimwade's Syndrome'.

Story Notes

  • This story had the working titles The Storm-Mine Murders and Planet Of The Robots
  • This is one of the few stories which goes some ways to explain (in relative simplicity) how the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental (using a demonstration with two boxes).
  • This story is the last one in which the wood-panelled TARDIS control room appears.
  • There have been several influences suggested for Robots of Death including:
  • This story was obviously based on Isaac Asimov's Robot mysteries, such as I, Robot. In particular, the human/robot police duo Elijah Bailey and R Daneel Olivaw from Caves of Steel and its sequels may be the inspiration for the Poul/D84 pair. Prominent mention is made of Asimov's First Law of Robotics: "A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm."
  • Another inspiration for the story was Agatha Christie's novel, Ten Little Indians, in which several people on an island are murdered one by one.
  • The Sandminer setting is based on Frank Herbert's Dune.
  • Robophobia, an irrational fear of robots, is at one point referred to as 'Grimwade's syndrome'. This was an in-joke reference to production assistant Peter Grimwade (later to become a director and writer on the series) who had bemoaned the fact that the stories on which he was assigned to work almost always involved robots. However, the description of robophobia given by the Doctor in fact coincides with a real-life phenomenon called the the Uncanny Valley.


  • Part 1 - 12.8 million viewers
  • Part 2 - 12.4 million viewers
  • Part 3 - 13.1 million viewers
  • Part 4 - 12.6 million viewers


to be added

Filming Locations

to be added

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • The metal restraint on the Doctor and Leela visibly move with ease. (This is explained clearly in the story. The restraints are "like leather" until they are molecularly bonded, which can then be deactivated again making them easily movable.)
  • In the scene in which it is revealed that SV7 is receiving order from Capel, the robot's eyes are blacked out (in order to allow the reddening effect to be added) before the eyes are supposed to change color. In the same scene, the identity of Dask as Capel is prematurely revealed as the actor's face is clearly recognizable despite the video effects used. (This is an error because in a later scene Capel is shown wearing a hooded robe intended to disguise his identity.) (Why is that an error? He wears the hood for his own reasons later, but there is no reason for him to conceal his identity from SV7 at this point. The production team are further allowing the viewer to "guess" that Dask is Capel, without explicitly stating it yet.)
  • Why does Dask/Capel bother to wear the hood when working on the robots in his secret lab? It's a pseudo-religious fetish fuelled by his robo-messianic complex (i.e. the belief that he is the savior of all robot-kind). Either that or perhaps it's a 'clean suit' that is a good idea to wear when mucking around in the brains of a Robot to avoid dust/moisture getting in there (Let us not forget that Capel sees Robots as his 'Brothers' and therefore is performing 'surgery' on them).
  • When Leela throws her knife at the attacking robot it makes a cartoonish 'shhhh doinkk!' noise. She also breaks character completely by following it with "Now you're just showing-off". (Leela has been shown to have a sense of humor. This is not breaking character.)
  • The corpse markers are bicycle reflectors. (They do look similar. Why is that an error?)
  • The Doctor's scarf vanishes while he's detained in the crew's quarters. (He took it off.)
  • When Leela bandages Toos' arm someone is visible on the edge of the set. (The character Poul is on the set coming in the door as the scene begins.)
  • V35 to V40 are said to have searched the ore hoppers, but V35 spends the entire story in the 'morgue'. (Obviously V35 was active long enough to be involved in that search, even if the majority of it may have been carried out by the others in that series.)
  • The robot listening outside the crew's quarters was presumably meant to be D84, but it's actually a Voc. There is no reason why this shouldn't be a robot other than D84. The Voc has been programmed (by Capel?) to gather information. When the straight forward approach failed, it simply waited at the door to listen.
  • How did the company know to put D84 and Poul on this particular sand-miner? Surely Capel's threats were not so specific as to openly state he was going to carry-out his threats on the sand-miner, which only has a crew of about eight people to begin with. Capel only mentioned the revolution would begin in a company installation . There are other agents all over the company.
  • Why on Earth would Capel choose to start his robot revolution on an isolated sand-miner on an uninhabited planet instead of one of the major cities (like Kaldor) on his home world? Since he made his threats, the company had tightened up security all over the civilized planet(s). The sand-miner was was a great, out-of-the-way place to work undetected.


  • The characters from this episode reappear in several of Chris Boucher's later novels, starting with PDA: Corpse Marker, and continuing in the Kaldor City spinoffs.
  • The precise setting of this story is disputed. Some expanded universe material places it on Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, despite the fact the story suggests the atmosphere outside the sandminer is breathable and the presence of a vast sandy desert is somewhat integral to the plot (neither of which would be the case on Io). One story places it on the planet Kaldor. The Kaldor City spin-offs do not name the planet where the city is located. (NA: Legacy, DWM: Crisis on Kaldor)
  • Decades later, the episode Planet of the Ood would also feature subservient creatures (albeit living ones this time) turning on their masters after being manipulated; like the robots, the Ood's eyes would also glow red when under this influence.


DVD, Video, and Other Releases

DVD Releases

Released as Doctor Who: The Robots of Death, this was the first 'proper' title in the BBC DVD range of Doctor Who DVDs. It marked the debut of the 'roundel' template that didn't prove popular with fans (although it has remained to date as the DVD template) and is the only one in the range not to feature Production Subtitles. The Continuities were meant to be an Easter Egg, but an error was made by the Authoring House and they were included as a regular menu item. This early DVD release lacks subtitles.


NTSC - Warner Video E1120

Extra features:

  • In-Studio - Section of material without sound effects, music, or voice-dubbing.
  • Continuities by Howard DaSilva (Region 1 only)
  • Model Sequences
  • Studio Floor Plans
  • Photo Gallery
  • Commentary: Chris Boucher and Philip Hinchcliffe

Rear Credits:


Video Releases

Released as Doctor Who: The Robots of Death.


  • First Release:
PAL - BBC Video BBCV4108
NTSC - Warner Video E1120

Notes: Released in an edited movie-format.

  • Second Release:
PAL - BBC Video BBCV5521

Notes: Released unedited.


Main article: Doctor Who and the Robots of Death

External Links

  • BBC Episode Guide for The Robots of Death
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide: Detailed Synopsis - The Robots of Death
  • A Brief History of Time (Travel): The Robots of Death
Season 14
The Masque of Mandragora  • The Hand of Fear  • The Deadly Assassin  • The Face of Evil  • The Robots of Death  • The Talons of Weng-Chiang

This article uses material from the "The Robots of Death" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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