Sunday 7 September 2014

DOCTOR WHO, 8.3 - 'Robot of Sherwood' • a merry olde romp

Sunday 7 September 2014


One of the best DOCTOR WHO episodes Mark Gatiss has written (from a lifelong fan with a habit of producing underwhelming ones), and another hour that gave us fresh insights into our new Doctor's (Peter Capaldi) personality and self-regard. He's still short-tempered and uncomfortable with any praise thrown his way, but we also discovered he's incredibly good at armed combat with a spoon...

Clara (Jenna Coleman) wants to visit Robin Hood, despite The Doctor's protestation he's a mythical figure, but a quick trip to 12th-century Sherwood in the TARDIS presents evidence to the contrary. Robin of Loxley's (Tom Riley) a flesh-and-blood reality; brave leader of his merry men and scourge of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller). But while Clara swoons in her childhood hero's overwhelming presence, The Doctor can't help theorising about the truth of Mr Hood's existence...
"I don't need a sword, because I am The Doctor... and this is my spoon!"
"Robot of Sherwood" was a buoyant delight that captured the happy-go-lucky tone of the famous Errol Flynn movie from 1938. It was vibrant, lively, and full of amusing moments from just about everyone—although the ongoing highlight was the unexpectedly tetchy relationship between The Doctor and Robin; two mythic heroes who instantly viewed each other as rivals. The script mined a lot of comedy from their hilariously bitter interplay. I particularly enjoyed seeing them grudgingly cooperate to escape a dungeon, with Robin pretending he's in pain and The Doctor taking the opportunity to belittle his manhood in front of the attending guard.

The general storyline wasn't much to get excited about, but the underlying joy was seeing "Robot of Sherwood" go through all the Ye Olde England clichés and storytelling traditions. There was the archery contest with a disguised Robin (a la Disney's Robin Hood) and a climactic escape from a castle, while all of the Sherwood characters were ripped straight from a Christmas pantomime in terms of costume and performance (I was surprised there was no hearty thigh-slapping), but that was all part of the charm. Clara wanted to meet the Robin Hood from a child's storybook, and that's exactly what she got—with Tom Riley (Da Vinci's Demons) giving his outlaw a full-on charm offensive in her company. Riley was a lot of fun, although it's a pity his famous merry men weren't utilised better, while screen nemesis Miller (Primeval) didn't chew the scenery as vigorously as I'd have liked as the Sheriff.

Jenna Coleman continues to excel this series, which I'm so pleased to see. She was in danger of becoming a companion footnote as "not Amy Pond" during Matt Smith's final year, so it's great that Steven Moffat and the writers appear to have found her voice. She's often the driving force of the show now (similar to how Rose Tyler was used), and is often doing a lot of the important stuff while The Doctor's inconvenienced or not present. And yet this doesn't devalue The Doctor, which is a difficult trick to pull off. He's still the star of the show, naturally, but doesn't have to carry it every second now.

It helps that Twelve's so different to the recent Doctor's, as every scene with him buzzes with a feeling of uncertainty. It was hard to feel afraid about anything because the universe was in such safe hands with the sonic screwdriver-wielding madmen from before, but the Capaldi incarnation's more introverted and you're not entirely sure what he's thinking. It's also damn near impossible to imagine David Tennant or Smith's versions not enjoying being around Robin Hood and getting along famously, while for Capaldi the whole thing was nothing but anguish.

Overall, hammy and frivolous though it was, it was also very enjoyable and I loved the clash of light and dark between the 'Prince of Thieves' and 'Last of the Time Lords'. Gatiss hasn't yet managed to corral his talents into writing an unequivocal classic Who (my early love of "The Unquiet Dead" is fading)... but this was by far his most entertaining, effervescent effort.


  • A scene where the Sheriff was revealed to be a robot after having his head chopped off was removed from this episode, out of sensitivity regarding the beheading of U.S journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in recent weeks. It was a big plot point, so I would expect it will be included in the eventual box-set release, and perhaps in future repeats.
  • Trevor Cooper (Friar Tuck) appeared in classic Doctor Who episode "Revelation of the Daleks", playing Takis; while Ian Hallard (Alan-a-Dale) was Richard Martin in last year's An Adventure in Space and Time TV movie (also written by Gatiss).
  • Weird trivia: the first actor to play Robin Hood on television was Doctor number 2, Patrick Troughton.
  • Anyone else think Jenna Coleman always looks more natural in old-fashioned costumes than modern dress? Born for period drama, if you ask me.
written by Mark Gatiss • directed by Paul Murphy • 6 September 2014 • BBC1

Next time...