DwarfCast 152 - Robot Wars - Commentary featured image
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If you’re reading this then there’s a decent chance that at some point in your childhood or early adulthood you sat down on a Friday night and enjoyed the feast of mechanical violence that was Robot Wars. For Millennials and young Gen Xers, watching this show went hand in hand with being a Red Dwarf fan, not least because the host was, from series 2 onwards, Craig Charles himself. And it’s for that reason Robot Wars qualifies for our series of ‘Dwarf-adjacent’ commentaries as we seize with both hands the opportunity to talk at length about a show very dear to our hearts for… quite a long time.

The episode we watched (on kind recommendation from Robot Wars BOFFIN Christopher Wickham) is the Series 4, Semi-Final B. Trust us, it’s a good one, and you can watch it along with us here. More than normal, we highly recommend that you do do this as we’re quite reactive to the events on screen and watching along will ensure maximum enjoyment of our nonsense, although admittedly most of the runtime is spent talking about your robo-waffles.

DwarfCast 152 – Robot Wars – Commentary (129MB)

We’re back on the Smegazine Rack in our next DwarfCast, but our next recorded episode will – finally – be a commentary on the Red Dwarf USA pilots! Consequently, we need your waffles on both of the failed American ventures which you can provide below if you so desire.

Show notes

48 comments on “DwarfCast 152 – Robot Wars – Commentary

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  • I remember that wallchart! Really must try and track down a copy of the magazine that still has it at some point…

    For the record this episode was recorded on the 13th August 2000, along with the previous semi-final and the grand final – the show was pretty efficient at that point, they could film up to four episodes in a single day. TX 16 February 2001, so some of those early episodes had a pretty tight turnaround.

    I believe I mentioned this a few weeks earlier in the comments for one of the Smegazine podcasts, but the original Skutter’s Revenge was entered with the name spelled correctly but the producers asked them to change it in case there were any legal issues. (I don’t know if they ever actually made contact with Grant Naylor Productions, but my guess is “no”.)

    The ‘uncut’ raw-studio-footage version of Hypno-Disc vs Splinter can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kikpo2l1dY0

    The driver of X-Terminator emigrated to Australia shortly after the show finished and took the robot with him, where it lives to this day, which is possibly the oddest random bit of trivia I happen to know about the show.

    I believe that at some point all prospective teams had to sort out the rights in case they chose to make a toy as part of their entry forms. I do know that plans to make a Diotoir toy were abandoned because they couldn’t sort out how to stop children setting fire to the thing… must write that article at some point.

    110kg was the weight limit for the revival series; for the original series it started out at 80kg, although in the early years it wasn’t strictly enforced, then it raised to 100kg for the first Extreme series onward.

    On the subject of the Killalot vs Terminator debate: The original House Robots were all designed as part of the conceit that the show was taking place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world and had little backstories to match. Sir Killalot’s was that it/he was an autonomous fighting unit from an alternative universe where the First World War began over 850 years early. (Shunt was the result of two maintenance robots designed to work in an experimental Russian nuclear power plant fusing together and mutating, Matilda was a biomechanical creature from Atlantis, Dead Metal was a robot assassin that had travelled back in time, and Sergeant Bash was a military drone from a totalitarian state designed to keep law and order.)

    The Celebrity Special was part of a week of Christmas specials broadcast during Series 4 (seriously, there was a new special episode on every day of the week, it was AMAZING); it was broadcast on BBC One presumably because celebrities. Also for some reason these aren’t included as part of Challenge’s runs so they’re still only available as off-air VHS recordings of the original broadcasts.

    Chaos 2 never really upgraded because a) George Francis was self-employed and couldn’t afford it and b) because of the way the robot was designed it couldn’t take advantage of the increase in the weight limit because it would have led to issues with weight distribution. It was so far ahead of its time in Series 3 that it didn’t matter – even by Series 4 nobody had really managed to reverse-engineer the design and it actually took the increase in the weight limit for most of them to manage it.

    I don’t know enough about football to complete the analogy, but the *only* trophy Hypno-Disc ever won was for Most Original Entry in Series 3.

    I feel there’s a valid point about the show becoming more repetitive towards the end of the run but the scheduling with episodes getting “first run” on BBC Choice and then just not showing up on BBC Two at all really wasn’t helpful. It was just impossible to keep track of when the show was going to be on.

    The very first poem was ad-libbed by Craig as a sign-off and the producers decided to keep them, and some others (especially in Series 7) are also clearly ad-libbed because they refer to the events of the last battle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some proportion of them were scripted.

  • Ii didn’t either, but the commentary (listened whilst watching the episode) and the insanely long chat afterwards is still good. 

  • I think I accidentally deleted my unnecessarily long post here whilst trying to edit it and I’m not writing it out again. I do remember writing that there was meant to be a Diotoir toy, but they had to abandon it because they couldn’t figure out a way to stop children from setting it on fire.

  • Huzzah!

    Those little origin stories for the original House Robots are *truly* bizarre. I recommend picking up a copy of the Robot Wars Technical Manual second hand for them alone.

  • Well this was a lot of fun. I only saw Robot Wars in dribs and drabs back then, so I was never tracking the actual progress of the tournament or able to remember the teams or robot names and such, but I do remember being very engaged when I did happen to see it. So watching a full episode like this was a cool experience. And you gave such pleasingly detailed answers to all the fight related waffle questions!

    You know, I think you could mass produce yellow polo shirts which say “Team Panic Attack” on them in that plain white, normal-looking font, and they would legitimately sell to people who had never seen or heard of Robot Wars.

    Red Dwarf USA Waffles:

    – Kryten was the only character not to be recast for the US pilot, but if he was, which actor working in the US at the time should (or would) they have chosen?

    – If Red Dwarf USA had been ordered to series, what do you think would have been the best way to go about continuing from where they left off with the first pilot? Adapting the UK series 1 to 1, going wholly original, or a mixture of UK episode remakes and original stories? (This includes the possibility of mixing up the order, so you could have Quarantine in US Season 1, Better Than Life in US Season 5 etc.)

    – This is something you might just organically discuss anyway, but what are your thoughts on the various truisms that get repeated about Red Dwarf USA, and by extension American remakes of UK comedy in general? You recently pushed back against the idea that Craig Bierko was “too handsome” to play Lister, but there’s also the idea that Americans are just not as good at self-deprecating or dry humour as the British, that an American couldn’t pull off Rimmer’s particular blend of self-importance and self-hatred, and that UK class divisions can’t be properly translated onto American characters…. and possibly others I’m forgetting.

  • The first rule of the Robot Wars club is you do not talk about the Robot Wars club.

    A great Spaced – Non-Red Dwarf link there, of course, is that the Robot Club Leader in Mettle is Kevin Cecil, co-creator/co-writer of Hyperdrive. 

  • US waffle: American Tony Hayers ultimately decides Red Dwarf is too zany for the advertisers, but he likes the sound of one of your other ideas. Which unrealised Grant Naylor project would you most like to have seen get a pilot instead?

  • I enjoyed this one. Being a little older than the Dwarfcast posse, my contemporary interest in/knowledge of the show only really extended into the first couple of series, so this episode was entirely new to me and I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the later robots, spinoff etc. mentioned here.

    But watching the episode reminded me how much I enjoyed it at the time and what a fun show it was. Very much a Gladiators for geeks. And the amateur engineering and creativity on display from the teams was always impressive.

  • US waffle: how does having Kryten in the show from the start change the dynamic of that initial story?

    For me, I like the loneliness/isolation of the end of The End (and of the first two series in general), and having Kryten there lessens that by immediately giving Lister a friend who’s still around three million years into the future.

  • If only there had been crossover between this and scrapheap challenge… “make a robot out of broken down cars and fight another robot made of old washing machines”… an opportunity for Kryten to appear out of context wearing boxing gloves…

  • I stopped watching Robot Wars for some reason when it went to Channel 5, even though it was really exactly the same, maybe I was just being a weird teen pretending I’d grown out of it.Obviously grew out of the robots are dumb phase because I was genuinely quite excited when it came back with Dara. That one was good when they dropped the drama angle from the first series and just went with the “it’s robots fighting isn’t it mad!” fun angle. It’s a shame they binned it but it must have cost a fair bit. They should bring it back again but maybe set limits on costs, because some of the robots were ridiculously expensive. I know it’s not cheap anyway, but OG Robot Wars was a lot more humble in terms of machining and parts. It might make it more accessible for people and lift the mood a bit when a robot gets absolutely shitmixed, always a bit awkward when you see a grown man on the verge of tears because his aerospace alloy, CAD designed, CNC’d £25k+ robot is full of holes and ablaze.

  • On Dwarf USA, I’m in the pool that likes the baseball cards joke, but I also find it the joke that most encapsulates the difference between the American and the British versions.

    In the American one, Lister’s line about the cards being “worth a fortune” gives a sense of optimism despite the predicament he’s in, along with the closing shot of his future selves beaming in, Kochanski intact, that gives his cause hope.

    In the British version, Lister’s equivalent line is about how much overdue library book debt he’s accrued over three million years, which is significantly bleaker, and to me, funnier, and the reveal about being married to Kochanski in the future doesn’t come until later on.

    (Having said that, as a kid I always took Lister’s library book line as him being genuine, whereas now I hear it more as him just dryly taking the piss over the predicament he’s found himself in, which in turn suggests that American Lister might have been doing the same).

    Also, Kryten’s “I’ve been reading that fire exit sign” line is a good a gag as any from any of the British episodes, and I’ve often wondered if it was one Rob or Doug pitched themselves since it has more of the dry, deadpan wit of British Dwarf than some of overtly “big” gags the rest of the pilot has, like Kryten’s eyes plopping in the tea.

    All these years later, it strikes me as a shame that a full series never got commissioned. I’ve always looked at stuff like Frasier, The Simpsons, Futurama, Ghostbusters, Spinal Tap etc. as evidence against any anti-American sentiment when it comes to comedy (not to mention the British are responsible for Fucking Mrs. Fucking Brown’s Fucking Boys Fucking), and while there are obviously plenty of dreadful American pilots of British shows (The IT Crowd, Men Behaving Badly, Fawlty Towers, that atrocious Only Fools and Horses effort, and apparently The Young Ones that none of us have ever seen), things like Sanford and Son and The Office got remakes that worked out remarkably well and proved a new interpretation didn’t have to be shit.

    Then again, I was always the sort of kid who just watched the same few shows he liked over and over and over again, so getting 24 episodes a year for nine years of Red Dwarf USA would have at least given me something to kill quite a bit of time with, as long as they’d ironed the kinks out and made it halfway decent.

  • (Having said that, as a kid I always took Lister’s library book line as him being genuine, whereas now I hear it more as him just dryly taking the piss over the predicament he’s found himself in, which in turn suggests that American Lister might have been doing the same).

    Whoa, I never considered that the library book line could be anything other than earnest. Guess this is a potential candidate for “Jokes you don’t/didn’t get”.

  • Thank you for your thoughts, Captain Bollocks but we’ve just finished recording and didn’t see your comment in time!

  • I’ve only ever read that line as being earnest.  And the difference between the pessimism and the optimism in the library book vs baseball card line is only one of the reasons I don’t think it works for the character.”my baseball cards must be worth a fortune” implies a character who has always in some way sought a rich, materialistic lifestyle.  That is first thought is “fuck me I must be wealthy” after finding out he’s spent 3million years in stasis changes the character entirely imo.Lister has ambition, and he indicates he is working towards it, but nothing about him ever implies he wants bundles of cash.  He sort of wants a fairly humble existence, a farm and a little restaurant.  That again he’ll work for.”I’ve still got that library book” is the thought of someone who doesn’t have a lot, and is sick of life trying to take it from him.  That’s who Lister is.  Someone so unlucky that by just caring for a cat he winds up in deep space the last guy alive.  Is isn’t lucky, he is perpetually unlucky in life.  And the baseball card line changes that completely.As for the rest of RD USA.  There’s not enough Rimmer and what there is of him is a bit basic.  I don’t mind the idea of introducing Kryten from he start, the fire exist sign is funny, but it squeezes an already very tight episode.  And he behaves more like Lister’s best mate than Kryten.  Almost like they were just going to assume from the start his programming wasn’t much of an issue.Holly is fine, Cat is fine.  I like the dangling thread of “crew from the future” but I imagine that would have ended going nowhere after 2 seasons of 24 episodes each.I think in general US remakes of things work rarely, and only when they completely rework them to an American audience.  The Office US first season is shocking because it is recycling scripts, but really comes into its own when it finds the characters and the setting and the style that works for them.  US Inbetweeners has the same issue, so does Skins.  At their core, what makes all these sitcoms great is that they have this British sense of humour that doesn’t really translate into an American setting.  That and no-one was asking for them.  US fans of Inbetweeners liked Inbetweeners as it showed loser British teens.  Trying to translate Red Dwarf for a US audience I think too much would be lost that makes RD what is great and why people watch it.  For it to work I think you’d have to change it significantly enough you may as well just write a different series.

  • Also, Kryten’s “I’ve been reading that fire exit sign” line is a good a gag as any from any of the British episodes, and I’ve often wondered if it was one Rob or Doug pitched themselves since it has more of the dry, deadpan wit of British Dwarf than some of overtly “big” gags the rest of the pilot has, like Kryten’s eyes plopping in the tea.

    Oh, yeah, it’s probably one of my favourite Red Dwarf jokes in general and I would go so far as to say I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a Rob and Doug line.

  • There were paragraphs in that when I wrote it …

    Yep, that’s the missing paragraphs comments bug, it’s been around for a while now. For future reference, if you edit your comment within the 5 minute time limit, you can put the paragraph breaks back in as double line breaks.

    Or, if you want to create the illusion of a paragraph break without needing to edit after posting, you can ingeniously enter Code View, and put in an empty quote block.

  • Because I read the novel first, I always think of Lister (understandably) struggling with the magnitude of the situation in that scene, and the library book is this inconsequential and comparatively safe detail his brain is able to latch onto. A bit like Walt in Breaking Bad fixating on his doctor’s mustard stain when he’s diagnosed with cancer.

    The baseball card line could also work with that, it’s just a bit upbeat.

  • RD:USA – I rewatched Red Dwarf USA myself a few weeks ago (I was bored), and one of the main things that bothers me is Jane Leeves. She is absolutely diabolical in it.

  • The driver of X-Terminator emigrated to Australia shortly after the show finished and took the robot with him, where it lives to this day, which is possibly the oddest random bit of trivia I happen to know about the show.

    I can build upon your odd X-Terminator trivia. Marlon built two incarnations of the bot. While one may be down under the other was bought by a Robot Wars fan who attempted to assassinate Donald Trump.

  • the exit sign gag i could swear is in something else

    Maybe?:

    Or the bit in the Backwards novel where Kryten slowly paces himself with a few letters of a book per day so as not to finish it too quickly.

    (…Why didn’t the links work).

  • It’s that bit 8n Backwards reading the book. I had the two confused for the longest time. 

  • i think it was the backwards book got mixed up in my head with mostly harmless. for years i’ve thought h2g2 did the same gag with marvin

  • I don’t know if this gets brought up, but as much as Craig and Danny have made jokes about Red Dwarf USA being “White Dwarf,” I do feel like the Lister-Rimmer dynamic would play different in America. Even in the 90s, I don’t know that you could have a white American character constantly calling a Black American character lazy and stupid and slobby and not get a response of, “So this Rimmer guy…is he racist?” Whereas I have never felt this way about Red Dwarf proper (although as a white American, obviously there is a limitation to my perspective and insight).

  • I remember seeing some of that concern and confusion around the Doctor’s attitude to Danny Pink in DW series 8 (and presumably Mickey earlier on).

    I can’t remember when the Red Dwarf USA comic happens in the Smegazine (somewhere in Volume 1), and won’t spoil it, but that’s a high point of the publication.

  • Having said that, as a kid I always took Lister’s library book line
    as him being genuine, whereas now I hear it more as him just dryly
    taking the piss over the predicament he’s found himself in, which in
    turn suggests that American Lister might have been doing the same.

    I always saw it as a bit of the initial premise for Lister – that he was a Reverend Jim figure, a forty year old hippie type who was a bit brain fried – bleeding through. Same with his “that was George” and “what’s an iguana?”.

    the exit sign gag i could swear is in something else

  • I may have waited too long to watch this one. YouTube video has been taken down.

  • Rotters. 

    I seem to remember this article originally had a different link to a vid with a different aspect ratio.

    Can you put that back up guys? 

  • Honestly, what the fuck is the point of copyright striking something like this.

  • FFS. Every other episode from that series is still there, only that one has been removed. I choose to take this personally.

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