Season 8, Episode 3 —”Robot of Sherwood”
After two episodes of existential questioning of the Doctor’s moral compass we got… well… more questioning, but this time it was smothered in hilarity and playfulness. So what did the Doctor get up to this episode?
To the TARFDS [Totally Awesome Recap From Dork Shelf—I know the acronym is not as phonetically pleasant as “TARDIS”, but who needs vowels anyway?]!
This week, our lovely companion takes the Doctor up on an offer to go anywhere in time, choosing the period when Robin Hood would have been traipsing around England with his band of merry men. I’m not certain, but I think we’re supposed to infer that Clara has written Robin Hood fan fiction, and I am totally on board with this.
While the Doctor insists Robin Hood is merely a fictional character, he agrees to take Clara to her preferred destination. Once the TARDIS lands in Sherwood Forest, a leather-clad man with a penchant for shooting arrows appears. No offense to the handsome and talented Tom Riley, but I judge all of my Robin Hoods’ sexiness based on a strict Cary Elwes in the Robin Hood: Men in Tights scale, and this incarnation was a bit too hair extension-y for my taste.
Upon seeing the TARDIS, Robin Hood feels compelled to confiscate it because “all property is theft” (I’m betting there’s a tree in Sherwood Forest carved with the inscription “Robin + Karl Marx 5EVAAA”). Clara then pops out in a dress from Forever 21’s Medieval Fangirls Collection just in time to see the two grown men have a spoon-infused fight that could easily have been taken out of a Mel Brooks movie.
This interaction was particularly interesting for three reasons. Firstly, it taught me that a kitchen is an untapped armory full of utensils ready to be wielded against a home intruder or a roommate who eats the last piece of cheesecake. Secondly, it helped me realize that Twelve is basically a dorkier version of Jason Bourne. And lastly, the fight allowed Peter Capaldi to sneak this subtle “fuck you” to Robin Hood.
I’m not sure if this gesture was intentional, but it happened and the Whoverse is all the better for its existence.
While the Doctor and his newfound foil battle it out, we see villagers in a nearby town being volun-told to be the Sheriff’s new labourers. At this point in the story we pretend that some of this work won’t include fondling the Sheriff’s dong. Upon seeing his daughter being seized, a man attacks the Sheriff and gets himself killed. Was it a dumb move to kill the guy considering the old coot could have been used as a worker? Sure, but I’m not going to tell you how to run your evil empire.
Also let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that the Sheriff is basically baddie Count Rugen from The Princess Bride:
After the Doctor and Robin Hood settle their differences via river water negotiation, the medieval hero introduces his new friends to his band of merry men. At the camp, the Doctor refuses to believe the gang is real, poking and prodding the surroundings for evidence. While this scene was a friendly little reminder that the Doctor is very much an alien, the skepticism was poorly explained. Why on earth would a time-travelling alien be suspicious of a human legend turning out to be true? Methinks screenwriter Mark Gatiss decided to ham-fist disbelief into the story because he wanted to comment on the Doctor’s own mythological status.
While the Doctor is off plucking hair, testing blood, and whipping off shoes, Clara perceptively asks whether Robin Hood laughs so heartily because he is hiding his pain. In a moment of vulnerability, Robin reveals that is heartbroken after losing his land, title, and inspiring ladylove Maid Marian.
Ever reckless, Robin is baited by the Sheriff to enter a contest to find the best archer in the land. At the castle, the competition is narrowed down to the Sheriff himself and “Tom the Tinker” (aka Robin wearing Professor McGonagall’s hat). Not understanding the rules of civil archery competitions, the Doctor shows up out of the blue and starts splitting people’s arrows willy nilly. The contest then dissolves into a dick measuring competition. Clara is not amused.
During the melee, Robin cuts off one of the knights’ arms and discovers that the man is in fact a robot that can shoot purple lightning out of his face (because shooting weapons out of your hands is so Iron Man II). At the suggestion of the Doctor, the crew gets themselves captured in order to discover the Sheriff’s dastardly plan. In the dungeon, Clara is understandably annoyed at being forced to be the Katherine Heigl character in a Judd Apatow movie. Fed up, she deflates her two bickering heroes’ egos by forcing the men to admit that neither of them have a plan to escape their manacles.
Listening in, the guard determines that Clara is the ringleader of the man-children and takes her to the Sheriff. Playing on his hubris, Clara smartly uses her feminine wiles to lure her captor into a game of “I’ll show you mine if you show me your… story about robot aliens”. We then find out that not too long ago the Sheriff discovered a spaceship crash that left an army of “mechanical men” stranded on earth. In return for helping him rule Earth (sounds exhausting), the Sheriff agreed to give the robots all the gold and labourers they’d need to fix their ship. When Clara reveals her bluff, the Sheriff is impressed and demands that she be his consort.
“I’m good on the dong touching front, thx”
Back in the cell, the Doctor apologizes to Robin for his asinine skepticism and the heroes work together and escape. On their way to Clara, the two men stumble onto the robots’ spaceship (how is it lodged inside the castle?) and start poking around to find answers. After a few clicks of the keyboard, the Doctor discerns that the ship was headed to “The Promised Land”, much like that of the clockwork droids from “Deep Breath”. Man, the show is really building this mythical place up. If there isn’t a robot amusement park or robot ice cream parlour at the end of this season I’m going to be disappointed.
While gazing at the computer system, the Doctor theorizes that the robots created Robin Hood as a heroic figure that would give the peasants enough hope and mental strength to finish their project. “That totally makes sense!” says that one weird guy from high school that still posts 9/11 truther videos on Facebook. When Robin tearfully insists that he is real, the Doctor points out that no real human man in medieval times could be so handsome. This statement is accurate.
Just at that moment, the Sheriff bursts in with his cronies and Clara in tow. While Robin and Clara escape, the Doctor is conked out and imprisoned rather than killed because the Sheriff has less cognitive abilities than an Austin Powers villain. In the dungeons, the Doctor incites a peasant prisoner rebellion and uses shiny gold objects to destroy the robots with their own face beam (what a weird sentence). Once the Sheriff arrives to stop the peasants from fleeing, the Doctor warns that the alien spacecraft is far too damaged and that any attempt to fly it will result in a huge explosion that could wipe out half of England. When he gets to the “Robin is a robot” part of his exposition, the Sheriff points out the obvious and states that it would be idiotic to build an enemy he’d have to fight just to build morale for the peasants.
While the Doctor stews in the realization that his theory is incorrect, Robin and Clara come to the rescue. Fueled by his insanity, the Count Rugen stand in challenges Robin to a sword fight overtop a pit of molten gold (that seemed unnecessary). Using a little trick stolen his duel with the Doctor, Robin defeats the Sheriff and hurls him to his doom.
With their partner in crime gone, the robots attempt to fly the ship towards “The Promised Land” despite their likely death. The Doctor then suggests shooting a gold arrow at the ship to get it into orbit and out of harm’s way and… UGHHHH. This episode stopped making any sense about halfway through. If the robots need molten gold to power their ship then surely shooting a solid arrow that could bounce off the ship would be completely useless. Of course the plan eventually works because this is Doctor Who, not The Logic Hour (no one’s favourite show, starring Keanu Reeves).
At the end of the episode we get a lovely exchange between the Doctor and Robin that addresses the two men’s status as reluctant inspirational figures: “I’m not a hero—but if we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name—perhaps we will both be stories”. This was a bittersweet statement. While the Doctor inspires people like Clara to take risks and be heroes, “Into the Dalek”’s soldier sacrifice was a good reminder that the consequences for such heroism can be fatal. Can the Doctor really live with so many past and future deaths on his conscience?
Overall opinion: I’m a bit torn here; while the episode was hilarious, many of its characters and gags felt so derivative of Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride that the inevitable comparison-making took me out of the story. Despite this rather glaring issue, “Robot of Sherwood” was a decent episode.
Robin Hood’s lightness perfectly grated against Peter Capaldi’s curmudgeonly style of humour. This bickering child dynamic helped remind viewers that beneath the Doctor’s scowl lies the same playful little boy Matt Smith crafted. As well, the Doctor’s annoyance with Robin hinted at his jealousy and desire to be Clara’s main hero. Speaking of Clara, she is the element that worked best this episode (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type). No longer constrained by the “Impossible Girl” narrative, our heroine was free to let us into her dorky little back-story and exasperated ‘mom’ mode. Hooray!
What didn’t work so well this episode was the plot (as usual). Come on Doctor Who! There is only so much disbelief I can suspend! Give me a final 10 minutes of an episode that makes sense. I don’t think I’m asking for that much.
Robin: “Robin Hood laughs in the face of all—ha ha ha!” / Doctor: “Do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?” / Robin: “Not as of yet.” / Doctor: “Lucky I’m here then.”
Doctor regarding Robin’s laughter: “That wasn’t even funny! That was bantering. I’m totally against bantering.”/ “Can you just stop? You’ll give yourself a hernia.”
Robin Hood: “History is a burden. Stories make us fly.”