Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends (except between 2004 and 2016). It’s time for another series of Robot Wars, and as always myself and my Puro Pourri Podcast colleague David Forrest are going to be here with the recaps, right here on imaintainthedoublefootstompissilly.com!
We open with Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt over a fetching pastoral scene of robots rolling over verdant fields. A nice PPV intro, but needed more Freddie Blassie to be truly special. Sadly he’s biting angels in Heaven now. Instead of Blassie we get the normal voiceover guy, who has transformed into him out of Cradle of Filth so gradually I didn’t even notice.
First order of business is to introduce the teams. Actually that’s the second order of business, the first is to look back at the time Ant from the Behemoth team stormed off after his teammates argued passionately in favour of piloting an experimental (and shit) weapon in a crucial match. Unfortunately the team he lost to were all children and it looked really bad. So bad that it went viral online. A shame that this is what a longtime Robot Wars veteran will be known for, but it is also very, very funny.
The main takeaway from the beauty parade of bots is that there is one called Donald Thump, captained by a medical student dressed as the citrus-headed charlatan that was voted President by a majority of racist morons (you may direct all hate mail to the darkest part of my asshole), wearing a “Make Robot Wars Great Again” baseball cap and assisted by his dad dressed as a security guard. He even does the voice and mannerisms! What the relaunch of Robot Wars has been missing for the most part is wacky gimmick teams along the lines of Diotoir, Sir Chromalot and Plunderbird, so it’s good to see this absolute lunacy.
Sabretooth are back, and their captain Gabriel appears to be doing a Million Dollar Man–esque rich dickhead persona. It’s self-aware enough that he doesn’t come across as a massive tit. Just about.
The format has been altered for this series – instead of two fatal four-ways and then a four-team round robin culminating in a final, we have two triple threats where the winners receive a bye to the heat semi-finals and the other four robots will be placed into quarter-final bouts. I like this change as it means you get to see each competitor twice and therefore to know them a little better. Whether this will be a good thing in all cases remains to be seen.
First Round: Behemoth vs. Sabretooth vs. Donald Thump
Another new addition this series is that when robots hit the button on the arena side wall (which Jonathan Pearce calls the Dial of Doom in an act of flagrant disrespect to El Jefe), one of the possibilities is that smoke gets blown into the arena for ten seconds, making it impossible to see anything. This is a terrible idea that can only lead to things going wrong and I applaud it wholeheartedly.
There isn’t much to our first three-way. Donald Thump ends up immobilised pretty quickly. Aptly (or ironically, depending on your view), it’s a poor spinner. Sabretooth and Behemoth clatter into each other and both end up immobilised. Behemoth is declared the winner because it managed to cling to life slightly longer. Sabretooth had reliability issues with its spinning drum, which you may remember from literally every fight it’s ever had. **3/4
After the fight, James from Team Donald is challenged about not having gone into battle with a toupee on his robot and he says it was to prevent hair getting caught in the spinning blade, which is fair enough. He then throws some in-character shade at Dara’s baldness. I have to say, he’s committing to the part. In fact; making fun of people’s physical imperfections? Generally sucking at things? How do we know this guy isn’t actually Trump? Considering the paltry amount of time the bastard spends actually governing, is it so outlandish to suggest he might add to his golf time with a bit of robot combat?
Apparently Sabretooth cost eight grand! It sounds a lot, seeing as Chaos 2 cost £250 and it’s one of the greatest of all time, but maybe it isn’t so much nowadays. Maybe Robot Wars costs have gone the same way as football transfer fees and I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud to think that paying £45m for Gylfi Sigurdsson is anything other than evidence historians of whatever alien civilisation replaces us will use to explain how our society came to crumble to dust.
First Round: Apollo vs. Apocalypse vs. The Swarm
Former champions Apollo are back, shorn of a couple of the holiday camp performers-cum-roboteers who lent the team its charmingly laddish sheen. Instead team captain Dave has drafted in his professional robot builder brother. We’re through the looking glass now, people. Apollo’s gone all Lance Storm.
Apocalypse is a very by-the-numbers axebot built by a man called Ed whose boss said he could build it at work if he could be on the team. My friend Robbie said “an axe is the mark of a moron”, and he may well be right. The Swarm is a unit of five clusterbots I am going to call 17, The Shard, deviANT, combatANT and assailANT in honour of the team’s Chikara namesake. The team captain says they’re inspired by bees – not these guys – and owing to weight limits are only allowed to field four at a time. I believe this is the first use of the Freebird Rule in Robot Wars history.
I’m all in on this match. Just like Mike Awesome vs. Spike Dudley and for similar reasons, Apollo against tiny clusterbots is a guaranteed good time.
Apollo struggles to get much purchase on the insects because they’re so little, but when it does, it’s party time. One Swarmbot ends up flipped right into Killalot’s CPZ, and another one gets taken to Suplex City so hard it hits the plexiglass right at a height almost up to the arena ceiling. In the midst of all of this, the bigger Apocalypse is the one that takes the most damage, perhaps because it presents a bigger target, and ends up getting toasted over the flame pit by the Good Sir. It then catches on fire, which you don’t often get nowadays in the age of most teams (not all!) realising that making a robot from wood is a worse idea than singing “The Sash” down a Sinn Fein rally.
To cap thins off surreally, one of the clusterbots just drives into the pit apropos of nothing. Wonderful. ***3/4
In our regular “public broadcasting educational remit” segment, Sethu Vijayakumar presents a real life Iron Man suit you just know will have real-life fash military applications, and sure enough they say this explicitly moments later. Angela suggests that using such a garment as a jetpack would be “the perfect exit for a new Refbot”. Please don’t conjure up the spectre of Refbot, Angela. The Chris Roberts of Robot Wars.
Quarter Final: Sabretooth vs. Apocalypse
With Behemoth and Apollo through to the heat semis as triple threat winners, it’s time for the repechage. Sabretooth is changing drivers, which is always a good sign. Apocalypse again is underwhelming, and its axe is made to look especially weedy by the presence of Shunt, whose much more powerful version nearly sends Sabretooth through the floor at one point. Sabretooth’s drum stops working as usual, but its pushing power is more than enough as it rams Apocalypse into the wall so hard it breaks. Weapons operator Gabriel’s backseat driving after the drum breaks is hilarious. “HIT ‘IM,” he booms like a posh Vinnie Jones. Apocalypse’s tenure in this competition has been more disappointing than the X-Men film of the same name, but without anything as diverting as James McAvoy’s big shiny head. A fairly average match in which the most arresting thing was the Fog of War being activated and Sabretooth driving onto the flipper in confusion. ***
Gabriel’s post-match promo includes the line, “This time, as well as winning, I want respect and admiration”. The Robot Wars Observer Newsletter award for Best Heel is in the post.
Quarter Final: Donald Thump vs. The Swarm
The failing Donald Thump is being repaired with bits of cheap jeans. Sad! Also technical issues with the weapon mean it must go into this fight as a de facto rambot. “No spin from Donald Thump,” says commentary. GET YOUR OWN FUCKING JOKES, PEARCE.
Ol’ Donald is down to one eye, which is apt as he’s king of a country of the blind. “Dad, get off the pit,” says the adorable moppet who is clearly the master strategist behind The Swarm. In terms of parental embarrassment it’s not quite going out of the house in socks and sandals, but it’s close. The rogue house robot gets released; it’s Sir Killalot, and I have blissful flashbacks to those hilarious Rybackesque handicap squash matches they used to put him in with baking trays on wheels in Robot Wars Extreme, the best booked wrestling show of all time.
Somehow everyone survives unscathed. Moreover, it turns out the Swarm member that’s packing a flywheel is rather useful – it takes out Donald’s other eye with such force that I suspect that on its own it would be a title contender if it was 80kg heavier. Soon enough Thumper is immobilised, but one of the insects gets eaten by Dead Metal. “Keep driving, someone!” shouts the kid. “If two are moving, we win!” The three remaining Swarmers start spinning around slowly to prove they’re operational, and one of the blue ones gently bumps against The Donald in a rather hilarious manner. The Swarm win!
This is one of the best freak show matches I’ve ever seen in the Robot Wars Arena. This is Akebono vs. Bob Sapp. Giant Silva vs. Naoya Ogawa. Manny Yarbrough vs. Daiju Takase. All of which you can hear about in an upcoming episode of the Puro Pourri Podcast! Rather aptly, considering I’ve been talking about a robot version of Donald Trump, that’s what I call a cheap plug. ****1/4
Semi Final: Apollo vs. Sabretooth
Heat semis time! Dave from Apollo says that fans send him “videos…photos…things”. All right dude, I’ve seen Tubgirl too. He then cuts a promo saying Apollo has an unnecessarily large amount of horsepower. If anything he’s hit that too well, Clive.
Gabriel from Sabretooth is jumping around like a madman during their entrance, all while carrying a Roman-style standard which is actually just a Sabretooth t-shirt on a pole. Senatus Populusque Robotus.
Sabretooth does a good job of evading Apollo’s monster flipper, and even weaves in and out of Killalot’s CPZ before the big lad can turn round and fuck it up. It does stray too close to the gap in the arena wall at one point but Apollo can’t quite get an angle on it and Sabretooth survives. Sabretooth then presses the Dial of Doom and is immediately shafted by Dead Metal. The team that activates the rogue house robot seems to come a cropper at its hands with about the same regularity as the wrestler who introduces a table into a match ends up going through it.
Eventually a huge flip fucks the drum (again), and then Sabretooth flies too close to the gap once more and this time gets shit-canned over the wall. The teams have a hug of respect after the fight. Damn indie roboteers. Sell the hate! ***1/2
Semi Final: Behemoth vs. The Swarm
The Swarm come out, child leader in tow, and somehow Ant from Behemoth doesn’t explode with rage. “Scatter!” shouts the tiny Generalissimo as the bout starts, but it doesn’t do them much good as Behemoth eschews using the scoop in favour of just running the little botlets over. The veteran takes a big hit from Flywheel Insect, but the damage is superficial, and the Swarm member that looks like a scarab is smoking. Flywheel Insect takes one of Matilda’s tusks off, and in a rage she flips Behemoth over. It’s like being kept behind after class for a fart someone else did.
A clusterbot tries to nudge the scarab back to life and gets fucked out of the arena by Behemoth. The scarab is alive but it’s also on fire! Dara is loving it, as am I, and the bout ends with another Swarmer getting toasted over the flame pit. This was great. ****
Before Behemoth faces off with Apollo in the heat final, it’s time for a playoff for bronze. In this series, rather than a wild card selected by the producers, the second- and third-placed robots in each heat will go into a TEN-WAY MATCH to decide the sixth entrant in the Grand Final. This is the biggest upgrade to the Robot Wars format since Craig Charles replaced Jeremy Clarkson.
Third Place Playoff: Sabretooth vs. The Swarm
Gabriel seems very excited about the prospect of a ten-way. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you.
This match goes how you’d think it would when you allow that Sabretooth’s drum is at the perfect height to kill tiny clusterbots. The arena itself causes some additional havoc, with the retractable floor spikes shooting out of their moorings and straight up into the air. The flipper claims two victims at once in the form of Sabretooth and one quarter of The Swarm, and then the little yellow scooperbot – named “The Duck” – follows suit. Another Swarmer then uses the arena flipper to self-right The Duck, which was very inventive.
Less clever are Sabretooth’s attempts to harm the insects by rolling the strewn floor spikes towards them like some Katamari Damacy contraption, but it still wins after Dead Metal noms on the last clusterbot standing. The Duck gets lobbed in the pit after the bell for good measure. Del Rio sending a message to the locker room. ***1/2
Final: Behemoth vs. Apollo
They show Ant’s storm-off once more for good measure, and it is on. Joking aside, it really is impressive how competitive Behemoth still is after all these years; the drive may be more advanced and they have a srimech now, but the basic design is fundamentally unaltered from the 90s.
This is the equivalent of one of those fat bastard matches from Big Japan. Big blow after big blow. Lovely. Behemoth escapes an early foray into the CPZ only to cop a huge flip, but scoops Apollo twice, the second knocking it on its side against the Dial of Doom. Apollo self-rights out of Dead Metal’s clutches and sends Behemoth airborne, Behemoth upends it on the grille, Apollo gets Behemoth skyward again, the pit is open and Behemoth sends Apollo skidding in! The veteran has put out the former champion! Utter shock, and Apollo Dave looks gutted. I hope some people slid into his DMs to make him feel better.
This match was like a great PWG spotfest in many ways. You’d get exhausted if every match had that many flips, but a great example of the genre on its own is a joy forever. Marvellous. ****1/2
Well, what a start to the series. In terms of match quality this was up there with the best Robot Wars episodes of all time, and next week’s heat looks even more stacked; it includes Carbide, Eruption and Aftershock, all grand finalists last time. David will be here to cover that, and in the meantime you can listen to more of our thoughts on Robot Wars in our crossover episode we did with the lovely lads at the ACTIVATE! podcast. I leave you with nothing more than these words:
“Baby, light my fire,” sang The Doors;
Yet all we need’s the grille on Robot Wars.