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Award-winning visual effects designer Mike Tucker began his career as a Doctor Who crew member in the late 1980s. He reflects on some of the most memorable robot designs from that era.
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is attacked by one of the cleaner robots in a publicity shot from Paradise Towers (1987).

Given the problems the Doctor Who production team had endured with Kamelion, it’s perhaps no surprise that it was a while before they attempted to write a robot into the series again. Indeed, it was only right at the end of Colin Baker’s first full series as the Doctor that any kind of robotic character was attempted – the android created by writer Glen McCoy for his 1985 serial Timelash.

Shying away from the challenges posed by any form of mechanical costume, the android was brought to life with nothing more than a white boiler suit, some blue face make-up and a couple of ‘deely-bopper’-style antennae, the mechanical aspects created purely through the robotic actions of actor Dean Hollingsworth. Curiously, it was the ‘organic’ monsters in that story that were brought to life via mechanics, in the form of the animatronic Morlox.

Shortly afterwards, the series was subjected to an enforced ‘rest’. Memories of how difficult robotic costumes were rapidly faded, because when the show returned 18 months later the Doctor was faced with not one but two mechanical adversaries.

In 1986 visual effects designer Mike Kelt used the same logic in designing The Trial of a Time Lord’s Drathro and L1 robots as he had when perfecting Part One’s much-admired opening motion control sequence. He argued that after such a long period out of the public eye the series needed to come back with a bang, and that the visuals needed to be impressive and memorable. Drathro was conceived, therefore, as an actor-operated fibreglass suit, with the joints at the arms and shoulders designed to disguise the stature of the human inside and give the robot a well-above-average height.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Robots have been an essential part of Doctor Who for six decades. The latest issue of Panini’s lavish Doctor Who bookazine includes features on classic robot stories such as Galaxy 4, Pyramids of Mars and The Robots of Death. Other highlights include interviews with the actors, writers and directors who helped to create some of these episodes. Packed with exclusive content and rare images, this 116-page bookazine is a must-have for fans