Review: Robot Wars (Series 8)

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80%
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Great

Robot Wars' return is true to the original, but also has new, engaging presenters, in the form of Dara O'Briain and Angela Scanlon.

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With the dust having now settled on the rebooted series of Robot Wars, I think it is safe to say my fears about the new show have finally been put to rest. They didn’t take away the great elements and replace them with ‘trendy’ new fads and gimmicks – and the true-to-faith style of the reboot will hopefully serve as a reference point when we approach other BBC reboots.

The eventual Grand Final of the series stayed true to the overall scheme of the show – a true beat-em-up battle royale between the metal robot titans which had triumphed in each individual episode. Although the series was significantly shorter than some of the older ones, it did seem about right for the return, which was as much anticipated as worried about – presumably due to the BBC having a less than spectacular record when it comes to recent reboots.

Although not every element of the show is the same as before, with a significantly reduced roster of ‘House Robots’, and more cuts to make way for a focus on the team members and the technical robotics, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sir Killalot, Matilda, Dead Metal and Shunt are arguably the most powerful of the House Robots, with a real variety of weapons to challenge contestants. This doesn’t make them invincible, however, as we saw several times across the series; they too are still susceptible to powerful enough weapons, in particular the ‘flippers’.

Of course, with a program like Robot Wars, a lot of the success of the show depends on the ability of the presenters to engage and interact with contestants – something which Dara O’Briain, Angela Scanlon and Jonathan Pearce all do expertly. Pearce’s classic role as commentator is something he revels at – for a man who has spent a good decade watching Premier League football, he has the vocal skills and linguistic ability to make even the most-dull fights more entertaining. I have no doubt Pearce wants to see robots be smashed, crashed and bashed as much as both the TV and studio audience, possibly even more so. He particularly took to the robot ‘Carbide’ (which would eventually win the whole series), a robot on whom Pearce commented that: “This might just be the most formidable robot I’ve ever seen.” Considering the way it decimated the field of all before it, he wasn’t wrong.

O’Briain and Scanlon don’t interact as much with each other as they could, but their interaction with the contestants does make up for it. Scanlon’s almost-acid tongue of sarcasm following bad fights is perhaps the most entertaining thing about the reboot – her taking apart of robot ‘Foxic’ this series was particularly memorable. O’Briain is a breath of fresh air in regards to his interest in robotics and the more technical element of the machines, something which Craig Charles, for all his enthusiasm and energy, did not have. Also, a welcome change is the introduction of brief technical discussions about the robots between fights, with O’Briain and Head Judge Noel Starkey. It is something for the major computer-science geeks watching the show to enjoy, but it isn’t overbearing or dominating, working as a nice interlude between segments.

The show still remains a fantastic family watch on a Sunday evening. The BBC clearly had big plans for this reboot due to the amount of promotion, not to mention the fact they didn’t let executive tampering meddle with the format of the programme. They chose presenters who fit the dynamic of the show and are just generally likeable. Unlike a certain BBC Two show we’ve all found ourselves disappointed with recently.

But importantly, it looks like Robot Wars, with the new custom-built Arena and its classic pitfalls, fire-traps and floor flippers, will be coming back for at least one more series. I for one am very happy with that.

Robot Wars aired on BBC Two. The final episode is available to watch via BBC iPlayer.

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