Directed by Michael E. Briant
Starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson
The Doctor finds himself in a murder mystery where the only possible suspects are the ever-loyal robots everyone trusts, which means it’s probably the robots.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and his new companion, the primitive Leela (Louise Jameson), find themselves on a futuristic mining vessel in the middle of a rash of murders. Everyone suspects each other, but no one suspects the loyal robot servants, bound by programming to never harm a human. No one, that is, except the Doctor.
Yes, it sounds like the 2004 I Robot film and a dozen other robot murder mysteries. This one though came out in 1977, itself only a few decades removed from Isaac Asimov’s creation of his famed Three Laws of Robotics that dictate robots shall not injure people. It wasn’t quite the cliché story it is today.
Take away that, and you still have a decent mystery story. Someone on this ship is pulling the strings to manipulate these robots into murdering the crew. The question is who. The show does a good job casting plausibility on all of the crew of the ship. Any of them could be the mysterious mad robot scientist Taren Capel, and it’s not definitely certain who it is until the big reveal.
The acting is good. Tom Baker does a fine Doctor, and it’s easy to see why he’s such a fan favorite. He is intelligent and aloof, yet still passionate and humorous. The crew of the mining ship is unique and life-like. The robots themselves are performed in a way that seems mechanical and lifeless, yet still give off an ambiguous feeling of possible emotion, helping to add to the mystery of these robots murdering and why.
The design of the robots comes across as futuristic butlers, and it works. The masks in particular are well molded and crafted human faces with a Victorian-era hairdo, very ornamental yet emotionless. The decorative attire matches well. These may be tools, but they’re also servants in a decadent society, so of course they’d look nice.
Where this goes downhill is in the ending. The Doctor’s actual technique for turning the tables on Taren Capel is almost laughable. The following resolution is over before you know it happens, with almost no care to the characters lost or left behind. It almost makes the entire adventure trivial to the Doctor, which is possibly true given everything he’s gone through.
Basically as soon as the good murder mystery is solved, the show putters out and rushes the ending. However, the ending doesn’t detract from the whole, so it’s still a good Doctor Who story.
The Video and Audio
The video and audio are television standard fullscreen in mono. The footage is littered with weird light flares off of the robot costumes. I’m sure that could have been cleaned up a bit for the DVD release, but it could have been worse in the original broadcast.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single-disc set has a bunch of extras that seem to be standard with these Who releases, with commentary from cast and crew, test footage, set design images and so on. The making-of documentary “The Sandmine Murders” gives a good bit of insight into the production and is a good follow-up to the actual show. The light-hearted documentary “Robophobia” covers the usage of robots throughout the stories of Doctor Who, even going so far to call out Daleks and Cybermen for not technically being robots. Both these docs are worth revisiting the disc after watching the feature.
Overall (Not an Average)
This Fourth Doctor adventure is decently entertaining, even if the ending feels rushed. It’s got enough going for it, in the actual feature and the bonuses, to make it a worthwhile watch for Who fans.
The Series 7/10
The Video and Audio 4/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10