Robot Wars series 9 episode 4 review

Few robots are left standing in the latest, ultra-destructive episode of Robot Wars…

This review contains spoilers.

It’s somewhat in the lap of the gods, the entertainment value of any given episode of Robot Wars. If they smile upon the arena, the spinners spin and the crushers crush and we all have a jolly old time of it. Every so often though, things just never quite get going. Drive motors burn out, bots are immobilised after a single collision, and it all ends not with a bang but a whimper.

When that happens, it’s the job of the production team to string out the pre and post-bout interviews and make up for the thrills absent in the arena by conjuring up some tension backstage. There were valiant attempts to do just that in episode four, but nothing could really distract from the fact that most of this week’s robots had the battle stamina of a lace doily.

A good few of them, sadly, ended the episode in the recycling bin. They’ll be back next series, no doubt, in new and improved iterations. There were quite a few returning teams back with stronger models this week, including the irrepressibly good-natured chaps behind last year’s Overdozer and this year’s Wyrm. Not only did said team feature a puppy of exceptional adorability in their VT, they also deserve a place in history for last series’ madly optimistic act of building their robot out of wood.

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Like two of the three little pigs, that lot had learned about the relative durability of different materials the hard way. Not that it dampened their spirits any. Team Wyrm laughed off another defeat, described their robot as having all the finesse of an angry badger, and walked away grinning after tipping it into a skip. Would that we could all meet failure with such sanguinity. First wood, then metal… For next time, lads, I have one word for you: Adamantium.

For some reason, the latter wasn’t on Dr Roger’s table during episode four’s science bit about the best material with which to build robots. Watching Angela Scanlon attack a breadboard with an angle grinder was a satisfying couple of minutes and oddly reminiscent of those Japanese gameshows Clive James used to take the mick out of in the eighties. They should make it a regular feature. Next week, let’s have her show an Ikea Billy bookcase who’s boss using a flamethrower.

In terms of battles, there’s not really a huge amount to discuss. The first group match was, in a word, pants. One robot was immediately destroyed, another drove itself straight into a wall, and the remaining two wandered the arena oblivious to one another like a couple of senile laser jet printers. “That didn’t go well” said Suren, Team Captain of Supernova. It really didn’t.  

The rest of the bouts weren’t a great improvement considering that a highlight was one of the competitors checking her heart rate on her Fitbit.

It was 98.

Excessive damage was the problem. If this week’s robots had been horses, most of them would have been taken out of the arena after competing and shot.

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Team Pulsar, led by self-taught engineer Ellis, provided the most entertainment with the cheeky idea of using a SRIMECH to give opponents the finger. Having lost half their drive at one point, Pulsar was also reduced to hopping around in circles tipped up on its side like an injured frisbee, which at least gave us something to watch.

Other promising robots also faltered. Crustacean, despite an enviable appearance and the untold potential of those cool-looking controller gloves, turned out to have the life expectancy of a crab fished out of a tank at a coastal restaurant. School-team Frostbite and newcomers Hi-Five never really stood a chance.

Thinking positive though, the calibre of the young people on Robot Wars continues to astound me. At their age, me and my friends would have been wetting ourselves about the word ‘piston’ and trying to burn each other with soldering irons, but here this lot are, calmly talking us through the ups and downs of their robot’s performance with the professionalism of seasoned TV presenters. Chris, Team Frostbite’s branding manager, was especially impressive on camera. In five years we’ll all either be working for him or be dead by his hand.

Episode four simply lacked drama, which isn’t anybody’s fault. Everyone tried their best to pep it up, from Skeletor doing the “Drrumm Spinnerrrr” intros (have you ever heard such a menacing pronunciation of “Kingston-upon-Thames”?) to the arena audience, who showed yet more sign-making ingenuity with that terrific “Rust In Pieces” tombstone.

All in all, a slightly disappointing episode of Robot Wars is still more enjoyable than most things. If all else fails, you can simply sit back and enjoy listening to Jonathan Pearce say “hardened steel bucket”. 

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.

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