Airmageddon: the drone gameshow training kids for the inevitable

Duck! Rachel Stringer and Will Best present Airmageddon.

When you think about the upcoming return of Robot Wars, it’s hard to separate excitement from nostalgia. Yes, your mind might immediately race to Hypno-Disc and self-righting mechanisms and the industrial quantities of talcum powder that were presumably necessary to get Philippa Forrester into her leather trousers each week, but the reality of the show was something else entirely.

For the most part, Robot Wars consisted of nothing but an overexcited football commenter squealing himself giddy to overcompensate for the fact that everyone at home was watching three awkward blokes from Swindon trying to move a static remote-controlled car out from behind a box. Vast swaths of Robot Wars, when you look back at it, were tedium personified.

In reality, it’s some kids flying a drone through a hula hoop over and over again. Sometimes they make the drone go under a rail, but that’s pretty much it. There are no breathtaking acrobatics. There’s no high-velocity barnstorming. Near the end, the contestants have to shoot down the opposing drone, but they do this by very slowly manoeuvring their drone into the right position then Quasar-tagging it so laboriously that it’s a wonder neither vehicle runs out of battery first. There are no missiles, nothing that even approaches Armageddon, unless we all read the Bible wrong and it was actually describing a scene where all the armies in the world just got really tired and had a nap.

Of course, this is a kids’ show made by the BBC, so there’s an element of prescribed education to it. Perhaps Airmageddon is a tacit acknowledgement that the internet will have destroyed all jobs within 15 years, and that the best today’s children can do is get in on the ground floor of the drone industry, so they’re ready when Amazon advertises for someone to fly a pair of knickers to Bracknell. Judged on this basis, Airmageddon could arguably be seen as an important piece of public service broadcasting. But judged as spectacle (as I suspect will be the case with the new Robot Wars) it doesn’t hit the heights it should.