Stories about robots that are learning the difference between right and wrong and are forced to defend themselves are as old as science fiction itself, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that similar stories are being told on TV on each side of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, I was amused when I realized that “Mr. R.I.N.G.” first aired on ABC at the same time that Tom Baker’s first serial as Doctor Who, “Robot” was being shown. Maybe Professor Kettlewell’s robot and R.I.N.G. could sadly commiserate about how awful soldiers are.
“Mr. R.I.N.G.” is very much a story of its time. It’s more than just the design – he reminds me of some other classic seventies robots, like the Fembots from Universal’s Bionic shows and the Kraal androids from the next season of Who – this is a story about a government coverup. It’s very unlike the usual Kolchak formula. The robot isn’t the monster-of-the-week; the military-industrial complex is. Corrine Michaels isn’t playing a damsel in distress as we’re led to believe. Having killed one of its creators in a bid for survival, R.I.N.G. has found the other one so that it can continue learning.
The inevitable ending – no, our hero doesn’t win this one – really sank our son’s spirits. He couldn’t quite explain why it made him sad, so he and I hashed it out over dessert. It made him unhappy to learn that American soldiers were the bad guys and they killed R.I.N.G. To make this even more of a stark finale, we learn that this time, Carl’s been narrating this story from a drug-induced haze. They’ve pumped him full of brain-wiping chemicals, leaving him to hesitantly dictate his story onto one of his tapes before his last memory of the event slips away. I hope that when they reactivated the dormant R.I.N.G. a few months later, he murdered them all, killed the senator who covered it up, and burned the top secret research establishment to the ground. That would serve them right.