The Robots Of Death
Working Titles: The Storm-Mine Murders, Planet Of The Robots.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela).
The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Leela to a Sandminer, a giant mining ship. The crew of the Sandminer is slowly being killed off one by one, and the time travellers are the obvious suspects. But the Doctor discovers that the impossible is coming true: the Sandminer's robot workers and manservants are responsible for the deaths, having fallen under the influence of the crazed scientist Taren Capel, who wishes to supplant the human race with his robotic creations.
Fledgling scriptwriter Chris Boucher had impressed the Doctor Who production team during the lead-up to the recording of The Face Of Evil, his first Doctor Who serial. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes had elected to keep a character introduced in that story, Leela, on until at least the end of the season to act as the Doctor's companion. Whether Leela would be carried on into Season Fifteen would be determined at that stage, but with Holmes already set to write the season finale, it was decided that Boucher, as the character's creator, would be an appropriate choice to write the penultimate serial.
Holmes suggested that Boucher write an isolated, murder-mystery adventure. On September 29th, 1976, The Storm-Mine Murders was commissioned; the name would change to Planet Of The Robots and finally The Robots Of Death. Boucher drew from one of his favourite novels, Frank Herbert's Dune, to envisage the Sandminer setting.
Studio work on The Robots Of Death proceeded in the by-now familiar two-day/three-day pattern, with a fortnight in between; the first session began on Monday, November 22nd and the second on Sunday, December 5th. Michael E Briant, whose last Who work had been two years earlier on Revenge Of The Cybermen, directed; it would be his final turn on the programme. For the model sequences, the director's chair was taken over by production assistant Peter Grimwade. Amongst the cast was Pamela Salem, playing Toos; Salem had been an unsuccessful applicant for the role of Leela. Although it was no realised at the time, The Robots Of Death marked the final use of the wooden secondary TARDIS console room set which had been designed for the first story of the season, The Masque Of Mandragora. This set was not required for that last Season Fourteen story, The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, and unfortunately was stored poorly, resulting in the wood becoming damp and warping. As a result, a new set had to be constructed the next year.
Around the time that The Robots Of Death went into production, a replacement for Hinchcliffe -- who was due to leave Doctor Who at season's end -- was announced. This was Graham Williams, who was on hand for some of the recording work on the serial. Williams had gotten his start in theatre before moving over to television in 1966, where he soon became a script editor on programmes like Z Cars. He had just devised the new police drama Target (which, ironically, Hinchcliffe would be taking over) when he was given the opportunity to become Doctor Who's eighth producer. Williams would trail Hinchcliffe on the tail end of Season Fourteen before officially replacing him with the start of the new season.