BattleBots just recently had a successful sixth season, but the event wouldn’t be around today had it not been for Robot Wars and I should give credit where credit is due. Much like our friends at BattleBots, the crew behind Robot Wars is officially back in business as well with a new event announced for 2016 on BBC.
Join me, if you will, on a journey back in time in the world of robot combat; let us rediscover the roots of this amazing motorsport. We’re going back in time nineteen years — to 1997 — to observe, enjoy, and blast the everliving shit out of Robot Wars: The First Wars… hosted by Jeremy Clarkson because I guess the producers really wanted to hire someone who looked like a cross between the guitarist from Wang Chung and a rectangle.
Let’s do this. (Major shout-outs to BBCRobotwarsUK who has meticulously cataloged and uploaded all of the videos for this season!)
THAT is how you do a fucking opening for a show. Holy shit. BattleBots used to do this thing where their opening credits would show clips from various fights, which was neat and all, but often times it gave away the results of fights before you even saw them, like the time Minion decided to drive itself up the goddamned wall in the second season. Robot Wars’ opening satisfies the level of badassery needed to proclaim this show as “the most radical shit ever” or however it is they would spell that in the UK. “The most raoudical shit eveour.” Whatever. Anyways, there’s a chainsaw, a regular saw, a pneumatic spike, a wrecking ball, tank tracks. Everything. And then Jeremy Clarkson shows up, introduced as “the Commander in Chief”. When did he get elected President of the United States? Did I miss something here? Did the opening credits to Robot Wars just rewrite history?
Clarkson starts playing up how badass this new kind of “war” is, but all I can focus on are the futuristic Christmas trees behind him. That and the fact that I thought my monitor’s resolution was all messed up until I realized it wasn’t and that Jeremy Clarkson’s face is just naturally shaped that way. To get
us Britain psyched about “the robot wars” the editors cut to some footage of The Master versus Thor from the 1996 US Robot Wars championship, wherein the phallic The Master completely ruins Thor’s shit and takes a bath in its hydraulic fluid. Phillipa Forrester reports in from the pits and proves once and for all that yes, you can hire a woman presenter who is both attractive and knows how a fucking engine works. BattleBots, take notice of this. Phillipa passes up a robot called “Blob” that literally just looks like a pile of garbage, then cuts to builders arbitrarily bashing on their machines with hammers and grinders while another guy fucks a CO2 cannister. This is going to be a great event.
Clarkson shows back up on the screen and tries to spin this story about how the robots will fight “the obstacle course” and “each other” and then “pure evil”, which is a handoff to some of the most legendary and awesome robots of all time… the Robot Wars “House Robots”.
If you’ve never seen Robot Wars before, the “House Robots” are basically bastardized referees of sorts that hang out in the corners of the arena (dubbed the “Corner Patrol Zones”) and just wait for the drivers of the robots to be stupid enough to cruise over to them wherein the House Robots utterly decimate them and erase the competitor from history. They also leave their zones when a robot is knocked out, that way they can exact their pound of flesh from the fallen fighter and throw them in the arena pit or whatever. Basically, if you die in Robot Wars you die for real. Here is the first ever lineup of Robot Wars UK referees:
SHUNT: This motherfucker is what would’ve happened if The Iron Giant didn’t puss out at the end of that movie and commit suicide. It’s what would’ve happened if Hexxus from Ferngully won. It’s what would’ve happened if the entirety of Transformers wasn’t just a bunch of shitty autistic robots that turned into appliances and pickup trucks.
MATILDA: This ain’t Tumblr, but Matilda is a she. Get your pronouns right or this dinosaur will sound you with her fucking horns. Matilda is a total cunt and you would be too if you were some horrific abominable cross between a triceratops and a stegosaurus that’s perpetually shitting out a chainsaw. Matilda don’t give a fuck.
SERGEANT BASH: A military robot that thinks the Geneva Convention is more of a suggestion than international law and treaty. Bash wields a giant Bowie knife, a gasoline-powered cutoff saw, and a goddamned flamethrower. Yes, it is probably a horrible idea to utilize both a gasoline-powered weapon and something meant to light fires at the same time, but does it look like Bash gives a shit? If R. Lee Ermey turned into a robot, he’d be Sergeant fucking Bash.
DEAD METAL: I bet you thought metal was just a substance and wasn’t capable of life or death. If so, you’re about as retarded as those assholes that make it on Jeopardy and score negative points. Dead Metal is something straight out of Hellraiser, it’ll grab hold of you and slowly but surely lower its cutting wheel down straight through your skull.
Also that hilarious voice you hear is commentator Jonathan Pearce. Get used to it, because he will never, ever go away. You will never in your life hear a man so goddamned excitable as Jonathan.
HEAT A COMPETITORS
Clarkson returns to introduce the robots competing in Heat A. For some reason he’s fucking with his fingernails while he does so. I guess this was the best take they had.
ROAD BLOCK: The first competitor we see in this show is a robot that is literally built from stolen street signs and came straight out of a community college. The bar has been set so inconceivably low that the next robot could be a pile of fucking cinder blocks and it would still look better than Road Block in comparison. Seriously, the robot even says “200 yds” on the front of it; it wrote its own “200 yard stare” joke.
KILLERTRON: Okay, even by 1998 standards this name is fucking stupid. It sounds like a Nic Cage movie. Speaking of 1998 standards, the robot is neon pink. Because fashion. Killertron’s weapon is an axe that can swing 180 degrees which hilariously enough is exactly the maneuver people do when seeing this thing.
BARRY: I am convinced this is Shunt’s retarded cousin.
SHOGUN: Jonathan says this robot has a “complex chassis”. I guess he’s never seen a wheelbarrow before. As Shogun cruises out for its debut shot it manages to hit every seam in the floor, then drive too close to the camera. I guess we know which drivers are going to make the biggest asses of themselves once we see them.
NEMESIS: Are you fucking kidding me.
GRUNT: This robot is 140 centimeters long. In American that translates to nearly five feet. If you were to lay down on the ground this robot would be as long as you are. Proportionally, this is like if you brought a goddamned school bus to a demolition derby. Grunt has to make a sixteen point turn just to spin around in a field.
Phillipa has apparently been standing underneath Clarkson this entire time, because she wastes no time at all storming through the rules of the Gauntlet. She leads with a strong first obstacle by pointing out that if your robot turns right it can conquer the challenge of waiting in line at the bank. Or, if it goes left it can get fucked by Sergeant Bash. Alternatively, if you’re in an exceptionally “X-Games” mood you can take your robot off that sweet ramp in the center and get some sick air.
She continues forward by introducing the corkscrews, a “hidden” hazard in the Gauntlet. Yes, they are so well hidden in that giant raised part of the floor with the lights on it. Dead Metal is also apparently hanging with Bash over on the far side, there’s some spikes, a wrecking ball, Matilda is getting her nails done, and there’s also what appears to be hub caps and suspension springs nailed to the floor of the obstacle course. With the exception of the House Robots this “Gauntlet” thing is looking more or less like a meandering through a Home Depot than an obstacle course.
ROAD BLOCK is the first robot to brave the… “obstacle”… course. Rather than get its bank statements, Road Block cruises past Bash who doesn’t seem to pay any attention to the competitor. Matilda and Dead Metal are also there, and choose to do nothing. Is this really a thing that is happening? Like, really? Road Block plows through what looks like a bunch of Coleman camping lanterns and that’s it. That’s the end. It beat the obstacle course. It turned left and won. Jesus dick.
Clarkson gets in on that sweet post-match commentary and asks the drivers if they were ever going to get off the starting platform. I know this is a catchphrase from my BattleBots articles, but god damn. This is who they hired to do the commentary. He asks the guy with the second remote what his responsibilities were. They then cut to a clip of Road Block’s saw blade spinning, and the driver retorts with a sick burn equal in sarcasm and apathy to the question Clarkson just asked him. This is the most passive aggressive exchange of dialog I’ve ever seen, and I used to work in IT.
BARRY is up next in the Gauntlet and starts the match by flooring it forward, missing the center ramp completely and getting stuck on what looks like a brick. This is the shit I’m talking about, this is what I came here to see. Jonathan starts rhyming “Barry” with “hurry”, which normally doesn’t work in most cases but it does if you pronounce “hurry” like an asshole. Bash pokes at Barry, and Matilda comes in and shoves her ass in Barry’s face. Unable to handle the prehistoric twerking, Barry fucking dies right there at the starting platform while Jonathan rhymes every fucking single word ever. It made it 2.9 meters. That’s the length of two Grunts, a robot which is now officially a unit of measurement on this blog.
SHOGUN takes the stage and we get to see its drivers, who happen to be a bunch of old white dudes and not a couple of chubby college students like I was expecting. The builders apparently used to work for Rolls Royce, the luxury car manufacturer, so they seem to know more about flash than function. That’s why their robot has a pneumatic spike mounted sideways, because they know fuck all about engineering. Shogun clears the center ramp while swerving around like the person driving it is also sending a text message, then in what I’m declaring the first PSA on texting while driving, falls off the second ramp and knocks itself out.
“Humiliation reigns supreme,” says Shogun’s driver. Dude, did you just see Barry’s run? Yeah, your robot ate shit but at least it cleared the goddamned starting line. Shogun made it just over 7 Grunts before fucking everything up.
NEMESIS follows in the Gauntlet and we find out that its drivers are dressed in the same gaudy fur as the robot itself. Ladies and gentlemen, our first Robot Wars gimmick. I didn’t know they sold toilet seat cover fabric by the yard, you learn something new every day. Nemesis careens over both ramps before the wrecking ball bashes it right in the side of the head. Since there’s nothing in there, Nemesis doesn’t notice it and keeps driving. Nemesis joins Road Block as the second competitor from this heat to finish the course. Jonathan describes the robot as a “grinning red armchair”. This man gets it.
GRUNT enters the Gauntlet and we find out its driver is a “radio controlled car enthusiast”, which is an alternate spelling of “virgin”. We also find out that despite the fact that Grunt is as long as Jeremy Clarkson’s face it’s surprisingly fast and effortlessly weaves through all of the House Robots to finish the course.
KILLERTRON is the last robot to enter the arena and immediately we are informed by Jonathan that they’ve already beaten Barry. Jonathan also insults the robot’s paint job and is now my favorite person on this show. Much like Shogun, Killertron also botches the second ramp and drives off the side, taking on the corkscrews until finally getting
jammed up stuck in the springs.
Phillipa has a heart to heart with the Barry team in the pits to let them know that their robot is the worst piece of shit ever and that their high school field trip is over before lunch time. Barry’s driver shows the camera the covering to the robot’s speed controller which somehow got blown the fuck up. For fuck’s sake, your robot hit a brick. If that’s the kind of damage that a fender bender causes to your robot then it’s a good thing you didn’t make it to the combat rounds; someone literally would’ve died.
Clarkson arrives to introduce us to the Sumo event and manages to thoroughly insult a staple of Japanese culture in just 18 words. The remaining five competitors are set to square off against Shunt to see who can survive the longest, and it’s a good thing Barry is out of the contest because I get the feeling that the robot would suck so hard that it would bend dimensions to somehow achieve a negative time. Since Sumo wrestling is the easiest shit to explain, Clarkson just looks around at the two robots and then straight up says “bye” to the camera. The amount of fucks this man does not give is legitimately astounding.
SHOGUN starts the event off by driving forward and immediately getting its side stuck on Shunt’s plow. You know, now would be a great time to use those ridiculous side spikes that the drivers went through the trouble of making interchangeable tips for. Instead, Shogun does nothing and presumably spins its tires to stay on the platform before falling off. While writing this section I started looking up crash test information on Rolls Royce cars but couldn’t find anything to make a snark about, but I did see that the cars average less than 14 miles per gallon which is worse than the truck I drive. Holy shit, that’s some great engineering. I can see why this robot looks and drives like a fucking dumpster.
Also, for no reason at all whatsoever Shogun’s drivers show that they installed a fucking prosthetic tongue on their robot to “blow Shunt a kiss”. What a great robot feature, and unlike your precious fucking spikes the fake tongue works. Priorities.
KILLERTRON is up next against Shunt and immediately starts swinging its pick axe around. It doesn’t do much of anything, and my best guess is that they’re trying to hook it into Shunt’s chassis, but at least their weapon does this thing called “work”. Shunt also starts swinging its axe and the two robots start to do-si-do in the middle of the arena. Ugh, they’re going to fuck, aren’t they? If Shogun’s builders put a tongue on their robot then I know one of these fucks has a secret pneumatic dildo somewhere.
Against all odds, and against Jonathan screaming “SUUUUUMOOOOO” into his microphone, Killertron manages to pull a George Zimmerman and stand its ground for the full minute.
ROAD BLOCK enters the ring to face Shunt and I can hear the distinct whirring of what sounds like a hair dryer. I know it’s probably the saw blade on Road Block, but that doesn’t make any sense at all because the blade isn’t attached. What’s making the noise? Is it Clarkson? Is he preening that mess on top of his head? Before I can figure out what’s going on, Road Block has literally thrown Shunt out of the arena. Clarkson shows up and says “the rules say you’ve won” which is honestly how I wish every sporting event would end. Somehow, despite knocking Shunt out, Road Block finishes second to Killertron. What do the rules say about that, Jeremy? Because I think that’s bullshit.
NEMESIS is next, and does nothing of substance except win because Shunt arbitrarily rolls off the side of the arena. Jonathan tries to cover it up by saying “but I thought Shunt was unbeatable!” Yeah buddy, well that’s twice in a row they fucked up. Here’s a thought, don’t let the Barry team drive your House Robots. Clarkson takes the piss out of everything by literally saying he hates the Nemesis team for “killing [his] mate” and then walks away, implying that his only friend is a robot that looks like a truck. Jonathan takes note of this.
GRUNT is the fifth and final robot to sumo and before Jonathan can even finish his recap sentence Grunt has already juked around Shunt and driven off the sumo platform. This guy is supposed to be a remote controlled car enthusiast. RIP IN PEPSI, Grunt. You will always live on in our hearts as well as a sarcastic measurement of distance for robots that suck. Clarkson calls Grunt’s driver a “blithering idiot”. I love this man even though he is doing my own work for me every time he shows up on screen.
NEMESIS vs. ROAD BLOCK
Weapon: Pneumatic spike
Bodmin Community College
Weapon: Wedge & rear-mounted saw
Road Block immediately makes a bee line for Nemesis, and about a year later finally makes contact with Jonathan’s beloved armchair. The camera cuts to Nemesis’ drivers who are huddled together like a JCPenny’s photo shoot so we’re made aware who’s about to lose, then the action cuts back to the robots wherein Road Block wastes no time skinning Nemesis alive. The damage is entirely superficial, and Jonathan implies that Nemesis’ weapon is going to come into play during this match when thus far the only thing the robot has been able to do is spin around and get its teeth ripped off by a stolen street sign. For reasons unknown, Road Block leaves Nemesis alone and starts trying to mack on Matilda because I guess the temptation of dinosaur bubble butt was too strong.
While Road Block makes matters worse for itself by parking on the arena spikes, Nemesis moseys on over and promptly gets lit on fire by Sergeant Bash which causes Jonathan to have an anxiety attack. Dude, fucking chill out, the fire is like the size of a burger patty. Nemesis loses an eye because Matilda was looking forward to getting some, and somewhere in this mess the fight ends and Clarkson says Nemesis loses. Look, I don’t disagree with you or anything, but on what grounds? Why? Was that a mercy kill from the judges because Nemesis was sucking harder than Paris Hilton or something? Did the fight get cut short because you collectively spent nearly three hours forcing robots to run an obstacle course?
Whatever, good riddance Nemesis.
KILLERTRON vs. SHOGUN
The Trojan Team
Weapon: Overhead swinging axe w/ spikes
(No Team Name)
Weapon: Lifting forks & side-mounted pneumatic spikes
At the start of the fight Shogun immediately flees to the side of the arena and nearly gets itself stuck on the trapezoidal hazards strewn around the perimeter. Jonathan claims to have seen Yoda on Shogun’s team, meaning that he’s thrown the first insult of this fight and I’m off my game. Killertron bumps into its opponent and has about a ten second window to swing its axe but still somehow manages to miss Shogun, who then tries to make hitting it much more easier by going right back to the grates on the arena floor where it gets itself firmly stuck. Killertron lands a single shitty blow on Shogun, but I’ll take what I can get because at least Killertron is doing something.
Bash comes in to try and make things interesting with its saw blade and said blade promptly explodes as soon as it makes contact with Killertron whom I’m fairly certain is only equipped with rigid plastic armor. For fuck’s sake, did the Shogun team also build Sergeant Bash? Suitably embarrassed, the fight is called and Killertron is named the winner. Humiliation reigns supreme.
KILLERTRON vs. ROAD BLOCK
The Trojan Team
Weapon: Overhead swinging axe w/ spikes
Bodmin Community College
Weapon: Wedge & rear-mounted saw
Road Block enters this match wearing some of the skin of Nemesis, whom it just beat in its prior match. That’s pretty fucked up, real talk. Who wears the skin of their fallen opponents? Are you people a bunch of fucking Indians or something? Killertron lands the first hit which looks like it does fuck all to Road Block and the pink axe-wielding maniac is promptly introduced to the arena wall where Sergeant Bash awaits. Bash, who is sporting a new saw blade, sits this one out however since it knows what happened the last time it tried fucking with Killertron. There’s a lesson in domestic violence for you.
Killertron decides to turn this fight into a monster truck show and floors it up and almost over Road Block and manages to get stuck on the side of its “ROAD AHEAD CLOSED” sign. Road Block immediately topples Killertron and Jonathan loses his shit. It’s a good thing he’s nowhere near the drivers because I’m convinced if he were to do a post-fight interview he’d just vomit all over everyone out of excitement. Speaking of post-fight interviews, Clarkson abruptly ends his conversation with the Road Block team and says “thanks for watching we’ll see you next week”.
I guess that’s the end of the episode? Yep, there’s the credits.
Thanks for joining me on this trip back in time to Heat A of the first Robot Wars (the UK ones, at least)! There’s a handful more heats to go through, though I’m finding the difference in show format a bit hard to wrap my head around. There’s nowhere near enough time spent on fights and matches and everything ends up being just a couple of short paragraphs. I’d love to write more, but these fights are literally over in like 30 seconds. Hopefully the difference in style is not as jarring for you as it is for me, because I’m self-conscious now that everything I’m writing is way too short.
Anyway, no matter. That’s a wrap on episode one. Join us next week for Heat B!
[Editor’s Note: Shoutouts to Mark Elam for pointing out that this series was held in 1997 but aired in 1998. I’ve fixed that because I’m a big dumb stupid head.]