The Good: Moments of performance
The Bad: Formulaic in context, Mediocre direction, Somewhat predictable plot
The Basics: More formulaic than actually bad, “Robot Of Sherwood” puts the Doctor and Clara in the legendary story of Robin Hood . . . where Earth is actually under attack by robots who have allied themselves with the Sheriff of Nottingham.
As much as I am growing to appreciate Doctor Who and despite the fact that Peter Capaldi has already (easily) eclipsed Matt Smith on my list of best Doctors, it saddens me that he is not being given great material. Ironically, in the modern Doctor Who, the actors who had the most film experience coming into the series seem to be given the most formulaic arcs and the most tired writing. Indeed, if one were to write a parody of “How To Write A Season Of Doctor Who,” the current season would seem to be the result. Many of the seasons since Christopher Eccleston took on the role of The Doctor have had an establishing episode, followed by a trip to the future, followed by a trip to Earth’s past where the Doctor and his Companion meet a notable European (Charles Dickens, Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare, etc.). Executive producers Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin seem unwilling to defy that formula in the current season as the third episode is “Robot Of Sherwood.”
As its name implies, “Robot Of Sherwood” has The Doctor and Clara making a trip to 1190 A.D., Sherwood Forest where they encounter Robin Hood. Robin Hood is a more dubious character of legend for Doctor Who to utilize, though it offers Jenna Coleman the opportunity to play Clara Oswald as thoroughly smitten for an episode. “Robot Of Sherwood” also allows Peter Capaldi to truly dispel the notion that he (as The Doctor) cannot be as cool, vibrant or youthful as other, recent Doctors. But, given that The Doctor teaches Robin Hood a trick or two about fighting, it is hard to argue that he does not have a kick-ass side to him.
When The Doctor offers to take Clara anywhere in time and space, she tells him that she wants to meet Robin Hood. Despite The Doctor’s assertion that Robin Hood is not real, the pair takes the TARDIS back to Sherwood Forest. While Clara is thrilled to meet Robin Hood and his merry men, the Doctor begins testing all the Merry Men to try to determine who and what they are. Even as The Doctor declares that the sun is too bright, Robin Hood joins an archery contest to try winning a golden arrow, a plan which is thwarted when The Doctor bests both him and the Sheriff Of Nottingham. The Sheriff is revealed to be surrounded by an army of robots who shoot from their faces.
Captured to try to get information on the robots, the Doctor and Robin Hood bicker while Clara is taken to their leader. Clara tricks the Sheriff Of Nottingham into revealing how he came to power, thanks to the crash of an alien ship in the vicinity of Sherwood Forest, as well as his plan to dominate the whole of England. Escaping their cell, the Doctor and Robin Hood reach many of the same conclusions as The Doctor realizes that the invading robots are harvesting gold for their disguised space ship. As the forces of good turn on the Sheriff, the Doctor comes to believe that Robin Hood is, in fact, real.
“Robot Of Sherwood” is a fairly cheesy episode of Doctor Who, but it is by no means as horrible as I thought it would be going into it. While most of the special effects are either ridiculous or entirely lacking (the kill shots from the robots are largely unshown, though the steaming blobs of remains are, apparently, safe for television viewing), there is an exceptionally subtle effect near the end of the episode that illustrates the Doctor’s theory about how the invading robots have altered the local environment. Outside that, “Robot Of Sherwood” has simplistic visual and prop effects that make it look more like a b-rate science fiction show than it has been for years.
Chief among the special effects that border on the ridiculous comes from actor Roger Ashton-Griffiths. Ashton-Griffiths plays Quayle and when his character is confronted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, he spits in his face. He spits an impossible amount of fluid, as if he is doing a spit-take and the result is much more silly than defiant.
If it seems like my review is diluted much more with commentary on the special effects than usual, that is true and it comes for a simple, direct reason. At this point in Doctor Who, we’ve seen this before. The plot and the structure of the plot within the season is painfully predictable. The Doctor and his Companion go back to Earth where they encounter someone notable or famous. Will Robin Hood be this season’s Van Gogh, having a notable effect by recurring later on in the season? It’s hard to care; the season seems to be moving toward significant events in “Paradise” as “Robot Of Sherwood” references the location this episode as the destination for the robots, but the larger arc for the character of the Doctor seems to have been lost already. Going into this season, the Doctor was on a quest to find Gallifrey after he re-engineered the ending to the last great Time War, but that quest has not been explicitly mentioned yet since Peter Capaldi took over (unless the calculations he was writing on the chalkboard at the outset of “Robot Of Sherwood” was something to do with that?). In other words, for a season that had the potential to truly shake up Doctor Who in an awesome way, episodes like “Robot Of Sherwood” unfortunately tread toward the banal and predictable. Will Earth’s history be irrevocably altered due to a robot invasion of our past? No; it’s Doctor Who and the Doctor and his Companion’s influence in past events will ensure that humanity develops as it always has (a clever twist on this would have been if the Doctor did something in Earth’s past that caused history to be rewritten and the Companion he has at the time to be erased from the timeline, but “Robot Of Sherwood” is not that ambitious).
Despite having a formulaic plot and a generally formulaic character arc (Clara is smitten with Robin Hood much the way The Doctor is smitten with Madame Pompadour in “The Girl In The Fireplace”), “Robot Of Sherwood” affords Peter Capaldi the opportunity to perform well as The Doctor. The episode, which is not as reminiscent of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Robin Hood episode “Q-Pid” (reviewed here!) as one might expect, has The Doctor as a hilariously quippy protagonist whose own preconceptions prevent him from seeing the circumstances for exactly what they are. While Jenna Coleman has to play starry-eyed the entire episode, Capaldi gets to play along a fairly wide spectrum of emotions. Instead of being monolithically stern, Capaldi plays the Doctor as surprised well and gives a decent physical performance to boot.
The result is an episode that is mostly entertaining, but is not at all substantive or surprising.
For other works with Roger Ashton-Griffiths, please check out my reviews of:
The Brothers Grimm
Gangs Of New York
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Eighth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!
For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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