The Robots of Death
The Doctor: To the rational mind, nothing is inexplicable; only unexplained.
Story Code: C14.5.
Production Code: 4R.
Story Number: 90.
Countdown week: 14…
According to DW fan-lore, this glossy whodunnit is one of the great stories. Number 9 in the DWM 2009 survey of the 200. It is great, I won’t disagree. Undeniably glossy; though is this story really a whodunnit? This blog asks the question as basic ideas of what was “it” and “who” seem less important to the story than other more abstract ideas.
For example, the “it” – we are introduced to 8 characters on the ship in a marvellous opening scene, however, the second crucial murder, that means this is a spate of terror on the ship – a previously unseen 9th crewmember Kerril. The crew reactions, the philosophy of the civilisation sketched out, these are more important than the details of the “whodunnit”.
The “who” – although small clues appear along the way, there is a rather major one on the ship vid-screen which means (depending on how attentive you are or how clear your TV screen is) the “who” is solved just after halfway.
The next story, another “sleuth” story, and the Doctor has a Holmesian line here in this story – “To the rational mind, nothing is inexplicable; only unexplained”, and he does deduce what is going on at least, in the whodunnit tradition.
The previous story The Face of Evil is, like this, a Boucher script story which has more going on than just a standard SF plot begun and resolved – these are SF stories of ideas, content rather than style. That the story is supremely stylish too is wonderful.