Article first published as Robot Wars: A Smashing Good Time on Blogcritics.
To the shock of my elementary and middle school friends, I grew up in a house without cable TV. As a result, I’ve watched my fair share of public broadcasting. And I must say, as a connoisseur of PBS programming, there’s a particular TV show that ranked very highly on my list of favorite programs and still holds a special place in my heart: Robot Wars.
For those unfamiliar with the utter delight that is Robot Wars, it is a British television show that aired from 1998 to 2004. The show sported a number of English television stars as its hosts, including Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear, Craig Charles of the sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, and Philippa Forrester of the science and technology program Tomorrow’s World. Although it’s been years since I’ve watched a full episode of Robot Wars, I can clearly and fondly remember the glee and unbridled enthusiasm with which Charles would commentate on the chaos and destruction of the robots’ arena.
The show’s premise is simple enough. Roboteers amateur and experienced alike constructed robots within certain weight, size, and weapon specifications. These robots, armed to the teeth by their inventors, are subjected to a series of hazardous challenges to prove their might. While the focus of the show was an elimination-style one-on-one tournament that decided a victor, robots were often put through other challenges, such as obstacle courses and games of soccer (sorry, “football”), that tested maneuverability and other skills.
Particularly exciting to me as a child were the menacing house robots, mechanical behemoths unfettered by weight and weapons restrictions. These titans prowled the arena, out to make life miserable for any robot that strayed into their grasp.
One can see why this show would have endless appeal to a child, but it’s also worth noting that the show’s subject is a recurring and enduring one in our collective psyches. Pitting ‘bots against each other in a battle to the finish is not a new concept; it’s a tried-and-true theme. In the classically nostalgic camp, we have Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and as a slick, modern CGI example, we have the 2011 film Real Steel, proving that robots beating each other up is still immensely profitable and entertaining.
So, after years of robots duking it out, why aren’t we tired of it? For one thing, pitting two robots against each other in an arena invokes the rush I imagine ancient Roman spectators experienced when cheering on gladiators. The exposition of unabashed, unchecked carnage appeals to the baser tendencies in man, the part of him that instinctively relishes combat and glory. Thankfully, today, instead of delighting in the splatter of human gore, we cheer as hunks of smoking metal fly by.
In the end, I think we all crave a little mayhem to break up the tedium of our oh-so-orderly lives. That being said, what better way to indulge in that craving than to look gleefully on as whirring little wrecking machines bash, chop, and fry each other to smithereens? So, if you ever come home weary from a day’s work and think, “Man, you know what today could’ve used? Some fighting robots,” know that Robot Wars is there for you.
For a small taste of Robot Wars, here’s a match featuring one of the best robots to grace the show: the ever-destructive Hypno-Disc.