This post is much later than intended, as I wasn’t able to watch all six episodes at the time and had to wait for reruns. Late enough, in fact, that the unfortunate news of its cancellation has already had its 15 minutes of angry tweets. So consider this a retrospective look at Season 10 rather than a live response. Also, spoiler warnings for the finalists and winner of Season 10.
Going into Season 10, I had been concerned about a few aspects of the show, such as the low profile of female team members, the robot reliability issues, and the focus on professionally-built robots. Rule changes ahead of Season 10 promised to bring in more diverse robots, and to counteract the dominance of spinners. So, how well did Season 10 live up to those promises?
Robots and Weapons
Episode One started well by introducing clusterbot The Swarm, built by Ian Watts of Team Big Brother fame. Clusterbots have often been failed experiments in previous series, mostly due to their weight limits and elimination rules. Clusterbots were either equally-sized pairs, or a near-heavyweight bot accompanied by a distraction minibot. As they were ruled out if either piece was immobilised, minibots were merely a liability, while paired bots were weaker than standard competitors without many corresponding advantages. However, due to advances in materials and weapons, The Swarm was made of five featherweight robots with individual working weapons. The Swarm could use four robots in each fight, and they would remain in if at least two robots (>40% by weight) were moving. This approach meant they could carry out the roles clusterbots were designed for, and generate tactical advantages like distractions and multiple angles of attack.
Due to these material advances, the rule changes, and the team’s cohesion and experience, The Swarm performed well for a clusterbot. Team Big Brother defeated Donald Thump by tactically combining the clusterbot’s weapons, and they used the clusterbots to protect and self-right each other during their narrow defeat by Sabretooth. Unfortunately, the sheer weight and power of Behemoth was too much for the small bots, and Team Big Brother were eliminated.
On the second Tuesday in October, we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day to commemorate the great mathematician and writer who massively influenced computing history. We often use Ada Lovelace Day to highlight the past and present achievements of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). But focusing solely on STEM means we miss the most important parts of Ada’s story.
Firstly, I’ll recap Ada’s background for context, though I’d also recommend reading either of these articles for more information.
Augusta Ada Gordon (Countess of Lovelace, after her marriage) was the daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron and Baroness Anne Milbanke. Lord Byron was well-known for his adventures and affairs, and was famously described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. (Researchers believe that Byron probably experienced bipolar disorder). He left his family when Ada was four months old, then died when she was eight years old.
Season 10 of Robot Wars will hit our screens in the next few months. As a long-term fan, I’m happy that the most memorable show of my childhood is doing well. However, I’m uncertain whether Season 10 will be able to outgrow the problems that Seasons 8 and 9 highlighted.
Interviews with cast members such as Angela Scanlon hinted at the social goals invested under the fun and spectacle. Rebooted Robot Wars aimed to encourage women into engineering, to make robots more than just “boy’s toys”, and to interest children and young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths). But Seasons 8 and 9 revealed dramatic advances in robot technology – advances which have taken Robot Wars far from its amateur roots. To me, the rebooted show is less interesting or entertaining than the original show as a result. Also, the way both seasons have portrayed roboteering teams has arguably locked out women and people without a STEM background.
As a result, I believe that rebooted Robot Wars is currently failing at the social goals it set out to achieve. In its current format, it’s instead opposing the causes it wishes to champion. Something needs to change, and I hope that whatever is planned for Season 10 can bring the show closer towards its aims.