Afternoon all, and welcome to the first in a long line of (hopefully) wacky and frantic retrospectives at one of my all-time favourite childhood television shows: it is, of course, the Robot Wars clone that also isn’t a clone because it’s technically a spin-off, Techno Games.
Like all great masterpieces, we have to start right at the very beginning, where it all began, in the year 2000 with Ulrika Jonsson on hosting duties for some unknown reason, beamed onto your Panasonic teles in the company of Robot Wars judges Noel Sharkey and Martin Smith, who have now obtained status as ‘technical experts’, coming at you from the then-newly built Millennium Dome. You can instantly tell they all met up in the year 2000 to film this, since this was in an age when the Millennium Dome was referred to as such, even though it feels like it’s been called the O2 since the dawn of time.
Now, as much as I’d like to say that Techno Games really hit the ground running in its first series, to do so would be to completely lie to all of you reading this, and on this website we’re all about honesty. Before the show divulged into a sort-of ‘Robot Wars-but-not-really’ type show, the entrants here were pretty much all school-based entries built by teachers and students alike, in an attempt to get kids interested in science and technology. As you can imagine, whilst the premise is admirable, the entrants were f*cking awful. Having re-watched the entirety of the first series I counted about three functional robots out of what must have been at least fifty (if you think I’m going back and counting you’re sorely mistaken). Seriously, for a show that’s all about ‘technology is the future and the machines will overtake humans one day’, with robots that would struggle against the sh*t-tier competitors that made it onto series one of Robot Wars, I don’t think we need to worry about facing a Terminator 2-esqe future if this is the kind of mechanical soldier we’d be up against.
Anyways, the half-hour pilot begins with Ulrika reluctantly welcoming us into the new millennium, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else than talking technobabble with two pasty white men on the opposite sofa. She tells us that the competitors will be competing for gold, silver, and bronze medals because, guess what, that’s how they do it in the Olympics, and that the team with most technologically innovate robot wins a trip to NASA to “see how the big boys do it”. That’s a very vague and ambiguous term she’s using, but regardless, given the level of quality we’ve got to work with here, it looks like the team at NASA will be in for a long week.
Sprinting: Heat One
The first event is the sprint, which sounds like a promising and somewhat interesting event. Also promising and somewhat interesting is reporter Ed Hall, a man who looks and sounds like he’s just finished being Jason Statham’s stunt double on the set of Snatch, hasn’t yet broken character, wandered into the Dome, grabbed a microphone and started filming. We’re also introduced to Philippa For-I mean, Sophie Blake, who you’d be forgiven for thinking is Philippa Forrester if you hadn’t just been told that her name is, in fact, Sophie Blake. Not-Philippa is here in the Philippa Forrester role, but has about as much enthusiasm and presenting nous as an underachieving ten-year-old. She’s clearly just there as a pretty face to compensate for the large number of pasty, awkward white men who’ll be appearing over the course of the next five episodes, and there’s only so many basic one-word-answer questions I can handle hearing from her.
We’re then subsequently introduced to our first two robotic sprinters, Scuttle (spelled Skuttle here for some unholy reason), and Waddle. This should already give you an indicator as to how quick these two robots are. Scuttle, built by everyone’s favourite Robot Wars entrants, the 101 team, is basically a brick with eight legs, and it’s meant to move pretty darned quick, although we’re abruptly informed by team captain Mike that it might not actually work. A promising start if ever there was one. The Waddle team, on the other hand, openly admit to stealing their idea from the internet (back when it was cool to use ‘the internet’ in a sentence), and inform us they hope to finish the race in under five minutes. Yup, it’s a high bar we’re setting here. For the record, Waddle is a bipedal robot that looks like it’s about to fall over whenever it takes a step forward, hence the name. It’s impressive there’s a bipedal robot on the show straight out of the gate, but the fact it’s entered into the sprint shows how desperate the producers must have been for entrants.
I’m now wildly pumped up to see this ground-breaking race between a robot that may not work and a robot that can barely stand up, so imagine my disdain when we cut back to Ulrika talking to, wait for it, British 400 metre hurdles champion Chris Rawlinson, who’s been brought in to give us the ‘human insight’ into the world of sprinting. Yes, this segment really is as pointless as it sounds, and sadly that’s not the last we’ll be seeing of this sort of thing. During his roughly-45-second interview, Chris informs us that he’s used to racing against people, but this is different because they’re robots. Some true cutting-edge insight into the mind of a hurdling champion, ladies and gents.
So now that we’ve sat through that ordeal, we’re handed over to commentating legend Sir Barry Davies, who most of you may know as the man who shouted “Ohhhhhhhhhh no!” as Gareth Southgate missed England’s crucial penalty against Germany in Euro ‘96. I can’t really say anything sarky about Barry, since he’s a legitimate commentating legend, following in the footsteps of Jonathan Pearce as a football commentator taking on the world of competitive robotics. I will say if you were expecting Barry to have the same wacky enthusiasm as Jonathan does, I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for his dulcet, informative, and somewhat arousing tones instead.
The klaxon goes for the first ever Techno Games event, and within thirty seconds Scuttle (I refuse to spell it with a ‘k’) self-implodes and loses half of its legs. Team captain Mike swiftly comes to the rescue, flipping it over onto the cogs that run said legs, and drives it to the finish line in just under 45 seconds. However, since it turns out driving isn’t permitted in an event based around LEGGED robots, Scuttle and co. are promptly disqualified, and we have to wait another three minutes for Waddle to cross the finishing line. Three. Whole. Minutes. The editing team mercifully cut out most of it’s odyssey down the track, and it’s already beginning to look like the lofty lengths of fifteen whole metres might have been a bit too ambitious. Anyway, since this is the first race in this event, it not only means Waddle qualifies for the final (lord help us there’s two more races of this) but it also means that a world record time has been set at three minutes and forty-three seconds. The technological revolution has well and truly begun.
Chris is still hanging around to give us a recap of what just transpired pointing out that Scuttle did, in fact, fall apart allowing Waddle to win. More cutting edge insight right there. Noel then tries to provide us with some actual technical analysis, but is sadly interrupted by Ulrika laughing and asking questions written by a six-year-old before we get to hear any of it.
Sadly we have to wait another two days to see which robot will be taking on the mighty Waddle for the gold medal, but at least while we wait we’re being treated to the long jump event. There’s only three competitors in this event, meaning no matter how sh*te any of them are, they’re all going to be leaving with a podium finish. They could literally jump backwards and still get a medal.
The three competitors also have wildly imaginative names. Y’all ready for this? I don’t think you are. Your long jumpers for today are called; Frog of Darkness, The Flea, and Fleabot. Get it? Because they’re things that can do the jumpy-jump over a long way? No? Maybe this show’s too smart for us.
Things only get better when we see the cutting-edge technology on display in this event. Frog of Darkness is described by Ed as ‘a bottle covered in green felt’, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a literal plastic bottle covered in green felt, bearing no resemblance to neither frog nor darkness, and its powered by filling it up with a bike pump and then releasing the energy. It’s almost too science-y for me to comprehend. Anyway, the light green bottle of gas sure proves me wrong with a staggering jump of 5.55 metres. Again, high bars were set by all in this episode.
Coming at us next is The Flea, which again bears no actual resemblance to what its name might suggest. Instead what we have is some sort of RC car that’s meant to run along the track and fling itself through the air with a couple of sticks that come out from underneath it. It works as well as it sounds, and is promptly given a ‘no jump’ since, well, it didn’t actually jump after driving along the track. I should also mention at this point that the team had planned for it to jump ‘about ten metres’, suggesting they’d smoked a f*ckload of acid before filming.
Finally we have Fleabot, the robot variant of the previously mentioned ‘Flea’, and in all honesty is the most accurate in terms of name-to-robot representation, even though it looks like it’s made almost exclusively out of a pole and some elastic bands, somewhat negating the ‘-bot’ suffix. It’s operated by a child his supposed lunatic inventor of a father, which I’m supposing because, fair warning, this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of this dynamic duo, with or without this other child they’ve brought along for this event. James, the head child, suggests it’ll jump “ten metres or less… or more”, which is the exact type of optimism I would show if I were undertaking an event of this nature. It certainly does jump ten metres or less or more though, soaring through the air with consummate ease, and landing at the 8.70 metre mark, just shy of the human world record. I’ll give it to them, that’s mighty impressive. Fleabot takes gold, the bottle takes silver, and the RC car gets a bronze medal even though it didn’t actually do any f*cking jumping.
The Fleabot team join Ulrika and co. in the studio, where designated head child James is treated with all the intelligence and integrity of a child who just had a stick figure of a cat they drew put up on the fridge. My personal highlight is the exchange in which Ulrika asks “Where did you get THAT name from?” (as if it wasn’t painstakingly obvious), and upon hearing the similarities between Fleabot and an actual Flea responds with “*gasps* it jumps like a flea! That’s very smart”. Friendly reminder that we still have four and a half episodes of her to get through.
Robot Bomb Disposal
Yes, somehow we’re only halfway through this clusterf*ck of a B-Tec World’s Fair, and things are only going to get worse before they get better, because for some reason we now have an exhibition in bomb disposal robots. Why? I’m not sure, but presumably because the producers needed to give not-Philippa something to do. She’s sauntered on over to an RAF base to see who’s better and controlling a bomb disposal robot; Mike Brewer from Channel 4’s Top Gear knock-off Driven (yeah I’ve never heard of it either) or a ten-year-old child. Incredibly, the 10-year-old child wins, and the crowd goes wild, and Mike from Driven is never seen on British television again. Sadly, we don’t get to see any of these raucous scenes, as we have to head back to the studio so Ulrika can introduce us to the swimming.
Swimming: Heat One
Now you’d probably think, given the nature of the show, that the production company would spare no expense in creating the finest setting possible to handle these aquatic beasts when let loose upon the water? Well, in a way you’d be right, because they haven’t spent anything, but you’d also be wrong, as the swimmers are going to be competing in a school swimming pool, and I’m not even remotely joking. They’ve literally just turned up to a school expecting to use their facilities. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Ed informs us that the pool is 25 metres long, and if the sprint is anything to go by, we shouldn’t be raising our expectations too highly for this event.
Not-Philippa introduces us to our next possy of pasty white boys, who come bearing a “robot” named Lemming, and I use the term “robot” in the loosest sense of the word since it doesn’t really look like anything, not least an actual Lemming. It looks like someone just rummaged around the DT department looking for anything that they could stick to a metal base and this was the end product. Its opponent, Calypso, looks like it was built by Thomas Edison in comparison, which is saying something considering it’s using two plastic bottles as floatation devices here. In all fairness, it looks about the first decent thing we’ve seen all show, provided that it actually works, and is supposedly named after Jacques Cousteau’s boat, and that’s about as much sophistication as you’ll be seeing throughout the entire run of this show.
And for the second time this episode, just as I’ve gotten myself all steamed up and ready for some hardcore robotic athletic action, when I’m rudely interrupted by Ulrika to inform me that we’re getting some much-needed technical analysis from swimming extraordinaire Mark Foster, who, for those who don’t know, was basically the swimming G.O.A.T before Michael Phelps came along and stole his thunder. This part of the show is a bit hard to critique, because unlike Chris, he doesn’t actually give any technical analysis. Instead, Ulrika asks him personal questions, he responds, and she gets increasingly aroused by what he says. I can’t do it justice by typing it out, so instead I’m going to leave you a clip below to show you what I mean.
I hope you enjoyed that as much as Ulrika did.
After that pointless segway, it’s back to the pool to see if either of these machines will actually work and book their place in the grand final. This is probably a good time to mention there’s three heats and then the final, so we’ve got four races of this, folks. I hope you’re all buckled in for a bumpy ride.
Anyway, the klaxon sounds and OH LAWD CALYPSO WORKS! And it works well! It only took us 25 minutes, but we’ve finally seen some decent tech on this show. Calypso breezes its way majestically down the pool to the delight of Barry and the onlookers, coming in at the finish line in exactly 34 seconds. Meanwhile, Lemming can only get one side of its body working, barely making it out of the starting gate, and supposedly finishing in 2 minutes 20 seconds, although this conveniently happens off-screen, and I’m 99% sure that it never actually finished the race, with Barry even stating that it’s participation in the race serves more a reminder “of the greater importance of taking part”. Ouch. This is also your warning that Lemming is going to be making a return to action in the sprinting. This is one Lemming that will never die.
On top of being aroused by everything Mark’s been saying, Ulrika then suggests she wants to go and f*ck Calypso. And on that note, the episode ends.
Well, not quite, because before we’re released from this torment, not-Philippa introduces us to the Techno Games “University Challenge”, in which two university teams get to spend a week building a robot that can perform the arduous task of picking up a Lego brick and putting it on top of another. Boy, those NASA guys must be shaking in their boots. Representing the University of Hertfordshire are the legendary bad boys of Robot Wars, the Behemoth boys. The original “hoodlums” of the robotic combat scene, they’ll be up against a group of top boffins from the University of Oxford. Geez, I wonder who’s possibly going to win this.
And we’re STILL not and the end of the episode, lawd help us all. Before the episode reaches its sorry climax, Ulrika, fresh from her robotic love affair with Calypso, tells us that we can buy a robot starter kit, written by this man who looks like a recently-released serial killer.
Ulrika asks the serial killer if “it’s true that we can build a robot from this starter kit”. No Ulrika, they’ve been lying to us the whole time. What the f*ck do you think you’re meant to do with it? Choosing to brush over her ignorance, the serial killer then demonstrates how we can build an eclectic range of real-life zooks (this was actually filmed before Bamzooki was a thing, but my reference still stands). Ulrika pretends to be impressed, and mercifully draws the first episode to a close.
Just to recap on what we’ve seen of actual Techno Games events, we’ve seen a near-four minute “sprint”, a pole with some elastic bands on it win a gold medal in the long jump, an RC car winning bronze in the same event despite not actually working, and the show’s one actually good competitor so far blazing its way down a high school swimming pool. Not to mention Ulrika getting a bit steamy at an out-of-place Mark Foster.
I’d really like to say this show started off with a bang, but, well I think you can tell by now that it absolutely didn’t, and it may be at least another fifteen episodes before it bears any semblance to something that can be classed as good. But all we can do for now is tune in for episode two, where we’ll get to see more thrilling events such as outdoor sprinting. It’s the same as the sprint event, but this time it’s outside. Where did they get these crazy ideas?
Anyway, that’s all from me for today, but if you’d like to find out what wacky shenanigans went down on that fateful second day of the 2000 event, you can tune back in tomorrow to find out. Or if it’s any time past tomorrow, then you can just click the ‘next’ button to find out. What an age we live in, eh? And follow this site on Twitter @robosocks14, I occasionally post stuff on there.
Thanks for reading, and remember, these robots can’t actually hurt you.