This new series of Robot Wars has seen a good number of familiar faces returning to the arena, but none of them have had an easy time of it – indeed, of the four grand finalists to qualify before this final heat, none are veterans of previous Wars. When previous semi-finalist Thermidor 2 came along to fight Chompalot, Ironside 3 and Pulsar, it too had difficulties. The flipper that had once tossed robots out of the arena effortlessly now made a few ineffectual flaps, before Thermidor 2 lost drive altogether. Ironside 3, with its spinning bar, was the most impressive robot in the melee, immobilising the compact Pulsar and ripping pieces off the flimsy-looking Chompalot: since the latter remained mobile, however, it also qualified for the next round.
In the second melee, Beast showed off a decent flipper, delivering Crazy Coupe 88 into Dead Metal’s saw – but the real star was Gabriel, a huge, two-wheeled robot which ran crazily around the arena, smashing its bladed weapon against the floor every time it stopped. The much smaller Infernal Contraption, meanwhile, demonstrated insufficient control and ended up driving itself into the pit.
Gabriel might not have been the most controlled robot, nor was its weaponry the most offensive; but the clear advantage it had was a design that made it very difficult to immobilise via any method, short of being flipped out of the arena. As its first one-on-one battle with Chompalot commenced, it looked as though Chompalot might be able to get a grip on Gabriel’s middle with its jaws, but Gabriel soon escaped that situation. While Gabriel bounced across the floor, Chompalot was thrown by the arena flipper and landed on its back; as if that wasn’t bad enough, smoke started pouring out of its exposed underbelly, followed by flames. With their robot so badly damaged, the Chompalot team withdrew from the competition altogether; out of the melee losers, the judges chose to reinstate Pulsar, while Gabriel still took the points for the knockout.
When Beast and Ironside 3 clashed, both robots drove aggressively but didn’t seem to do much to each other when they made contact – that is, until Ironside 3 struck Beast’s exposed wheels and shredded them for a knockout blow. Next, Ironside 3 met Gabriel, whose wheels were an even bigger target: the rubber rims were shredded, but that was far from enough to knock Gabriel out, though it did win Ironside 3 the judges’ decision. The reinstated Pulsar, in its first one-on-one fight, brought its spinning drum to bear against Beast and killed it extremely quickly.
Beast continued to have reliability issues against Gabriel, barely moving and providing an easy target for Gabriel to hammer. Yet Gabriel displayed a merciful side rather out of place on Robot Wars, backing off and letting the clock run down. Despite this, the judges ruled that Beast had been immobile for more than ten seconds during the fight, so gave Gabriel a win by knockout. The final battle, between Ironside 3 and Pulsar, proved controversial. Early on, Pulsar used its drum to toss Ironside 3 onto its back; under pressure from Pulsar, Ironside 3 struggled to selfright, until it was helped over by Sir Killalot. At that point, Pulsar appeared to lose drive, and Ironside 3 shoved it into the pit – falling in itself at the same time! Once again, however, the judges ruled that a cease should have been called as Ironside 3 had been on its back for more than ten seconds. Thus, despite being so dominant for most of the heat, Ironside 3 would not be in the heat final.
During and after the resulting battle between Gabriel and Pulsar, I tried to think of a suitable metaphor for what transpired, but Dara O’Briain provided the best one: “an angry ferret fighting a giraffe”. The tiny Pulsar zipped around the massive Gabriel, taking bites of its rubber, with Gabriel’s relative lack of control preventing it from landing many hits. However, on three separate occasions, Pulsar stopped dead and appeared to have broken down, before suddenly springing to life again. When time ran out, my heart said that it had been a close fight – I really wanted Gabriel to progress, it was such an entertaining robot – but my head said that Pulsar would win the decision on damage and control, which proved to be the case. Pulsar had won the heat, though rather like Portugal’s victory in Euro 2016, not as convincingly as it could have.
We now have an almost complete lineup for the grand final: Carbide, Shockwave, TR2, Apollo, Pulsar, and an as-yet-unidentified wildcard (out of Behemoth, Thor, Dantomkia, Storm 2 and Gabriel). It’s hard to place bets when we don’t yet know who the wildcard will be, but of the five known finalists, my money’s on TR2 – it looks the most resilient and reliable, in addition to its highly effective flipper.