TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E3: Robot of Sherwood

This is the episode that I had most reservations about. Not only is it written by Mark Gatiss, whose previous episodes have left me somewhat cold (although I think he did the most magnificent job on An Adventure in Space and Time), but it is a story that promises to bring two of my personal heroes and geek-loves together. The Doctor and Clara encounter Robin Hood. So how does the episode fare to such a pedantic fan of both heroes as me? Find out in this review.

In a sun-dappled Sherwood forest, the Doctor discovers an evil plan from beyond the stars and strikes up an unlikely alliance with Robin Hood. With all of Nottingham at stake, the Doctor must decide who is real and who is fake. Can impossible heroes really exist?

I realised from the outset that I would have to leave a lot of my pre-conceptions at the door with this episode. You see, Robin Hood was my other childhood hero and the legend is something I have spent quite a bit of time researching and placing in history. I knew from the trailer and teaser for the episode that the Robin encountered in this episode would be of the Errol Flynn, swashbuckling mould rather than anything remotely historical. Therein lay my trepidation. If Doctor Who is to do a historical story then I think it should bear some resemblance to reality. Of course, there’s actually no real telling whether Sherwood and its inhabitants are real or indeed, denizens of some futuristic theme park world.

I have to say that this is definitely the most fun episode of Doctor Who that’s been aired for a long while. We have had clever humour and funny bits in darker stories, but Robot of Sherwood revels in being precisely what it says on the tin. The Doctor and Clara meet Robin Hood, the Merry Men (including a Friar from an order that didn’t exist in the 1190s specified as the setting) and of course … robots. Gatiss’ wit is on top form here and I could not help but smile, giggle and laugh out loud throughout the episode.

The guest cast, including Ben Miller as a superbly dry Sheriff who is gathering specific riches from the villages around Sherwood and Tom Riley as a dashing Robin Hood are truly excellent. The rest of the Merry Men are left somewhat to the side of the action but are presented as a band of happy-go-lucky ne’er do wells who have gathered around the charismatic outlaw hero. Miller truly is the stand out performance for me though, providing the perfect balance of villainy and charm that is required. I would honestly like to see a Robin Hood series with him in the role of the Sheriff on a more permanent basis.

On the other hand, I found Riley’s Robin to be thoroughly annoying. This is not meant as a detriment, it’s just that I completely sided with the Doctor’s view throughout this adventure. Riley delivered the cheesy dialogue with the required panache and some of the finest moments in the episode come from the clash between this brash outlaw and the sardonic Time Lord. From their first encounter, the two are at logger-heads seemingly two halves of the same side of the same coin. Grumpy old cynic versus the ultimate romantic hero.

Clara (the instigator of this particular TARDIS outing) once again showed her value to the Doctor. In Robot of Sherwood, Clara proves to be the voice of reason and the adult of the bunch. Not only does Jenna Coleman provide the authority of a teacher in her performance but also a wide-eyed wonder at being in a place which stole her heart in stories as a child. Of course, in full medieval lady dress, Ms Coleman looks stunning as well.

Although I enjoyed the pace of the story, the dialogue and the conflict, there were elements of the plot that didn’t sit well with me. I’m not just talking about historical inaccuracies or even the presence of characters who didn’t enter the legend of Robin Hood until the 1600s or story elements that didn’t enter until later. I’m talking the Golden Arrow. Don’t get me wrong. The archery tournament scene was superbly executed. BUT given the size of the arrow shown, there is no way it could have been loosed from a bow with any effect, as required later in the adventure. Harrumph.

There was enough pseudo-science around the story to keep some criticism (such as the Sheriff’s castle) in check and the design of the warrior Robots was superb. In fact, the design of the whole episode showed that the BBC are still among the best in the world at putting together historical sets and costumes.  My favourite little moment though, was the inclusion of a very particular image of Robin Hood, taken from the first televised (and sadly lost) Robin Hood adaptation starring a former Doctor. Nice touch, production team. I truly salute you.

So there we are. I am ultimately conflicted by this story. On the one hand it was undoubtedly fun, a romp through Sherwood with heroes and villains, ego clashes and conflict. This episode was what Gatiss undoubtedly wanted it to be: take the brilliant Adventures of Robin Hood movie from the 1938 and thrust into it a grizzled, sarcastic and snappish, older Doctor.

Being modern Doctor Who, one can’t simply have a historical human as a threat as they would be no match for the Doctor, so let’s add in the Robot of Sherwood or rather, Robots for good measure. It was well acted, well written and well directed. It just doesn’t sit well with the Hood-historian in me. Ultimately, I must forgive that though. Doctor Who is a fantasy series and should be filled with fantasy heroes. Who’s to say 1190s England in the Doctor Who universe wasn’t more like the Legend.

After all, where do Legends come from?

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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