Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 3: “Robot of Sherwood” Review

Peter Capaldi continues his turn as the most dangerous curmudgeon in the universe in “Robot of Sherwood” by Mark Gatiss. Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) shines in this episode, and Tom Riley of Da Vinci’s Demons is the perfect choice to guest star as Robin Hood. While not without its problems, “Robot of Sherwood” left me content and wanting more. Spoilers ahead.

The plot contains no real surprises. It’s a standard “Doctor meets legendary figure and discovers a gang of shipwrecked aliens preying on the population to repair their spacecraft” story. Gatiss does get points for pacing, though. Every turn of the plot is exactly where it should be. The episode doesn’t drag and it isn’t rushed. If you’re going to write to a formula, this is the way to do it. While the plot doesn’t make for a serendipitous experience, it gives the actors and production crew plenty to work with, and the acting and production are the two elements of this episode that make it memorable. Gatiss also does a good job weaving in references to earlier film incarnations of Robin Hood.

Clara convinces the Doctor to take her to meet Robin Hood, her favorite legendary figure. The Doctor claims Robin Hood never really existed, but takes her to Sherwood Forest c. 1190 anyway. They encounter Robin Hood the minute they step out of the TARDIS. There’s a memorable duel in which Robin Hood uses his sword, but the Doctor uses a spoon. I can’t help but think this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to this moment from 1991’s Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

Clara also refers to Robin Hood as “prince of thieves” later in the episode. Riley’s Robin Hood owes more to Errol Flynn than to Costner, though. The costume design and the constant laughter from Robin Hood and his Merry Men, which annoys the Doctor to no end, are both straight out of the 1938 movie. The lighting is also striking. All the outdoor scenes are sunny and green, thanks to a radiation leak from the alien ship. This makes the indoor scenes of the castle gloomier and the dungeons more dank than they would be otherwise.

clarapolearmThe back-and-forth between Robin Hood and The Doctor is entertaining, but Clara steals the show. As with “Deep Breath” and “Into the Dalek,” Coleman’s performance could have sunk this episode. She strikes the right balance between shameless fangirl and genre-savvy time traveler here. When the sheriff captures the trio, it’s Clara he pegs as the ringleader. This bodes well for the rest of the season. It seems Clara’s a real character now.

The biggest problem I have with the episode is that the plot resolution is just too contrived. The alien spaceship takes off. The aliens haven’t gathered enough gold to actually repair and fuel it, so it’s just a big bomb. If it explodes over England, it’ll destroy half the country–and it has almost, but not quite, enough gold to reach orbit before it explodes. The solution: fire the golden arrow from the archery contest into the alien ship, which will be just enough gold to allow it to escape Earth’s atmosphere. The Doctor, Robin Hood, and Clara work together to do just that, and it works. Now, I’m not one to expect hard sci-fi from Doctor Who, and I enjoy a bit of camp as much as the next guy, but this is just too much. The problems I have with it are listed below.

  1. You can’t really fire a gold arrow that distance. This is the least of the problems.
  2. If you could fire a gold arrow that far, and you fired it into the hull of a spaceship made from 29th Century alien alloy, you wouldn’t expect it to stick.
  3. Even if it did stick, I don’t see what good sticking the gold into the hull would do.

No amount of conjecture about “smart materials” solves this problem for me. Call me a tedious geek if you like, but this is just too much, and it un-suspended my disbelief for a second. They could’ve at least fired the arrow into the exhaust or something. On balance, though, this is a small problem. By the time it happened I’d already been so thoroughly entertained I was in a forgiving mood, and the rest of the episode was good.

I have a larger concern with the way the series is developing, as well. I’m having the opposite problem I had with Matt Smith when he first started. I didn’t like Smith in the beginning, but I liked the 11th Doctor immediately. I’m liking Capaldi, but I don’t care for the 12th Doctor so far. As Will pointed out in his review of Episode 2 on Saturday, the Doctor is supposed to be unlikeable at the moment. I’m thinking he isn’t unlikeable enough. He’s just unlikeable enough to keep me from rooting for him. I don’t dislike him enough to find the character engaging. For all Calpaldi’s brilliance (and his acting is brilliant), the Doctor, as a character, is the least interesting part of these first three episodes. If that doesn’t change, this season is in real trouble. I hope the creative team is setting the Doctor up for a turn, and I hope we don’t have to wait until Episode 10 for it to happen.missy

The only clue we had about the season arc in this episode is that the alien ship’s destination was “The Promised Land.” That makes me think Heaven/The Promised Land/Paradise is a planet, so the theory Hannah and I have been discussing for the last couple of weeks about Missy being a future TARDIS may be blown already.

Tune in next week for my review of Episode 4.

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14 Comments

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  1. I feel your problems with the arrow. It seems like an easy fix, too; instead of standing around, watching Robin and the Sheriff fight, the Doctor and Clara fix the ship. I liked the goofiness of it, and I think it fit the episode, but it also took me a minute to believe it happened.

    Like

  2. Don’t pronounce the theory dead yet… my brother noted after the episode that these ships they’re finding were both ships from the future, sent back to the past. Time travel = Tardis evidence! 😀

    It seems right now that the Doctor is just sort of flailing around responding to things happening around him, rather than making conscious decisions based on understanding the situation. I hadn’t thought about it in so many words before, but it is a problem that makes him less interesting in comparison to everything else. With the kind of persona he’s giving off, I’d really like him to have more control of the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, not dead. I also thought, after it was too late to make changes, that even if The Promised Land is a planet, it could still be a future TARDIS bringing people there. So, still viable I say.

      I’m hoping there will be a moment where he regains control. Hoping that’s the whole point, because the payoff for that can be huge if they don’t wait too long to do the turn.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Since I haven’t had a TV in over 20 years to avoid TV hypnosis (and my inet connection is fibreOps, not cable), I watch what little I DO watch at a friend’s house or via Hulu Plus. Having relatively recently discovered the delights of Dr. Who online, I’m working my way through the series from the beginning. By the time I get to this season, surely it will be in my feed.

    For what it’s worth, your great review “spoils” nothing for me – simply makes it easier to watch for elements other than plot. Thanks for “liking” my make-a-wish Andy post, btw. Every little bit helps. How about a review of the YouCaring site? They do good work.

    xx,
    mgh
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did the no tv thing for years, for that very reason, and I sort of envy you the experience of catching up on it like that. Thanks for the compliment, I’m trying to go easy on the spoilers, but it’s impossible to write a comprehensible review without a few.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoy Capaldi, but I get along really well with crotchy older men. This episode wasn’t amazing for me but I see a lot of potential. I also have seen more from Clara in these three episodes than in the entire last season.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL, I read right through that, but now that you mention it, the clarification is definitely in order. Not that there’s any thing wrong with a little lechery now and then. “All things in moderation,” as they say 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed the humour in this episode, such as when the Sheriff of Nottingham informs them of his plans to take…wait for it…Derby and then Lincoln. London doesn’t even get a mention. Talk about setting his sights low. I’m sure Derby and Lincoln were very important cities in Robin Hood’s day, but to modern ears the scale of his great ambition sounds laughable.

    Liked by 1 person

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