Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood

The science of Classic Doctor Who had always been a bit...dodgy. A lot of the concepts fall apart with the most casual scrutiny, but that's okay, the guys in the rubber suits were winking at the audience, so I was fine with a MST3K hand-waving explanation.

While the reboot is darker and more tightly scripted, (more"mature") the science and the continuity really aren't all that much better. (Or at least, they haven't increased at the same pace as the audience's ability to poke holes in them.) Too often, Moffat has tried to feed us cynicism and pretend it's maturity.

Either you're silly and you know it, and you get something of a pass, or you're deadly serious, but you're held to a higher standard. Deep Breath featured a humanoid lizard from the age of the dinosaurs priggishly lecturing Clara how Marcus Aurelius was a “superlative bass guitarist", which is just as goofy as anything in this episode, but I defy you to find any joy in that scene. It's just as ridiculous as anything in Classic Who, but it's played straight.

Consequently, I enjoy the occasional episode when the program acknowledges its own absurdity. I think I liked Robot of Sherwood more than any previous episode of the revived series. It has the feel of the old show, but with modern day production values. A little bit Masque of the Mandragora, a little bit City of Death, faintly ridiculous, to be sure, but charming because of it.

We open with the Doctor writing on the blackboard, and asking Clara where she wants to go. Clara is spinning around in a chair. It looks like the blackboard is going to be a thing and not just set dressing. I like that.

Clara smiles, and requests Robin Hood, and her smile is so infectious. I like Clara.

They bicker, he relents and sets the TARDIS for 1190, but he tells her that she's only going to be disappointed, because Robin Hood didn't exist.

As they emerge from the TARDIS, the Doctor loudly declares that there is no such thing as Robin Hood, which is like an invocation to make him appear, which he does, and he places an arrow in the TARDIS.

The Doctor bickers with Robin, and Clara comes out of the TARDIS in her Ren Faire costume. I like the screenshot below, because it captures their reactions. The Doctor is rolling his eyes in annoyance, and Clara is almost giddy.

I suppose this is a good time to acknowledge that this is certainly a polarizing episode. I loved it, and a lot of people hated it. Even I am not going to defend the Doctor dueling Robin Hood on a log, using a spoon.

Meanwhile, on a farm, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who looks like the love child of Anthony Ainley and Count Rugen, is strong arming peasants on a farm. He's evil in the fun way that Doctor Who villains often are.

We cut to Robin's camp, where he is introducing his Merry Men, while the Doctor tries to figure out what's going on. He rejects the idea of holograms, but suggests they might be a theme park from the future, or inside a miniscope.

The Doctor points out that only people who are sad laugh as much as Robin does, and I thought that was a really poignant observation.

A little more banter, and then we cut to the archery contest. Robin and the Sheriff are finalists, the Sheriff shoots a bullseye, but Robin splits his arrow and wins the prize, but as he is accepting it, the Doctor splits Robin's arrow with one of his own. I like the rainbow fletching.

(I didn't notice until I took that screenshot, but the Doctor is wearing a wedding ring)

The Doctor rejects the prize of the golden arrow, and requests enlightenment from the Sheriff instead, but Robin splits the Doctor's arrow while they're having this conversation. The Doctor splits Robin's arrow, and this goes back and forth until the Doctor blows up the target with his sonic screwdriver. The Sheriff earns his villain bona fides by shouting "Seize them!" to his henchmen. Someone cuts the arm off a guard, and the Doctor realizes that they're robots. He decides that the best route to enlightenment is to get captured, and that's what he does.

We then cut to the captured peasants laboring and smelting gold. The robots execute those who can't labor with their purple death rays, the targeting icon of which appears as a purple cross. I like that a lot. The robots really remind me of Classic Who villains like the Terileptils. They've got a distinctive look, they show up for a one-off and give Doctor a bit of trouble and we never see them again.

The Doctor and Robin bicker, and bicker and bicker.  I thought the archery scene was the exact right length, but this went on for just a bit too long, though it did have its moments ("I feel another laugh coming on!") I mentioned once that a lot of Tennant's early scripts seem to have been written for Eccleston, and this seems to have been written for Matt Smith. I think it's too early to say if it's at
with Capaldi's characterization of the Doctor, as we've only had two episodes to establish and one of them was almost entirely post-regeneration mania, so that's a really small sample size of what the Twelfth Doctor is really like. Clara is level headed, and when she tries to ride herd on the boys, a guard identifies her as the ringleader and takes her away.

Clara is dining with the Sheriff, and she pumps him for information while playing on his vanity.Ordinarily, I'm very critical of these kinds of scenes, where the heroes know every trick, and the villains never seem to have seen a TV show or a movie, but I think it works here, because a 12th Century strongman is going to be a lot less savvy about these kind of tropes. However, he's awesome, because he managed to use "gallimaufry", so I guess the robots at least gave him an 1190 AD Word-A-Day calender.

Robin and the Doctor escape and learn that the castle is really an alien ship disguised as a castle. I even liked the design of the ship. It looked a lot like something out of Classic Who.

The Doctor learns their plans, to use the gold to repair their damaged engines in order to return to the Promised Lands, and turns on Robin, insisting that he's part of the alien's plot. He calls up the ship's databanks, showing him that the aliens have files on all sorts of myths and legends, including Robin Hood, including one particular Robin Hood who looked very familiar. I liked this concept, kind of like a Doctor Who Missionaria Protectiva

They're bickering, when the Sheriff and his robots blast down their own door, which struck me as somewhat unnecessary. Robin flees with Clara, but the Doctor is captured and imprisoned next to the young woman captured in an earlier scene.

Robin interrogates Clara, the Doctor talks the peasant lady. He's freed himself by the time a robot comes to take her away for labor, and he reflects the robot's blasts with a gold platters, and wow, shiny metal plates are already playing a large role in this season.

The other prisoners defend themselves likewise, and even though they deflect every shot back at the robots, the robots don't stop shooting at them. The Sheriff arrives, and so does Robin and his Merry Men. They tussle and Ron fights the Sheriff. I understand there is a scene within the fight that was cut, because of the recent beheadings of US hostages. Robin cuts off the Sheriff's head, but he puts it back on, explaining that he's part robot now.  The episode makes less sense without this scene, but they certainly made the right choice in removing it. The fight continues. Robin employs the move the Doctor used against him on the log to knock the Sheriff into a vat of molten gold.

"I love you." "I know."

The ship is lifting off, but the engines don't have enough power, so the ship is going to blow up, and take the countryside with it. Robin is injured and the Doctor used a homing beacon to cheat at the archery contest, so it looks like the robots are going to get away until the Doctor, Clara and Robin combine their powers to, uh, shoot the golden arrow into the ship. Along with the spoon, this is one aspect of the episode that's just plain silly. But it works, and the ship blows up harmlessly in orbit.

During the denouement, Robin asks he's only remembered as a legend in the future, and the Doctor tells him that he is. He starts telling the Doctor a story, of a man born into wealth and privilege, who found the plight of the oppressed too much to bear....who stole a TARDIS. I liked that. It was telegraphed, though not as much as the scene where the guard comes to seize the ringleader, which could be seen from space. I like the sentiment, which fits in with the theme of the rest of the season. Neither the Doctor nor Robin believe themselves real heroes, but if they fake it till they make it, they can inspire others by their example.

The TARDIS dematerializes  to reveal the Doctor's peasant lady buddy, who was really Maid Marion. On one hand, that's fine, I guess, but I didn't have a lot of investment in her. On the other, they've got dynamite chemistry.

I loved this episode. It's fun, it has no pretensions about being "serious science fiction" or changing the way we see the Doctor. It's a silly romp. It achieved what it set out to do.


  1. Good grief. Even the Star Treks never sunk so low as to do a Robin Hood episode. --Or wait-- Did they???? Maybe they DID . . . ............

  2. I remember that Next Generation had a Robin Hood holodeck episode, but I don't think we saw it in the original series.

  3. No Robin Hood episode in The Original Series. But The Next Generation had Word declaring "I am not a merry man!"