DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 8, episode 3
"Robot of Sherwood"
WRITER: MARK GATISS
DIRECTOR: PAUL MURPHY
AIR DATE: September 6 2014
When Clara (Jenna Coleman) asks the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to take her in the TARDIS to meet Robin Hood, the Doctor dismisses him as nothing more than a legend. However, she insists and they head off for medieval England. There they encounter a man claiming to be Robin Hood (Tom Riley) who promptly challenges the Doctor to a duel, which ends when they push each other into a river. Robin then takes them to meet the Merry Men, much to the delight of Clara and the disbelief of the Doctor. At a camp deep in the forest, Robin confesses to Clara that he is in search of his beloved Maid Marian. The Doctor remains sceptical of the whole scenario and wonders out loud that something is amiss.
Later, the Doctor, Clara, Robin and his men attend an archery contest held by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin faces off against the Sheriff (Ben Miller) in the final round for the prize of a golden arrow, and wins by splitting the Sheriff’s arrow. Unexpectedly, the Doctor jumps in and splits Robin’s arrow. The pair continue splitting each other’s arrows until the Doctor loses his patience and blows up the target with his sonic screwdriver. Wanting to lay hold of the Doctor’s power, the Sheriff has his knights arrest him. A fight breaks out and the knights are revealed to be robots when Robin cuts the arm off one. To learn more about the Sheriff's plans, the Doctor lets the robots apprehend him and his companions.
In a prison cell, the Doctor and Robin bicker like children, so that Clara is mistaken for the leader and taken for an audience with the Sheriff. She beguiles the Sheriff, getting him to open up about his plans. He tells her that he witnessed a spaceship crash and that he intends to repair it and use it for world conquest. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Robin break out of prison and discover the spacecraft which the Doctor learns has come from Earth’s future, crashing on its way to the Promised Land (the domain of the mysterious Missy). To blend in with the time and place, the robots had disguised the stricken craft as a castle and themselves as knights. The Doctor further learns that the ship’s computer holds information about the legends of Earth, including Robin Hood. This convinces him that Robin is a robot created by the robot knights to distract the people of this time with a false beacon of hope. The Sheriff arrives on the scene with Clara in tow, having been alerted to the Doctor's presence. Clara and Robin escape by jumping out of a window into the moat below, but the Doctor is arrested again.
Clara, Robin Hood, and the Doctor
taken prisoner by the Sherrif of Nottingham
Held captive in a gold refinery, the Doctor discovers that the robots are creating a "gold matrix" to repair their spaceship but do not have quite enough gold to complete the task. He also realises that use of the incomplete matrix will destroy half the country. With the help of a young woman also in captivity, he leads the prisoners in a revolt against the robot knights. Most of the robots are destroyed and the prisoners escape. The Doctor confronts the Sheriff about his dangerous plans and realises from his reactions that Robin is in fact the real Robin Hood. At this point, Robin, Clara and the Merry Men arrive. The Sheriff challenges Robin to a duel. Robin then defeats and kills the Sheriff by knocking him into a vat of gold using an evasive manoeuvre that he picked up from the Doctor in their earlier duel.
The few surviving robots take off in the spaceship, tearing the castle apart in the process. Knowing that the ship will destroy the countryside unless it reaches orbit, the Doctor realises he must find a last bit of gold to boost the craft’s power before it is too late. With Robin's arm injured, the Doctor, Clara and Robin work together to fire the golden arrow which they won at the contest into the ship, which is then able to reach orbit where it detonates harmlessly.
As the time travellers prepare to leave, the Doctor tells Robin that he will be remembered as a legend rather than as a man. Robin returns the compliment and, based on what Clara told him, tells the Doctor that he too will come to be regarded as a legend. Before departing, the Doctor leaves Robin a gift, reuniting him with Maid Marian who had earlier helped the Doctor lead the prisoner rebellion.
gets an archery lesson from Robin Hood
Oh well, it had to happen. After two cracking episodes we get a daft one. Such is Doctor Who! Not that this episode was terrible - it had a few sweet moments - but overall I was left feeling let down by the banality of the proceedings. What made the disappointment harder was knowing that writer Mark Gatiss can do a whole lot better than this - think of season one’s The Unquiet Dead or season seven’s The Crimson Horror. Gatiss is in his element when he gets all gothic and spooky. Here he reaches for a merry old British romp, rife with macho posturing (proud men splitting each other’s arrows) and derring-do. To be honest, I’m just not a fan of Robin Hood or legends of that ilk, and also not a great fan of knights and medieval settings. I’ll accept these elements if the story can lift them above the mundane, but sadly that was not to be.
That said, let’s talk about some of the positives. First, it’s not as bad as Victory of the Daleks which stubbornly remains Gatiss’ low point of writing for the new Doctor Who series. The humour in this episode was probably its strongest suit. I did laugh out loud a few times at the bickering between the Doctor and Robin Hood – two stags bucking up against each other and subconsciously squaring off for the prize of top legend of all time. On that level, it was silly and enjoyable. However, as the story progressed, I felt that the Doctor’s spikiness was being overplayed a little, at times uncomfortably recalling Capaldi’s other TV alter ego, Malcolm Tucker. I confess that I was starting to worry that this spikier edge to the Doctor’s persona was going to grate as the series went on, but fortunately this early episode turned out to be unique in making me feel that way.
Another strong point of this episode was the villain, played in impressively dastardly fashion by Ben Miller. I am already a fan of Miller on account of his great work on Primeval as the emotionally reserved and sarcastic chief of operations, James Lester. Here he showed a nice line in diabolical nastiness, stabbing a harmless old man to death in a callously off-handed way. He played the Sheriff’s part just the right side of pantomime, being sufficiently low-key and grounded rather than moustache-twirling and maniacal. A great performance which made me wish that he hadn’t died and the programme makers had left it open for him to return in future.
surprised by an arrow stuck in his TARDIS
Okay, so that’s the positive stuff out of the way – good humour and a good villain. But the downside is that I felt that Gatiss overplayed a number of elements to the detriment of both character and story. I’ve already spoken about Capaldi’s spikiness which I felt was used a little too much in this episode. Another problem I had was the whole legend-as-opposed-to-the-genuine-man theme that ran throughout the whole episode. It felt laboured rather than clever, which is what I am sure Gatiss was aiming for. It was as if the writer had run amok with a highlighter pen all over his pet theme. At the end of the episode when the Doctor and Robin swapped notes on their legendary status, I practically shouted, “Yeah, I get it!” at my TV screen. Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but I felt that I was hearing the sound of the writer’s voice rather than the Doctor’s or Robin Hood’s own voices, and that’s never a good thing. One more problem I had concerned the use of the golden arrow at the end to save the day. It came across as cheesy and unconvincing. It felt like Gatiss wanted a climax involving a feat of archery because… well, hey, it’s Robin Hood and that’s what an act of medieval heroism looks like! The fact that only an arrow-sized lump of gold was needed to complete the spaceship's matrix also came across as contrived. As I said, Gatiss can do (and has done) a lot better.
So, overall, a light-hearted romp with a few laughs and a damn good villain, but hampered by some heavy-handed writing and a bit of an underwhelming climax.
Clara and the Sheriff of Nottingham