Sunday, 2 April 2017

Edit Wars #3

Well, I’ve not got anything else to write about, so it’s time once again to look at an old episode of Robot Wars. This time it’s the final episodes of the seventh and last series of the original run, which was first broadcast on Channel Five in late 2003 and early 2004, and as with last time, it’s been edited to avoid giving us the whole story… and not just one fight, but several. What follows is an account of probably the most controversial moment in the show’s history… except literally nobody was watching the show at this point (it wasn’t making Channel Five’s top 30 for the week) and so nobody really cared.

Some grounding detail would be useful here. Tornado had controversially won the sixth series the previous year, and a quick look at it in the championship-deciding battle should show you why it was so controversial. The rules over interchangeable weapons were revised before the seventh series as a result, and a new rule was brought in: all robots must now have an active weapon.

Inbetween the sixth and seventh series, a mini-tournament for new and inexperienced teams, New Blood, was held as part of Robot Wars Extreme; the winning team would gain automatic qualification to the Seventh Wars by being seeded. The competition was won by Storm II, which at the time was a ‘full body hammer’; i.e. it didn’t have an active weapon, but relied on brute force. The team were informed of the new rule and duly fitted the robot with an electric lifter before filming of the next series. However, the full body hammer capability was so effective it often didn’t need it, as shown here in its heat final where it manages to launch the other robot out of the arena by pure force and without even firing its weapon!

The original, weaponless Storm
(NB: For all links to Series 7 episodes, I’ve gone for copies taken from Challenge’s repeats as they’re higher-quality, but copies of Five’s original broadcasts can also be easily found on YouTube; apart from image clarity, they’re both identical in all cases.)

From that heat final, it moved on to…

Semi-Final B – first broadcast 29 February 2004
By this point, the Storm team had apparently heard that the show’s producers thought that after their performance so far, the competition could well be won by a ‘boring box’ for the second year running, and they weren’t happy about the prospect. Storm II got through the round of 16 just fine, and then in the qualifier for the grand final they fought Firestorm V. Which they pretty decisively won…

Except, after the battle, there was a long pause (not seen on TV, naturally) before Storm was confirmed as the winner. Apparently the producers were attempting to convince the judges that Storm had at no point used its weapon, and as the rules require an active weapon they shouldn’t win the match. The judges refused to be swayed by Mentorn’s interpretation of the rules and the match was awarded to Storm.

Grand Final – first broadcast 7 March 2004
Mentorn had failed to stop Storm progressing by trying to disqualify them after the fight, so now they would start using what control they had over the fight itself. In the round of 4, Storm 2 fought the incumbent champions, Tornado. Go and watch the battle, then come back here.

See the bit where Storm 2 pushes Tornado onto the pit, but (as the show would have you believe) Tornado manages to drive away before the pit goes down? What supposedly actually happened was that the producers were bringing the pit up to bring Tornado back into the battle. In fact, you don’t even need me to tell you that, there’s nothing ‘supposed’ about it – you can clearly see the pit going back up whilst Tornado is on it. (Presumably the clip of Refbot hitting the pit release button has been dropped in from elsewhere in the battle to try and cover this.) Despite the producer interference prolonging the battle, the judges awarded it to Storm 2… who went on to fight in the most controversial battle of all for the series decider. Once again, it would help to watch the thing first.

As you’ll see, the battle was split in half, being called to a stop after Typhoon managed to break the arena wall. By that point they were having real trouble spinning up – and, unbeknownst to the viewers, whilst the wall was being replaced the Typhoon team were (allegedly) unprecedentedly allowed to repair the robot mid-battle. It would be worth noting that that detail is disputed by the Typhoon team, who claimed they had no access to the robot during the pause, and I don’t see any way to reconcile the two different accounts apart from “one of them is lying”. The Storm team lodged a complaint, but were fobbed off by the production, saying they were only trying to ensure things looked seamless (and also claiming that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to show the wall getting broken and the fight having to stop on TV… despite the fact it was, obviously, left in). They pointed out Typhoon had been having trouble spinning up long before the wall broke, but to no avail. Oh, and during the battle Storm was repeatedly pushing Typhoon into the CPZs but the house robots curiously refused to get involved at all.

Anyway, the fight restarted, and Typhoon 2 were allowed to spin up to the speed they were at before ‘cease’ was called, as they’d also been allowed to do when they did the same thing in their previous bout. Except, even in the TV edit, at the start of the second battle they’re clearly spinning much faster than they were when the first battle was stopped. Mentorn weren’t doing a terribly good job at hiding their subterfuge, it must be said.

There are two crucial moments in the battle left to discuss. The first is when Storm manages to knock two of Typhoon’s drive chains off – after the battle was stopped, a technical assistant shouted to both teams (still on the balcony with Craig Charles) that they’d put them with the robot. However, the judges weren’t made aware of this, were informed that Typhoon had suffered ‘no damage’ and the Typhoon team described it as ‘like new’; there’s no evidence of it in the broadcast edit. The second is right at the end, when Typhoon manages to knock one of Storm’s panels off (how much they contributed to this is questionable as it wasn’t spinning by the end), which by contrast is made a huge song and dance of on the show, with the missing panel being brought up to the balcony so it could be presented to the team in the interview.

The marks for damage swung it with the judges, and Typhoon won the series. When they were announced as the winners, the audience booed the house down, and cheers had to be dubbed on in post-production (although Craig saying that “the audience aren’t happy” was still broadcast despite not making sense in Mentorn’s version of events). When the judges discovered the truth about the damage Typhoon had taken, the Storm team received letters of apology from all three of them – two of which were in writing. But their tribulations weren’t to end there…

The Third World Championship – first broadcast 28 March 2004
Fairly straightforward here. In the grand final, Supernova was wedged against the arena wall by Storm 2 and left there, immobile. However, the Refbot’s electronic counter (used to declare robots officially immobilised) wasn’t working, and meanwhile the house roboteers decided to have a bit of fun by stacking Storm against an angle grinder. The producers then had Supernova freed by the house robots and apparently tried to argue that as Supernova hadn’t been counted out, it was still mobile and should win… but the judges didn’t have any of it (I don’t know if they knew the truth about the final of the main championship yet, but I suspect not).

It’s worth noting that Typhoon was scheduled to take part in the World Championship, but had to pull out. The reason given on the show is very abruptly described as “technical problems”, but other reports suggest that the robot had taken so much damage in the fight against Storm it was unable to continue.

An odd thing about the Channel Five series is that there are a lot of reliable reports about the producers inexplicably trying to meddle with the show to screw people over. The Featherweight championships (for robots weighing no more than 11.4kg) were also being held this series, and the Storm team were also due to participate… but withdrew after some disgruntled house roboteers warned them that they had been told to deliberately destroy the robots (see here for the outcome of that). And during the sideshow ‘All-Stars’ tournament the driver of Dantomkia was asked by the producers to make sure they flipped out Behemoth and King B Powerworks. That was just for fun and not the main tournament (which the producers were already trying to rig anyway), but it’s still a concerning thing to hear. Were they trying to get away with more now that they were no longer on the BBC and on a smaller channel, or something?

Anyway, there’s still one more scintillating article about Robot Wars edits to come, and it’s a bit of a departure from the previous three. Stay tuned…

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