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In Washington, D.C., to protest the use of humans in dangerous space flight experiments, Dr. Ralph Harrison resigns from his post on a government space commission. Dr. Nordstrom, an older, well-respected scientist who shares Harrison's opinion, invites the younger scientist to Los Angeles to work with him on a secret, personal project. While waiting for their plane, they become too deep in conversation to notice that a man is eavesdropping on them, but when Gilligan, a journalist known for irresponsible reporting, fishes for a scoop, Nordstrom promises to invite him to a news conference at his home in six months. Later, in Los Angeles, at Nordstrom's secluded, heavily-gated home, which is protected by photoelectric sensors, Harrison meets Nordstrom's widowed daughter, Janice Roberts, her precocious eleven-year-old son Brian, who is nicknamed "Gadge," and Nordstrom's trusted assistant Karl. In Nordstrom's underground laboratory, which is accessed through moving bookcases in the living room, the two scientists begin working on their project. Months later, to carefully selected science journalists, Nordstrom and Harrison unveil their invention, "Tobor," or "robot" spelled backwards. The remote-controlled, electronic simulation of a man has synthetic sentience and extra-sensory perception, enabling it to distinguish between constructive and destructive emotions of others and react appropriately. Although Harrison and Nordstrom admit they have yet to perfect its long-range communication system, they hope that Tobor will eventually travel to space, sparing man from the dangers of interstellar flight. Unaware that a Communist spy, the eavesdropper, has crashed their event, Harrison and Nordstrom bring Tobor to life for the audience. After the group leaves, Gadge sneaks into the laboratory and activates Tobor. Unlike the adults, who admire the robot as a potentially useful machine, Gadge is enamored and exclaims, "You're beautiful!" Tobor climbs the stairwell to the living room and inadvertently tramples the furniture, until Gadge determines how to shut him down. Despite Gadge's naughtiness, Nordstrom is impressed that his grandson learned the controls so quickly. While cleaning up, Harrison realizes that thirteen chairs were used that night, although only twelve reporters were invited. Nordstrom worries that, in the wrong hands, Tobor's constructive emotional patterns could be substituted with destructive ones. Meanwhile, the spy meets with his cohorts at a nearby gas station, which is the center of their operation, and announces that they must steal Tobor before he is turned over to the U.S. government. In the months that follow, Harrison and Nordstrom continue to train and test Tobor and Karl devises a small transmitter inside a pen and an earpiece. While working with a flight simulator, Tobor becomes overstimulated and goes berserk. When Gadge comes forward to comfort him, the robot throws the boy across the room. Nordstrom and Harrison conclude that the robot suffered a nervous breakdown and insulate him against overloading receptors. Meanwhile, the ashamed Tobor apologizes to Gadge by petting the boy's arm, and Nordstrom perceives that Tobor loves him. One night, the Communists intrude on Nordstrom's land, setting off alarms, which Nordstrom created using the soundtrack of the movie Sands of Iwo Jima . Believing they are being bombed from the air, the spies flee. Later they send Gadge a phony invitation to a space flight presentation at the Griffith Park Planetarium. When Gadge and Nordstrom show up for the event, the spies easily kidnap them in the vacant building. That evening, when Nordstrom fails to show up for a demonstration of Tobor for some military officials, the worried Harrison calls the sheriff. At their hideout, the spies interrogate Nordstrom for information about the construction of Tobor, but Nordstrom feigns partial deafness and pretends the transmitter is a hearing aid. At the Nordstrom household, Tobor comes to life and makes a surprise appearance in the living room, where one military official has expressed doubt that Tobor could deal with emergency situations. After Tobor tramps through the house and drives off in a jeep, Harrison and Karl realize that the robot is responding to a transmission from Nordstrom, and with the military officers, follow him. Nordstrom, meanwhile, stalls the spies by pretending that he cannot remember the formula. Using the pen transmitter, Nordstrom begins to write formulae, but Communist scientist Dr. Gustav points out that one of the formulae appears to be incorrect. Then one of the spies, noticing how Nordstrom twists his pen, breaks it and threatens to burn Gadge with a blowtorch. The frightened boy quietly calls out to the robot with his thoughts. Outside, when the transmission ceases, Tobor comes to a halt, so Harrison switches him to telepathic communication and the robot resumes his course. Tobor crashes through the door of the hideout and fights the spies, with the help of Harrison and the military men. Although one spy tries to escape with the formula, Tobor pulls him out of the car and hands him over to the military. Then Tobor gently picks up Gadge and carries him home. Later, as Gadge and Nordstrom watch, a rocket bearing Tobor takes off into space.