Robot Wars

Robot Wars 6
Robot Wars. Image credit: BBC/Mentorn Media Scotland/Alan Peebles

It has been 12 years since Robot Wars ended, having made an unwise decision to move to Channel 5. Now it is back on BBC Two, with new presents, a new arena, and new look House Robots.

Whereas the original series, first hosted by Jeremy Clarkson before later being presented by its most famous host Craig Charles, was a loud, gladiatorial affair, there has been a shift in tone in 2016. It is out with the custom-made leathers and in with Dara O Briain and his rather regular suit. He and his fellow Irish presenter Angela Scanlon don’t bother with the big showmanship and just get on with the business of presenting. All the tension is saved for the battles and the commentary from stalwart Jonathan Pearce. This series of Robot Wars seems to have shunned the loudness and brashness with an air of quiet menace and a more sinister atmosphere.

The format for this series sees two group battles where four robots fight each other, with two survivors going through to the next round. The surviving robots then enter a league table, where they score 3 points for a KO and 2 points if they win the battle via a judge’s decision, based on the criteria of “damage”, “control” and “aggression” (the old series also judged on “style”, but this has been gotten rid of). Lastly, the two top robots face each other for one last battle for a place in the Grand Final at the end of the series.

Among the positives of this series has been the indication of how far technology has progressed. There have been several robots from the original series that have returned to fight again – but there was a shock in the very first battle when Razer, a former world champion, ended up committing suicide by driving into the arena pit. It was the new teams, such as Carbide with a large spinning weapon, and the eccentric Nutz who go into battle with smaller robots alongside their main bot, who were the most impressive and caught the attention of the people. Another plus side is getting to hear more from the judges, including another member of the team who has returned from the previous series, Prof. Noel Sharkey, who talked about how the machines have moved forward since the series was last on.

On the downside, the main thing that annoyed me was the lack of action from the new, improved House Robots. The main problem was that while there are four “Corner Patrol Zones” which are guarded by them, there was only ever one or two House Robots in the arena at any one time. Thus whenever the battling robots drove into a CPZ, there was always a 50% or greater chance that the zone was empty. While we did get to see the new, improved House Robots do some damage, in particular Matilda and Dead Metal, there wasn’t enough action from them. It would have been much better for all four of them to fight at the same time to make the fights more exciting.

If you are younger viewer, the series will no doubt still be pretty exciting, but for those of us who remember the original, the new Robot Wars still takes a bit of getting used to.

Robot Wars is on Sunday nights at 20.00 on BBC Two.