Rust In Pieces - The return of Robot Wars

2016 has been a terrible year. Brexit, ISIS, England's Euro performance, The Stone Roses comeback single, sheer unrelenting misery. It's like God has listened to Kid A all the way through for the first time. We have never needed Robot Wars more than now.

  BBC

BBC

Robot Wars is just the latest of nostalgia trips back to the 90's, a blissful time where we all had more money than sense, a time when we could walk through airport security without a full cavity search, a time when Tony Blair was seen as the bright face of the future. How things have changed. We are a nostalgia driven culture at the moment, with more re-booting going than a military changing room. But this new Robot Wars changes just enough to remain relevant, without destroying the core of what made it so good in the first place.

As a child I was unfeasibly obsessed with Robot Wars. I could name off-by-heart which part of the country most of the competitors came from. I may not be able to remember my own mobile number, but there will always be part of my brain reserved with the knowledge that Chaos 2 was built in Ipswich (I'm not even going to Google to check if that is correct, I am certain it is). I went to see it live 3 times, had the Playstation 2 game and an extensive toy collection. It was because of this obsession I had some trepidation about the remake. My memories of the programme were so vivid, so special. What if this new version just didn't live up to it? Or worse, what if it made me realise it was never that good in the first place, it was just my idiotic infant mind that tricked me? I can't imagine I was alone in thinking this. Robot Wars is the very definition of a cult hit, not many people I knew as a kid watched it, but those who did really watched it.

So was the reboot a success? In short: yes.

 The knowingly shit  Nuts  stole the show in the first episode

The knowingly shit Nuts stole the show in the first episode

The most obvious change to this new version is the presenters. The over-the-top, gladiatorial glee of Craig Charles has been switched to the nerdy intrigue and whit of Dara O'Briain. Both approaches have there own merits, but perhaps O'Briain's One Show documentary-esque enthusiasm to the actual science behind the machines is a better fit for modern audiences. As the bots are more technically impressive nowadays and less likely to instantly breakdown upon entering the battlefield, the hype that Charles instilled in the audience before each fight is maybe not as necessary now. The decadence of his war cries filling up the arena in a hail of smoke and fire feels notably pre-recession in retrospect compared the DIY aesthetic of the modern update. Charles did apparently ask to be part of the new version, and it would have been interesting to see if he had a approached it in the same way. Especially if he didn't have a kilo of cocaine coursing through his veins. Instead, him and the retired Sgt Bash sit at his home drinking vodka and moaning about all TV executives being bastards.

Phillipa Forrester has been replaced by Angela Scanlon who figures more as a co-host rather than confined to the pits like a Victorian slave child as in the previous incarnation. While this is a more progressive approach to the female presenting counter-part, it does somewhat diminish the fantastically awkward pit-banter from the 90's. Much less sexual innuendo as the geeky mechanics try to position themselves in a way in which their erection is concealed behind their robot. The gender balance in general seems to be improved, if still male-dominated. The reboot is at least less openly patronising to the women involved.

Most importantly though, Jonathan Pearce is back. He is his same excitable self with seemingly no filter between what goes on in his head and what comes out of his mouth. He still sounds like a child that has just gorged on a pound of sugar and makes everything seem exciting, even when the robots are just circling each other with neither of their weapons working. The only way this could be improved would to have him co-commentating with Mark Lawrenson, his normal foil when commentating on the football. Lawrenson is the complete opposite of Pearce and is never excited by anything ever. I want them to star in their own cop movie together.

The house robots were a lot quieter, often with only one of them in the arena at a time, and actually bothering to stick to their CPZ unlike in previous series. As previously mentioned, the completely ineffectual Sgt Bash was dropped a long with Growler, Mr Nasty, Cassius Chrome and Refbot, who now spends his time marshalling football hooligans. Despite being completely rebuilt to be stronger, they weren't really given the chance to shine. This is mainly due to the new series seemingly doing away with the sadistic ritual of allowing the house robots to utterly destroy any immobilized robots at the end of every fight. This is probably a good thing as it allows time for an extra two fights due to the new 'mini-group' set-up in the heats. There is also only so many times you can watch Sir Killalot hold a fireproof robot over the flame bit. Still, I did mess the needless cruelty of watching somebodies pride and joy being mercilessly pulled apart piece by piece.

 Scenes from the Labour party in 2016

Scenes from the Labour party in 2016

This new Robot Wars has streamlined the series, going back to basics and removing a lot of the frivolities. Some of the giddy enjoyment is slightly lost in transit, but it was still very silly and very enjoyable watch. With the exception of the overused canned laughter and audience cheering which are like sound effects ripped directly from the original run, this new version never solely panders to nostalgia. Hopefully this update will find the dedicated audience it did over a decade ago. Let the wars begin...