Before the days of revived Doctor Who, undoubtedly my favourite TV show was Robot Wars. I first encountered it at the beginning of the second series, and never failed to tune in after that, when I could wrestle the remote away from my sister.
Robot Wars was a competition that ran for seven official and two “Extreme” side-competition series between 1998 and 2004. It was originally presented by Jeremy Clarkson in the first series, before Red Dwarf actor Craig Charles took over for all subsequent series. Jonathan Pearce provided commentary, while Philippa Forrester served as the pit reporter in most series – Julia Reed had the job in Series 4 and Extreme 1, and Jayne Middlemiss in Series 7.
Competitors would build remote-controlled robots who would go into an arena, and try to kill each other. There were a variety of ways they could do this: battering their opponent into submission with axes, spinning weapons or just good old shoving, or flipping them on their backs. If time ran out with one robot having failed to immobilise the other, a panel of judges would determine the winner. Of course, the quality of the robots evolved over time, particularly from Extreme 1 onwards, when the weight limit was increased from 80kg to 100kg. For example, to combat flippers, increasing numbers of robots either installed srimechs (self-righting mechanisms) or were designed to function inverted.
The robots didn’t just have to worry about each other; they could also fall victim to the House Robots. Specially built for the show, these were larger than standard competitors and possessed more damaging weaponry – they could attack any robot that entered their zones in the arena, as well as play with any robot that was already immobilised. For most of the series, the House Robots consisted of Dead Metal, Matilda, Sergeant Bash, Shunt, and the biggest, Sir Killalot – they were joined by Mr Psycho and Growler in Series 6, and the rather inconsequential Cassius Chrome in Series 7. Many competitors would try to prove their worth by toppling the mighty House Robots, and some even succeeded.
In those days, a great deal of my time on the Internet was devoted to Robot Wars. I was very active on the central forum – in fact, it formed the theme for much of my writing back then. In what was considered Robot Wars fanfiction, forum members would create their own robots and tournaments, and write the battles. I found this great fun; it could be that this is the reason I still enjoy writing action scenes the most in my stories.
So I’ve decided to look back at my top twenty favourite battles and other highlights from Robot Wars, to demonstrate just what made this show so much fun. Here we go! (Links to videos in the headers.)
As the series that started it all, Series 1 deserves an entry on this list, in spite of how relatively primitive the robots were back then. After six heats, the series champion was decided simply by having the six heat winners – Roadblock, Recyclopse, Robot the Bruce, Cunning Plan, Bodyhammer and TRACIE – fight each other in the arena all at once; Robot Wars wouldn’t see another such melee until the Annihilator specials that were filmed alongside Series 4. The ultimate winner was the slow but powerful Roadblock, who would also finish third in Series 2.
Sometimes Robot Wars fights were long and epic contests as two or more combatants fought valiantly, back and forth. And sometimes…not. Dantomkia vs Gravity holds the record for the shortest Robot Wars battle ever, lasting just six seconds, as the Dutch robot Gravity showed off the sheer power of its flipper and tossed Dantomkia over the barrier.
Flipping a robot out of the arena (abbreviated to OOTA among the fans) was a novelty at first, but by Series 7, it had become so common that it was starting to get rather stale. In fact, you didn’t even need a flipper to do it anymore – as Storm 2 proved by ejecting The Steel Avenger from the premises simply by the power of its push.
These two teams had a long rivalry. Their first robots, King Buxton and Robo Doc, met in Series 2, with King Buxton ending up the victor. In Series 3, they met again; Robo Doc had now been replaced by 101 (named after the number of pennies it cost to build, due to largely being made of recycled parts), who this time defeated King Buxton.
After temporarily joining forces to win Robot Wars’s first Tag Team competition, the teams wanted a decider. It ended with King B Powerworks going out of control and hilariously throwing itself around the arena; afterwards, its builders officially acknowledged 101 as the superior robot.
Mid-way through the history of Robot Wars, a Big Three had been established; three robots that were tough, experienced, and considered the ones to beat: Chaos 2, Razer, and Hypno-Disc.
Chaos 2 combined speed and manouverability with a very powerful CO2-powered flipper, which carried it to a convincing championship victory in Series 3. In Series 4, Chaos 2 then became the only Robot Wars champion to successfully defend its title. By Series 5, the old warrior was showing its age, but it was still tough enough to take on Wild Thing in a highly frenetic battle. Even with this victory, though, there would be no second title defence for Chaos 2: it was fatally flipped itself by Bigger Brother in its next fight, and left without enough gas in the tank to right itself.
Robot Wars saw a lot of peculiar designs, and in this fight, both combatants were good examples of this: Mousetrap, armed with a giant mousetrap with a blade attached, and S3, a cylindrical two-wheeled robot with a large vertical flywheel at the front. The two robots met in a hard tussle, but ultimately, S3’s more damaging weapon won the day.
Before dispatching Dantomkia in record time in the Series 7 semifinals, Gravity had already shown how strong its flipper was while winning its heat. Once it had thrown Lightning around enough to immobilise it, it turned its attention to House Robots Dead Metal and Shunt, overturning them almost as easily as if they had been normal competitors, and getting through to the semifinals in style.
Razer was one of the most stylish competitors in Robot Wars, and definitely one of the most feared. Its weapon was a hydraulically-powered claw, which delivered nine tons of pressure at the tip and could penetrate almost any armour, going for the victim’s innards with deadly precision. A pair of wings on the sides of the claw both allowed it to self-right when overturned, and perform a cool victory pose at the end of a fight.
Unfortunately, in its first three series, Razer was plagued by mechanical failures that prevented it from getting as far as it deserved to, though it did win plenty of side competitions in the meantime. In Series 5, however, Razer had gotten past all its gremlins, and could finally live up to its potential. But in their second battle, the Razer team found themselves facing some very intimidating opponents: their own wives/girlfriends, who had built a robot of their own called Widow’s Revenge. The pre and post-fight banter was predictably hilarious, though the ladies’ determination wasn’t enough to help them defeat Razer.
In Series 6, the first round of each heat saw robots facing each other in two four-way melees, with two robots qualifying from each. Naturally, having four robots taking each other on together made for some great action, and this melee was a particularly good example. Robots flew all over the place, with everyone getting flipped at least once, and it was a fairly even contest between the robots who survived to the end, making for a difficult judges’ decision.
In the first battle of the Series 3 Grand Final, Chaos 2 and Firestorm faced each other for a place in the last, championship-deciding fight. With its highly impressive flipper, Chaos 2 had torn its way through the previous rounds – but none of its last five opponents had the ability to right themselves once flipped, whereas Firestorm had already proved that it could with its own flipper. So how was Chaos 2 going to deal with this? By making history and becoming the first robot to toss its opponent out of the arena, that’s how!
Ironically, Chaos 2’s last fight in the main Wars – in Series 6 – would see it being flipped out of the arena itself, by Dantomkia.