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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Review: Doctor Who – A Christmas Carol

I kind of got sidetracked when I was trying to review the season 5 episodes of Doctor Who last year.  My plan was to get all of them up in a somewhat timely manner and bask in the glory of a job well done.  Sadly, I got busy doing random stuff related to work and other such nonsense that I ended up stopping at episode 4 if I’m not mistaken.  Since I’ve decided to try and blog once a day, I think I will attempt to re-watch all of the episodes and pick up where I left off shortly.  Although it’s slightly out of order, I thought I should start out by taking a look at the newest episode that aired, thankfully while it is fresh in my mind – A Christmas Carol.

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Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005 the novelty of the Christmas episode has really helped keep the show’s momentum during those cold winters when mid-season replacements and re-runs rule the land.  It all started innocently enough with an episode called the Christmas Invasion, the episode that proved that all Christmas TV episodes are not made of the same cloth.  You see in the U.S. television shows rarely have Christmas “specials” and if they do, they usually exist as a cheesy clip episode hastily thrown together at the last minute.  Shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation have holiday themed episodes sometimes, but they aren’t really “special at all.  This is one reason I like the U.K. way of doing TV despite shorter seasons and shorter runs.  Now we sit five Christmas specials later and bear witness to Matt Smith in his Yuletide zaniness.

The episode opens with a glimpse into the ill fated honeymoon between Rory and Amy, the main companions of the last season of the show.  The Doctor has granted them passage on some sort of luxury cruise liner in space, only to have a huge mishap occur.  It appears that the ship traveled too close to a strange planet with an electromagnetic cloud encircling it.  The ship was drawn off course and towards catastrophe for the 4000 passengers and crew.

The only hope for this doomed ship is the man that controls the swirly vortex of lightning and clouds Kazran Sardick.  Michael Gambon of Harry Potter and Layer Cake fame paints of picture of a sad man with a hardened heart that has given up on humanity.  He could help the 4000 passengers in the ship, but he doesn’t care in the slightest.  In the grand tradition of the classic tale A Christmas Carol, it’s up to the Doctor to help him learn how to live again.  He decides to visit Kazran at an early age and see what caused him to be so morose.

Kazran’s father (also played by Gambon) apparently created a system to keep the planets native fauna at bay as they would snack on unsuspecting citizenry when the planet was first colonized.  This animal life is similar, if not blatantly the same as our marine fishes and sharks.  This planet basically has an atmosphere so thick that these creatures can swim through the thick, foggy air at ease.  As a boy Kazran wanted to study these fish, but was beguiled at beaten by his dad for having such outlandish ideas.  He was to take his father’s place as the planet’s head honcho of loan brokerage upon his father’s death, not meddle in marine biology.

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In these very earliest moments of the episode we definitely see Steven Moffat’s brush strokes as he likes to mess with time travel as much as he can.  The term “wibbly wobbly timey wimey….stuff” comes to mind as the Doctor is shown to be interacting with a young Kazran as the older Kazran watches on in both horror and amusement.  The Doctor soon stumbles upon a girl frozen in a container in a large cryogenic chamber (played by opera superstar Katherine Jenkins) that he had seen earlier on, and decides to let her out to see Christmas.  What ensues is a tale of love and heartache for Kazran and Abigail, and a reminder that The Doctor isn’t always able to make the right decisions or help everyone.  I’ve left the rest of the plot vague to curtail spoilers, and allow for folks that have not seen the episode to enjoy it.

On a storytelling front, the aforementioned “wibbly wobbly timey wimey….stuff” is well done, and firmly places some actual time travel back into a show that ironically hasn’t had much time travel rather than the initial landings since its inception almost fifty years ago.  I know some folks find Moffat’s use of this motif tiring as he has done similar things in not only The Girl in the Fireplace but Blink and season 5’s finale as well.  The plot was easy to understand, not to complex and above all else….fun.  That’s the one thing that I love about Moffat scripts is that not only do they make you think, but a childlike sense of wonder ensues.   Not to bash the previous show runner, but some Russel T.  Davies helmed episodes seemed too brooding and basically “emo” for my liking.  These current ones have a sense of fairytale to them, which is new to the show.

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Visually the episode was usually pretty great looking with the occasional computer generated effect looking less than amazing.  Keep in mind that I watched this on my mother’s standard definition TV on Christmas day, so viewed on my own rig could change my opinion.  On the musical side of things, both Murray Gold and Katherine Jenkins (who sings as one would assume) are on the ball and deliver a great soundtrack, especially for a TV show.  Anything is good with the eleventh Doctor’s theme in tow, one of the best pieces of music in the show since its return.  Really my only complaint about this episode was the fact that it seemed somehow padded a bit despite the large amount of plot going on.  Not that it dragged or anything, but parts of it seemed almost slow.

A Christmas Carol was not my favorite of these yearly Christmas specials (Voyage of the Damned still takes that honor) but it is probably my second favorite.  The great cast including Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins is top notch, as it the performances by the regular cast.  Matt Smith is growing to be one of my favorite Doctors ever, and his performance in this episode had to have been his strongest yet.  All in all, great Christmas TV, and I can’t wait for season six.

 

My rating 4.5 out of 5

 

Here is a season six trailer as a bonus!