The Robots of Taren Capel

“Taren Capel…Taren Capel…where have I heard that name before?”

Potentially, nothing should strike fear into the heart of a young viewer than Doctor Who realising he should know something extremely important but can’t quite put his finger on it. Of course with the suspects for murder on this industrial Orient Express either the Doctor and Leela or some robot servants that are programmed not to kill it shouldn’t take the Doctor to remember who Taren Capel is…

Chris Boucher based his villains in this futuristic setting on Isaac Asimov’s description of the 3 laws of robotics:

The 1940 Laws of Robotics

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Isaac Asimov, Laws of Robotics from I. Robot, 1950

With all this in mind, the social background is clear. Robots do everything men cannot, and probably exist in a way to provide a few other services…

How then, can a society based on robot servitude possibly be expected to believe their servants have revolted? How cold they possibly have revolted?

A prosperous future society has been forged in the Earth Empire, on the backbone of slavery. It has been suggested before that the Robots of Death was Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians “-in space”. While not bearing many cosmetic similarities, the theme is obviously similar – the oppressor slowly being wiped out by the enslaved.

However, there is another classic novel to which Robots of Death alludes: The Jungle Book. Taren Capel is Mowgli, brought up by savages, but where Mowgli takes his chance with man, Capel has been raised to hate man. He is as much a robot as his adopted family. He is the monster Mowgli could have become…

Let’s look at it another way though. Taren Capel is obviously possessed of a fiendishly intelligent mind. He has perfected a way which allows the robots to break their programming and usurp their human masters. As a result, as the only intuitive mind in the robot group he decides the time and place to reveal his intentions is on a sand miner. To recap, he believes he is a robot. As we see he uses makeup and hair gel plus some video effects to control his “Brothers”. He is extremely clever – he has devised a method of reprogramming the robots using a Laserson Probe, a highly specialised piece of equipment. He plans to usurp man’s place as the superior race in the Galaxy by means of his indestructible robot army. Yet he reveals his plan on a sand miner…

Poole has been sent by a government agency to unmask Taren Capel, as has D84. D84 cannot speak, although no one has told him of this. Poole has robo-phobia and is obviously the ideal candidate for the job of tracking Taren Capel; in the highly prosperous future, our employers will aid us in facing our fears as well as paying us handsomely. Only the Doctor realises that Dask is Taren Capel. Only the Doctor realises that a robot rebellion on a sand miner is incredibly convenient from man’s point of view, because all that the Doctor has to do is sink the vessel and the revolution is over.

Despite his intelligence, Dask, nee Taren Capel, is indeed a damaged individual. His dark sense of humour – a nice counterpoint to his desire to be a robot – is illustrated by the use of robot “corpse markers”. But despite the main flaw in the plan, he is able to subvert SV7, a robot whom the crew rely on for the control and coordination of everything on the sand miner.

The robots themselves are the perfect execution of the “mechanical man”, possessing strength, intelligence, obedience and attractive – yet featureless – faces. A revolution of robots could happen in our world now, but instead of robots we have desktop PCs and they’re not too adept at wandering around strangling people.

Taren Capel’s name will live on as a genius who executed his plan a couple of days early. Furthermore, he denied to the galaxy the sight of a badly made up, poorly coiffured megalomaniac mincing through Kaldor City with his robot army and 1970s Top of the Pops video effects.

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