Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Edit Wars #4

Terrible visual pun
Over the last three instalments of Edit Wars, we’ve covered a Robot Wars fight that has two different versions, and two others where the producers were trying to cover up something a bit dodgy in the edit. This concluding article contains a veritable gallimaufry of examples that are similar to the latter, but are more minor and I can’t spin a whole article out of, plus the occasional piece of related trivia thrown in for fun.

Note that virtually every battle in the show’s history was edited down to highlights – it wasn’t uncommon for a battle that lasted the whole 5 minutes in reality to be cut to less than 2 minutes – and obviously I won’t list every such example here. There’s plenty more information about a lot of these on the Robot Wars Wiki if you want to go looking.

Series 1: Stock Robots
The very first series of Robot Wars was scheduled to have 36 competitors. Except they only had 33 entrants. To get around this obvious problem, the production team provided three ‘stock robots’. These had been built for the live events in 1995 and 1996 that predated the TV series, and had all been created by members of the show’s production team: Grunt and Eubank the Mouse were both built by technical consultant Derek Foxwell and WYSIWIG was the creation of judge Eric Dickinson. Grunt was driven by Dickinson’s son Matthew, but the drivers of Eubank and WYSIWIG appear to have been legitimate roboteers – they both entered with other, genuine teams in later series.

Back in the first series, the show was split into a mixture of ‘disciplines’ and actual fighting: every show started with the Gauntlet (an assault course), the Trial (different every week, and included Sumo, Football and Skittles), and then the four surviving robots would actually get to fight each other to determine the heat winner. The stock robots were allowed to pass the Gauntlet, but had to be eliminated in the Trial. Whilst it was obviously never made evident to the viewers that these weren’t real competitors, they probably would’ve noticed something was up: Grunt drove immediately off the Sumo platform, and the other two abruptly ‘broke down’ (which was extremely lucky for T.R.A.C.I.E., a robot in the same heat as Eubank that had managed to get stuck on the wall the moment the trial started and would have gone out were it not for him).

As the stock robots were allowed to pass the Gauntlet, three genuine competitors were eliminated ahead of them. At least one of them (Barry, beaten by Grunt) were a bit annoyed about this and aired their grievances online after the show had gone out… and you do have to wonder if it might not have made more sense to say the stock robots weren’t allowed to pass the first round. But then I suppose that throws up its own problems, as it would have given the teams lucky enough to be drawn in the same heat as a stock robot a free pass through round 1.

(Here’s an amusing aside: as well as three of the Series 1 trials featuring stock robots, in two others one of the robots failed to move at all, rendering the entire round irrelevant as all the others effectively qualified by default. The only time in the series where the Trial actually had an impact on who went out was Heat D.)

Series 2: Robot Wars Revealed
This isn’t so much edited, more ridiculously obscure. Robot Wars Revealed was a behind-the-scenes spin-off show broadcast on BBC Choice to accompany each episode of Series 2. However, back in 1998 virtually nobody had access to BBC Choice (these shows would have been aired less than two months after the channel started broadcasting) and consequently pretty much nothing of the show is known to survive.

Update 06/08/17: Thanks to John Hoare for finding that one episode of this show does survive, and you can see it here.

Series 3: Health & Safety Notice
In Series 3 the main competition switched to being entirely combat-based, but some of the more popular Trials were retained as sideshows; each episode contained a ‘special event’, some of which (including Pinball or Football) ran throughout the series, and some occasional one-offs such as Walker or Lightweight battles. However, there were originally meant to be much more of these, but there was an incident in the pits where a robot malfunctioned and put its weapon through somebody’s foot. The resulting Health & Safety investigation caused all of the side events to be shortened and some to be cancelled outright (Sumo and a Tag Team tournament had been planned, and would be successfully remounted the following series).

I know I said I wouldn’t cover every example of fights being edited down, but this example is particularly notable. You’ve probably all seen this. It’s the first ever appearance of Hypno-Disc, and it causes totally unprecedented, shocking damage, summarily and completely destroying its opponent.

What’s less known is that much of the beginning of the battle was cut for broadcast, and to start with Hypno-Disc nearly lost the match; it got stuck in reverse against the wall at one point and was on the verge of being declared immobile, and only when it finally got free did the destruction begin. Interesting how just lopping off a minute can create such a different impression.

Now, this one may be apocryphal, or possibly just misremembered. In this battle Triterobot starts billowing smoke midway through; I seem to recall reading on the Internet around the time of the original broadcast that they had to stop the fight and evacuate the arena, and it restarted once everything had settled. If so, then the broadcast edit cuts out the fight stopping and hence turns two fights into one. More information on this would be appreciated, even if it just turns out I’ve made the whole thing up.

This is the infamous fight where Pussycat’s hardened steel blade shatters on the arena wall and they’re disqualified for breaching the show’s Health & Safety rules. For their first two fights in the show, they’d used a different blade which had been having limited success; they returned to Gloucester during a break in filming and fitted an off-the-shelf saw taken from the team’s workshop.

The broadcast version suggests that the Pussycat team did not declare the change of weapons to anyone, but apparently they did do so to the production crew, although it’s not clear if anyone on the production team considered it might be illegal. During filming, Pussycat were immediately declared the victors and conducted a post-match interview with Craig Charles (which was not broadcast); a few minutes later, the judges intervened and ruled that Pussycat was disqualified. To summarise: the broadcast edit gives the impression that nobody but the team knew about the change of blade, and it was obvious the moment the blade shattered it was a problem, neither of which were entirely true.

This is also the episode where they had to stop recording after an audience member was discovered to be in possession of a transmitter (leading people to believe they were trying to fix the competition) and it turned out they’d brought their own featherweight robot in the hope of showing the judges, which is quite a fun sidenote.

International League Championship/First World Championship
Here’s Razer being presented with the trophy for winning the International League Championship, a special tournament broadcast as a one-off between Series 3 & 4. And here’s Razer being presented with the trophy for winning the First World Championship, a special tournament originally only available on home video that was released a few months before the broadcast of the International League (but filmed around the same time).

Yep, both episodes use the same award presentation. I do not know which was filmed first, but I strongly suspect it was originally meant for the First World Championship and recycled for the International League. (Interesting that Philippa just says ‘first winner’ without identifying what it’s actually for, though…)

There are two other things to note about these episodes. The first is that the International League Championship, as a result of being a one-off broadcast between two series, was incredibly obscure for years; I remember seeing pictures of some of the fights from it and being confused about which episode it was from as I’d never seen it. Fortunately a copy finally turned up on YouTube in 2011.

The other is that the First World Championship later got a TV broadcast, but heavily truncated into the show’s usual 45-minute slot (the home video version was around 20 minutes longer); apparently, the TV version has alternate commentary from Jonathan Pearce, but I’ve never seen it and don’t know exactly what’s different.

Series 4, Heats B & C
This is fairly pointless, but a fun reminder of the perils of recording your show out of order. Series 4 also had several side events such as Pinball and Sumo, which were filmed at the end of the series after all the fighting. As a result of this, Diotoir appears fully assembled and functioning in the Sumo tournament of Heat B, and then one week later it appears in the main tournament with the team desperately trying to get it working in time having only just arrived at the studio. (In Series 3 the robot had been completely dismantled by customs when they came over from Ireland and had to be reassembled in a matter of hours; the following year they took the robot disassembled anyway to save time, thinking they’d be able to put it together when they got to the studio, only to find that the time of their first fight had been moved forward and they needed to be ready in 20 minutes and ended up going into battle with no armour and no weapon.)

By the by: it seems pretty clear that the reason for the Series 3 dismantling was due to The Troubles, and there's an amusing scene where Philippa Forrester is saying "Customs didn't know what to make of it...", obviously hesitant to actually give the real reason ("Customs thought it was a weapon"), only for team member Peter Redmond to say "I think the balaclavas were a bad idea!"

Series 4, Heats F & M
There are two other occasions in the show’s history where the intended broadcast order was swapped; Heats 2 & 4 of Series 2 were flipped, and in Series 7 Heats A & E were swapped around (because the producers thought what was originally going to be Heat A made for a weak opener as one of the robots broke down before it got into the arena). However, those were both made after filming; this change was made beforehand, for an altogether more interesting reason.

Series 4 used a seeding system, with 32 robots (2 in each heat) being seeded based on past performance and innovation. Heat A featured the 1st seed and the 17th seed, Heat B the 3rd seed and the 19th seed, and so on until Heat H featured the 15th seed and the 31st seed (or it should have done… more on that in a moment). Then Heat I featured the 16th seed and the 32nd seed, Heat J the 14th seed and the 30th seed, and so on and so forth. I’m sure you get the idea.

Under this seeding system, Gemini (seeded 8) should have been in Heat M, and Wild Thing (seeded 11) should have been in Heat F, but things were the other way round (with the other seed in each heat also being affected) – meaning the winner of each heat ended up in a different semi-final to the one they otherwise would have done. Although it’s never been confirmed, it was widely believed that this was done so Gemini would end up in the same semi-final as Chaos 2 (the two teams had both fought in crucial battles in Series 2 & 3 and producers were keen to continue the rivalry). Unfortunately this was rendered moot when Gemini lost its heat final.

Incidentally, there are a few other anomalies with the Series 4 seeds. Heat H should have had the 31st seed, but instead it had the 32nd seed, and Heat I was vice-versa.

The first two battles of this episode were filmed about a month before the rest; they were done at the same time as the MTV Robot Wars pilot, and the remaining battles were part of Series 4. You can notice because the arena looks markedly different in the first two battles (the pit looks more like it did in Series 3 than Series 4, and the director seems to avoid showing that end of the arena until it's absolutely necessary to disguise it; the arena flipper also appears to be absent), and additionally Sir Killalot is still in his Series 3 guise (note the different-sized claw). More obviously, the Panic Attack team changes between its round 1 and round 2 fights – in round 1 there's an unidentified teenage girl who never appeared in any other episode, and in round 2 she's replaced by Christian Bridge, who'd won a competition in the official magazine to join the team for Series 4.

As an aside, one of the UK entrants in this show was Detonator, a robot which had only previously appeared in Series 1, and was utterly destroyed by its American opponent. Allegedly the fourth UK entrant was due to be Hypno-Disc, but after the first three American robots all lost in the first round, the switch was made to ensure one of the US entries would make it to the second round.

In reality, this battle was fought three times, but only the third was broadcast.

Take 1: The fight was stopped after only a few seconds as the arena floor was damaged from a previous battle.
Take 2: In this battle Tornado pushes Chaos 2 into Shunt’s CPZ. Chaos driver George Francis can’t see the corner of the arena from where he’s standing, so his robot just sits there whilst Shunt knocks the drive chain out. Unfortunately Tornado’s notoriously unreliable drive chain also chose this moment to fall off, and the judges can’t agree on who was immobilised first so they have to go again.
Take 3: The battle as broadcast, pretty much (ending with Chaos launching Tornado out of the arena).

This battle was broadcast as a Vengeance battle. On the day in which it was filmed, both teams had family members in the audience who’d come to see them fight, but things were getting badly behind and the teams requested that the first round of the All-Stars tournament be changed so they could fight each other. The match went ahead, but afterwards the producers decided they’d like the first round of the All-Stars to be what they originally planned (with Tornado fighting 3 Stegs to Heaven and Stinger fighting Pussycat). So they could still use the Stinger vs Tornado match they rebranded it as a Vengeance match, with much bad acting from the teams about how Stinger had branded Tornado “a boring box” (there were several other Vengeance battles in Extreme that were obviously being done for similarly spurious reasons, but this is the only one that was repurposed from another event). Team Tornado’s build diary is still online (unusual for a website for a robot from the original run) and includes many other fascinating pieces of behind-the-scenes information for the interested.

Incidentally, the Challenge Belt event (also running as part of Extreme) claimed that Behemoth had been awarded the titular belt by the World Association of Robotics, which is an entirely fictional organisation and was just another bit of staging.

Towards the end of this All-Stars battle Razer drove over the floor flipper, which was launched (it was only meant to be used on immobile robots in the original run). Razer managed to land underneath the flipper and got crushed, losing its hydraulics on one side. Gemini attacked it and managed to immobilise the other side. However, as the flipper should not have been used, the judges were told to judge the battle up until the moment it was wrongly fired and gave it to Razer; the controversial moment was edited out for the TV broadcast.

Extreme (not broadcast): Hypno-Disc vs TX-108
This fight was part of the Wild Card Warriors, where new robots got to fight against experienced machines. Hypno-Disc attacked TX-108 and managed to shred some of its armour but, as it was wont to do, broke down about 20 seconds into the battle. This made it the only Wild Card Warrior fight where the Wild Card won, but due to the poor nature of the fight (and probably because they already had a very similar UK vs Germany fight where Hypno-Disc had lost to Nasty Warrior) it was never broadcast at all.

There’s another thing to note about Extreme, which was filmed concurrently with Series 5. One of the competitions was Mayhem – three robots fight, last one standing is declared the winner. The winner of each Mayhem would then progress to one of the two Annihilators – where six robots fight at once until one’s immobilised, then the five survivors fight again, and so on until there’s one ultimate survivor. Bulldog Breed and Atomic both won their respective Mayhems… but then had to pull out due to damage sustained in Series 5 fights filmed between the Mayhem and the Annihilator. As Series 5 had not yet been broadcast when the Annihilator aired, the televised show had to carefully dance around the exact reasons why they had pulled out.

Extreme (not filmed): The People’s Challenge
This was a planned event mentioned in both Robot Wars Magazine and Robot Wars Extreme: The Official Guide, where people would vote online for the match they most wanted to see. Except the event never took place (the plan was for possible People’s Challenges to be discussed on the show, but it’s never referred to). Supposedly the winning match-up was Hypno-Disc vs Razer, but both teams decided that a one-off, non-competition match wasn’t worth the damage and the fight never went ahead; in the end, the two robots would never fight each other.

This battle had to be fought twice, as at the end of the first attempt Chaos 2 flipped SMIDSY against the arena wall, then accidentally flipped itself over and couldn’t right itself, leading the judges to call for a rematch; unlike Chaos 2 vs Tornado above, both the first go and the rerun were broadcast. However, at the end of the aborted fight, SMIDSY managed to get down from the wall and pitted Chaos 2; as SMIDSY had already been immobile for well over the thirty second limit, this was deemed not to count and was cut from the broadcast edit.

Cut Your Own Battle
This is another side note, but quite a fun one. Around 2002/3, four DVDs were released: “The Ultimate Warrior Collection”, with each one focusing on a different robot; Chaos 2, Hypno-Disc, Razer and the House Robots were all covered. Each DVD included a special ‘Cut Your Own Battle’ feature, which used the alternative angle option on DVD remotes to allow you to switch angles during the fight. What’s interesting is that the footage used was the raw, unedited studio footage (without commentary, music or post-production sound), and even includes some behind-the-scenes material!

Here’s a link to each one, alongside the version of the battle that was broadcast for comparison:
Series 4, Heat B – Razer vs Robochicken vs Velocirippa: Raw Footage vs Broadcast
Series 4, Semi-Final 2 – Hypno-Disc vs Splinter: Raw Footage vs Broadcast
Series 4, Grand Final – Chaos 2 vs Pussycat: Raw Footage vs Broadcast
Extreme, Episode 11 – Bigger Brother vs Chaos 2 vs Thermidor 2 vs Wheely Big Cheese: Raw Footage vs Broadcast

During the Tornado team’s interview before this match, they claim they’re going to fix their Anti-Spinner Weapon (the robot was fitted with an infamous interchangeable weapons system). Except the robot has already been seen driving into the arena with a different weapon fitted.

The team were going to fit the Anti-Spinner Weapon, but the Hypno-Disc team made an official objection, and the production team ruled the ASW was banned as it was a “defensive addition” rather than an offensive weapon. A scene in which this was, in the team’s words, “milked for the cameras” was filmed, but for whatever reason wasn’t broadcast, even though the aforementioned reference to the ASW was. Their Anti-Axe Weapon was declared illegal for similar reasons; neither weapon would ever be seen on television and it was never explained how they worked.

Extreme 2, Episodes 14-16 (University Challenge, Commonwealth Carnage & European Championship)
These episodes weren’t so much edited as they were never shown on terrestrial television at all. From Extreme 1 onwards, Robot Wars was premiered on BBC Choice, then received a BBC Two run a few months later. However, whilst Extreme 2 was getting its first BBC Two outing, the show’s move from the BBC to Channel Five was confirmed… and the Beeb immediately dropped all broadcasts of Robot Wars to avoid promoting what was now a rival channel’s show, meaning these episodes would never be broadcast outside of BBC Choice (although they were included in Dave and Challenge’s repeat runs, and like every other episode of the original run they’re now readily available on YouTube).

Incidentally, the Australian competitor in the Commonwealth Carnage was actually a stock robot (the only one after Series 1) being driven by two competition winners (who were at least actually Australian).

John Reid was attempting a rebuild of Terrorhurtz before Series 7… which unfortunately wasn’t completed in time, and in the fairly obviously staged clip linked to above, the robot arrives at the studios in its unfinished state and is promptly disqualified what with it being in pieces and all. Some controversy seems to surround this point; some sources say that the producers were well aware that it wasn’t going to be able to fight quite a while in advance but asked Reid to come along to film the clip anyway, whereas others have it that Reid was still trying to get the robot into a usable condition right up until the very last second.

(Terrorhurtz was seeded 3rd, and another seeded robot had already pulled out shortly before filming, bumping everyone below them in the seedings up one and allowing another robot to be seeded… which may lend more credence to the latter, as they could have found another replacement seed if they’d already known Terrorhurtz would be pulling out. Then again, Series 7 was notable for the absence of many popular and long-standing robots such as Razer, Chaos 2, S3, Wild Thing, Dominator 2 and Hypno-Disc, so maybe they were loathe to lose yet another one even if it wasn’t going to actually fight?)

As previously covered in Edit Wars #3 and visible in the link above, this battle was paused mid-way through after Typhoon smashed the arena wall, and continued once it had been repaired. However, what isn’t established on television is that the two fights actually took place on different days: filming was over once the arena had been repaired, and the second fight wasn’t filmed until the following morning.

Series 7, All-Stars Championship
This was originally meant to be a "Veterans" special for robots that had fought in five or more UK championships. Unfortunately, the producers couldn't find eight of them which met that criteria; X-Terminator, SMIDSY, Thermidor 2, Bulldog Breed and Spawn Again had all taken terminal damage in the main competition and were unable to fight. Additionally, Supernova would also have been eligible, but the team were unable to make the filming, and Ming Dienasty is thought to have been left out due to its poor performance in the main competition. After including several teams which had been around for that many series but were much lower profile than the aforementioned, there was still one vacancy, so they added Dantomkia and renamed it the All-Stars Championship.

...And that, I think, covers just about everything worth covering. If you think there’s something I’ve missed, though, do please get in touch.

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