Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (2014)

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“No castles, no damsels in distress, no such thing as Robin Hood!”
Here we are at that very moment in just about every season of Doctor Who, post-2005, where The Doctor asks his companion what they would like to see in order to “show off” his time traveling capabilities. Clara, knowing that The Doctor would write the whole thing off as nonsense, decides that she would love to meet the fabled outlaw hero, Robin Hood. Robin Hood is one of those “historical figures” that always makes things hard in shows dealing with time travel because nobody actually knows if he existed or not.

Much in the same way that folks have been searching for the “real King Arthur” for centuries, Robin Hood has been assumed to be probable, but most-likely a myth. This ordeal is played up as a main plot point for this episode from the get-go as The Doctor does not believe that they will actually meet anyone, and when faced with someone that meets the Robin Hood description, basically assumes he’s a charlatan, robot, hologram, shapeshifter etc.

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Mark Gatiss decided to pen this script in a farcical way that I know most hard-line fans hate. Just go to any review site and look up episodes like Love and Monsters, The Crimson Horror, or even The Gunfighters – the episodes that are less than serious are very dividing, some will love them, and others will absolutely hate them. Take a character such as Strax, for instance, I love the guy, but the general “fandom” of Doctor Who, if podcasts can be believed, HATE him.

This silly tone of near-comedy in Robot of Sherwood is directly at odds with the previous two episodes and how dark they actually were. This may be my biggest complaint with this episode as it almost doesn’t feel like it “fits” with the previous two. It’s almost like a leftover Tennant or Smith script slightly changed for Capaldi. That isn’t to say it’s bad or anything, but I’ll explain what I liked and didn’t like.

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The highlight of this episode, for me at least, was the banter between Robin Hood (as played by Tom Riley) and The Doctor. Since he’s convinced that Robin is in some way false, The Doctor is not willing to give him any slack on anything he does. Every quip, bit of banter, or boisterous laugh that he exhales is met with derision and anger. Here is an example of one such exchange:

Robin Hood: Whatever it is, you bony rascal, I’m afraid I’m must relieve you of it.

The Doctor: It’s my property. That’s what it is.

Robin Hood: Don’t you know all property is theft to Robin Hood?

The Doctor: You can’t be serious.

Robin Hood: I am many things, sir, but I am never that. Robin Hood laughs in the face of all! Ah ha ha ha haaaa!

The Doctor: Do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?

Robin Hood: Not as yet!

The Doctor: Lucky I’m here then, isn’t it?”

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This becomes the most humorous in the often re-created archery contest scene where Robin Hood sneaks in with a disguise calling himself “Tom the Tinker”. The worn out scene where Robin splits an arrow with another arrow plays out like it has in just about every adaptation of the story, then it gets sillier. The Doctor, irritated by the smug arrogance of Mr. Hood, uses his archery skills to split these two arrows a third time, Robin counters with another, and so on, until The Doctor just blows up the entire target with his Sonic Screwdriver.

Tom Riley basically uses every contemporary Robin Hood trope used since Errol Flynn donned the green tights to create one of the most irritating heroes of all time. He’s so boisterous and arrogant that he’s essentially Lord Flashheart from the Blackadder series. He’s one of those characters that the hero of our story despises, but everyone else thinks he awesome at everything he does.

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It will come as no surprise that the villain in this episode is none other than the Sheriff of Nottingham himself, as played by Ben Miller channeling his best Roger Delgado impression. I actually liked him in the role, even though he really didn’t challenge anything at all. He’s just as much of a bastard as one would expect, and has an army of alien robots at his side to do his dirty work. Alien robots? Did I forget to mention that Sherwood Castle is discovered to be some sort of crashed spaceship, and in classic Doctor Who fashion, these aliens have tricked the Sheriff into helping them hoard gold to fix said spaceship? It’s pretty silly, but it works.

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It’s in the actual plot of this episode that I have some problems. Much in the same way that Gatiss wrote a plotline into Victory of the Daleks wherein our heroes convinced a robot that he wasn’t a robot to stop a bomb from exploding, this episode involves the “bad-guy” space ship not having enough gold to escape The Earth’s atmosphere (it’s engine uses gold somehow), and Robin Hood shooting gold into the ship to make it fly away then explode. It’s cool when you see it, but as one thinks about what they just saw, it falls apart. If it wasn’t for the fact that this episode doesn’t take itself seriously I’d be concerned that Mark Gatiss rarely knows how to finish most of the scripts he has written. I really like Mark Gatiss episodes, but he needs to smooth some rough corners if he is ever going to take the reins from Steven Moffat like everyone assumes.

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No Missy appearance this week, but the thread binding it all together was that the robots crashed on Earth while searching for “The Promised Land”, which viewers might remember was the reason the clockwork droids ended up on Earth in Deep Breath….curiouser and curiouser…

All in all, this was a fun episode. Most of it made no sense under scrutiny, but as a farce it did it’s job. It does a good job of poking fun at the Robin Hood mythos and showing that most of our myths we hold as a society are probably based in some truth from the past. The Doctor starts the episode out, set in his ways, very closed-minded, then realizes that he doesn’t always have all of the answers. Join me again next week as we take a look at an episode sure to make me scared of my bed in addition to the dark, angel statues, and kids wearing gas masks.

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6 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (2014)”

  1. I am not especially fond of “Love and Monsters.” As a long-time viewer it is somewhat interesting for its analysis of fandom (the Absorbamorph is obviously a stand-in for the detail-obsessed super-fan who is fixated on making every tiny bit of the show’s continuity fit together flawlessly, to the point where they suck the fun out of everything) but it really does not hold together as a decent, entertaining story. In contrast, I really enjoyed both “The Crimson Horror” and “Robot of Sherwood.”

    There is nothing wrong with humor in Doctor Who, as long as it doesn’t become stupid or bufoonish. After all, “City of Death” has shown up on numerous “Greatest Doctor Who Stories Ever Told” lists, and it is an extremely funny story. At its best, the series, as well as the character of the Doctor, has often been a nice balance between drama and comedy.

    As for “The Gunfighters,” I have never actually seen it. But I would like to, just so I can make up my own mind.

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    1. I’m right there with you, the only episodes that I feel took comedy “too far” were the fart noises of the slitheen. They actually worked better in Sarah Jane for apparent reasons. While I enjoyed the episodes, I thought that sort of humor was a bit too much.

      It may be because I’m a big Gatiss fan anyway, but I really enjoy his “comedy” episodes, especially Crimson Horror. Then again, I get accused of being easy to please with Doctor Who…lol

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