Robot of Sherwood
Review by Eddie McGuigan
Now this is an adventure that will split opinion, that’s for sure.
Clara asks the Doctor to take her to see one of her heroes – Robin Hood! The Doctor, of course, knows there’s no such person as Robin Hood, but, to amuse himself and humour Clara he takes her to Sherwood Forest in 1190 AD… and runs slapbang into Robin Hood and his Merry Men! Not only that, but in a sunny and green Sherwood there’s about to be an archery contest, but is it a trap for Robin by the dastardly Sheriff? Of course it is, but neither Robin or the Doctor can resist.
Now, if you thought Into The Dalek was derivative, welcome to Sherwood. This is Errol Flynn meets Jonas Armstrong, with echoes of The Time Warrior, Carnival of Monsters, The Androids of Tara and The Mask of Mandragora. There’s even musical cues from the BBC’s recently deceased Robin Hood. It also mentions holograms, and has a pretty grumpy Doctor refuse to believe his own eyes til the very end, something that’s very, very Doctor.
The source material for this story, along with the foreshadowing – the nobleman who gives up the finer things in life to live as an outlaw for the good of others – is pretty much smacked over your head with a hammer, and the direction, by Paul Murphy is (probably) deliberately clichéd and familiar. All the events too, the Doctor’s one upmanship, the archery contest, getting arrested deliberately, dungeon malarkey and a big old sword fight or two (complete with Robin sliding down a curtain using his sword) is so familiar you could actually plot it by listing Things You See In Robin Hood, and the Sky Gods Come Down And Give Peasants Technology isn’t particularly new either, so there are many who will see only this from Robot of Sherwood and shout “derivative rubbish!” at it. But that’s very unfair.
The thing about Robot of Sherwood is that, well, it’s funny. Laugh outloud funny. And all the main cast get that and play to it completely. Peter Capaldi’s acid sarcasm is tailor made for this type of episode, and he’s a wonderful foil for Tom Riley’s perfect Robin Hood. The banter (“Are we bantering? I hate banter!”) is witty, sarcastic and downright funny and add to that Clara’s one liners and you have a slapstick hit. It’s interesting with this supposed darker and more serious Doctor that he has all the best lines, is increasingly worried about not looking cool in front of Clara, and in the end is so proactive in the denouement that he might as well have tipped a lorry load of cheese over everything himself. It’s absolute nonsense. Ben Miller’s sheriff is, surprisingly, the darkest and most serious of characters and it’s lovely to see a comedian of his standing playing this absolutely straight – and be the funnier for it.
This is the first outright comedy I can think of in Doctor Who for sometime, and everyone succeeds with aplomb. There are clichéd shades of Curse of the Black Spot here too, and, of course, those aren’t always to everyone’s taste, but I for one love Robin Hood and I loved this. (The Doctor and Robin Hood in a dungeon and you can’t find a way out!? If your solution starts with sonic… don’t!). You’ll either cringe or laugh and walk away with a smile on your face. Robot of Sherwood won’t win any awards this series – unless it’s the Camp As Christmas Cliché Comedy Award – but it cuts through the portent of foreboding and darkness expected with absolute panache.
Until next week’s trailer that is. Eek.