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Monday, September 8, 2014

Doctor Who: Robots of Sherwood

1. I am genuinely disappointed that the cast of Robin Hood (2006-2008) weren’t reunited for this episode. And when I say “genuinely” it’s to signify that I don’t think it was a pipedream. I think they honestly could have tried to get Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Keith Allen, Gordon Kennedy, Joe, Harry and Anjali for this episode. It would have been awesome.

(I am of course referring to the original incarnation of the outlaw gang, though I confess that revealing Kate and Tuck as evil robots would have made an awful lot of sense).

We did at least get one actor among the cast to represent the Robin Hood of half-a-decade ago: Joseph Kennedy, here playing Will Scarlet, who was the hugely popular (somewhat inexplicably popular save for the fact that he’s a cute white guy) guest star Carter.

2. Instead we get Tom Riley, who played Robin Hood a bit like Rik Mayall as Flashheart as Robin Hood on Blackadder, but has got to be the blandest handsome man I’ve ever seen. I mean, objectively I can tell that he’s good looking, but it’s in such a nondescript way that it always takes me a while to really notice him. See you back on Da Vinci’s Demons!

3. The Doctor finally takes Clara on what I call a “field trip episode”, which is when the Companion gets to fulfil their dream of going somewhere or meeting someone in history. Clara is probably second only to Martha as a Companion who has had virtually no fun on her adventures with the Doctor, and it’s a bit of a shock to realize that this is the first time the Doctor has extended the treat of a field trip to her.

4. There are also two kinds of historical sojourns on Doctor Who: the ones in which they take every effort to make the setting as accurate and realistic as possible (Human Nature and Family of Blood spring instantly to mind), or they simply go for farcical costume drama. Guess which one this was! Not that this was a bad thing – they realized the tone of the script and they went for it.

5. Plotwise, this thing was a mess. Okay, nothing wrong with the reveal that the castle of Nottingham was a stranded spaceship that merged into its surroundings and had to raise taxes accumulate gold to re-hard wire its system (or something), but some components were just plain stupid. Defeating the robots with reflective plates? Firing a golden arrow at a spaceship that gives it the added “oomph” to reach space? So, so stupid.

And I’m not sure what to make of the fact that Robin Hood as he appeared in this incarnation (with the OTT laughter, the flashy personality, the perfect teeth etc) was actually a real person. Of course, the environment and the sheriff were all constructs, but the emphasis that was put on Robin and his men as probable illusions was so overt that it became a bit jarring when it turned out they were all for real.

Of course, if they’d met the really-real Robin Hood, they would have probably ended up meeting a filthy highwayman thug whose misdeeds got warped and twisted into heroism over time. Given that the main point of this episode was to eventually hold up Robin as a mirror to the Doctor, this could have been an interesting twist, one that was in keeping with the season’s theme of whether or not the Doctor is a good man.

But they went for hope and optimism. Why shouldn't a decent man give up his comfortable life in order to help the suffering, with or without a Tardis? At this stage the legend of the Doctor is probably more familiar to him than himself, and so recognizing that Robin Hood is/was a real person would have been a source of great comfort to him.

6. That said, the “poignant” discussion about Robin being remembered more as a legend than a man fell a bit flat, since the entire episode painted him as exactly like the legends describe him. He hasn’t been forgotten at all, neither as a flashy showman who’s good with a bow, or as a decent man who loved Marian and chose to do the right thing.

7. I have never in my life wanted to be more moved by a reunion between Robin and Marian, and have never been more disappointed (okay, that’s an exaggeration) when I just didn’t feel it. They are one of my favourite couples of all time, but the fact that we didn’t get a proper understanding of why the couple were separated, and that I didn’t grasp that the peasant-girl the Doctor was helping was Marian (which was stupid of me considering Once Upon a Time just pulled the exact same plot) meant that her reveal came more as a pleasant surprise than a longed-for reunion. Can you imagine how incredible this would have been if it were Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffiths back in these roles?

But do you know what did choke me up a little? When Robin and Clara are talking about Marian, and Clara softly says: “I have always known her.” *sob* Me too, Clara. Me too.

8. Speaking of Clara, she got another good episode – fan-girling over Robin, getting the boys back on track in the dungeon, outwitting the Sheriff through conversation, and eventually helping Robin fire the last arrow. Jenna Coleman seems so much happier now that she’s got material to work with, and she looked great in the Renne Faire dress with her hair all curled and styled (didn’t like the thing on her forehead though).

9. The Merry Men on the other hand, were totally wasted. Granted, there was a lot of plot and characters to get through, but surely they could have played a part in the siege of Nottingham Castle instead of just waiting outside.

And what was with the little person? Was he meant to be Little John? In that case, who was the big guy?

10. There were some nice nods to the Robin Hood legend strewn throughout the episode: the bridge fight, the archery tournament and the last arrow, all of which are necessary components of any self-respecting Robin Hood adaptation. Ah, and what would a Robin Hood retelling be without at least one terminally stupid guard?

Nerd alert: I like that they made it a golden arrow (most recent films/shows make it silver ever since Kip Carpenter changed it from gold to silver to reflect Robin of Sherwood’s occult themes), but was annoyed that the Doctor set the Tardis to travel back to 1190, during King Richard’s reign and the Third Crusade. Nope. If he was after the real Robin Hood, he should have known to head back to a period LONG before that.

And I suppose everyone has already told everyone else about Patrick Troughton’s mini-cameo on the computer screen of the ship in his role from The Adventures of Robin Hood.  

11. Another clue from this underlying plot-thread of the Promised Land. Apparently the ship was trying to get there, and it’s an actual planet as opposed to a mystical heavenly dimension. I’m still not that intrigued, but whether it’s because I was burned by the River Song non-reveal or the general not-interesting nature of this plot remains to be seen.

12. So what have we learned? Robin Hood is real, even though he has impossible teeth. He and the Doctor didn’t get along at all, though this is because – as the conclusion demonstrated – they’re exactly the same. However, this is a point in the Doctor’s favour when it comes to scoring his “am I a good man?” card. Robin and Marian are soul-mates, and this episode was blissfully free of any leather clad stalker-murderers. The Doctor is still old, and Clara is still hanging on to her personality. Next week looks really scary. Onward.

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