Let the Wars begin!

It’s ramshackle. It’s raucous. It’s even a bit ridiculous. It’s Robot Wars.

Yes, the mechanical mayhem is back, and this time it’s personal. Probably. Possibly. Maybe? Who cares, it’s Robot Wars! I’m not going to spend my time watching the show debating with myself as to whether there’s any real rivalries or any actual antagonism. I’m going to spend it (hopefully) watching these robots, some of which have taken months and months (along with a few thousand pounds) to build, be mashed and mangled and minced into a thousand tiny metallic pieces.

For the uninitiated, Robot Wars is a show in which teams of one, two or three people (but very rarely more than three) build a robot weighing no more than 110 kilograms – and then battle them to the death. As I said before, the build process can take months, years even, yet the roboteers seem to almost enjoy having their creations torn to shreds. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case; some of these things cost thousands to build, and can be a little difficult to repair.

And yet they do enjoy it, for the most part. Occasionally you get a competitor that isn’t happy about their money going down the toilet after lasting five minutes, but most are – some (I’m particularly thinking of the teams behind Diotoir, Plunderbird and Sir Chromalot here) come back for more, series after series; this applies particularly to Diotoir, as that particular robot is covered in fur. Needless to say, almost without fail, it is set on fire.

I notice, however, that I write this in the present tense; it is still the present for me

Chaos 2
Chaos 2, one of the most successful robots of the original series (Credit: Martin Pettitt)

(thanks to clips online) but in reality that hasn’t been the case for many years. The ‘original’ Robot Wars went off air completely in early 2004, due to falling viewing figures. The competitions continued, but were no longer on TV, and so I no longer saw them.

I was one of the lucky ones as well; I was fortunate enough to be taken to see Robot Wars live. What really struck me was the sheer size of the robots (granted I was reasonably small at the time); they didn’t look that big on TV but up close… from what I remember the house robots (massively heavy robots built by the show’s organisers, tasked with causing some damage and disabling any robot that wouldn’t switch off after a battle) were at least as tall as I was, probably taller. The competitor robots were comparatively small, but not that small – by that point the more powerful flipper robots, for example, could easily lift 300kg. To be clear – that is around five times the recommended healthy bodyweight for a six-foot-tall adult. These were not toys; these were highly effective, hugely powerful killing machines, machines that may very well have been built in a shed by your neighbour Steve, with help from his mate Dave (the friendly electrician who lived round the corner). Such was the beauty of the show.

Or should I say, such is the beauty of the show. Robot Wars made a return late last year – Craig Charles is now Dara Ó Briain, Sgt. Bash has disappeared into the jungle from whence he came, and even Sir Killalot’s had a Mad Max-style makeover – but the essence of the show remains. Jonathan Pearce still commentates; Professor Noel Sharkey still judges; roboteers are still willing to spend a small fortune on machines that will be lucky to make it through the first round. And I’m still watching, disappointed though I was with the first episode.

That’s nothing to do with the episode itself; on the contrary, I was intrigued to see how the

Razer, my favourite robot as a child. Opponents often left the arena with more holes than Swiss cheese (Credit: Alex Healing)

new robots would get on against the old guard – Razer, Terrorhurtz and Behemoth. Razer was my favourite as a child; it’s only weapon may have been a crushing claw, but how powerful it was! Any competitor not quick enough to get away tended to leave the arena with great gouges dug into it. You could almost feel the metal crumpling as the arm came down; you could certainly hear it. The slow speed made it all the more painful for its enemies, or enjoyable for its friends. A great deal of wincing occurred whenever this happened, and to top it all off, Razer had self-righting mechanisms (srimechs, as they are known in the business) in the form of wings that came out when the claw was lifted. This gave the effect of someone holding their arms aloft in a mixture of defiance and power – in short, Razer would chase you down, destroy your innards, and then re-enact the ‘Are you not entertained?’ scene from the movie Gladiator. Brash, brutal, brilliant viewing.

Happily, Razer came back for the reincarnation of the series. To really get the point across, Robot Wars was one of my favourite TV shows as a child, and Razer was my absolute favourite robot. I still remembered it fondly, even after over a decade of not seeing it fight. I was, it’s fair to say, looking forward to its return.

So imagine my disappointment when, having had a grip of one of the other robots for most of the fight (and looking confident), they ended up in the pit in the first round. I had waited over a decade to see Razer fight again, and they’d lasted about two minutes. Fortunately, the rest of the episode cheered me up; Terrorhurtz and Behemoth both made it through the first round, and one of the ‘new’ robots, Carbide, looked extremely promising. Carbide has a spinning blade that turns at a whopping 2300 rpm, just over 2.5 times that of the legendary Hypno-Disc – anybody who’s seen any of Hypno-Disc’s fights will know just how scary this makes Carbide. I shall certainly be following them with great interest; any potential successor to Hypno-Disc is worthy of a watching brief.

That following will start next Sunday, as Robot Wars returns to BBC 2. The champions, Apollo, are back, as are Terrorhurtz and Behemoth. Pulsar, a robot with a vertical spinner rather than a horizontal one, are back, and even the Nuts team (the closest thing to a modern-day Diotoir) have a new robot. Nobody really knows who’ll win (although you’d have to put Apollo and Carbide as obvious candidates) but it sure will be entertaining. They’ve got flippers, they’ve got spinners, they’ve got axes and claws. They’ve got all of that and more, on Robot Wars!

See you again soon!

All credited pictures from Flickr, used under the Creative Commons license found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode