TV's 10 Greatest Robots
Dorian from Almost Human is only the latest in a storied tradition of television robots and androids who have come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We've got 10 important ones for you...
Robots, along with starships and rayguns, are among the most iconic motifs in science fiction. Dorian on FOX’s Almost Human is only the latest robot to join the illustrious annals of clanking, beeping automatons that have graced the airwaves over the years. From cutesy, lovable automatons to inhuman murder machines there have been countless robots that have captured fans imagination for decades. Here are ten of the most notable.
Created by Ted Lawson to help handicapped children, V.I.C.I. moved into the Lawson household to learn human behavior and hilarity ensued. Running from 1985-1989, Small Wonder was a staple of late 80s television as V.I.C.I. learned the nuances of being human, and every once in a while (when the budget allowed) V.I.C.I. would display some robotic abilities like telescoping her neck, shrinking, or growing, She lived in a cabinet and spoke in a monotone voice and I could never decide if the whole thing was cuddly and wholesome or insanely creepy. The neighbors, the Bindles, were always snooping about threatening to learn V.I.C.I’s secret. Some network is missing out on a goldmine by not doing a hardcore post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller where V.I.C.I. gains totally autonomy and goes all Skynet on everyone’s ass, especially the Bindles. Those stupid, stupid, Bindles.
Arguably cable television’s greatest achievement, the robots of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 guided fans through the worst movies ever made. The wisecracking, pop culture savvy Crow and Servo helped Joel Hodgson and then Mike Nelson survive the likes of Manos, the Hands of Fate, Mitchell, Secret Agent, Super Dragon, and other examples of the worst atrocities in cinema history while Gypsy flew the Satellite of Love and Cambot was, um, a camera. From their pleasing designs to their refined sense of timing, fans have spent hours enjoying the comedic stylings of these robotic film critics. There are many television robots, killers, heroes, thinkers, hunters, and even lovers, but there are only two robots that held our hands during the celluloid bowel movement that was Manos, and for that, you brave little ‘bots, we thank you.
One of the creepiest designed robots of the Disco Era, the Fembots returned to plague both Steve Austin and Jamie Summers numerous times during their reigns as television’s greatest cyborgs. The Fembots were programmed by a former OSI scientist to look and feel human, they possessed great strength and cunning and almost seamlessly infiltrated every level of OSI. The only way to detect them was by the slight hum of their servos that only Jamie Summers could hear with her bionic hearing or the fact that they weighed about one thousand pounds. Despite their little weight issue, the Fembots’ greatest asset was that they were hawt! Except for when they would rip their faces off...faceless automatons are rarely sexy. The Fembots appeared in the 1977 Six Million Dollar Man three parter “Kill Oscar!” and returned to take on the Bionic Woman in the fabulously titled “Fembots in Las Vegas.” Their soulless void like faces are still haunting to modern viewers, and there are even male versions of Fembots. Talk about gender issues! Of course, the Fembots were also spoofed in Austin Powers, which adds to their creepily sexy legacy.
Yes, AWESOM-0 was just Cartman in disguise to fuck with Butters, but the robot displayed such amazing technical acumen, it just has to make the list. AWESOM-0 was able to pleasure a man while coming up with a mathematical list of 2000 ideas for Adam Sandler movies, let’s see you do that C-3P0 (actually, let’s not, wouldn’t want to give Abrams any ideas). If it weren’t for AWESOM-0’s biological revelation that he was human (he farted), he could have gone down as one of entertainment’s greatest ‘bots. He still remains the only robot (not from Battlestar Galactica) that gained fame by pleasuring a man digitally.
Y’know why Doctor Who is awesome? Other than the obvious 80 thousand million billion reasons, it is because he has, not one, but two races of awesome robotic despots constantly trying to kill him, and he always defeats them...with a screwdriver. The Cybermen first appeared in 1966 in the first Doctor, William Hartnell’s, final episode, and since then, they have been almost as connected and iconic to the Whoverse as the TARDIS itself. Their cold and inhuman look and their horde-like mentality make them one of science fiction’s greatest adversaries. They epitomize the malevolent robotic other, the idea of artificial intelligence gone horribly wrong. Their propensity to attack in unstoppable hordes make the Cybermen a precursor to the same motifs and images used in zombie fiction, and as Doctor Who continually proves, the Cybermen are as scary today as they were fifty years ago. Their appearance and back story may have changed but their cold inhumanity remains the common thread that makes the Cybermen unforgettable examples of technology gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Buffy Summers is arguably the most badass female in recent genre fiction. Now, imagine a robot with all her fighting skills, cunning, and beauty...and now imagine it was built to be Spike’s sex toy. You will probably crawl up in the fetal position from the utter ickiness of that last part, but forgetting all that, it's a vampire slaying robot! The first Buffybot was created by the vile scientist Warren Mears at the behest of Spike who was obsessed with Buffy. This led to some misunderstanding and the shenanigans with the Scoobys who saw Buffybot grinding gears with Spike. The second Buffybot was used by the Scoobys to pose as the real Buffy when the Slayer came down with a slight case of death. For such a silly concept, Buffybot had some key and oddly heartbreaking scenes in the show, making her a key player in the Buffyverse.
One of early television’s most beloved machines, B-9 was a kindly and capable ‘bot that served all functions for the Space Family Robinson and was the primary foil to bad seed, Dr. Smith. This Cantankerous Cold-hearted Clump, as Dr. Smith called him, was well armed with futuristic weaponry and intellect far behind that of any human, but B-9 also had a heart of gold, so while the Cybermen were making sci-fi fans unplug their toasters out of fear, B-9 taught the world to feel a human warmth with our transistored friends. The robots full moniker was B-9, Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot and he was often shown singing, dancing, and making Dr. Smith’s life miserable...making B-9 half of the first human/robot comedy duo. B-9 was capable of complex human functions like laughter, sadness, mockery, and he could also play the guitar. Even Ultron can’t play the guitar.
The original Star Trek played around with robots and A.I. a few times, but nothing like the use Star Trek: The Next Generation got out of Lt. Commander Data. Data instantly gave the show a different feel than the original series with such an advanced artificial being on the bridge. He was the character that the audience related to the most, a wide eyed innocent of immense power and intellect that must find his humanity. He was childlike in his perceptions but godlike in his capability, a dichotomy that also helped set Next Generation apart from its famed predecessor. Data’s origins and his struggle with his evil twin, Lore, is the stuff of Trek legend as were his attempts to understand human concepts like fatherhood, friendship, and fun. He made a killer Holodeck Sherlock Holmes and was a staunch friend and a cat lover. His loyalty to his captain, his friendship with Geordi and Worf, and his rich backstory make Data one of the richest and fullest characters in the Trek pantheon, one J.J. Abrams and company should not forget. And ladies, he is fully functional and anatomically correct, of course.
From the original series' “At Your Command” drones, to the race that redefined a genre, the Cylons are the most complex and fascinating robots ever seen on television, well, probably ever. Taking their cue from the original series, the new Cylons originally appeared as cold, metal machines that reeked of danger and hatred towards humanity, but when they returned fifty years after the Cylon War, they had taken on a human appearance. The idea that anyone may harbor a cold enemy machine fueled by religious doctrine inside played off post 9/11 paranoia. As fans got to meet more Cylons, they learned the human machines, or skin jobs, were as broken and complex as any of the human characters. It’s safe to say that Battlestar Galactica changed sci-fi for a new century by featuring machines that were barely recognizable as machines. More human than human, the Cylons brought a new air of sensuality and danger to the robot archetype.
Two awesome robot species? Doctor Who officially rules. From their inception in 1963, the Daleks became a staple of British culture; millions of Brits share the memory of hiding behind the couch when the Daleks came on the television threatening to “Exterminate!” Readers of SFX Magazine chose the Daleks the greatest monsters in fiction, beating out all the beasts from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Universal Monsters. The latest iteration of Doctor Who has prominently featured the Daleks, adding to the rich mythology of the rolling murder machines. Not bad for low budget refrigerators with toilet plungers. The Daleks enduring legacy stem from their unfamiliar geometric biology, having no facial features, no familiar anatomy, and no point of reference to soften the simple design of the cosmic killers. Their croaking voice and their blood lust make them the perfect antithesis to the Doctor. They are hate filled robo Hitlers stuffed into mini-Sherman tanks. They have a design that somehow, against all odds, worked so well they almost became as enduring as the Doctor himself. There are many awesome robots on this list, good, evil, silly, and cool, but there is only one group of machines that changed a culture.