Tom Servo and me – a journey, part 1 [Feature]

Hi, my name is Chris Doyle. And I’m an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO). Once upon a time, like 10 years ago, I was a prolific LEGO builder. No, really. I was. I built huge pop culture-inspired builds, took them to shows, and made a little bit of a name for myself in the community. If you’ve been around for a while you might even remember a few of them. I discovered the potential for cheese wedges to create lenticular images. I had one of the first large builds of Serenity from Firefly. I did a lot of Cube Dudes and super-heroes and transparent-brick mosaics.

Two of my proudest creations were 1:1 reproductions of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo.


They were pretty well received. I won a few awards and even had them signed by series creator Joel Hodgson and members of the cast. And then…life happened. I stopped building. I stopped being involved with LEGO in general, really. Tom and Crow were packed up after their last showing, and more or less forgotten. Despite the hours I spent sorting bulk brick in an attempt to set up a home workshop, I was firmly in my grey age.

But, in the infamous words of Monty Python…“I got better.” This is the story of how Tom Servo (and LEGO) came back into my life. Thanks to timestamps from Twitter, Instagram and metadata from my photos, I can retrace my steps and take you with me on this journey of rediscovery. Warning….it’s a bit long and involved. Really. I mean, note the “Part 1” in the title up there…

May 12, 2019

I decided to get Tom Servo out of storage, thinking I’d display him in my office at work. Turns out this is not as trivial of a quest as I thought it might be. While the storage boxes were easy enough to find, the years of neglect and frequent moves were not kind. He’s in pieces. Not quite back to basic brick, but enough damage has occurred that he’s become a puzzle with at least a medium challenge rating.

Tom emerges from storage a bit worse for wear.

On the plus side, I found out where my Tom and Crow mini-statues from the DVD box sets had wandered off to. I had been looking for those guys for a while. I must have had them on display with the bots to show folks who didn’t know about MST3k.

May 25, 2019

I’ve rebuilt Tom, and he looks as good as new. I’m not thrilled that I ended up with a handful of parts left over. Oh well, I’m sure they weren’t that important.

Tom pulls himself together

Rebuilding Tom got me thinking, though; while I’m happy with the building I did years ago, I might be able to do better now. LEGO has released a lot of new parts. Maybe I’ve absorbed some new techniques from all the LEGO blogs and books I’ve been reading. My initial idea in 2009 was for Tom to work as a puppet, but I gave up on that early on. However, maybe now…

Could it be time to finally justify the purchase of all those LEGO remote control sets? At least I can try and get the scaling a little more accurate this time around. My workshop may not be ready. I may not be ready, but I think it’s time to start building again.

I pulled out some bricks and started putting them together. I had honestly forgotten how good it felt to do that.

The seeds of madness

June 8, 2019

Okay, so I’ve been building. It’s slow going, what with having a full time job and whatnot, but it’s happening. Occasionally, I stop and think that I should actually stop and plan this out, fire up a digital designer, and take better notes. But, apparently, common sense isn’t going to be much of a factor in this build. There’s a lot of construction followed by a critical appraisal, which is in turn followed by complete disassembly. Two steps back for every step forward, but I’m moving, and that’s something.

Some early problems: I don’t have nearly enough parts in the right colors. No, that’s not 100% true. I probably have all the parts I need lost in my bulk brick, but if I wait for that sorting to be done I’ll never actually build anything ever again. Anyway, I’m going to just throw money at Bricklink as I find gaps in my inventory.

Another problem: I really don’t know how to build well with Technic. I’ve got a couple of books showing some sample builds of common gearing, but I can just feel that I’m not implementing this right. It sucks knowing this is going to come back to haunt me, but I might as well push on.

The latest Netflix incarnation of Tom has four points of articulation. He can open his mouth, turn his head, and move his arms at the shoulder (About time!). Three of those were pretty straightforward to mock up. The mouth was a mystery at first, but I’ve finally figured out an inverted plunger/lever system that works. The bottom half of the mouth is held closed by tension from rubber bands, but if you push up on the plate it’s mounted on, you can force it open. Easy peasy.

Early prototype

The beak in general is going to be a problem, though. Pretty sure I had to custom-order parts for him last time. This latest white/green combo isn’t going to work, obviously.

Happy update – Found a new beak. This time in silver! And another happy update! I found all the dark red I bought back when I was building Tom the first time. Surely I have enough. Surely. Surely.

Part of the problem

June 9, 2019

The latest concept for Tom’s beak involves a silver bit of shoulder armor and 1×1 sliver cheese slopes to round out the sides. I have broken down and started sorting my “unsorted cheese” container to try and find some. Out of the thousands of wedges, I’ve found…four.

Looking for some cheese

The shape is close to what I want, and the silver color is definitely an upgrade from the white of the first version. However, unless I can find a good method to round out the sides, I may have to look elsewhere for a solution. But, hey! Look at all that dark red cheese I sorted out. I’m sure that’ll come in handy.

June 15, 2019

Tom’s beak is turning into a real pain point. After Bricklinking additional copies of the piece I used in Old!Tom I decided the white was “too bright” and went digging for alternatives. Several iterations later and I’ve gone with a light blue-grey bionicle mask and krana holder. It’s the closest shape I’ve found yet, although the ridges on the mask are partially visible in the build. It’s a trade off…but it’s 90% right. That’ll have to be close enough for now.

Beaky Keen

On the plus side, I think I’m finally happy with the tensioning on the mouth and can just work on making this a more sturdy construction.

Back Talk

June 16, 2019
I really hate the dome on Old!Tom. Built from all 1×1 trans clear brick, it’s just super fragile. So fragile that, back in the day, I ended up using some Elmer’s glue to hold it together. Not ideal. With New!Tom I want to try for an actual “clear” dome. Playing around with windscreens today. Too many gaps for this to “read” right, but maybe it’s a step in the right direction.

A Clear Head

That said, there aren’t a lot of inverted windscreens to attach to the base. Maybe invert the building on the bottom so it’ll match the top? Eh. I’ll figure it out. I’m also trying to work out just how much space there is between the top of Tom’s beak and the dome. It seems to have changed over the years, with an extra connection point ridge in the latest versions. Just making it “tall” is a starting point until I get a better idea.

Getting ahead

In the meantime, I’ve been ordering more and more dark red parts from Bricklink. LEGO’s coloring of these parts is hella-inconsistent, and the older, murky red is really brittle. So I’ve been ordering in bulk. I’ve started corralling things in a set of drawers to try and keep things organized and to keep the plastic ziplock bags away from the cat…Because the cat loves to eat plastic. Yay.


Later that day…

Okay. So the windscreen idea is a bust, but what about building a sphere? There are some good reference photos online, and I can probably free-hand something…out of 1×1 plate, because I have a lot of that. What could go wrong?

The sphere will set you free

Huh. This might actually work.

Round is good

There are a few rough edges that will need attention, but…yay! Let’s see how it looks on the old body…

The Head That Wouldn't Die

Yeah, you can tell the scaling is off, but it’s not a bad fit. This might actually work.

So there you have the first few weeks of my LEGO renaissance. There’s more to tell, obviously, and things will be continued shortly in part two of this series. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from others who also have a story of getting past a grey age. Leave a comment and let me know how you overcame it!