Welcome back robo-lovers! After last week’s episode, ably covered by my colleague David Forrest, here I am with my first review of this new Robot Wars series. Turgid celebrity specials aside, the Robot Wars relaunch of 2016 was a feel-good success, marred only by a lack of Craig Charles, round-robin format lessening the potential for utter destruction, and the sneaking suspicion that Razer’s team intentionally drove it into the pit in the first heat to avoid getting so much as a scratch on its pristine exterior, in the same way that Nobuhiko Takada spent most of the late 90s pretending to be on the can whenever Rickson Gracie’s people phoned. Your hosts for Series 9, as before, are Dara O’Briain and Angela Scanlon. The former is dressed in a style I would dub “country shooting outing casual”, and the latter is donning a navy ensemble I swear I’ve seen on Erick Rowan. In a different size, obviously.
Cobra vs. Eruption vs. Hobgoblin vs. Behemoth
Cobra is a newcomer announced as being “from Belgium”, just as any foreign wrestlers back in the day were billed as “from Mexico”, “from Japan” or similar. These foreigners are too primitive to build towns. Eruption is a flipperbot which looked good last series but ultimately flattered to deceive. Hobgoblin’s 19-year-old captain says he doesn’t want to come up against a wedge shape or a flipper. I’M AFRAID I’VE GOT SOME BAD NEWS.
Making a welcome return are Robot Wars veterans Behemoth, my go-to avatar on the PS2 game Robot Wars: Arenas of Destruction, which was pretty fun when it wasn’t glitching out by doing things like making your robot’s chassis break two seconds into a bout or booking a World Championship semi-final of Chaos 2 vs Chaos 2. Their captain, Ant, is looking more like Timothy Spall with each year that passes, which of course means he is also looking increasingly like Toby Jones. Another team member is called Kane. I hope he works in insurance like the other one. In fact, knowing the sort of people who end up on this show, he most likely does.
Jonathan Pierce announces this fight’s resident house robot as “the robotic commander-in-chief”. But enough about Theresa May.
Four-way Robot Wars matches last series all too often failed to offer the chaos promised by introducing extra competitors, as cagey tactics prevailed with precious places in the round robin at stake. This was not one of these, as Eruption and Behemoth provided excitement galore by flipping the other robots, each other and themselves all over the shop. Particularly delightful was a nice combo spot in which Eruption flipped Hobgoblin and was then flipped in turn by Behemoth, a conjunction that Sarah Parkin of this parish dubbed “the Robot Wars equivalent of the Tower of Doom”. Cobra whizzed around at high speed but spent much of the match running upside down, which it was able to do but unfortunately rendered its grabbing beak next to useless, while Hobgoblin just ran up against the side wall and died halfway through. Eruption and Behemoth put the coup de grace (an incredibly silly phrase) on their shared triumph with a simultaneous flip on the hapless Belgian entrant, which was sadly more Karl Kennedy than Karl Gotch in combat.
“There’s a lot of redundancy on the drive system” says a Behemoth member in the post-match promo, explaining why the robot was able to survive losing a chain. Succeeding not only in spite of but because of one’s own incompetence is something the English excel at. ***3/4
Draven vs. Push to Exit vs. Cherub vs. PP3D
Draven’s team are wearing black hoods and worshipping it like a god, rather than what it actually is, which is a shitter version of Razer. I am reliably informed that Draven was the name of mateyboy from The Crow and that the team were doing the pose from said film. I can only assume Draven will spend the first seven-eighths of this contest lurking in the rafters of the Robot Wars Arena. Push to Exit is captained by the arsehole from Dantomkia (now sans coffee cup) and is from Mablethorpe, which may be the worst place in the world. Miles upon miles of amusement arcades, carveries and donkey rides, AND it’s in fucking Lincolnshire. PP3D’s team apparently had “an innovative way of paying for the upgrade”. Sadly it’s only crowdfunding rather than some sort of Midnight Cowboy scenario. The camera reveals that the names of every backer are written on the spinning disc, and somewhere in Camden Jim Smallman feels a shiver run down his spine.
Cherub’s team are a young man and three siblings, who are literally children. Some of the nippers were on Team Gabriel last season with their dad, who is possibly the nicest man in the world (he cost himself a place in the heat final by refusing to inflict further punishment on a stricken robot and therefore forfeiting the decisive extra point to be gained by winning via knockout). It can do a “handstand” by using little lifting arms to make its back half rear up. You better have a higher kayfabe power level than Kofi Kingston, kids.
This fight can’t live up to the opener, but has its moments, in particular Push to Exit’s excellent turn of speed before, well, exiting, and Draven’s glowing red eyes (Mr. Flibble’s very cross) being extinguished by one almighty blow of Shunt’s axe. “Did we win? That was quick!” exults one of the children, while PP3D also goes through, having managed not to annihilate itself with its absurdly overpowered and impractically positioned spinning disc. We’ll see if this remains the case. (It doesn’t.)
The Draven team graciously applaud the children. Remember this. **1/2, mostly for Draven’s glorious death
Behemoth vs. Eruption
First-year engineering student Michael, Eruption’s captain, delivers the line, “turns out a robot is a lot easier to use than a washing machine”, in the exact tone of one who worked their patter out six months in advance. He says he’s just started uni but will teach everyone a lesson. Listen mate, freshers just attend the classes. The people actually doing the teaching will be time-poor PhD students working for fuck all money and consoling themselves with the fact that it’ll be good to have on their CV during the next seven years of academic-gig-economy limbo between getting their doctorate and actually finding a full-time lecturing post. (I may be speaking from experience here.) Ant from Behemoth cuts a “move over new stars” promo. “Behemoth. It’s big, it’s bad, it’s back.” Dave Mastiff would approve.
This is a good ‘un – short but sweet, like a Katsuyori Shibata G1 match. Behemoth ends up in the corner early on, at an angle where the team can’t see it from the roboteers’ box. One member leans on the Perspex to try and get a better look and thankfully manages not to force the panel out of its frame and plunge to his death. He gets his robot into his line of sight just in time to see an all-time great Robot Wars finish. Eruption lands an incredible one-two punch, flipping Behemoth and then storming in and launching it out of the arena before it can self-right. At the judges’ table, Professor Noel Sharkey jizzes himself. So do I. ***1/2
Cherub vs. PP3D
Cherub apparently “isn’t designed to defend against big spinners”. Just like England’s test match batting order, am I right? Right? Ah fuck off, it’s been a long day.
Cherub’s barely-secondary-school-age captain Sarah cuts a promo ON HER OWN DAD for being “a wimp” last year by showing mercy and for not letting her play with power tools in the shed. Brutal. PP3D’s captain offers a much drier interview which is mostly about engineering specs. You’ll never get over in the Carolinas with mic skills like that.
A new feature of this series is that the button on the side wall, instead of being guaranteed to open the pit when pressed, now has a 50% chance of letting a house robot loose from its Corner Patrol Zone. Commentator Jonathan Pearce calls it the “Dial of Doom”. I wonder where he got that from.
On this occasion Dead Metal gets set amongst the metal pigeons and ends up omnomnomming on Cherub, precipitating an amazing exchange between the kids:
“Try to get out!”
“Yeah, I can’t.”
Some enormous bumps here courtesy of PP3D’s spinner, which is bizarrely located on the bottom of the robot. It seems pot luck as to whether a blow from the weapon ends up damaging the opponent or PP3D itself. As if to illustrate this point, the match ends with an extraordinary sequence of events. The spinner throws Cherub into the arena wall with such force that a panel is blown off. The bout is paused while things get repaired, but as the fight restarts it’s clear Cherub is immobilised. However, replays show that PP3D simultaneously managed to immobilise ITSELF with the force of the impact, and the judges award Cherub the win by decision. Which seems a little dubious considering its lack of destructive power, but those kids are very adorable. ***3/4
Eruption vs. Cherub
Cherub opens with its trademark “handstand”, which appears at first glance like Anderson Silva-style showboating, until you realise that it’s only doing that because the wheels are still not working. Eruption moves in for the kill and gets its second win by ring out. All right then. *
Behemoth vs. PP3D
As well as its traditional scoop, Behemoth’s brought a couple of alternative attachments along, and in this bout goes with a radical change – A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT TYPE OF SCOOP. This one’s another ridiculous and chaotic sprint. PP3D lands an enormous blow on Behemoth but then it lands at a wonky angle, the disc starts scraping against the floor again and again, at which point the contraption starts emitting copious sparks. Guys, maybe put the insanely overpowered blade ON TOP of the robot? To add insult to injury, Behemoth hits the Dial of Doom and sics Shunt on them. That’s all she wrote. ***1/4
We then get a brief interlude where the eminent Professor Sharkey talks about delivery robots and reveals that the Swiss postal service has them, which does not surprise me in the slightest. The benefits of living in a country where the cost of living is so high that a Big Mac costs £8.70. (This is not a typo.)
PP3D vs. Eruption
PP3D destroyed Eruption last series so this is the resumption of an old rivalry. I love long-term booking. This is Eruption’s most impressive performance to date. The angled wedge shape absorbs all but one of PP3D’s big hits, it stays close enough and makes itself enough of a nuisance to stop the spinner getting sufficient momentum to do any real damage, waits until the disc stops working and then wangs its opponent out of the arena AGAIN. Utter domination. Glorious domination, you might say.
Fare thee well, PP3D. You were far too powerful for your own good, but made things so entertaining. You’ll be quite the competitor once you start driving the right way up. ***
Cherub vs. Behemoth
This is for the second place in the heat final. Behemoth’s team have made a majority decision to bring out their third attachment, an experimental grabber. Team captain Ant is unsure, but he’s outvoted.
This looks a total mismatch on paper. Behemoth is huge and has been fighting for longer than these kids have been alive. Also Cherub has little discernible weaponry. But the lad driving it is VERY good. Let’s see what happens.
Cherub does well in the initial going to push Behemoth into Dead Metal but then Behemoth somehow manages to shove them UNDER the arena flipper. The match gets restarted because there’s presumably nothing in the rules to legislate for such an occurrence, and we then get a great deal of tense, deliberate action and expert manoeuvring from both drivers. Dead Metal brings the chaos upon being released by the side wall button, and manages to thwart Behemoth’s attempts to get away from its grasp through the time-honoured tactic of being very large. We get another amazing ending, with all three robots snarled up in the CPZ with fifteen seconds to go, Dead Metal sawing into Behemoth and Cherub basically cowering in the corner using its opponent as a human (well, not quite) shield. The judges award the fight to Cherub on account of all the saw marks in Behemoth, Ant storms off in a huff AFTER LOSING TO CHILDREN and cuts a Backstage Fallout promo on the grabber, and it’s Eruption vs. Cherub in the heat final! I’m going **** for this. It might seem a bit high a rating for a relatively unflashy fight, but I’m the sort of sick fucker who enjoys one-hour Dory Funk Jr. matches.
Eruption vs. Cherub
Sometimes in combat sports you get an enchanting underdog story where the outside shot nobody thought could win will beat the odds and triumph over the seemingly far superior opponent. This isn’t that. The two robots drive towards each other, Eruption drives under Cherub and flips it out of the arena. It takes a matter of seconds. Shades of Wheely Big Cheese vs. Axe-Awe from the original Robot Wars run, or Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus at Wrestlemania 28 if you need a wrestling-related comparison because you accidentally clicked on this trying to find my Misawa reviews. **1/2 for memorableness. It’s revealed after the match that the kids wrote “don’t flip me” in marker pen on Cherub’s underside, but Michael from Eruption is a stone cold killer. He’s built a really impressive competitor.
Well, what an episode. It had everything – big flips, sparks flying, heel turns, cute yet psychotic kids kicking ass, and a deserving winner. I got very lucky receiving the privilege to review this, and the only criticism I’d make would be the weirdly quiet crowd. David will be back next week, but in the meantime:
Smackdown used to have canned applause
They could do with the same, on Robot Wars.