Robot Wars series 9 episode 1 review

The revived Robot Wars is back for a second series featuring a few new bots and some familiar faces…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

Here’s what I love about Robot Wars – the people. Forget gear boxes and weaponry; this is a show about human beings and the lengths to which they’ll go to achieve their dreams.

It is ‘dreams’ plural rather than singular too. Not all Robot Wars contestants share the same goal. Some, like twenty-five grand armour-plated Rapid, obviously enter because they fancy their chances in the grand final. Others, like Nuts 2 and Jellyfish, seem more interested in proving a point about robot diversity. Not all bots need to be sleek, precision-engineered, and pay-rolled by a multinational tech company say these folk, it’s possible for one to look roughly as technical as a picnic table and still deserve a place in the arena.

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Then there are teams like Legion, endearing underdogs who’ve battled for years without a win and just want their moment of victory. Sabretooth earned them that win in this first episode back of the new series. Yes, it was followed by a devastating loss and ultimately, a knock-out, but the end result didn’t matter. They tasted victory and while it lasted, it was sweet.

Even sweeter was how visibly moved Legion’s Gabriel Stroud was by the combined efforts of his teammates and the other roboteers to get Sabretooth up and running after Aftershock tore chunks off it in a moment of what can only be described as bloodlust. “Stop!” implored Legion’s young Esme, as bits flew off her immobilised bot. Having grown up with Sabretooth’s various iterations from a tender age, you can understand her pain. It must have felt like watching the family dog get savaged by a vicious mutt.

Battle robots may even trump family dogs in the affection stakes. Team Jellyfish, a splinter-group from last series’ jazzy gilet-wearing Team Nuts, spoke gently to their bot—the fondly nicknamed “Jelly”—throughout the arena bouts. When they’re not fighting, you get the impression that these machines don’t live under a tarpaulin in the garage, they’re tucked in at night with a bedtime story (even the ones that look like the big saw you weren’t allowed to use without the teacher in DT).

Without delighting in someone else’s misfortune, there was something, well, delightful about the ultra-expensive, ultra-complicated Rapid having to withdraw from the competition while more ramshackle creations soldiered on. The lesson there? Slick doesn’t always win the race.

What does win the race, we learn, is a massive spinning disc that tears through robots like a tin opener through a can of John West’s finest, as sported by Aftershock. Father and son team Will and Ian, also grand finalists last series, maintained their winning streak by cutting what looked like a fairly effortless swathe through the competition.

Nothing’s effortless on Robot Wars though. You only have to witness the terse exchanges between drivers and weapons-operators mid-combat to get a glimpse of the pressure these people put themselves under. Team Hurtz were a case in point this week – a conflict of opinion over when to fire their axe led to some tense moments in the control room. You see, this show has it all – hope, joy, frustration and even the inadvertent comedy of two grown men snapping at each other over when to pull a lever. 

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Elsewhere, we had newcomers TMHWK from the Netherlands and Crank-E, the latter of which was flipped clean out of the arena by House robot Matilda. She and her brethren are getting a bit more to do this series with the addition of the tiniest of tweak to the format. Choose to activate the pit now and there’s every chance competitors will activate the House robots instead. 

The new format didn’t need much of a tweak. As long as we’re getting as many bouts as possible and the recapping is kept to a minimum, they’re onto a winner. Just enough space needs to be left around the fights for us to grasp the characters, ambitions and stories behind the machines, but not so much that the personalities take over completely. That balance is the joy of Robot Wars. Beneath the hammered aluminium plating is a beating human heart. 

Oh and incidentally, that low-key, put-the-kettle-on moment when Angela Scanlon was beaten by a robot at Connect Four? That was the turning point, people. The precise moment the machines took over. I for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Read Louisa’s review of the series 8 finale, here.