Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Return of Robot Wars

At the time of typing this, the second episode of the newly revived Robot Wars has just been shown. If you grew up in the 1990's as I did then you might have shared my joy of hearing that this show was finally returning to our screens in 2016. Robot Wars debuted in 1998 on BBC2 here in the UK and immediately found itself on my hallowed Friday evening TV schedule. School was done for the week and BBC2 had the likes of The Simpsons, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ren and Stimpy, The New Advantures of Superman and Buffy in rotation on its Friday evening schedule. Then came Robot Wars, the show where contestants built their own robots to do battle in the arena. The power of these robots and the sheer destruction they caused captivated me as a kid as did the arena with its flame jets, spikes and Corner Patrol Zones where the lethal House Robots lurked like overgrown bullies, waiting to punish anyone foolish enough to stray into their CPZ. It was a worthy addition to an already brilliant Friday evening of TV that followed my cleaning of the dishes. The show ran until 2004 and arguably lost its way once the BBC offloaded it onto Channel 5 where it was ruined by ad breaks. New House Robots were introduced which weren't as endearing as the originals but the destruction remained entertaining right up until the plug was pulled.

So I was wary when I heard about the reboot because Robot Wars was a show I had a lot of nostalgia and affection for. Would the BBC do it justice when they restored it to our screens? Well I've watched the first two episodes and I have to say, it's a bit of a mixed bag. I can imagine some reading this might be rolling their eyes right about now and thinking that I'm just another hater of anything modern who can't let go of the past but hear me out, yeah?

The battles:
The important part of course. Robots are now bigger and heavier than before and there have been numerous advances in materials, battery life/size and the power of weapons so in theory the battles should be explosive right? Well, some have been. The first week had some great battles with veterans Terrorhurtz and Behemoth duking it out with the new kids on the block. Ultimately, it was the brand-new machine called Carbide with it's immensely destructive spinning blade that deservedly qualified for the grand finals. The big disappointment was the legendary Razer, once the killer of House Robot Matilda and 8 times a championship winner, driving itself down the pit in the opening heat!

Razer didn't last long this time...
The second episode was - in my opinion - a bit of a let down. The best robot by far was Thor, which was fast and destructive with its hammer/axe weapon. Every match featuring Thor was great but the problem was that all of the others were a bit naff. There were a lot of breakdowns, a match where both contestants were crippled by issues and unable to do anything and the final was over in seconds when Thor broke down and was shoved into the pit by Shockwave. Obviously these things happen and I'd really rather than the show wasn't fixed in some way to avoid technical issues but my general feeling towards Episode 2 was one of being underwhelmed. I was also disappointed with the arena which now features a much shallower pit (sans explosion effect) and none of the wall-mounted saws that the old one possessed or the floor spinner...

The House Robots:
Rather than simply being revamped, the House Robots have been completely built up from scratch to meet the new requirements of being bigger and heavier than before. They also look fantastic in my opinion, staying true to the original designs while also clearly being visually different in some ways (most notably Killalot).

Somebody is missing here...

The big gripe for me is the lack of Sargeant Bash, one of the original founding quartest of House Robots! It seems unthinkable that the BBC shouldn't include the Sarge and his trademark flamethrower weapon but I have also read that these House Robots may have cost in the region of £25,000 each to build! In that case, it's perhaps understandable that they elected to go for the more iconic Sir Killalot instead. Unforgivable but understandable. Robot Wars isn't the same without 'Bash so here's hoping that he is also rebuilt should there be another series.

My other concern in the first episode was that the House Robots were far too tame. Dead Metal grabbed and released robots without even attempting to saw into them and Killalot did nothing at all. The only highlights were Matilda letting rip at Behemoth with her flywheel and Shunt giving somebody the sharp end of its axe. I started to wonder whether or not the operators have been instructed to go easy since this new generation of robots cost more money to build. Or perhaps the greater number of battles per episode means that too much damage would be impossible to repair between bouts? I don't know but it was disappointing. Thankfully there was a better showing in episode 2 with Dead Metal sawing into everything and Matilda unecessarily flipping a defeated robot into the pit! Killalot was still useless though...

The Presenters:
I'll straight-up say that the original presenting team was a lot better. I'm glad that Jonathan Pearce is back to commentate and that Noel Sharky is still on the judging panel but the flamboyant, overlord personality of Craig Charles is impossible to replace and as much as I find Dara 'O Brien to be a funny bloke, he just isn't Robot Wars. I'd probably even say that the controversial Mr Clarkson from the very first series of Robot Wars was preferable. They're trying to do something different for sure and I do appreciate that they aren't trying to imitate Craig Charles and do a bad job of it but it just isn't for me. Sorry Dara.

Backstage - filling the role of Phillipa Forrester, Jayne Middlemiss and Julia Reed - is Angela Scanlon who I think is actually doing a good job. Obviously, nobody is going to be able to compete with Ms Forrester and her sexy enthusiasm (and leather trousers!) but Angela is nevertheless a beautiful lady and clearly interested in speaking to the teams/checking out their robots. It's amusing to see some of the geeky roboteers getting a teensy bit flustered in her presence too!

Overall, the first two episodes haven't lived up to my expectations but then again, I also expected the Beeb to completely f*** Robot Wars up and make it so very crap. It hasn't done that and the show is still very much an entertaining hour-long destructionfest. One major thing I would change is the amount of backstage talking and slow-mo shots of the teams at home building their robots. I understand that the BBC wanted to introduce a lot more of the 'human element' behind the robots but there is a bit too much of this in my opinion and it could do with being scaled back. But saying that, the general attitude of this new Robot Wars is one of a show that wants to present itself as extreme and edgy but is ultimately unable to hide how it has been tamed and made a little more sensible. From the more restrained House Robots to Dara's suit and Angela's jumpsuit replacing the leather obsession of the original show, I can see that this is a more 'professional' show now when the original had a more underground feel. All we need though are some entertaining scraps between the contestants and any niggles should be easier to swallow. Oh and Sgt. Bash. NOW.


  1. Haven't got around to seeing any of the new ones yet... Are they still showing repeats on Challenge? And the original series wasn't an hour long was it?

    You're right, Friday nights on BBC2 were AMAZING. Not forgetting the frantic channel switching to also catch the likes of Top of the Pops, Rocko's Modern Life, The Tick, Strange But True, 999, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Shooting Stars, Alexi Sayle's Merry-Go-Round, Stressed Eric...

    Might just ignore this new series completely, it's been a while since anything new's impressed me (besides that Goosebumps film earlier this year).

    1. They were still showing the repeats around 3 weeks ago last time I noticed. My advice would be to just go straight to Youtube where every previous series has been uploaded with each episode broken down into the individual heats.

      The original was 45 mins but then again, it had less of the talking and "human drama" that the new version has added which would explain it.