Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor Episode. Today is the Twelfth Doctor adventure Robot of Sherwood…
Here's the first thing I should say and get it out there straight away. I loved Robot of Sherwood. Adored it. And do you know why? Because it was fun. There. I've said it. It was fun. And it won't matter a jot that tomorrow I'll probably start finding the plots holes or the bits and bobs that I can pick at like the fan that I am. At this point, I'm feeling nothing but joy.
And you know in the end what more can you ask for from an episode of Doctor Who then joy? All the analysis that follows and the picking apart of every single moment and the reassessments that will follow the season's end is just frippery really.
The key thing is - and should always be - was watching that Doctor Who episode fun. Did I enjoy it? And I did.
Partly because it wasn't weighed down with much in the way of an overall story arc, even if there was one reference. There's no Missy. Partly because it was clearly meant to be fun. This isn't dark. This is what Robin Prince of Thieves would have been like if everyone decided to have as much fun with their parts as Alan Rickman did.
And Capaldi is bloody brilliant. His utter denial - both of Robin Hood's actual existence and his role as hero and legend - is key to this story. Plus, his refusal to play second fiddle to Robin Hood who in turn refuses to play second fiddle - or should that be lute - to The Doctor. This is two alpha males with a lot in common. Robin says it himself at the end. These are two aristocrats come into the world determined to do good. It's another piece in the Doctor's own post-regeneration puzzle about whether he's a good man or not.
But in a way, this is as much Clara's story as it is the Doctor and Robin's. She's more in control and less involved in trying to prove herself top dog than either of them. It is Clara that gets to the heart of the Sheriff's plan. It is Clara who looks and sounds like the sensible one. She chooses not to go into denial and swallows up the whole Robin Hood and his Merry Men thing in one fell swoop. Jenna Coleman's having so much fun.
By the way, I'm with the Doctor on banter. It should stop.
And I love the Robin v Doctor sword v spoon fight. I bet there are people out there whinging about it being silly. About this whole episode being silly but you can't be deadly serious every time and I adore silliness in Doctor Who. My favourite season is Season 17. My fandom was born from silliness. Smart silliness I accept but silliness nonetheless. Or whimsy. Or whatever you want to call it. Give me more of it I say. More than the tedious dragged out season long portentous story arcs. Give me fun.
I mentioned Robin Prince of Thieves early. Everyone except the Sheriff of Nottingham is played with a Rickmanesque touch. Ben Miller's Sheriff is rather serious. He doesn't get much in the way of laughs and his ruthless streak is demonstrated very early on. I can't have been the only person thinking how Ainley he looked. Indeed, in Classic Who, the Sheriff of Nottingham would probably have turned out to be The Master in one of his disguises and strange choices of accent. Miller's good.
The other thing it reminded me of was The Gunfighters in both tone and with the fact that it almost - but not quite - got its own Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon courtesy of Alan-a-Dale. I'm a big fan of The Gunfighters as the regular reader of this blog will probably know so obviously that also inclines me to look upon this favourably.
I love Tom Riley's Robin. There's a touch of seriousness under all the banter and laughter, which he manages to bring out rather well. The hint that Robin's acting the part is made clear in his final scene with the Doctor. But he's what you'd want Robin Hood to be like if he really existed. You want the legend, not the likely historical truth.*
Indeed, Gatiss is obviously making a parallel between the importance of the 'story' of Robin Hood and the 'story' of The Doctor. That perhaps it doesn't matter if they were or are real if what they do is inspire people to do good things in their name. If we've ever needed a Robin Hood now might be that time. But then we've always needed a Robin Hood because there have always been tyrants and there have always been taxes.
New Doctor Who likes celebrity historical and Robot of Sherwood is one of those but with a historical figure that probably didn't exist. Alas. However, as Robin says, perhaps it is better to be a story that will inspire others than be burdened by history.
Oh and hurrah for the database Robin Hood bit with the Troughton Robin Hood picture. And the little throwaway references to Classic Doctor Who that add a little frisson of fun for the Classic Who fan like me without over-loading the story with baggage.
So well done Mark Gatiss. Thank you for putting the fun back on the Doctor Who menu again.
This feeling I have now is why I love Doctor Who so much. It's a kind of giddy joy. I'm almost tempted to go and watch it again. Perhaps I will on the way home. I've been watching these episodes on my commute into work and it makes the journey in a lot more fun than usual.
Next up: Listen
*I studied Robin Hood as a historical figure at University. I won't bore you with the details. It's an interesting thing to study. Feel free. I recommend J.C. Holt's 'Robin Hood'. If it is still in print. [Goes off to look at Amazon.]**
** (It's here - Ed.)
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC