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Dr. Marshall Cahill is the director of the Cybernetics Research Institute, a think tank that works on top secret government research such as war gaming and robot deveopment. Cahill's son Neil is to receive an award for his work on a theory of "molecular matter".
However, Dr Howard Nicholson, a chemist at the Institute, has discovered that Neil plagiarized his work from a British scientist named Carl Finch, who died some time ago. Nicholson tries to convince Cahill to get his son to admit that he stole his research from Finch. Cahill, however, covets the prestige of his son's award too much to comply, so Nicholson threatens to expose Neil. Cahill decides he must murder Nicholson to prevent a scandal both for his family and the Institute.
Cahill programs a robot to run a war game at the institute to cover his absence while he signs out someone else's car from the Institute's car pool, drives to Nicholson's house and runs him down in his own driveway. He then carries the body into the house and makes it look like there was a struggle between Nicholson and an intruder.
Despite containing practically every cliché in the book about think tanks (there are a 10 year old boy genius who has built a robot named MM7 and taught it how to play chess, computers that say "does not compute", scientists that smoke pipes and lots of whirring tape drives and flashing coloured lights), this episode leads to Columbo using the very human trait of a father's love for his son to reveal the killer.
Robby the Robot, who appears as MM7, the robot built by the boy genius (Steven Spelberg) in this episode, first appeared in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. Robby has appeared in over 20 TV episodes since then, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps the most memorable appearance was opposite the other famous TV robot in two episodes of Lost in Space.