This is an article I wrote for the wonderful Dead Pixel Test, a television blog that should definitely be checked out. Hopefully I will be contributing more work to this awesome site in the near future, but until then, go and pay the guys there a visit. You can check out the blog by visiting:
Back in the 1990s, we all got a severe shock to the system when the BBC announced a new game show entitled Robot Wars. It was a concept that they had taken from our friends across the pond, who had been televising robotic destruction for a few years already, and they adapted it for British audiences. Series 1 saw Jeremy Clarkson – still an unknown and over a decade away from punching a man in the face over a sandwich – presenting a show, and Phillippa Forester wearing an outfit that wouldn’t look out-of-place in an S&M dungeon as she trundled about the ‘pit’s talking to the roboteering teams and pretending to be impressed by their creations.
In its infancy, this show was just hilarious – a demonstration of both the brilliance and eccentricity of the teams behind the machines. For every revelation such as eventual champion Roadblock, there were terrible contraptions such as Prince of Darkness, a box on wheels with wooden armour, exposed rubber wheels and a paint job that looked as if it had been done by a five-year-old… whilst they were in a deep sleep.
However, somewhat inevitably, series 2 came along, this time helmed by the hyper-active Craig Charles – star of Red Dwarf and still over a decade away from any soap operas. The robots got a little better, more teams entered, but the format was largely the same. Six robots entered. One was eliminated in the first round, The Gauntlet – a sort of monstrous robot obstacle course where the robot that has travelled the least distance was sent home. Another machine was removed after the Trials round, which changed from episode to episode but could be anything from Robot football through to skittles, tug-of-war and even pinball (with the robot acting as the ball. Don’t ask.) Then, the four remaining robots did battle in two one on one fights, before the two finalists battled to decide a heat winner. They all met for the grand final, fought some more, and then a champion was decided.
But then Series 3 arrived, and the Gauntlet and Trials rounds were removed. Instead, we saw 8 robots fight each other, then four, then two, and eventually we got one winner per heat. No nonsense, no fuss, just robots smashing each other into pieces. This was also the first series that saw a few genuinely effective robots. Chaos 2, the only machine to win the Robot Wars title more than once, sent opponents flying with its powerful flipper. Hypnodisc used its horizontal flywheel to rip everything to pieces with gay abandon. After that, we got four more seasons of carnage before producer Mentorn pulled the plug on the whole thing, all of these blissfully embracing the idea that all we wanted to see was robots fighting other robots.
Frankly, the concept was doomed after series six. For the seventh Wars, the show was moved to Channel Five, who couldn’t seem to decide amongst themselves as to when to air the show. It began being shown at 7pm on a Sunday, then 5pm on the same day, and then by the end of its run it had moved to 9pm on Sundays. This, coupled with the fact that some of the best competitors and crowd favourites had decided not to enter or had simply retired, sounded the end of the show. It continued on the live circuit for a while, but it just wasn’t the same.
And then, in 2015, the BBC made a tentative announcement that Robot Wars was coming back. A new six part series would be aired in 2016 as a sort of pilot effort, although hopefully it will be successful and will spawn even more heats. The BBC were once again in charge, and the show would be a mix of the old, the new and the bizarre. A few things would be the same and a few things would be different.
So what do we know about the upcoming new series so far?
Well, it will be presented by the Irish duo of Dara Ó Briain and Angela Scanlon, the former being a well-known comedian and the latter being a pretty flame-haired presenter on The One Show amongst other things. The house robots – one of the more popular aspects of the old series – are returning, albeit with a fresh lick of paint and a few nifty upgrades. Sir Killalot, Shunt, Matilda and Dead Metal are back, although rather conspicuously absent is Sgt Bash, although health and safety’s fear of flame-throwers is probably the reasoning for this. A BBC representative has described these machines as “descendants of the original show” who have been “evolved and upgraded”. However, from the images that are existent of the internet, it doesn’t seem as if they have changed an awful lot. The Razer team, too, who already have been very vocal in trying to get the new series started, have mentioned rather cryptically that they believe bringing their crush-worthy machine back would be ‘a very good idea’. Most important of all, though, is the news that Jonathan Pearce and his excitable babble are returning. His cheesy commentary and child-like wonder at the destruction happening before him was a key part of what made the original show such fun and it will be a welcome inclusion for those fans who are finding all the newness just a little bit overwhelming.
As Dara himself says: “For too long, the schedules have cried out for a show in which dedicated amateurs, toiling day and night, handcraft sophisticated automatons built on the delicate interplay of hand-wired servo motors with custom-built circuit boards and fingertip motion control, just to see them get smashed to pieces by a dustbin carrying a massive hammer. It’s war, and how I love it so.”
Enough said, really.