Six episodes feels far too short for a series of Robot Wars. Presumably the BBC was being cautious when bringing it back after so long, and if there is a second series – which seems likely – it will be longer. But the choice to have only five heats did not provide a neat, even number of finalists, necessitating the need for a wildcard. Out of Behemoth, Thor, Dantomkia, Storm 2 and Gabriel, the judges chose Thor to have a second chance, which I personally agreed with – of the five, Thor was the most entertaining and impressive in its heat. The final would follow the same format as the heats, except that the opening melees would have three robots instead of two: Pulsar, Thor and TR2 in the first melee, and Apollo, Carbide and Shockwave in the second.
Thor and TR2 began the first melee tentatively at first, taking time to bring their weapons to bear – but meanwhile, the reliability issues that Pulsar battled in its heat cropped up again, and it lost drive on one side. A flip or two from TR2, and some whacks from Thor and Shunt, finally killed Pulsar off for good. For the second melee, the big question in my mind seemed to be, ‘Can Apollo or Shockwave survive Carbide for longer?’ When the fight began, all three robots leapt straight into action, but they were given little time to deal out punishment; Carbide was slammed against the arena wall, and its spinning bar ripped off a panel! The fight was stopped so the arena could be fixed, but Shockwave had already sustained a crippling blow from Carbide, and its team saw little point in continuing with such damage.
And so Apollo, Carbide, Thor and TR2 went through to the second round, and I was re-thinking my prediction that TR2 would come out on top. It seemed quite possible to me that whoever was unlucky enough to fight Carbide first in the round robin would be in no shape to get through the next two fights. As it turned out, the robot in question was Thor, which did indeed suffer at the hands of Carbide – panelling and innards were ripped away until Thor finally came to a stop. The next fight, between Apollo and TR2, was a clash of very similar designs – but Apollo appeared to be lower and got in far more flips on TR2, as well as a threatening little pop at Dead Metal. As often happens when two decent flippers meet each other, it was an entertaining battle, which ended when TR2 was flipped one too many times and couldn’t right itself.
Compared with Thor, Apollo received merciful treatment from Carbide, being knocked out almost instantly when Carbide’s opening blow caused a lead to fall out. Thor itself had just about been put back together for its fight with TR2, but with the limited time available for repairs, this still wasn’t the same Thor as in the heats. Under constant pressure from TR2, and some blows from Matilda, Thor looked increasingly weary; it had little life left by the time Matilda’s tusks finally flicked it over the arena barrier.
When the fight between Carbide and TR2 commenced, it looked like TR2 would go the same way as Thor and Apollo, with Carbide’s spinning weapon actually throwing it through the air. However, the tables abruptly turned when Carbide’s weapon stopped, and the most feared robot in the final suddenly looked very unsure of itself. TR2 capitalised, shoving and flipping Carbide around the arena, but unable to score a knockout. Winning the fight on a judges’ decision meant that TR2 would only go through to the final battle if Apollo were beaten by Thor – which, given the unfortunate state of Thor, looked unlikely. Sure enough, “Zombie Thor” didn’t last long against Apollo, flipped on its back as chunks of its armour sadly fell off. With six points each, Apollo and Carbide would now fight each other to determine who would be the new Robot Wars grand champion.
Happily, the battle was much longer than Carbide’s defeat of Apollo in the round robin, and indeed, proved to be one of the best fights in the series. Carbide started strongly, only for the blade to stop again. Carbide was now at the mercy of Apollo’s flipper, which tossed Carbide almost as high as Wheely Big Cheese had managed years before. But then Apollo started having trouble with its flipper, which seemed to be wedged open; it took some time for the flipper to return to its resting position, permitting only a few more flips. Now both looking the worse for wear, the two robots brought their brute strength to bear as best they could, until time finally ran out. Given how dominant it had been before the flipper was partly disabled, Apollo was judged to be the winner, and the new champion!
So, how was this revival of Robot Wars overall? Personally, I enjoyed it as much as ever. The presenters weren’t quite as engaging as Craig Charles and Philippa Forrester; and as proven in this final, the round robin format could mean a disadvantage for the robot which happens to draw a particularly destructive competitor in its first fight. But most of the best elements – the House Robots, the arena hazards, and Jonathan Pearce’s commentary – remained intact, and the competitors themselves were advanced enough to put on a great show. Bring on the next series!