Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 3
“Robot of Sherwood”
Like Clara Oswald, I have always had a thing for Robin Hood.
As a child I was entranced by Disney’s Robin Hood. I loved the catchy songs (Everybody sing! “Ooh-de-lally, ooh-de-lally, golly what a day!”) and the animals dressed as humans (Monica Geller’s nightmare) and all the jokes (which as an Adult, I find it’s definitely one of the most clever classic Disney scripts). My early teen years were defined by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. To twelve-year-old me, there was nothing more romantic than the moment where, after showing Marian his treasure trove, he wrapped his arm around her and took her down via the rope pulley. The “Will you do it for your King?” “No. I’ll do it for you.” exchange wrecked me.
After my first seventh grade dance, I came home upset that I’d never been asked to slow dance (fittingly the last song of the night was “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”). I went up to our den, pulled out our Prince of Thieves laser disc (LASER DISC I AM SO OLD) and soothed my wounded soul with Robin of Locksley, prompting my mom to have one of MANY talks with me about making sure that I knew that these stories weren’t real. Of course I knew it wasn’t real but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t believe in the IDEALS that Robin Hood stood for, I countered. We could all stand to believe in Robin’s code of honor, in his chivalry, and in his sense of justice. So needless to say, when I learned that the Doctor would be meeting Robin Hood this season, my reaction was the same as Clara’s…
The plot of “Robot of Sherwood” was simple enough: The Doctor and Clara travel to Sherwood Forest (“MY CHOICE”) where to the Doctor’s chagrin and Clara’s delight they encounter Robin Hood and his merry band of men. They discover that the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham (sadly not played by Alan Rickman) has an army of robots and has been gathering gold to fuel their spaceship. The Doctor, Clara, and Robin must band together to stop said spaceship from destroying the earth. They do and everyone lives happily ever after, just like in all the stories. The end.
“Robot of Sherwood”, penned by our pal Mark Gatiss, was not the most complex or thought-provoking of all time, and that’s completely fine. Not every episode of Doctor Who needs to be a deep rumination on the human existence…thank GOD it’s not actually. As much as we love episodes like “Into the Dalek” or “Forest of the Dead” or “A Good Man Goes To War”, it would be exhausting to watch them week after week. You need episodes like “Robot of Sherwood” and “Unicorn and the Wasp” (which many compared this episode to) to give the audience some RELIEF. What this episode WAS was the definition of a good old-fashioned ROMP, full of zingers and great character moments…and then it smacked you with some feels right at the very end. It was a fantastic chance for Peter Capaldi to show off his lighter side after the two darker adventures that kicked off the season.
I VERY much appreciate that Mark Gatiss didn’t try to reinvent Robin Hood here. He resisted the temptation to make Robin self-examining or dour (don’t even get me started on that Russell Crowe movie, you guys) but truly made him MERRY. Tom Riley perfectly embodied the cheeky charm of Robin Hood and served as a wonderful foil to Capaldi’s Crotchety Doctor. It’s no wonder that the entire episode was a drawn out dick measuring contest as Robin and the Doctor bickered and one-upped each other. The Doctor, in his insistence that there was no way that Robin could be anything but a Robot, was at his petulant best in this episode from his spoon fighting defense of the TARDIS (“Like I said…MY BOX”) to his participation in the archery contest (“I cheated.”). The Doctor is never a fan of NOT being the most clever person in the room and Robin brought all of that out in him. And the more riled up he got, the more Robin enjoyed pushing his buttons. It was a delight to watch.
Clara: There was supposed to be a plan. Do either of you have a plan?
Doctor: Yeah, of course I have a plan.
Robin: I, too, have a plan.
Clara: Okay Robin, you first.
Doctor: Why him?
Clara: Doctor, shut up. Robin, your plan.
Robin: I am … biding my time.
Clara: Thank you, Prince of Thieves. Last of the Time Lords?
Doctor: Yes, I have a plan.
Clara: Can you explain your plan without using the words “sonic screwdriver”?
If you did not clap with delight at that scene, then something is wrong with you. Series 8 has been a great one for Jenna Coleman so far and Clara continued to shine in this episode, from her all out fangirling over Robin all the time (and showing him great compassion) to her being ONE HUNDRED PERCENT DONE with said dick measuring contest between her two heroes to her using her feminine wiles to outsmart the sheriff (and then threatening him when he made a pass at her). The sheriff’s men had it right when they chose Clara as the ringleader of the group. She WAS running the show the entire episode. I feel like finally that they are giving Jenna Coleman solid material (not just relying on her “spunk”…even though that was employed to the fullest extent in this episode. But in a grounded way) and that they’ve figured out Clara’s character at last (3 good episodes for her in a row = an OFFICIAL trend). Much like Martha Jones, once they freed Clara Oswald of her crush on the Doctor, her character soared. A year ago, if you would have told me that Sage and I would be planning to do a Clara ribbon at Long Island Who this year, I would have laughed at you. But we are. That’s how far she has come. Bravo.
Fun as the episode was, it also continued to examine the Doctor’s current crisis of faith in himself. “History is a burden,” Robin says at the end of the episode. “But stories can make us fly.” Thus far, this regeneration of The Doctor feels burdened by his history. He’s done nothing but question whether or not he is a good man ever since we met him. He insists he is not a hero and is flummoxed to hear that Clara considers him one. He certainly doesn’t see that in himself, as he immediately deflects any sort of hero-worship she throws his way.
Doctor: Old fashioned heroes only exist in old fashioned story books, Clara.
Clara: What about you?
Clara: Yeah, you. You saw bad things happening every minute of every day, that sounds pretty heroic to me.
Doctor: Just passing the time.
It’s a far cry from The Doctor who gleefully replied “Oh, the stuff of legend!” when Ida questioned who he and Rose Tyler were…really. Perhaps this is why The Doctor spends the entire adventure trying to prove that Robin is not real…because he’s lost his own belief in heroes and this man, Robin of Locksley, is too good to be true. He’s everything the legends have made him out to be yet he is a flesh and blood man standing before him. He doesn’t understand why Robin is not burdened by his history, why Robin is HAPPY that he becomes a legend. I think the Doctor has always been a little bit happy to carry around the burden of everything he’s ever done, that he LIKES the suffering (relishes it even) and the fact that Robin delights in EVERYTHING (“Stop laughing. Why are you always doing that? Are you all simple or something?”) infuriates him a little. Okay, it infuriates him a lot.
“But if we both keep pretending to be… Perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”
As Sage talked me through how to structure this recap (there’s a reason this post has taken so long to write) she sagely (ha!) pointed out that the core of this story was the idea that real people can BECOME myths, because their stories are told so much. Has the Doctor forgotten that HE is a story? That Martha Jones walked the earth telling his story and that people believing in him is what saved the world? Has he forgotten sitting by Amelia Pond’s bedside and saying “You’ll remember me a little. I’ll be a story in your head. That’s okay. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? ‘Cause it was, you know. It was the best. The daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away“? I LOVED the moment when The Doctor’s face froze when Robin flipped the script and retold the story that Clara had told HIM.
Robin: Why is it so hard to credit? That a man born into wealth and privilege should find the plight of the oppressed and weak too much to bear?
Robin: Until one night he is moved to steal a TARDIS and fly among the stars fighting the good fight. Clara told me your stories.
Doctor: She should not have told you any of that.
Robin: Well. Well once the story started, she could hardly stop herself. You are her hero, I think.
Doctor: I’m not a hero.
Clearly The Doctor’s identity crisis is going to be a running theme for this series, as it has been addressed in every episode so far. While I think it is good that the Doctor is questioning himself (the best heroes should always check themselves) I also don’t want him to lose sight of the fact that despite the horrible things he has done, he IS a hero to Clara and to so many others. How do I know this? Because at the end of this episode, not only does he save the Earth, he reunites Robin with his lost love, Maid Marian. It’s not just the big victories that make a person a hero…it’s the small gestures. Anyone can save the world, a true hero focuses on the details as well. It’s reuniting lost lovers. It’s promising to do something amazing. It’s fulfilling your companion’s ultimate wish by taking her to see Robin Hood.
You’re a hero, Doctor. Deal with it.
Timey Wimey Observations
– I love how the TARDIS healed itself after being shot with the arrow.
– No Missy this week, but we DID get this:
So we’ve now seen TWO Alien Robot ships with The Promised Land as a destination. Hmmmmmmmmm.
– Let’s just take a moment to be shallow and appreciate Jenna Coleman’s FACE. Also, I see the TARDIS has a salon that does SICK hair extensions now…
– Everything Capaldi did in this episode was GOLD.
– “Don’t give up. Not ever. Not for one single day. Be safe, if you can be. But always be amazing.” The theme of the series?
Next on Doctor Who, in what looks to be a terrifying episode, we’re dealing with an Afro-ed Danny Pink (IN A SPACE SUIT MAYBE HE IS JOURNEY BLUE’S BROTHER) and creatures under the bed that reach out and grab your ankles. NOT COOL GUYS. Till then, leave your feelings on Robot of Sherwood in the comments!