Robot Wars Extreme: Series 1 (lost original BBC Choice version of robot combat battle; 2001)
This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of anthrax and the 2001 US anthrax attacks.
Robot Wars Extreme: Series 1 was a series of special episodes of the television game show Robot Wars, broadcast from October to December 2001 on BBC 2 and BBC Choice. Among the tournaments and matches that were conducted included Wild Card Warriors, where a newcomer to the show aimed to show it promise by facing a veteran. One of these battles involved veteran King B Powerworks defeating newcomer Anthrax. While the battle itself is freely available for public viewing, the original BBC Choice version of the fight has never reaired, as future broadcasts had to be edited following several anthrax attacks in the United States.
The newcomer was a box-shaped machine armed with a hydraulic crushing jaw, had a different name. Its team initially called it Anthrax, the etymology being an infectious disease from the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The disease is rare but can cause serious health issues for livestock and humans, with skin sores, blisters and swelling around sores being notable symptoms of Cutaneous infection. The name was accepted by the BBC and Robot Wars' producers Mentorn, and so pre- and post-match interviews, the battle itself and Jonathan Pearce's commentary were recorded with the machine being referred to as Anthrax. The battle was one-sided, with King B Powerworks successfully pitting its opponent to win the battle. The original edit was broadcast on BBC Choice as part of Episode 5 of Robot Wars Extreme: Series 1, on 12th October, 2001.
2001 US anthrax attacks
Around the same period the episode was broadcast, the United States was undergoing an anthrax scare. Starting from 18th September, 2001, various letters filled with spores of anthrax were being mailed to Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, as well as news media offices like NBC and CBS. Bob Stevens was the individual known to have been hospitalised following an inhalation of anthrax, on 4th October, 2001. A day later, he passed away, becoming the first to die of anthrax in the United States since 1976.
On the same day as the BBC Choice broadcast, a New York City NBC employee tested positive for anthrax poisoning. Such outbreaks would continue throughout October, and by the end of the attacks occurring, five people had died, and a further 17 were treated for anthrax infections. An seven-year FBI investigation concluded with a report on 19th February, 2010 that established Dr. Bruce Irvins was the individual responsible for mailing the letters containing anthrax. Irvins had committed suicide on 29th July, 2008, with the FBI having preparations to formally charge him in connections with the crimes.
BBC 2 re-edit
As a result of the anthrax attacks, the BBC requested an immediate re-editing of the King B Powerworks-Anthrax battle for future broadcasts. While the battle itself largely remained unedited, all references to Anthrax were quickly replaced. Its team agreed to change their robot's name, dubbing it Draven, named after Eric Draven from the 1994 film The Crow. Thus, the pre-match interview with Julia Reed was trimmed and edited, host Craig Charles' inserts and post-battle interviews also faced cutting, while Jonathan Pearce re-did his commentary. Episode 5 was first broadcast on BBC 2 on 23rd November, 2001, with the newcomer now being officially referred to as Draven. This version would be repeated long after the original broadcast, while the BBC Choice version never re-aired.
The BBC Choice airing of Anthrax vs King B Powerworks is rare, not only due to never being re-broadcast, but also because it suffered from the same issue as Robot Wars Revealed, where the audience for this digital-only channel was limited back in the early-2000s. Some recordings do exist, with the Anthrax team viewing a recording made by another roboteer, John Reid of the Terrorhurtz team. However, no screenshots nor footage of the original edit have publicly resurfaced.
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- Robot Wars Extreme: The Official Guide. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- CDC description of anthrax. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- CDC discussing anthrax symptoms. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- BBC Genome article of Radio Times issues, listing Episode 5 as being broadcast on BBC Choice on 12th October, 2001. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- National Public Radio providing a timeline of the 2001 US anthrax attacks. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- CNN article reporting on the anthrax case confirmed on 12th October, 2001. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy discussing the FBI investigation over the anthrax attacks. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- Archived Anthrax website discussing the original BBC Choice airing and why future broadcasts had to be changed. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues, listing Episode 5's first BBC 2 broadcast on 23rd November, 2001. Retrieved 4 Aug '21
- Unofficial Robot Wars Facebook post explaining why BBC Choice airings of Robot Wars are seldom found online. Retrieved 4 Aug '21