Doctor Who Review: 'Robot of Sherwood'

Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome back to the Doctor Who Review. The man, the myth, the legend – and no, I’m not talking about the Doctor! Clara’s childhood dreams come true upon meeting Robin Hood and his Merry Men to the Doctor’s disbelief. Yet even with this jovial band of misfits on the job, something is amiss in Nottingham. Peasants are enslaved by robotic knights with a particular need for gold, and the Sheriff is all too happy to oblige at the sake of the oppressed masses. Will the Doctor discover the sinister plot behind the auric-addled automatons, will Robin Hood discover a dark truth about himself, and will Clara be able to put up with their bickering? Warning, spoilers ahead.

The Episode:

Gallant rogues, witty banter, daring duels, and that’s all within the first five minutes of the episode. At the request of his companion Clara, the Doctor travels back to the 12th century to find (or rather disprove the existence of) Robin Hood, Earl of Locksley. Imagine his surprise when the famous archer instead finds him, letting witty retorts fly as fast as his arrows. The Doctor’s disbelief only grows as does the brash impulsive nature of his efforts to prove himself right that eventually land him, Robin and Clara in trouble with the Sheriff of Nottingham and his robotic knights. What are robots doing in 12th century England, and what is Robin Hood doing in nonfictional 12th century England?

The Analysis:

This is, without a doubt, the lightest, fluffiest romp that Doctor Who has had in several seasons. Supposedly fictional characters accomplish seemingly impossible feats with a hearty laugh and a smile (with surprisingly white straight teeth for the time period). The episode feels like the Doctor accidentally stepped onto the set of an Errol Flynn movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While it lacks the gravitas of previous episodes, and the moments where it tries to add weight to the otherwise light-hearted romp fall flat, it is a fun little filler episode, albeit a touch cheesy.

The audience’s reactions are likely to be as split as the Clara’s and the Doctor’s: unbridled, giddy excitement and skeptical, disapproving cynicism. People are excited to see one fictional English hero meet another and see them spar in battles of weapons and wits. To see the Doctor’s doubt and cleverness compete with Robin’s good spirits and sense of fairplay is worth watching alone; you might find yourself cheering as much as Clara upon seeing the green-garbed archer. Guest star Tom Riley plays a convincing larger-than-life Robin Hood with gusto, drawing much of his inspiration from the aforementioned classic Errol Flynn with a touch of Disney-veteran Richard Todd. He and Capaldi play off of each other well in their battles of banter, even if they tend to drag on at points.

Capaldi continues his role of a gruff rude Doctor in this otherwise upbeat episode, resulting in feeling a bit rough and even cruel. Whether it is the overly jovial tone of the story or the darker path Capaldi continues to travel, our titular character went from being an impulsive, rough person to being immature, cold, and even vindictive. Capaldi did bring lighter touches to the episode in his constant arguing and one-upmanship with Riley, but it did not entirely distract from it feeling somewhat out of place. One of the two most powerful moments was also one of the quietest and easily missed, when a girl (later revealed to be Robin’s Maid Marian) kissed the Doctor on the cheek and left him stunned and contemplative. It was understated but one of the few times a serious moment worked convincingly in the episode.

Jenna Louise Coleman’s performance, however, felt right at home in 12th century Sherwood. Her excitement and giddiness is absolutely contagious, which only helps in selling an otherwise out-of-place fluff episode. Yet her jubilance doesn’t dampen her wits, as we see her ready to fight knights and outsmart the episode’s antagonist, the Sheriff of Nottingham. She also gives the second most powerful moment upon being asked “When did you start believing in impossible heroes?” by the Doctor. After a beat, she simply and somewhat disbelievingly says, “You don’t know?”, implying that he was and still is her own impossible hero. In a storyline of saccharine sweetness and over-the-top antics, this line came off as genuinely sincere and heartfelt.

The story itself, written by Mark Gatiss, is very clichéd and relies heavily on typical TV tropes, from the downtrodden peasants to the power-hungry Sheriff (“First Nottingham, then Stoking, then Darby… AND THEN THE WORLD!”) to the run-of-the-mill robotic knights;  “run-of-the-mill” and “robotic knights” should never be in the same sentence together, but it aptly describes this episode. While it does play well into the grandois legend of Robin Hood, it falls a little flat in comparison to previous Doctor Who episodes. The Sheriff is one-dimensional, from dreams of global domination to creepily hitting on our leading lady Clara, his performance is simply standard. The Tin-Man templars are also cruelly underdeveloped, as the most reasoning or purpose we see behind their master plans is one-line dedicated to this season’s running theme of reaching “The Promise Land.” We also have another hint at the season’s plot and our mysterious matron Missy, which is beginning to feel a little forced. It’s another Crack in Amy’s wall or the appearance of Bad Wolf: while it does catch our interest, it’s becoming repetitive and therefore losing its edge. Only time will tell if the over-arching plot was worth the build-up.

The Verdict:

You could easily skip this episode, but I would advise against it. It may be light-hearted fluff and feel disjointed with how the series has gone thus far, but it is a warm and thoroughly enjoyable little story that we haven’t had the likes of in seasons, perhaps even since Classic Who. Ultimately it does no harm and gives us a great Robin Hood performance and a nice contrast to how dark the season has gone and will likely continue to go. In the grand scheme of things it seems inconsequential, but as a stand-alone it is easily enjoyable. Just don’t start swordfighting with spoons  after viewing.

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