Time. Space. Reality. It’s much more than a linear path; it’s a prism of infinite possibilities. Can you explore these new realities and face the unknown? Dare you ponder the question: What If? [Yes, okay, we might’ve got that bit from Marvel’s What If?, but we’re sure you get the idea…]
Imagine it’s Saturday teatime, March 1985. The Sixth Doctor and his companion Peri have just left a jungle planet where the Doctor has had to face off against a mad computer with a god complex. They now find themselves in a Sandminer on an unnamed planet full of creepy robots. When crewmembers begin to die, the newcomers are immediately suspected. But the Doctor has another theory: what if it were the robots that were doing the killing? And just who is Taren Capel?
The following passages have been found in the fall out of the Time War along with a number of scrolls which have fallen through a rift in space. The scrolls feature the ever changing Doctor in a number of adventures. In this unknown universe they have been chronicled by a mysterious author called Terrance Dicks. These are the surviving fragments. Welcome to Storm Mine 6…
Peri crept cautiously into the Commander’s cabin and looked around. The robots carrying the body had disappeared into another room, the door closing behind them. Peri had waited for a while, then when nothing happened, she’d gone looking for the Doctor — without success. Now, remembering the Doctor’s words, she had returned to the Commander’s office, hoping that her friend would be there. Of course, as she had suspected, the Doctor was nowhere in sight, but there was a curtained sleeping alcove on the other side of the room. And the curtain moved. Peri moved silently towards it. “Doctor?” she called. “Doctor, there is something going on here — I found a dead body.”
There was no sound from behind the curtain, so Peri inched closer. “Two robots picked up the body and took it away…” Peri sprang then, pulling the curtain back but it wasn’t the face of the Doctor she saw. It was a corpse. She screamed.
The man was kneeling on the bunk, his face contorted by death-agony into a leering mask. As Peri watched, covering her mouth to stop another scream, the body toppled forwards towards her. She leapt back and heard movement behind her. Spinning around, she saw a robot reaching out for her. She screamed again but before she could move, one silver hand flashed out and gripped her arm while another covered her mouth.
“Please do not call out,” it called out in a calm, emotionless voice. “It is important that I am not found here.”
Peri twisted her head aside, out of its grip. “Obviously!”
Releasing Peri’s arm, the robot moved forward and inspected the body. “If I had killed him, would I not now kill you too?”
Peri watched on wearily. “That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.”
“You still haven’t explained what you are doing here.”
“I was looking for the Doctor –” Peri broke off, suddenly finding a little courage. “I don’t have to explain myself to you; you’re just a robot.”
The robot held up the dead body’s hand. On the back sat a red disk. “Do you know what this is?”
The robot rose. “I must ask that you tell no one about me,” it said calmly, and moved towards the door.
Peri moved out of the way, “Is there anyone left alive to tell?” She braved a glance at the dead body.
Then the door slid open and the robot gripped her by both arms. Peri struggled but to no avail. A bearded thin-faced man in elaborate robes walked through the open door, stopping at the sight of the robot and its captive. “So, we’ve finally caught one, have we?” Then he saw the body sprawled face down on the bunk. “Not soon enough though!” He stepped forward and slapped Peri across the face. That was a mistake. Peri’s arms might have been held tight but her feet were free; she lashed out with one and caught Uvanov in the pit of the stomach. He staggered backwards gasping for breath.
“I didn’t kill that man!” Peri screeched. “Ask this thing!”
Uvanov stood up and looked at the robot behind her, “You’ll have to do better than that!” He rubbed his stomach tenderly. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Peri. Peri Brown. Who are you?”
“Why did you kill Cass?”
Uvanov felt the need to strike her again but thought better of it. “Why did you kill him?”
“Aren’t you listening? I told you I didn’t.” Peri looked over her shoulder, “Ask this thing!”
Uvanov looked at the robot. “That is D.84. A single function labour robot. D-class. D for Dum. It doesn’t speak.”
“Has anyone bothered to tell it that?” Peri queried.
“You’ve killed two of my people, costing me and the company a great deal of money — can you think of any good reason why I shouldn’t have you executed on the spot?”
“No. But you can; otherwise, you’d have done it!”
Uvanov moved closer again. “Don’t get clever with me!”
Poul led the Doctor and Peri into the crewroom. “You two wait here. I’ll go and get the others. If you’re right about this, you can’t imagine what it will mean!”
“What do you mean, I can’t imagine?” the Doctor huffed indignantly. “Of course I can imagine; this isn’t the only robot-dependant society in the galaxy.”
There was a buzz from a communicator and Poul hurried over to it. The voice of Toos came from the speaker.
“Poul, Zilda just came over the command speaker and accused Uvanov of being the killer. You’d better get over to his quarters as fast as you can. He left control like a scale 20 storm!”
“I’m on my way. Stay here, you two.” Poul dashed from the room.
Peri shrugged and looked at the Doctor, wondering if they should follow. He shook his head. “Sit down, Peri. Whatever’s happening has happened by now, and I’ve got to think.” He sunk onto a couch. “What was it you called those robots?”
“I said they were creepy!”
The Doctor hung his head. “You know, people never loose that feeling of unease about robots. The more of them there are, the greater unease and, of course, the greater the dependence. It’s a vicious circle. People can’t live with robots or exist without them.”
“So, what happens if the strangler really is a robot?” Peri asked.
The Doctor threw his hands into the pockets of his multi-coloured coat. “Oh Peri, I should imagine it’s the end of this civilisation…”
The Doctor and his party hadn’t gone very far before they heard movement coming towards them.
“Robots,” whispered Peri. “Lots of them!”
They ducked down behind a storage hopper and waited. Silver-booted feet marched by, a whole line of them, and passed on into the darkness, heading for the control deck.
The Doctor stood up, “All robots?”
Peri nodded. “From what I saw,”
“Strange. I would have expected Taren Capel to be along for the kill.” He shrugged. “Come on you two; we’ve got to hurry.”
The Doctor led the others to the mortuary section with the revolving racks of deactivated robots. “Right D.84, I’ve got a job for you. You remember the storeroom where Chub kept his equipment?”
“You’ll find some gas-cylinders there. Fetch me one please, as quickly as you can.”
“That will be a pleasure,” D.84 said politely as he moved away.
The Doctor opened a door and spun the rack to reveal the deactivated robot body of V.2. He pulled a machine from his pocket and began to detach the robot’s head.
Peri had spotted its hands. “Look!” She gasped. The metal hand was smeared with dried blood.
The Doctor pulled the head free and lifted it clear of the body. “Borg’s blood, I’d guess — he was the only one strong enough to put up a fight. Poul saw that and it trigged his collapse.”
Peri nodded, remembering the sight of Poul’s rigid body and wide open eyes. “Doctor, what is robophobia?”
The Doctor was sat cross-legged now, looking like a multi-coloured garden gnome. He had taken off the back of V.2’s head and was pulling out its robotic brain. “Robophobia, an unreasoning fear of robots. Nearly all living creatures use non-verbal signals, body movement, eye contact, facial expressions.”
Peri knelt down next to him. “Body language?”
“Exactly. These robots are humanoid, presumably to make you humans feel more comfortable with them. But at the same time, they don’t give off those signals. It’s rather like being surrounded by walking, talking dead men.”
“That’s what Poul said.”
Now, the Doctor had taken out the robot brain and communicator and seemed to be combining them into one entirely new piece of equipment. “The lack of signals undermines a certain type of personality. It produces identity crisis, paranoia, personality disintegration, and then finally, robophobia.” He began fitting the modified communicator back into its case and checking it over.
“What are you doing, Doctor?” Peri asked, exasperated.
“I’m trying to patch this communicator into Dask’s private command circuit to make a deactivator.”
The Doctor nodded. “Otherwise known as Taren Capel. You see, I’ve discovered the way he’s modified the brains of his killer robots. If this thing works, it’ll produce a robotic brainstorm.” The Doctor heard a zap and removed his singed fingers. “Peri, do you have to talk so much?”
Peri just rolled her eyes.
Painfully sucking in air through a bruised windpipe, the Doctor recovered to see a grotesque, distorted face hovering above him. Was it a man or a robot? Muzzily, he recognised Dask, in his robotic face paint. “Hello Dask,” he whispered. “Or should I say Taren Capel?”
“I’m glad you have recovered, Doctor.”
“Oh really? Why?”
“You’ve come very close to ruining my plan. It is fitting that I should make you suffer for that.”
Behind the wall panel, Peri crouched, waiting. If Dask tried to kill the Doctor, she would burst out of the panel and try for a final attack. Better to go down fighting than cowering in an alcove with a canister of air which sat beside her, slowly hissing away.
D.84 twitched and began to stir, his brain severely damaged, but he was not yet completely deactivated. The Doctor’s deactivator had rolled closely to his hand. D.84 knew what he must do. With agonising slowness, he inched his hand closer to the device.
Out of the corner of his eye, the Doctor could see what was happening, but didn’t want Dask to notice too. “I suppose you’re one of those boring maniacs who needs to gloat? You’re going to tell me your plans for running the universe? Or how you’ll turn Peri into your robotic bride?”
Dask put the probe to its lowest setting and switched it on. A low and sinister hum filled the room. “No Doctor, I’m just going to burn out your brain. Very, very slowly.” He advanced towards the table.
Peri gripped the gas cannister to use as a weapon the minute she sprung out of the alcove.
D.84 found the deactivator just beyond his reach; he struggled to slide his paralysed body forward.
Dask leaned forward with the probe in his hand.
“Dask! Dask!” The Doctor said mockingly. “You look ridiculous in that outfit. You’re not half the robot your father was!”
That insult struck home. It was the absence of any kind of parental love, the upbringing at the emotionless hands of robots that had turned Dask’s brain. And fashion tips from this strange man?! He lunged forward with the probe which connected to the Doctor’s head for a fraction of a second. The glow sizzled round the Doctor’s head for a moment and he writhed in sudden agony. Slowly, he composed himself. “Looing your calm, Dask? That’s not very robotic of you. It was your verbal and physical precision that gave you away…”
“No surprise, Doctor. I was brought up by robots, brought up as a superior being. In time, I grew to realise that my robot brothers should live as free beings rather than slaves to worthless humans!” Dask spat bitterly.
Despite his situation, the Doctor looked at Dask with genuine pity. It was easy to see what had gone wrong: Dask had transferred his love from his absent parents to the robots around him, ending up identifying with them completely, taking their side against the human race.
The Doctor gripped the end of the probe, trying to push it away, “Robots would have no reason to exist without people — can’t you see that?”
“No!” Dask shouted. “I shall free them; I shall programme them with the ambition to rule the universe!”
But there was something wrong with his voice.
D.84’s hand closed around the deactivator. From where he was lying, he could just see the Doctor. “Goodbye, my friend,” he whispered and pressed the firing stud. There was a thud and D.84’s head exploded. So did the head of V.6, standing over the Doctor, showering him in sparks.
Dask was too shocked to move for a moment, then he switched the probe to full and lunged for the Doctor again. The Doctor dodged and grabbed Dask’s wrists, desperate to keep the probe from his head. Maddened with rage, Dask was almost as strong as one of his robots. Peri was trying to push the panel down to get out of the alcove and help, but it wouldn’t budge.
SV7 entered the room, “Kills the humans. I must kill the humans!”
Dask called over: “Help me, SV7.” He was holding the Doctor down in a robot-like grip.
It had taken a long time, but the helium from the gas canister was finally high enough at last. Dask’s voice came out as a strangled squeak. The altered voice meant nothing to SV7 — it wasn’t Taren Capel’s voice, but that of any other human.
Dask backed away. “No, not me, you fool! Kill the Doctor! I am your controller, I am Taren Capel!” SV7 broke Dask’s neck, the snap echoing around the room. The Doctor could do nothing but look on as SV7 almost pulled the head off his former master.
Dropping the lifeless body to the floor, SV7 turned on Uvanov and Toos who had just entered the room. “Kill the humans!”
Uvanov circled with a blaster pack in hand, but with a sudden change in direction, SV7 advanced towards Toos and grabbed her neck. She let out a scream. The Doctor finally managed to unstrap himself from the table and leapt forward, probe in hand. He jammed it into the back of SV7’s head. SV7 let go of Toos, who dropped to the ground gasping for air.
“Kill… Kill… Kill the humans… Kill… Ki…” SV7 crashed to the ground — a dead man, no longer walking.
The Doctor drew a deep breath. “All good things must come to an end.”
“Will somebody let me out?!” Peri’s voice squeaked from the closed alcove.
The Doctor let out a chuckle. “Well, well, well, a mouse in the wainscoting. Well squeaked mouse!” He took out a screwdriver and began to unscrew the wall panel.
We do, of course, owe a debt to the late, great, and much-missed Chris Boucher, original writer of The Robots of Death — surely one of the greatest Doctor Who adventures (no matter which incarnation of the Doctor found trouble on Kaldor!).