Robot Wars episode 4 review

Robot Wars episode 4 was the series’ best yet, thanks to a thrilling performance from an impressive flipper…

My friend Julie getting a SNES for Christmas 1992. The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster at Universal Studios, Orlando. David Tennant sitting two rows behind me at a play.

Hitherto the three most exciting moments in my life were just eclipsed by an episode of Robot Wars. Specifically, the moment in an episode of Robot Wars that Team Apollo went on a flipping rampage. That’s not just a Britishism, Apollo literally flipped its way around the arena on a flipping rampage. It was flipping brilliant.

It’s not for nothing that Team Apollo shares its name with the space missions that put man on the moon; that performance, which left House Bots Dead Metal and Matilda as helpless and paralysed as upturned woodlice and booted the series’ most expensive robot out of the arena, was out of this world.

House Bots? House Nots more like. (The mighty Jonathan Pearce can have that one for free.)

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More than that, Apollo’s was a class victory. Like a member of the oppressed proletariat, the flipper rose up against Robot Wars’ fat overlords, displacing their comfortable and lazy rule with its superior strength. It was Katniss vs The Capitol. The slaves of Rome vs Crassus. Neville Longbottom vs Voldemort’s pet snake. Glory, glory Team Apollo.

Even twenty grand couldn’t buy armour-plated Storm 2 a victory, something its capable team took admirably on the chin.

Episode four was gratifyingly free of rancour, with none of the teams mistaking cheap scorn and conceit for personality as has happened in previous weeks. It was all laughter, sportsmanlike handshakes and, thanks to walking levity-injection Dara O’Briain, jazz hands. Much more like it.

Even the worst bout, in which PP3D and Eruption both lost drive and spent the last two minutes shimmying uncertainly at each other like two birds of paradise locked in a mating display, was funny.

You can’t predict what’s going to be fun on Robot Wars. The oddball builds—a fibreglass and reclaimed plywood turtle with a mini hatchling!—promise a lot but end up crashing out disappointingly early as Terror Turtle did this week. Go metal or go home is the lesson there. Heterogeneity is key to the audience spectacle (no-one wants to watch four DVD players nuzzling each other for three minutes) but quirk must be tempered with practicality, we learn. To survive this game, you must coat your whimsy in plate steel. As in Robot Wars, so in life.

One ingenious design this week came from PP3D’s floor-sweeping, wheel-targeting spinner, which looked to be on to a good thing in the early stages. It was to be a Looney Toons exit for those guys though. Their descent into the pit had the comedy pause of Wile E. Coyote being handed an anvil mid-air. PP3D scrambled for purchase atop the closed pit, and all it took was Storm 2 to activate the release to send them plummeting. “Och I know but, well, it happens doesn’t it?” said Mr PP3D, likeably. “Doom, gloom, pit, out, goodbye” said Jonathan Pearce, whose commentary transcends the need for verbs and pronouns.

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We’ve yet to see a pincer live up to its potential. Kan-Opener may have had more bite than a Great White, but one flip from Apollo and it was deader than a shark with a pierced oxygen tank in its maw. A malfunctioning srimech (I’ve learnt all the vocab. I’m even fairly sure I know what telemetry means) did for Sabretooth, which was flipped right on its telemetry. Sweeney Todd was also flipped to oblivion, at one point being passed humiliatingly like a puck between Apollo and PP3D. What a telemetry that was.

A wholly worthy winner then, in the best instalment yet. There’s one more heat to go before the grand final, after which there’ll be a robot-shaped hole in BBC Two’s schedule and in my heart.

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