The Robots of Death sees Doctor Who at its most opulent, showcasing some of the best design work ever seen in the series. The Sandminer model is impressive in itself in some superb looking model shots, but the interior design of the various rooms and the multilevel control room are staggering. The hallways have some gorgeous striping, and I could spend all day in the crew lounge if it meant being surrounded by all the golden luxury on display.
And then there are the eponymous robots, who make up the vast majority of the crew on Storm Mine 4. It would have been easy (and dull) to have standard clunking robots stomping around the place, speaking in a stilted monotone as they perform the mundane tasks required to keep the sandminer operational, but this story required an entirely different type of automaton, and it got it. The robots here are beautiful and elegant, and speak in calm, hushed tones. The result is an offsetting mix of comfort and creepiness. Any personable robots seen in any Doctor Who story since Robots owes a great deal of debt to those seen here, both new series and old.
The Robots of Death is often termed as a "whodunnit", but it really isn't. Not only does the title give the game away early, but it appears that Chubb is murdered by a robot quite early on, yet only the audience casts suspicions upon the robots. The small group of humans on board certainly aren't suspicious of them. It's not logical or possible for robots to kill, so they immediately blow off the idea, and get back to their fortune hunting. The humans really are despicable characters, as all of them are consumed with greed and infighting, happy to be together so long as they can each make as much money as possible. Their dialogue in the opening scene, written by Chris Boucher, sparkles in the same witty style that would brighten up many a similar scene in Blake's 7 (for which Boucher would be script editor in a few months' time).
Into all this drops The Doctor, after giving possibly the best and least scientific explanation of the dimensions of the TARDIS to Leela. With each new companion, a new way to explain the mysteries of the TARDIS is required, and Boucher's usage of a big box inside a little box is so charming that it's possibly an inspiration to even the most simplistic of Steven Moffat's anti-technobabble in the new series.
A cracking first episode, with some brilliant direction from Michael Briant in his last work on Doctor Who.