Monday, September 8, 2014

Doctor Who 8.03: "Robot of Sherwood"

“Old-fashioned heroes only exist in old-fashioned storybooks, Clara.”
-The Doctor

I’ll admit, I was a little grumbly that my first solo Doctor Who review of the new season was going to be a Mark Gatiss episode. I love Gatiss’ work on “Sherlock,” but his “Doctor Who” episodes have been decidedly subpar. Also, this was a historical episode and I generally prefer more sci-fi episodes. By the way, that last bit is one of the things that is great about “Doctor Who” overall. There is such a wide range of stories that can be told within the framework – there’s something for everyone. Anyway, all of that was a long-winded way of saying that I was pleasantly surprised by “Robin of Sherwood.” There was absurd humor in abundance, and Peter Capaldi’s “slightly toned down Malcolm Tucker who doesn’t swear” take on the Doctor had me laughing while watching “Doctor Who” for the first time in a very long time. Huzzah!

The Doctor offers Clara a chance to go where/whenever she wants to go this time around, although he kind of regrets it when she says she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor tries to tell her that Robin Hood is just a storybook character, and he starts listing off places he would rather go. Clara insists on Robin Hood, however, and the Doctor eventually relents. This kind of reminds me of Amy Pond’s love of Ancient Rome. Anyway, the Doctor takes them to twelfth-century Sherwood Forest, no doubt hoping to prove Clara wrong, but as soon as they arrive, an arrow is shot at the TARDIS. The Doctor peaks out to see what is up, and he encounters none other than Robin Hood.

The Doctor and Robin clash from the start, maybe because they’re more similar than either would like to admit. They are both big personalities, and they are both heroes who don’t particularly like to think of themselves as such. Robin at first tries to steal the TARDIS, but of course the Doctor is having none of that. They have a pretty hilarious swordfight where the Doctor’s weapon of choice was a spoon. Random, but funny. Robin takes the Doctor and Clara to meet the rest of the Merry Men, and the Doctor immediately starts doing experiments to see if they are fake. The Doctor can’t accept that Robin Hood could possibly be real. Clara, for her part, is having a great time. Her fantasy is coming to life. Both the Doctor and Clara agree, however, that Robin laughs too much. The Doctor thinks it means he’s fake; Clara thinks it means he’s actually sad about something. It turns out Clara is right. Robin is sad because he hasn’t seen Marian in a very long time. She’s the person who inspired him to go down the “steal from the rich to give to the poor” path.

The Merry Men have heard word that the Sheriff of Nottingham is having an archery tournament. Clara warns Robin that it’s a trap, but Robin says he already knows that. He can’t resist the tournament, trap or not. The tournament itself is pretty entertaining. The final match is between Robin and the Sheriff, of course. Each hits the bullseye exactly, but since Robin split the Sheriff’s arrow, he is declared the winner. Until the Doctor interrupts and splits both their arrows, that is. He doesn’t want the golden arrow, he just wants information. Before he can claim his prize, though, Robin splits all the arrows. They go back and forth like this until the Doctor gets frustrated and just blows up the target. At that point, he realizes that the Sheriff’s guards are actually robots. He feels vindicated, although he, Clara, and Robin are all sent to the dungeons for their trouble.

There’s more amazing Doctor/Robin banter in the dungeons. They really know how to get on each other’s nerves. This is when I appreciated that Peter Capaldi is basically bringing a slightly toned-down Malcolm Tucker vibe to his portrayal of the Doctor. He can trade verbal barbs with the best of them, and he is seriously pissed off. Clara eventually can’t take the bickering anymore and tells them both to shut up. She then tries to find out if either of them has an idea of how to escape, but neither of them really do. A (non-robot) guard then tells them that the Sheriff wants to speak to their ringleader. The Doctor and Robin squabble over who that is as the guard takes Clara away. That bit was predictable, but funny.

Clara uses her meeting with the Sheriff to learn more about what is going on. By acting like she has experienced the same thing, she gets the Sheriff to tell her about how he saw a spaceship crash, and he got the robots inside to do his will. He wants to do more than just be Sheriff of Nottingham. He wants to rule the entire world. This Sheriff was a bit more moustache-twirling than I would really prefer. I kind of wish the actors from BBC’s “Robin Hood” were reprising their roles in this episode – they were all excellent. It would be kind of fun for Harry Lloyd to be the next Peter Capaldi and play two roles in the Whoinverse before being cast as the Doctor!

Fitting the farcical tone of the episode overall, the Doctor and Robin escape by literally carrying the blocks to which they are shackled. They wind up in the control room of the robots’ ship. A characteristic that is fundamentally of The Doctor regardless of the regeneration is that he believes learning/information is the best weapon of all. He finds out all he thinks he needs to know about the situation from the ship’s database. A group of robots was trying to find the same “Promised Land” as the clockwork robots from the premiere. They landed on Earth and disguised their ship as a castle. The Doctor thinks they ganked Earth legend to blend in, so he now thinks everybody they’ve been interacting with, including the Sheriff and Robin, is fake.

The Sheriff, along with Clara and a robot guard, enter the control room, and a fight ensues. Robin manages to save Clara (by grabbing her and jumping out a window), but the Doctor ends up back in the dungeon with the peasants. The Doctor and a young peasant woman who had been featured throughout the episode end up defeating the robot guards with what look like metal plates (they reflect the robots’ laser beam weapons back at the robots). Once he escapes, the Doctor tries to strike a deal with the Sheriff. He will help the Sheriff repair the ship (that’s what all the gold the Sheriff wanted was for), if he frees Clara. The Sheriff (rightfully) thinks this is dumb considering Robin has Clara. The Doctor goes through his theory that Robin is a robot designed to be “opiate for the masses,” but the Sheriff denies it. Robin eventually appears on the scene, and he has a big fight with the Sheriff. The fight ends when Robin pushes the Sheriff into the vat of molten gold. And yet another Harry Lloyd connection – the death reminded me of Viserys’ death on “Game of Thrones.”

The Sheriff may have been defeated, but there’s still the tiny problem of the robot ship. It has blasted off, but it doesn’t have enough gold to get into orbit. It’s going to crash if nobody does anything. Luckily, the Merry Men still have the gold arrow from the archery competition. Robin’s arm is injured, so he can’t shoot the arrow at the ship, and the Doctor admits he used a homing device on his arrow at the competition. The Doctor, Robin, and Clara all have to work together to shoot the arrow into the ship and get it safely into orbit before it blows up. Mission accomplished, it’s time for the Doctor and Clara to leave Sherwood Forest. Both the Doctor and Clara have nice heart-to-hearts with Robin before they go about being a hero and Marian respectively. After the TARDIS whoops away, Marian materializes. Robin is overjoyed and shoots and arrow into the sky in celebration. It’s supposed to be a joyful ending, but I was kind of worried the arrow was going to come back down to Earth and hurt somebody!

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