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Media Essays: The Career of Thermidor II

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Anyone suddenly finding themselves craving seafood? Especially lobster? Then this is the post for you!


OK, it's not a post about actual seafood, but it is about something lobster themed. It's time for me to cover yet another fan favourite machine from Robot Wars for my career series. This is a machine that is very memorable for its gimmicky design, hit-and-miss track record in the series and achieving some spectacular wins throughout its time on the show. That robot...is Thermidor II.

Thermidor II

Built in Norwich by David Harding and Ian Harvey and appearing in seven seasons of the show, including both classic and reboot eras, Thermidor II has made a name of itself in the roboteering community with its iconic lobster design and powerful flipper that was capable of throwing opponents out of the arena. This machine is a favourite for many. Even I would name this as one of my favourite robots that ever appeared on the show.


So what was Thermidor II's career like? Was this lobster just a joke machine or was it capable of more than anyone expected? What were its biggest highs and lowest of lows? What did it achieve during its time in the arena? That's what this essay is here to tell you all about. This is the career of Thermidor II...


Starting Off Small

The lobster machine made its debut in Heat M of Series 3. At the time, it was known as Thermador and as you can see, it didn't have its iconic flipper when it first appeared, only the lobster claws. When Thermador appeared on the show, it was a two-wheeled machine that used a two-wheel drive. Its distinctive large wheels came from a 1983 Austin Metro, or Mini Metro as it was also known, so the machine could run both ways up. Rather than tyres, the wheels had polycarbonate wrapped around the rim and a thin rubber coating around them. The caps were also removed so the wheel's centre hubs are exposed. The grabbing lobster claws were made from 2mm steel and powered by a pneumatic piston. As well as the claws, it was armed with a spike at the front and a 9-inch cutting disc in the tail, which was powered by an electric motor.


The machine was armoured in 3mm aluminium alloy with a steel box section chassis and it sported a small lobster's head that was made from a cycling helmet. It was powered by dynamos from a 1964 Ford Anglia, one of which was found in the team's spare parts and another was purchased from a local car accessory shop. The team started building the robot in March 1999 and finished it midway through May, only days before the Series 3 auditions began. Talk about good timing, am I right? What's really funny about all this is that Thermador was designed with The Gauntlet and The Trial in mind...and neither of them were featured in Series 3. Yeah, a bit late in showing up for that, eh guys? XD When they arrived for the auditions, the team were really against the clock for they only had time for one test drive. The machine was overweight and unpainted at the time, but the producers quickly took a shine to it for its unique appearance. According to David Harding...


"It was back in the days when if your robot moved, you got on the TV. There were all these other teams queuing up with theirs. Most of them were like boxes, but because ours was different, we got waved ahead and jumped the queue."

— David Harding, interviewed in Ultimate Real Robots magazine


After taking the driving course and the failsafe test, the machine was accepted into the series. The team were able to bring Thermador's weight down to meet the limit and the 12V batteries were changed for a large one to give it more speed and power.

Pitted

For its Series 3 performance, Thermador was up against Plunderstorm in the first round and were essentially granted an easy win for Plunderstorm had one track working and thus couldn't drive around much. After doing pretty much nothing, Thermador made it to the second round, but got no further as it was pitted by Scutter's Revenge. The machine had no real chance given Scutter's Revenge's design and low, sloped weaponry as you can see in the picture above. As is, Thermador would return for the next series and it would achieve much greater success as we move onto Series 4...


The Lobster Bot Claws Its Way To The Semi-Finals

Series 4

With the spelling changed from Thermador to Thermidor, the lobster bot returned, now named Thermidor II, and with quite the upgrade. The cutting disc at the back was removed to save on weight and it was given a more offensive weapon in the form of a full CO2 flipper with the trademark angry face that the machine would sport throughout the rest of the classic era. The flipper was powered by a fire extinguisher with a high-pressure valve assembly made from fire extinguisher valves, and hydraulic fittings to resist the 750psi gas pressure. It was fitted with 750-Watt Bosch motors, giving Thermidor a nippy top speed of 15mph. 3mm armour was removed from the sides of Thermidor II and replaced with 1mm aluminium and more than 60 holes were drilled into the claws to keep the weight down. The electronics were the same as the Series 3 machine, apart from the output stage.


When it came to the Series 4 qualifiers, they had a bit of a scare. You see, they had a seal blow on the pressure side before the battle. They could've had no weapon as a result of that. Luckily, they were able to fix it and were able to win their qualifier battle with Generation X, which granted them entry into the series. The weapon proved to be effective too, throwing Generation X about three feet into the air apparently.

Thermidor II vs. Kronic the Wedgehog

Thermidor II appeared in Heat G of Series 4 with its first round melee being against the 13th seeds Gravedigger and newcomer Kronic the Wedgehog. The melee looked tough for Thermidor as they struggled to get the flipper under either opponent to their low wedge-shaped designs and Kronic spent much of the battle bullying them. One of their claws even broke during the battle. But Gravedigger's flipper wasn't working throughout the fight and so Thermidor was able to flip them on their side and immobilize them. Talk about unlucky 13 for Gravedigger, am I right? Thermidor and Kronic qualified for the next round and Thermidor took out yet another seeded machine when they effortlessly dispatched of Dreadnaut XP-1. This brought Thermidor to the Heat Final where they faced Kronic the Wedgehog again. Like before, it was a bit of a struggle for Thermidor as their narrow flipper made it hard to get under Kronic's wedge-shaped, low-ground clearance design, but the lobster bot was able to triumph in the end after Kronic's flipper broke off and the machine eventually slowed to a stop. Thermidor were through to the semi-finals with this victory.

Thermidor II vs. Pussycat

They appeared again in the first Semi-Final bracket where they fought against the 19th seeds Pussycat, the surprise winner of Heat B after Razer's early exit. Unlike in its heat, Thermidor wasn't able to beat another seeded machine for Pussycat won the fight on a judge's decision. Thermidor did start off strongly with some big flips on the cat, but Pussycat clawed their way back with their deadly blade and left Thermidor a scarred, torn mess by the end. They also competed in the Sumo Basho tournament, and were also the last robot to compete in the tournament too. They didn't last long, being pushed out after a measly 5.03 seconds and finished 13th overall. The machine also got nominated for Best Design but lost the award to Gemini, which goes without saying because Gemini was the only robot in that series that was ever going to win that award.


It was a tough run for the lobster bot, but a semi-final placement is nothing to sneeze at by any means. They finished in a strong place in the end, but could they get any further?


Thermidor's Extreme Run And A Quick Exit From Series 5

Thermidor II Extreme

Team Lobster returned for Extreme with their machine upgraded once more to be even more efficient. The claws were remoulded to be wedge shaped so they wouldn't get in the way of the flipper and rather than being weapons, they were more cosmetic pieces now with springs attached to the back so they would push against robots that pushed against the claws. The rear of the robot was redesigned too, going from conical to rounded so it would be able to flip itself back right-side-up if it ever got flipped upside down. Thermidor was also given updated internal with new battery mounts, a second fire extinguisher and smaller power modules. The team planned to mould polycarbonate armour for the robot, but it didn't work out, so they had to stick with 5mm aluminium armour instead. It also had a new PCM radio fitted, but that failed during its first-round battle in Series 5, which I'll cover later.


Its Extreme run saw it with mostly wins throughout all its appearances on the show. It managed to win the Flipper Frenzy when Chaos 2, Bigger Brother and Wheely Big Cheese all conked out during the match, and it also won the Vengeance match against Napalm after tossing it out of the arena. The reason for the Vengeance was because Team Lobster made a sexist remark at the girls in the Napalm team's expense, so they weren't happy about that. If anyone was going to prove that sexism is wrong and women can do Robot Wars, then Napalm was the last machine that should've tried to disprove that notion, because Naplam is a piece of crap and was never going to win against a machine-like Thermidor. Luckily, the team didn't actually mean the remark anyway, it was all played up for TV like a lot of things were in Extreme.


Anyhow, the machine also competed in the Tag Team Terror Tournament where they teamed up with Cerberus. They beat Sumpthing and S.M.I.D.S.Y. but lost the second round to The Steel Avenger and Suicidal Tendencies. Their most memorable moment in Extreme however came in the form of their Mayhem qualifier for the first Annihilator in where they fought Behemoth and Stinger. The fight saw them triumph as they flipped out....

Flip out 1

...not just Behemoth...

Flip out 2

...but Stinger too. This match is momentous for being the FIRST TIME EVER in Robot Wars history where a robot flipped out multiple opponents in one fight. Yeah, even Chaos 2 didn't achieve that at the time, but Thermidor did!


Too bad they conked out in Round 1 of the Annihilator after Splinter slammed them into the wall, so it wasn't much of a qualification in the end. Still, their track record in Extreme was pretty good overall with four wins and two losses by the end. Was their track record in Series 5 any good? Eh...no.

Early exit

Their first round was against underdogs Prizephita Mach 2. Now on paper, it seems like an easy win for Thermidor II, but Prizephita managed to gain the upper hand with their sloped shape and quick flipper giving Thermidor some trouble and eventually, they conked out after their new PCM radio failed. The 16th seeds went out very early on, marking for a very surprising and shocking exit for Thermidor. Let me tell you, if I was to ever name a machine that could successfully win a fight against Thermidor, I would NEVER have thought I'd be naming Prizephita of all machines! Fancy going from losing in Round 1 in Series 3 and 4 to suddenly beating a seeded robot and then making the Heat Final, am I right?


So yeah, tough luck to Thermidor. But surely Series 6 will be a better time for them, right?


ANOTHER Early Exit And A Much Better Annihilator Performance

Pitted

Eh...nope. Not even close. They got immobilized on one wheel thanks to Stinger and were counted out, leaving Stinger and 13th Black to qualify while Thermidor and Chompalot crashed out, making this Thermidor's second first round loss in a row. How does one go from being a semi-finalist in one series to crashing out in Round 1 twice in a row? Ironically enough, Gravedigger kinda has that same track record. They too were a semi-finalist in one series and then went out in Round 1 twice in a row in the following series. Maybe Gravedigger cursed Thermidor as revenge for being beaten by them in Series 4...

Annhilator

But Extreme II was a better time for the lobster bot. They competed in another Annihilator and unlike last time, they made it all the way to the Final where they lost a close battle with Kan Opener. It VERY nearly went to the judges, but Kan Opener pitted them with just four seconds to spare, leaving Thermidor as the runner-up and Kan-Opener as the Annihilator Champion. So close, but not close enough for Thermidor.


So with two early exits in a row, would things finally look up for Team Lobster in the next series? Absolutely...


Thermidor's Triumphant Return

Series 7

Thermidor II returned for Series 7, seeded 14th and they didn’t change a whole lot aside from adding a kick stand at the back to keep the robot from rearing up when accelerating and the flipper’s power was improved. Did any of that help Thermidor finally get past Round 1? Most definitely!

 

They won a very dominant melee against Mobot, Mighty Mouse and 865T where they flipped the former out of the arena and flipped the latter so they were stuck on their backs and couldn’t self right. Thermidor and Mighty Mouse qualified and in Round 2, Thermidor won yet another dominant fight where it was essentially just them tossing The Kraken around the arena like they were nothing. They came so close to flipping them out numerous times, but to no avail. Eventually, they settled on just pitting them. Their Heat Final was against Mighty Mouse and…well, it’s Mighty Mouse. Did they really have any chance at all against Thermidor? Unless Thermidor suffered a random breakdown and stopped moving, Mighty Mouse was never going to win. Thermidor dominated the fight and won on a one-sided Judge’s Decision. Interestingly, this is THE only fight Thermidor II has ever won via a Judge's Decision. It had a 14-fight streak before that moment. This also means Thermidor's one of the few machines in Robot Wars to have a 100%-win rate in terms of Judge's Decisions. So, for the first time since Series 4, Thermidor II was a semi-finalist again! They won a very easy heat in which they dominated all their battles and are in the semi-finals once more! What could possibly go wrong for them?

vs. Typhoon 2

Oh...that.


Yeah, Thermidor II sadly had a very anti-climactic conclusion to its impressive Series 7 run in where one hit from Typhoon 2 knocked them stone dead.  Apparently, the impact knocked the motor magnets into the cooling fan and that’s why they were immobilized. It was an underwhelming conclusion to Thermidor’s career as after that, they didn’t show up again for the rest of the series. No Annihilator or All-Stars appearance or anything. I can’t begin to imagine a more limp-wristed way to end your career on Robot Wars. Just dying in one hit in your last battle? Not quite the way to go out in a blaze of glory, eh?


After that, Thermidor II essentially retired from robot combat. When the classic series ended, they sort of…vanished from the face of the earth. Now they DID enter a few live events beforehand. Thermidor II and its predecessor were present at the Mad Machines and Roboteers event held at the Inspire Science Centre in Norwich along with Cassius 2 in 2002 and the Series 7 version appeared at the Newark Kit Car Show. It made a one-off appearance at the Manningtree 2005 charity event where it fought against Chaos 2, The Steel Avenger, IG-88, Kat 3, Lightning and Iron Awe 3 in a melee, but they broke down and lost the fight. After that, that was it for Thermidor II. The machine was essentially retired and just lived in Ian Harvey’s shed for many years. But this wasn’t the end for Thermidor II, for it did make a comeback for the reboot…


A Brief Return

Series 8

Thermidor II returned to Robot Wars in the final heat of Series 8. Having not seen combat since 2005, it naturally had to be reworked to be up to date with the modern standards of fighting machines. It was armoured in 5mm polycarbonate instead of aluminium this time, the weight was increased to 110kg and it featured modern-day internals including 25.9 lithium polymer batteries and also sported a greater gas supply. It also had a new face on the flipper. Official photographs showed it in bright orange colours, but when it actually appeared on TV, it used its more famous red colours.

Crashed out again

So, did Thermidor make a triumphant return? I wish I could say yes…but no. They went out in Round 1 after being immobilized by Shunt and Chompalot. They did briefly come back to life near the end of the battle, but it was far too late by then. Thermidor were out and although Chompalot had to withdraw due to damage sustained by Gabriel, they weren’t chosen to take Compalot’s place. Pulsar was given the honours, so Thermidor II had yet another early exit, making this the third time in its career it went out in Round 1.

Thermidor 3

Interestingly, the team decided to make a new Thermidor machine, possibly because they realized how outdated Thermidor II was at the time. Dubbed Thermidor 3, they tried to enter Series 10 with it, and the machine was about 80% complete at the time. But they missed the applications deadline and weren’t selected to compete, thus Team Lobster missed their chance to appear again in the reboot. But on the 13th of April 2024, the partially completed Thermidor 3 did make an appearance at the Minibeasts in the East beetleweight event in Norwich, which you can see in the above image, so we do have some kind of idea on how it might’ve looked. Needless to say, I wouldn’t mind seeing a completed version of this machine in action one day. As is, with the reboot’s cancellation, Thermidor 3 never got a chance to appear and unless Team Lobster feel like finishing it someday, Thermidor’s career in robot combat is over for now and could well be over for good this time. Will we ever see Thermidor 3 completed and in action? Only time will tell…

Team Lobster

Thermidor II is the definitive example of hit-and-miss. I don’t think any machine in Robot Wars history has had such an inconsistent track record. This is a machine that has simultaneously scored some big wins and became a semi-finalist at least twice, yet also has crashed out in the first round at least four times, three in the main show and one in the first Extreme Annihilator. It just boggles the mind that this machine was able to be a semi-finalist and also crash out early on multiple occasions. I guess if there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that even the best of competitors can have their low points and that you’re not always guaranteed to hit it big. And yet there’s no shame in having the odd loss or two either. Whether you achieve big or not, you can still be proud of your achievements. It can also be a lesson in keeping your ego in check. Thermidor II is an example of how you can win big and do well, but it doesn’t mean you’ll ALWAYS do well. You may have your times where you don’t do so well, and something like this is good for keeping us humble and allowing us to accept that we’re not invincible. Thermidor’s track record maybe erratic, but I still love the charming lobster bot for that it is. It’s had many memorable moments and great battles and I love watching it again and again in Robot Wars. Hopefully one day we’ll get to see Thermidor 3 in action and maybe achieve some great things like its predecessor did…

 

And that’s it for this essay. I hope you enjoyed learning about Thermidor II and I invite you all to share your comments down below. What’s your favourite Thermidor II battle? What’s the most memorable Thermidor II moment for you? Feel free to let me know.

 

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the sequel to my favourite Pixar movie, Inside Out. See you then media fans!

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