Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood

Hood: 'And remember, Doctor. I'm just as real as you are.'

This is an episode I've been dreading since I first saw it advertised. The title sounded awful, the premise laughable, Robin Hood himself looked ridiculous, and the less said about the teaser the better. So why did I spend half of the episode cackling like a loon? One word: banter. The Doctor may not like it... but I do.

I've been saying all week to anyone who'll listen, if they're going to do Robin Hood, they better (a) camp it up, and (b) go big with the humour. Thankfully, Mark Gatiss did just that. The legend of Robin Hood has been so abused by modernity that it's virtually impossible to think of the man-in-tights without snickering. Trying to tell a pseudo-historical story would have been disastrous. Thankfully, Gatiss chose to portray Robin Hood and his Merry Men as stereotypes—with magnificent britches, outrageous laughter and clichĂ©d dialogue—and, surprisingly, managed to create some of the show's funniest exchanges to date.

The Doctor and Robin's continuous pissing contest and subsequent banter was hands-down my favourite part of the episode. Peter Capaldi and Tom Riley looked like they were having a ball. Unfortunately, the laughter came at a price. For the humour to work, they had to knock several hundred points off the Doctor's IQ, which made him look astonishingly stupid at times. But for an episode like this, it was an acceptable compromise. This was a distinctly kid-friendly piece, and judging it on those grounds, I think it worked fine. How it'll fare when pitted against the season's bigger episodes—or even the two which preceded it—is another matter entirely.

From an adult perspective, however, there was just too much effort required to explain some of the plot deficiencies. How did firing a gold arrow at the side of the ship help it into orbit? Was the gold absorbed by some kind of osmosis? It also telegraphed a few too many set-pieces (most notably, the spoon), and the classic episode shout-outs ('Carnival of Monsters', 'The Smugglers', 'The Mind of Evil', etc.) felt, at times, clumsily inserted. Explaining Hood's traditionally over-the-top laughter as a compensatory mechanism for personal loss, however, was a nice twist. I also liked that Hood ended up reunited with Marian, despite there being insufficient time for us to care about either of them. Forty-five minutes just isn't long enough to do an iconic love like theirs justice.

The Robin Hood storyline, as long as you treated it as pantomime, was generally enjoyable. It was clever, generated plenty of hilarity, and provided the perfect backdrop for a stand-alone high-definition romp. Is it possible to reconcile the personality of the Doctor here with the Doctor of last week? Maybe. Maybe not. I also didn't quite understand who Hood was talking about when he said 'He's a lucky man.' Was he talking about the Doctor or Danny Pink? Since the context was romantic, I initially thought he was referring to Pink. But they only met last week, for Kroll's sake. And Hood surely knew nothing about... I'm going to say it, you can't stop me... Clanny! No, Piswald. Wait! That sounds terrible. Dara? (Nailed it!) So he meant the Doctor, right?

The robots storyline, was more problematic. That's not to say it was a total bust—unless you had a problem believing that an all-gold arrow would be robust enough to be fired from a bow. Obviously the robots were there to give momentum to the season's 'Promised Land' arc, although it took me a while to twig that the Sheriff was actually part-robot. Apparently they deleted a scene of him being decapitated (out of respect for the recent executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff), so his part-mechanical make-up wasn't obvious. (Especially if you missed his 'half-man, half-engine' line as he ascended to the rafters... and the music at that point was awfully loud.)

And I'm not sure how good a week this was for Clara. Initially, she came across as quite clever, what with keeping the boys in line and outwitting the Sheriff of Nottingham. But since everyone around her was either (a) acting like a buffoon, or (b) had twelfth-century sensibilities, it wasn't really that difficult to appear intelligent. I didn't think her intellectual contributions weren't quite as sharp as last week, but I don't think anyone really sparkled tonight. The Doctor did seem to come to his senses once he'd actually laid eyes on the alien ship, but he spent the bulk of this episode getting things drastically wrong.

Gatiss' musings on the nature of the hero, and legend versus reality, I thought worked well. I particularly liked Hood's 'I'm just as real as you are' line. Real or not, heroes are meant to inspire, and their stories bring hope to generations. Who cares if the odd detail is embellished? Or the whole thing, for that matter?

Other Thoughts:

—Where did the Doctor find time to make a homing arrow?

—I racked my brain trying to remember when Doctor Who last used a mythological character. All I could come up with is Santa... but even that feels like a stretch. I asked Classic Who doyen, Mark, and he responded with 'How about all that Arthurian bollocks on 'Battlefield'?' A classy reply, I think you'll agree.

—Great reference to the size of Errol Flynn's todger. I know it was legendary, but was its enormity mythical too? Why do I want to know? I don't k... moving on.

—Here's Patrick Troughton's brief appearance, for those who missed it.

—Thanks a bunch Terry Gilliam and Mel Brooks for ruining Robin Hood forever... and by ruining it, I mean making it better.

—Using shiny plates to deflect lasers with that sort of accuracy? Utter bollocks!

—According to Mark Gatiss, it was Steven Moffat who first pitched the idea of Robin Hood with robots. I guess we can't hold that against Gatiss then. Damn!


Doctor: 'I am totally against bantering.'

Doctor: 'When did you start believing in impossible heroes?'
Clara: 'Don't you know?”

Doctor: 'Shut it, Hoody!'

Hood: 'I had the situation well in hand.'
Doctor: 'Long haired ninny versus robot killer knights? I know where I'd put my money.'

Hood: 'I'll tell you one thing, I'd last a lot longer than this desiccated man-crone.'

Clara: 'Thank you, Prince of Thieves... Last of the Time Lords?'

Clara: 'Can you explain your plan without using the words sonic screwdriver?'

Hood: 'You're as pale as milk. It's the way with Scots, they're strangers to vegetables.'

Hood: 'Soiled myself?'
Doctor: 'Did you? That's getting into character.'

Hood: 'Now what?'
Doctor: 'First, the blacksmith's forge.'
Hood: 'So as to remove our chains?'
Doctor: 'No, so I can knock up an ornamental plant stand. Of course it's to get rid of our chains! I don't want to be manacled to you all night.'


sunbunny said...

The ship name for Clara and the Doctor is Whouffle (Who + soufflé). Its lack of accent mark is a constant source of vexation for me.

Have to disagree about Clara. I thought this was one of her best episodes, of this season at least. The guard carrying her off because she was clearly the ringleader (very easy mistake to make), her manipulation of the sheriff (which was, yes, very easy), and her adorable fangirling over Robin and his Merry Men was all great.

Paul Kelly said...

Sunny, I can't help but feel that you just disagreed with me there by agreeing with me. Is that what just happened?

sunbunny said...

And I quote: "And I'm not sure how good a week this was for Clara." I think it was a very good week. :)

Paul Kelly said...

Yeah, I didn't say it was a bad week, I just said I wasn't sure how good exactly it was. And I stand corrected on Whouffle ;)

TheShadowKnows said...

I actually liked this the best of the three so far. The first one was too madcap and scatterbrained for my taste, and I'm at the point where I almost hate the Daleks (and not in a good way). While undeniably stupid, this episode felt like classic Who to me. Classic stupid Who.

TheShadowKnows said...

By the way, I didn't think the Doctor was acting stupid in this episode so much as mule-stubborn and unwilling to admit he was wrong. That's pretty much in character for ALL of his incarnations.

Katerina said...

I really hoped I would warm to Capaldi, but this episode certainly didn't do him any favors in my eyes. It's hard for me to believe he's supposed to be playing the same character, even knowing each actor brings his own flavor. I may be in the minority, but I'm just not feeling him as the Doctor at all. I've been chatting with some friends about why this might be the case, and there may be a few contributing factors. To name a couple - first, I'm unfamiliar with classic Who, so Capaldi's Doctor's is extremely different than what I'm used to. He just doesn't feel like the Doctor to *me*. Also, I had already seen -and enjoyed, Capaldi's acting in other shows, so when I see him, I'm seeing the actor moreso than the character. He's just not doing enough for me to temporarily forget those other roles. I didn't know Eccleston, Tennant, or Smith prior to their playing the Doctor, so I didn't have this issue with them, unfair or not.

I kept thinking while watching this episode that the material would have suited Tennant or Smith so much more, not that it was the greatest story. I will probably keep watching, because I still hope Capaldi and the writers can change my mind, but I'm just not enjoying Doctor Who right now.

Needless to say, my unhappiness with the new Doctor is not a reflection *at all* of the quality of the reviews. :) We're just viewing the show from two very different perspectives.

Mark Greig said...

There were some issues with the plot, but there weren't enough to spoil my enjoyment. This was a welcome piece of silly fun before what is sure to be another Moffat fright-fest.

Katerina, I have to disagree that this story would've better suited for Tennant or Smith. The Doctor's stubborn refusal to acknowledge Robin Hood is real fits better with Capaldi's sterner, grumpier Doctor. Ten and Eleven would've been geeking out along with Clara, and considering how much they grinned liked idiots I can't imagine them chastising anyone for laughing all the time. Also, the sword/spoon duel and archery contest are not things I could ever see the Eleventh Doctor doing. Poor Matt would've stabbed himself with the spoon and got tangled in the bow string.

Billie Doux said...

Unfortunately, I'm with Katerina. I want to love Capaldi as Twelve, but I just don't. He feels like an evil doppelganger masquerading as the Doctor I once cared so much about. I'll keep trying a little longer, but I might have to sit this Doctor out and hope for better things with the next one.

One way or the other, I'll still keep reading your terrific reviews, Paul.

mazephoenix said...

I suggest Clink as a shipper name for Clara and Danny Pink.

rebecca_s921 said...

I enjoyed this fun episode, and I'm liking 12. I went back to watch season 5 in nostalgia and realized in beginning I felt quite disconcerted by 11, I think both from getting used to a new doctor, and a new actor settling into a challenging new role. I have high hope for how Capaldi's portrayal of the doctor will evolve down the line.

Baz said...

I really liked this one, though I'm definitely more forgiving of plot holes with Who than I would be many other shows...
As a kid I used to watch reruns of Doctor Who on BBC 2 and Jon Pertwee was always my favourite, so I'm loving capaldi - the grumpiness is a welcome change for me!

Different strokes for different folks I guess :)

mazephoenix said...

I adore Capaldi and his Doctor feels right to me. He did look concerned enough when he thought Clara was dead. he has a heart, but it's well hidden. Well, two hearts. This episode was silly, but in a good way. It does feel like classic Who. Last week was fine, but I liked this better.

Annie said...

I'm really really enjoying Capaldi as The Doctor. I actually had problems getting into the 11th and had stopped watching, more because I found the companions irritating than any problem with Matt Smith.

I do think it is a refreshing change to have an older more cantankerous Dr and I think he stands up very well amongst all Drs, classic and the reboot ones.

I enjoyed this episode very much, and like Paul, I didn't think I would when I saw the trailer.
I Laughed out loud a few times, which is not something I really expected.

I look forward to tomorrow's offering, looks a bit scary from the trailer, so maybe I'll be hiding behind the sofa instead of laughing.

Elfie said...

I still can't warm up to Capaldi as I did to Smith or Tennant. He is just soo different from the past doctors! He doesn't feel eccentric, or other-wordly, he seems grumpy and violent and irritated with the world around him, also sophisticated. Smith, Tennant and even Eccleston, were rather optimistic and in love with everything and the world. They were also far from sophisticated. I don't know. The Doctor doesn't necessarily have to be happy-go-lucky, but he needs to be more believable as the same person. There have to be at least a few, tiny, similarities between all his incarnations. Right? I don't know. Maybe it will take me time to warm to him, but I won't give up hope. The next episode looks interesting. I can't wait to watch it.

This one had me laughing A LOT. Especially when they were in the dungeon and 12 was getting annoyed at Robin for laughing and then when Clara shut them both up. Banter is the best!