It should be no surprise that we here at Sarcastibots love us some robots (but not in that creepy we-want-to-have-sex-with-them way that some people do). Since our Scoundrel Round-Up was popular, we figured the next logical step was the Robot Round-Up (or as I like to call it “The Bender is Great! Bender is Great! Bender, Bender, Bender! Great! Great! Great!” list). We’ll be covering robots from all over pop culture, so we’re starting with an oldie, but a goody. First appearing in 1956, I figured I’d talk about the real star of Forbidden Planet—Robby the Robot.
Unlike a lot of entries in the Scoundrel Round-Up, Robby doesn’t have that much of an actual history to delve into. The robot was originally designed for the film Forbidden Planet. Robby was a mechanical man created by Dr. Morbius to be his servant. Dr. Morbius, apparently a bit fan of science fiction himself, ripped off Isaac Asimov rules of robotics when programming him—keeping him subservient but also, in an ironic twist, preventing him from saving Dr. Morbius from the Id monster because Robby was programmed not to harm humans and Robby understood the Id creature was just an extension of Dr. Morbius’s psyche. Destroying the Id creature would be tantamount to destroying Dr. Morbius, so he was unable to do so. Robby also originated quite a few modern movie robot traits since he does have his own personality and a rather dry wit. I almost see him as Marvin the Paranoid Android’s more optimistic grandfather. Unfortunately, Robby was a victim of anti-robot prejudice in the movie’s marketing campaign. Forbidden Planet posters showed an evil looking Robby carrying off a damsel in distress. However, Robby never looked that scary in the movie and the only time he carried a person (and it was a male crew member at that) was when it was to trying and save someone’s life. Even back in 1956, filmmakers realized they could make money by appealing to our typical anti-robot prejudices. That’s really all that can be said about Robby the Robot as himself, however, like any good robot, he had a long life and a history well beyond that of Forbidden Planet.
Robby the Robot was a fairly popular guest star or cameo in science fiction for a lot of years. Most of the shows he showed up in were during the 70s and not every appearance was the greatest (including on the Banana Splits Adventure Hour where he also apparently got a sex change as he was known as “Mildred the Robot”). Of course, any great robot from the 50s is going to show up in Lost in Space and Robby showed up a couple different times as different characters. Robby stayed busy for a lot of years, but sometimes, as a robot, you have to make ends meet and the last times he showed up on TV (as a robot and not just a prop) were on the short-lived Pamela Anderson vehicle, Stacked, in a nightmare and then in an AT&T commercial with WOPR (the computer from WarGames), KITT, and Rosie the Maid. Apparently, he and KITT became friends as they also did a GE commercial together a few years later. According to Craig Ferguson’s gay robot skeleton sidekick, Geoffrey Peterson, Robby is a frequent guest at robot parties, though C-3P0 is never invited because he’s a douche.
Robby may not have had a long history as himself, but the robot design definitely got around. Plus, a lot of the tropes of robot characters (like a dry wit and programming limitations affecting the outcome of movies) originated with him. Overall, Robby may have been portrayed in posters as a villain, but in reality, he’s a great robot and the granddaddy of them all.