TV Review: Doctor Who – Robot of Sherwood (S8, E3)
I’ve never been a big fan of Mark Gatiss’ work on Doctor Who, and his latest episode – “Robot of Sherwood” – did little to change that, though it wasn’t the complete clanger I was expecting, so I guess that’s something.
Unlike the first two episodes of this series, both of which were quite dark and gave Peter Capaldi the chance to demonstrate just how different his take on the Doctor is compared to the more recent incarnations, “Robot of Sherwood” feels very much like a series 2 Tennant episode, complete with the lame humour, cheap references and undeveloped story that such a thing entails. Like all “historical” episodes (see “The Shakespeare Code” or “The Unicorn and the Wasp” for examples of what I mean by that), “Robot of Sherwood” has a decent idea at its core but with barely 45 minutes in which to explore it, it all feels rather limp and rushed.
It all begins with Clara requesting a trip back in time to see her childhood hero, Robin Hood (played by Tom Riley). The Doctor, adamant that Robin Hood is but a legend, takes her to 1190 AD, only to be confronted by a man claiming to be that very legend. Suspicious of this impossible man, the Doctor resorts to grandfatherly petulance and seeks to uncover the truth about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, only to be captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Miller), who just so happens to have an army of alien robots at his command. From there, The Doctor, Robin and Clara must put their differences aside and work together to escape from an army in search of “The Promised Land” (there’s that series arc again…)
As I’m sure you can tell, the plot is sheer, unadulterated hokum, though Gatiss – to his credit – recognises this and does what he can to make the adventure as blithe and humorous as possible. After last week’s intense and rather solemn exploration of the Doctor’s soul “Robot of Sherwood” feels like a step in the wrong direction, though if you accept it for what it is – a silly, but generally amusing, story of two reluctant heroes joining forces to do the right thing – then you might enjoy it. It’s nowhere near as awful as some of Gatiss’ earlier work (yes, I am looking at you “Night Terrors”…) and it taps into the same style of humour as series 7’s “The Crimson Horror”, which is still the high watermark of Gatiss’ contribution to the Doctor Who canon, so that’s nice to see.
Yet again, the stand out is Peter Capaldi, who demonstrates a real knack for playing things light-hearted when necessary. The episode makes the most of Capaldi’s skills as a comic actor, and he’s at his best when he’s bemoaning the Merry Men’s “bantering” and getting into petty squabbles with Robin about who is best equipped to save the day, though I must admit I thought Gatiss took it all a bit too far at times. Capaldi’s humour is best when it’s subtle, sarcastic and caustic, yet here he does descend a little too much into clownishness, though that’s a fault with the writing, not the acting. Riley, similarly, is a decent comic foil for Capaldi’s grumpy wit, and the two of them play off each other quite well, though I’m not sure that Gatiss does enough to make us give a shit about whether or not Robin is even real or not, which is a shame as Riley plays the character brilliantly.
“Robot of Sherwood” is fine and, to be fair, it’s also necessary. Too much darkness and too much intensity can be grating, and so it’s nice to see a simple, unassuming episode that doesn’t require the imminent destruction of the universe or impossible villains to make it watchable. Ben Miller’s Sheriff of Nottingham is hugely underused, and Clara doesn’t exactly steal the show when the Doctor is off screen, but this is still an acceptable piece of fluff that doesn’t outstay its welcome or try to be something it isn’t. It lacks both the zaniness of “Deep Breath” and the seriousness of “Into the Dalek”, but it’s still a passable episode that, while not always entertaining, is at least never boring.