It was with nostalgic glee that we reported yesterday that BBC2 is set to make a new series of its much-loved game of remote controlled chaos, Robot Wars.
The original seven series ran between 1998 (with Jeremy Clarkson as host), through to 2004, by which time it had spawned an international “extreme” edition, a live UK tour and even a series of video games for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox.
It was a weeknight tea-time phenomenon (part of a school-night triple threat with The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), so to see it depart from our screens was a sad affair.
1. The rubbish robots made of hopes and dreams
On paper, you’d think that it wouldn’t really be that hard to build a fairly indestructible robot war-machine.
Keep it fast, small and compact, wrap the whole thing in sturdy aluminum and attach a circular saw to the front (Hypno-Disc had the right idea).
So it always raised a cruel smile when you’d see something that looked like it could be ripped to shreds by a gust of wind, usually controlled by a kind father making his child’s wish of competing on Robot Wars come true.
The trouble with kids is that they have a very limited grasp of basic engineering, and most of their designs were torn to pieces in seconds.
There was once a furry ladybird-type creation, absolute fodder for Sergeant Bash’s flame-thrower.
2. The nerdy teams channelling their inner rage
Phillipa Forrester’s backstage interviews with teams tinkering with their creations often threw up some of the most polite, kind-natured people you could ever hope to meet.
“Yeah, we’re just here to have fun really. We’ve got a few surprises.”
“And what’s your robot’s name?”
“DIE HUMAN SCUM!”
“Erm, OK… see you out there in the Arena.”
It would then be revealed to be hiding some kind of power-tool monstrosity of a weapon, capable of tearing even the house robots to bits.
Cut to a shot of the team in the control booth rubbing their hands with blood-thirsty glee as they imagine their fallen foes to be the school bullies who said they could never make it in life.
3. Some people took it WAY too seriously
Robot Wars has its own Wikia page (robotwars.wikia.com), where you can find detailed results of all the series’ tournaments.
Yes, people actually kept score. And you can actually find detailed brackets of tournaments, and even info on the subtle modifications a robot underwent between Series 3 and its “triumphant return” in Series 5.
There were some serious die-hard fans out there.
4. The overly dramatic presentation
At the centre of Robot Wars was the fun, dumb spectacle of mechanical toys ripping the nuts (and bolts) out of each other.
But surrounding the overall premise of a load of suburbanites sitting in a BBC studio for a free ticketed mid-week evening was the show’s amazing sci-fi aesthetic, with Craig Charles overseeing proceedings like some omnipotent God of War. Presumably the whole thing took place inside the imaginative, cabin fever ravaged mind of Red Dwarf‘s Lister.
Everything from Charles’ cyber-punk get up (seen as a mustard coloured mechanic type in later series) to his two finger’d salute to end each show, reeked of an overarching sci-fi authenticity that really had us believing this was all taking place on some desolate abandoned space station where robots battled to earn scraps of food for their masters.
Until we cut backstage and we see it’s just a re-purposed warehouse in Leicestershire.
Respect the RefBot
If the thought of two (dangerously sharp) buckets of bolts clanging into each other until one broke down in a plume of smoke never sounded like a real sport to you, perhaps your perceptions were changed when the programme makers introduced the RefBot in Series 4 to discourage ‘foul play’.
Yes, there was such a thing as ‘foul play’ between two robots smashing each other to bits, and rules to be enforced.
6. Jonathan Pearce’s commentary
It’s a wonder how commentator Jonathan Pearce managed to retain any shred of professional integrity when he made the jump from football punditry to the voice of Robot Wars (and some would argue he didn’t).
But Pearce’s excitable tenor was actually more suited to the OTT robot fighting championship, and earned him glowing reviews where it had once annoyed football fans.
See above as Pearce weighs in on house robot Sergeant Bash going rogue and taking on the RefBot with his flamethrower.
“OH! YOU CAN’T DO THAT! Quite right, yellow card, warning. I’d have given a red, I’d have BANNED it!”
7. The ‘storylines’
Yes, for a series essentially based around remote controlled toys bashing each other to bits there was an awful lot of narrative.
Who could forget the iconic moments like Series 7’s ‘Robot Rebellion’, a mass free-for-all featuring the best competitors taking on the house robots in a sadistic battle for revenge.
What really sold it was Craig Charles’ opening promo, delivered with all the gusto of a matinee am-dram performance of Hamlet:
“Some of the roboteers have long memories and they whinge in the pits. ‘Sir Killalot did this to me, Shunt did that to me and Bash burned my tyres.‘… BRING ON THE ROBOT REBELLION!”
See the video above for evidence, and try to turn it off once Charles has finished delivering his impassioned speech. You won’t be able to.
8. It’s another welcome throwback to the 90s
With the successful return of TFI Friday British TV is going through a nostalgic patch at the moment. Robot Wars embodied the 1990s in a number of ways – from the awkward, nerdy humour to the over-the-top, exaggerated action.
The BBC’s legendary Friday night line-up of The Simpsons, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Robot Wars remains a fond memory for those at the end of their teenage years, and so another series of the show would be a great throwback.
9. It gives us an excuse to watch the Spaced homage again
Perhaps the stand-out episode of Pegg and Frost’s brilliant sit-com Spaced revolved around their characters Tim Bisley and Mike Watt building and entering a robot into the wars, culminating in an underground battle parodying David Fincher’s Fight Club.
Complete with Jessica Stevenson acting out a hilariously sexual role play with host Phillipa Forrester and several other brilliant references to the show, the episode is well worth revisiting before BBC Two air the re-launch later this year.
10. New technology should make for more exciting battles
The BBC press release promised that “new technological advances” would make for an “even more exciting and immersive experience”, and naturally the minds of Robot Wars fans ran a mile-a-minute.
Could there be robots sporting laser beams? Drones? iPads?
Someone probably has to draw a line for health and safety reasons but we’m sure there are hordes of nerdy engineers dying to implement new ideas to try and win the championships.