Robot Wars episode 3 review

A wooden robot tests its mettle in the third episode of the new Robot Wars. Does it succeed? Er…

High-energy celebratory displays don’t come naturally to Robot Wars competitors. Every fist pump and double thumbs-up in a post-battle interview comes at a clear cost to the roboteers’ natural sense of reserve and decorum. That the winning teams do it anyway, throwing their unsynchronised arms in the air and haltingly yelling ‘yeah!’ at the mention of their victory, is one of this show’s most endearing features.

Robot Wars is packed with endearing features. This week’s included the proud-as-punch dad of winning team TR2 repeatedly singing the praises of his fifteen-year-old son while said son shifted bashfully on his feet. Then there was the nervous laughter of students Team Overdozer well aware of the impending folly of taking a robot only marginally more high-tech (and less well-armoured) than a Billy bookcase into the arena. Add the extended chuckle everyone enjoyed over the idea of a ‘bum-axe’ and the result is intensely cheering television.

Less endearing are the few competitors who fancy themselves as bad boys and approach each bout with sneering swagger and trash talk practised in front of the bedroom mirror. “Quietly confident but not cocky” was the mantra of lovely winning family team TR2. There’s a lesson to be learnt there. 

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Episode three’s other big lesson is one you’d have thought was self-evident: unless you fancy sweeping your robot up in lollystick form after its first battle, don’t build it out of wood.

Hearing that Team Overdozer made their MDF entry in five days using the change found down the back of their mums’ sofas was energising to begin with. A wooden robot! What larks! The ignominious early defeat that came as a result of the team’s shambolic lack of preparation was less entertaining. It took twenty-three seconds for an essential bit to fall off, rendering Overdozer useless and robbing us of any hoped-for spectacle.

Essential bits made a habit of falling off in week three, “safety links” being the worst culprit. That’s what lost it for teacher-pupil team Orte, who also suffered an early exit. Perhaps they’d have stood a better chance with the robot who eats crisps.

The pit claimed more than a few victims in this heat. Supernova ended up there, as did King B Remix after facing TR2’s mighty flip. The moment Team Shockwave teetered on its edge before escaping was the most tense TV’s been since Line Of Duty finished. The hazard’s shining moment though, was the first recorded use of “pit” as a verb this series. “If they can out-push us, they can pit us” said dad TR2 displaying yet more Robot Wars wisdom.

Fifteen year old winner Alex aside, it wasn’t a good week for the children of Robot Wars. The little boy from Team Orte and the little girl from Team Glitterbomb both saw their dreams dashed, despite having remembered to build their robots out of something more durable than the average bread-bin. The desperately sad mid-battle sound of young April asking, “Daddy, why isn’t it working? Daddy?” would be enough to put most parents off taking their kids along on a venture so fraught with (literal) pitfalls. These youngsters though, are wee toughies. And as the saying goes: the family that builds a robot with a polycarbonate-armoured blade that spins at over two thousand RPM together, stays together.

It was gratifying to see a more varied range of people this week on the show, which finally achieved a more inclusive-feeling balance of ages, ethnicities and genders. With any luck, kids at home won’t be put off by the defeats suffered by their peers in week three and will be inspired to start practising with an Arduino and a soldering iron in time for series two.

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There should absolutely be a series two. Now halfway through this run, the revival has proven itself. Dara O’Briain is affability personified, the teams are (mostly) likeable, the bouts (mostly) exhilarating and the whole thing adds up to good, clean, nerdy fun. More please, BBC.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.