8.3 – “Robot Of Sherwood”
When The Doctor offers to take Clara on a trip of her choosing, she reveals that she’s always wanted to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor agrees to it (in spite of his insistence that Robin Hood never actually existed) but when they manage to find the mythical outlaw, The Doctor suspects there may be something peculiar going on.
Every fan of Doctor Who is familiar with the “historical” episode; The Doctor blunders into an event from history or an adventure involving an historical figure and helps to save the day whilst we, the audience, learn a thing or two about said history. But seeing as how we’re dealing with a mythical figure this time out, “Robot Of Sherwood” doesn’t quite fit this mold. Instead, writer Mark Gatiss delivers a light-hearted adventure, festooned with classic Robin Hood tropes and plenty of opportunities for the excellent guest cast to shine. There’s even a brief cameo for Patrick Troughton!
Arriving in Sherwood Forest, in the autumn of 1190, The Doctor is clearly expecting Clara to be bitterly disappointed by the lack of a green-clothed outlaw archer, but no sooner has he stepped outside the TARDIS than the legendary Robin of Loxley plants an arrow in the door frame. Being an outlaw of the robbing variety, Robin (played with suitable gusto and vigour by Tom Riley) attempts to relieve The Doctor of the TARDIS but he’s having none of it. When Robin draws his sword, The Doctor draws…a spoon! Thus begins a great little fight scene between the two, perched precariously on a log over a stream, duelling and jumping about until The Doctor pulls a cheap shot and knocks Robin into the water. Clara is obviously having a ball with all of this and probably enjoys getting to watch two of her heroes duke it out in a gentlemanly fashion. Before long, Robin introduces our heroes to his Merry Men, but Clara seems to be the only one having a good time with all of this – The Doctor is too busy scanning hairs from Will Scarlet’s head or demanding a fluid sample from Robin or getting well and truly pissed off with the way Robin and his crew seem to laugh about everything.
Basically, The Doctor doesn’t believe that this is real. Robin Hood is a myth because he never existed so for him to not only be here acting the way you’d expect Robin Hood to act but to also have his full band of Merry Men? Well, it’s all too convenient for The Doctor’s suspicious nature and he spends the majority of the episode questioning Robin’s true identity. This makes for a fun relationship between the two men, who seem to constantly be poking fun at one another’s expense or just outright insulting each other.
The plot thickens when they have to deal with the nefarious Sheriff Of Nottingham (played wonderfully here by Ben Miller, who looks more than a little bit like Anthony Ainley), at the traditional “archery tournament that turns out to be a trap” sequence found in pretty much every version of the Robin Hood story. Although he bests the Sheriff, Robin is scuppered by The Doctor who, not content with splitting Robin’s arrow, blows up the target in order to get himself captured. The Sheriff is only too happy to oblige; turns out he has a bunch of robot soldiers working for him. The Doctor discovers that the robots are trying to repair their crashed spaceship and need gold to make it work again…okay, so that’s a bit shit as far as plots go, but it does feature some very awesome looking robots whose design feels straight out of the Tom Baker era and it also gives Sheriff Dickhead a chance to camp it up in the most villainous fashion before finally revealing himself to be partly robotic himself.
There’s a fine piece of swashbuckling between Robin and the Sheriff to cap things off, a sequence that you can just tell was designed to pay homage to the old Robin Hood films. The ending itself is a little bit too over the top but the revelation concerning Robin turns out to be rather heartfelt and is certainly sold by both Riley and Capaldi’s performances. Don’t go into this one expecting too much, folks; it’s a romp and a very fun and enjoyable one at that, but it’s not going to end up on anybody’s top ten list.
After last week’s mash up of b-movie plot and heavy morality debate, “Robot Of Sherwood” proves to be a lighter affair but is all the more welcome for it. Lots of fun, lots of laughs (much to The Doctor’s annoyance) and some great design work on the eponymous robots. An enjoyable, swashbuckling 6/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett