Season Eight has gotten off to a dark and somber start, and I couldn’t be happier. But there has always been an element of whimsy permeating Doctor Who, and with Robot of Sherwood, Mark Gatiss has taken it upon himself to spin us a quintessentially Whoish tale of fun-filled medieval adventure.
Clara’s had a bit of a time recently, what with discovering her true nature, watching the Doctor grow old and die, and then regenerate right before her eyes into someone she no longer knows. So it’s good to see that Clara gets to have a bit of fun for once. The Doctor lets Clara choose where she wants to go, and she chooses to meet one of her favorite historical figures just like Amy did with Vincent Van Gogh. Only this time the TARDIS team seeks out Robin Hood, if only for the Doctor to prove to Clara that the mythical figure never actually existed.
Luckily for Clara, Robin Hood is alive and well, roaming Sherwood forest and and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. But not before going toe to toe with the Doctor in a sword…er…spoon fight! A little lighthearted fun feels refreshing, and shows off Peter Capaldi’s ability to bring a dark, sarcastic humor to the role.
Of course not all is good in medieval England. The dreaded Sheriff of Nottingham is up to his usual tricks oppressing the common folks, kidnapping people for hard labor, stealing their gold, and ending the lives of those who resist.
Meanwhile Robin Hood introduces the Doctor and Clara to his band of Merry Men, each of the traditional characters present and accounted for. But the Doctor doesn’t buy any of it. He maintains that all of them are fake, false, or forgery. Clara, of course, is just perfectly happy believing herself right in the middle of her favorite story from childhood. And just like the traditional Robin Hood story, an archery contest is to be held, and Robin Hood plans on attending.
The episode is, for all intents and purposes, a retelling of the Robin Hood story. But it has been “Doctored” enough to make it unique and interesting in its own right. Especially when the archery festival devolves into chaos and it is revealed that the Sheriff is employing robotic knights to maintain his grip on the land.
Finding themselves in the Sheriff’s dungeon, the Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood get better acquainted. Or, more accurately, they bicker and yell amongst themselves until they start to try and reason their way out of the situation. Sadly, they can’t come up with anything, and Clara gets brought before the Sheriff, leaving the two rivals alone in the dungeon.
Clara holds her own in a battle of words with the Sheriff, not even thrown for a loop when the Sheriff casually asks her if she and her friend are from “beyond the stars”. This version of the Sheriff of Nottingham is accustom to otherworldly beings. We see that the Sheriff is stealing the people’s valuables to melt them down for some nefarious purpose. It seems there’s more going on in Nottingham than the usual struggle between the rich and poor.
Clara has been steadily transforming this season, from an observer of the situations she finds herself in, to a major player in their outcome. She seamlessly takes on the role of the Doctor, cleverly manipulating conversations and information to learn what she can. It’s a treat to see, and a much needed development in her character. This season Clara is finally feeling like a proper companion.
The Doctor and Robin hood, still bickering, slowly improve their own situation, and stumble across a spaceship. The Doctor finds something even more interesting, however. The ship was originally headed for “The Promised Land”. The same place the clockwork droids were searching for in Deep Breath, and the very same place the mysterious Missy seems to be steward of. Again we see robots taking a central role in the Doctor and Clara’s lives.
As Robin and the Doctor are confronted by the Sheriff, Robin flees with Clara, leaving the Doctor to confront the Sheriff. It turns out the Sheriff is working with the robots, to repair their ship, and work with them to go to London to become much more powerful than just a Sheriff. Robin Hood (with Clara in tow) eventually returns to save the day by defeating the rotten Sheriff.
While a lot of fun, this episode was the weakest of the season so far in overall composition. The entire story was one giant plot whole requiring a complete suspension of disbelief to enjoy. That said, enjoy it I did. After all, it’s a Doctor Who episode revolving around the Robin Hood mythology, and there will always be a limit on how sensible such a story could be. It was a tale woven splendidly with emphasis on the characters, and it succeeded in that respect.
One of the plot points of this episode was a golden arrow, given as the prize to the winner of the ill-fated archery contest. With what has been going on so far this season, and knowing which classic enemy will be returning in the season finale, the golden arrow in this episode really makes it clear what this season’s arc is about. The golden arrow was used to stop the robots. Gold is deadly to Cybermen. I believe these robots are somehow linked with the Cybermen, and Missy is the linchpin to the mystery. Should be interesting!