Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of the series 9 premiere with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. This time the Who Guru goes out of his way to upset people with his review of Robot of Sherwood...

What a week I’ve had, dear reader. Decorating the dining room, telephone arguments with automated systems and occasionally a pudding-brained human, issues with the car and my summer tan is fading at an alarming rate. And those were the good bits. So often, like the TARDIS does for The Doctor, Doctor Who takes me exactly where I need to go, and this Saturday night, that was undoubtedly Sherwood Forest. Geographically, this is the closest a Who story has ever been set to where I live, and Lincoln even got a mention from Ben Miller’s Sheriff of Nottingham. Yet the most local story to me in 34 seasons took me into a joyous zone of pure escapism, a million miles from the stresses of my week. You’ve probably already gathered that I’ve enjoyed this episode immensely. I understand that it won’t have been for everyone, but as I’ve said before now- Doctor Who can’t be gritty, dark and full of deeper meaning every week. The show would just end up morbidly eating itself, like Torchwood did in its horrific last knockings. The show needs the likes of City of Death, The Unicorn and the Wasp, Closing Time and Robots of Sherwood now and again.

I’m not the first to say this, but The Doctor is the type of elite hero that worlds of fiction only very occasionally create. Alongside him sit the likes of the Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, James Bond, Tarzan, Batman, Harry Potter and, yes, Robin Hood. The fact that this year’s ‘celebrity historical’ featured another of this exclusive set , thus requiring greater suspension of disbelief than in previous seasons is testament to the bravery and bonkers-ness of the magnificent Mark Gatiss. Some of you aren’t going to like this, but here’s the news- Doctor Who isn’t set in our universe. It’s the one a couple of parallel universes away. Harold Saxon wasn’t our Prime Minister, the Skarasen didn’t swim in our Loch Ness, the Slitheen didn’t crash into our Big Ben, there hasn’t been any Yeti or Silurians in our London’s underground system and Robin Hood wasn’t real. We got Thatcher instead of The Master though, so don’t go trans-dimensional gloating, ok? Over in that universe where The Doctor decided to stop in London for a while, enrol his granddaughter in a school under the name Susan Foreman and try to work out his next move, Robin Hood existed. Why?

Because every universe needs impossible heroes to believe in. If you got your head around Agatha Christie fighting a giant alien wasp disguised as a vicar, Robin Hood shouldn’t be a problem.

Last week I talked about how Peter Capaldi is very close to becoming my favourite Doctor already. Colin Baker’s patchwork coat is perilously close to being traded for a Crombie, but I’ve made up my mind about Clara Oswald. I love her, and I desperately want the rumours about Jenna Coleman’s departure at Christmas to be lies. She guides the Doctor in a way no other companion has before, and only Sarah-Jane Smith and Donna Noble run her close. Coleman was superb opposite Matt Smith last season, but freed from the constraints of flirtation with the leading man this season, along with the weight of the ‘Impossible Girl’ arc, she has flourished beyond all expectation. At this point I must let you know I don’t do spoilers. I didn’t watch the rough cut of this episode on the dark web and I didn’t read the script. Any speculation in this column is based purely on my own postulating. I have a feeling if this season is Clara’s last, The Doctor may return for Journey Blue. I have watched Into the Dalek three times now and she seems too good a character to not revisit. But then I said that about Ray Defwydd and Sally Sparrow.

Let’s get back to this week though, and Tom Riley’s turn as Robin Hood. Did you really want Kevin Costner? Did anyone ever want Kevin Costner, come to that? His exchanges with The Doctor were very enjoyable, and served to underline the new-ness of Capaldi’s Time Lord; I can imagine Matt Smith’s Doctor would have been excited to meet Robin Hood and got on brilliantly with him. Number Twelve offered to punch him in the face and knocked him into a stream armed only with a spoon instead, still finding time for a joke about Errol Flynn’s big….ego. He’s pretty cool. Ben Miller seemed too understated for my liking at times, and could have done with turning up the bastardometer a couple of notches. As such, I didn’t really get a massive thrill from him getting the Viserys Targaryan treatment at the end.

Once again, Peter Capaldi was as sharp as a golden arrow throughout. He has an incredibly strong presence, and doesn’t let a single line or second of screen time go to waste. It’s good to be back with a Doctor who’s not always in the know 100%, and is having his preconceptions challenged. The Doctor should always be front and centre, every episode, every week; and Capaldi makes absolutely sure that he is. In recent years the show has veered dangerously away from that essential factor at times, with various season arcs centring on his companions. This year’s ‘Promised Land’ arc, with Missy clearly being connected very closely to our impossible hero and the consequences of his activity, seems to be a different fish kettle altogether. Clearly there is more than one Promised Land, depending on what you’re looking for, and we know what and where The Doctor dreams of....

All in all, I tend to enjoy this type of episode anyway, and the use of a legend from what The Doctor thought was fiction was an imaginative twist. I liked the “hey nonny-nonny” stuff in The Shakespeare Code and the Agatha Christie novels being name-checked in The Unicorn and the Wasp. Mark Gatiss writes humour every bit as well as Douglas Adams, and he knows crossing the line from Jago and Litefoot into Hawk and Weismuller territory isn’t on. He didn’t do that, and has never fallen into the trap of writing the same story twice either. If he turns out to be Steven Moffat’s successor as show runner, Doctor Who will be in very safe hands indeed. This week’s is a very solid, enjoyable third episode in an already highly impressive season.

Image - BBC.