Doctor Who: Cult Fix Writers on “Robot of Sherwood”
Cult Fix writers give their verdict on the third episode of Doctor Who Series 8.
Patrick Sproull: The ingenious casting of Peter Capaldi ushers in a new era of Doctor Who, one supposedly darker, more Machiavellian and downright different. Robot of Sherwood got two out of the three correct. Dark it was not, it would be pushing it to say it was Machiavellian but it was certainly different. Different in that it tossed aside the “am I a good man?” argument for a bit of breezy capering with the main grab this week being the inclusion of folk legend Robin Hood. It might not be quite as exciting as the debut of the Twelfth Doctor or the heady prospect of literally entering a Dalek but returning scribe Mark Gatiss put forward a tantalising question: was Robin Hood a real man, an opiate for medieval masses (to paraphrase the Doctor) or just a legend, a story passed down through the ages? And if the answer is the latter then who is the man that greets the Doctor and Clara when they materialise in Sherwood Forest?
Robot of Sherwood (I’d wager that the title was changed from the plural to the singular to get us speculating that, perhaps, Robin Hood was, in fact, a robot as suggested in the episode) was like everyone predicted: fun, fluffy but with a slight edge. Gatiss’ previous script, The Crimson Horror also had bite (admittedly it was a pastiche of Gothic horror) but this sharpness stopped both it and Robot of Sherwood veering into total comedy.
Peter Capaldi was on top form this week though he was given a less meaty role as the Doctor, allowing Capaldi a chance to let his (surprisingly long) hair down and flex his comedic muscles. While the man played down the suggestion that he’s a talented physical performer in Doctor Who Extra, he really was as displayed in the opening fight sequence. Occasionally the comedy jarred a bit too much with the dark Doctor persona and went against the work of the previous two episodes but Gatiss concentrated on the Twelfth Doctor’s sarky side and channelled this through his patter with Robin. Tom Riley did a more than serviceable job as the fabled outlaw and while forty-five minutes is a short time to give a character lots of depth, there was definitely more to Robin Hood than just the gurning and the shrill laugh.
Jenna Coleman’s Clara had plenty of agency this week, chastising the squabbling Doctor and Robin like she was their mother. Coleman got to flesh out the character again and I’m delighted to see the rise and rise of Clara after being so short-changed in her first series. However, the role reversal wasn’t much to my liking even if it meant Coleman got to do more. The banquet scene with Ben Miller’s gleefully sardonic Sheriff of Nottingham (whose limited screen-time meant Miller was given short-shrift albeit when he was shown, he was excellent) felt very much like a Doctor moment (sans the Sheriff’s advances). Clara remains a flawless companion, correcting the Doctor when he steps out of line and, for me, this has been growing tiresome. It shows the Doctor up and I agree that he’s not a perfect or even, maybe, a good man now but he’s our protagonist and he shouldn’t be undermined on such a regular basis.
Next week it’s Listen with the return of Danny Pink after a week off and the familiar Steven Moffat trope of manipulating a childhood fear. This time we look at what’s under the bed…
‘The Capaldi moment’: “And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?”
Mark McCullough: Billed as a light-hearted romp, Robot of Sherwood was one of those episodes whose details did not jump off the screen and hook your anticipation. Another worry was the monumental shift in tone between Into the Dalek and this week’s outing. Thankfully these worries proved unfounded as we were treated by a belter of an episode which will live long in the memories of the fandom.
After opening with a hilarious scene of the Doctor encountering Robin Hood, the tone is set for the rest of the story as the narrative embraces the comic style. Along the way highlights include: a sword/spoon fight littered with innuendoes, a rigged archery contest, a war of words in a dungeon, and an obligatory Robin Hood-Sherriff of Nottingham sword fight. In fact the Doctor hits the nail right on the head with the use of the word banter. You can tell that is what Gatiss had in his mind when writing the character dialogues and it is obvious that he had fun writing it. We also see him embrace his inner fan as the narrative is littered with references to the shows heritage.
Once again it is the cast who form one of the real highlights. I adore Capaldi’s take on the Doctor, his attitude to others and somewhat childish nature. The take on the character feels completely fresh yet inherently still the Doctor. Clara also shines as the consistency of writing allows Coleman to shine in the scenes where her characters defining traits of intellect and bringing out the best in others really come to the fore. The guest cast is on top form too, with Ben Miller giving a wonderful take on the unhinged Sherriff of Nottingham. Tom Riley’s Robin Hood is very well portrayed although at times he is what I would consider a little too over the top and somewhat cheesy. I also feel the Merry Men were only there for the sake of having them and they could have been removed from the episode with little to no effect on the story.
The episode does contribute to the arc of the series despite the absence of Missy, which was a good decision as it keeps the audience guessing. We are further teased about The Promised Land and this is the second set of robots to be actively looking for it across Earths history. Also noticeable in the episode was the inclusion of religious imagery with both a cross and the Star of David featuring. It is most likely that this is thematic reinforcement for the idea of Heaven.
Robot of Sherwood was highly enjoyable and did actually what it set out to do. In the grand scheme of things it may not be overly special, but what it is, is a solid, well delivered, and hilarious episode of Doctor Who. Wonderful family viewing for a Saturday night!
James Amos: I should start this review by pointing out that I went into this episode expecting to dislike it. I feel that the offerings Mark Gatiss (writer) has given us in the past have been mostly below average, with one of his episodes being my least favourite Who story ever. I’d like to tell you that this episode was a nice surprise, a fun little romp that has proved to me how Gatiss can indeed write a properly good Doctor Who episode. Unfortunately, if I told you that, it would be a lie.
Now, listen, I’m not an old codger who looks down upon any episode that isn’t dark or scary. Believe me; although I was expecting to dislike this, there was a huge part of me that was hoping for the opposite. I like silly romps over dark stories, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was my favourite episode of Series 7. The reason I didn’t like Robot of Sherwood was because it was plain and simply bad. I thought the acting was shoddy, even from Capaldi. Only Jenna was putting up a pretty decent performance, although even she was over acting at times. Not only this, but Robot of Sherwood is such a change in pace and tone that it’s almost disorientating. Honestly, I got lost in my sitting room whilst watching it. I know the point of Doctor Who is that it changes every week, but this was almost too abrupt. Not only this, but I felt Gatiss had forgotten there was a new Doctor. All throughout the episode all I could think about was Matt Smith when Peter Capaldi said his lines, and this pulled me right away from his Doctor. I get that the point of the episode was to put Capaldi’s dark and grumpy Doctor into a light hearted situation and see what happens, but I believe Gatiss has failed in writing that. He just comes across almost identical to the eleventh Doctor, whilst the last two episodes have succeeded in making him completely different.
I really wanted to have fun with this episode, I wanted to laugh along and simply feel good about everything once it had finished. That’s what these kind of romps in a Doctor Who series normally make me feel, but this just left me pretty depressed. I genuinely feel that there will never be a Mark Gatiss story I enjoy, even his Sherlock efforts leave me with nothing. But anyway, I suppose I should label a few things I actually did like about the episode. I liked the bit where the Doctor and Robin were chained up and arguing, that was funny. And there we have it, that’s my one positive about this episode. The rest was just dull and stupid. I must have checked my watch around four times during the whole thing, praying it would end. I even let out a groan when I realised there were still fifteen minutes left. I let out a groan during Doctor Who because there was more time until the finish than I thought there was going to be; that should never happen. I’m sure there’ll be other reviews stating that the episode was rather good, and I’m jealous that they found something to enjoy. But honestly, was anyone really invested in anything within this episode? Did anyone really care that Marian showed up at the end? Or am I just cold hearted? It’s probably the latter; I just hate young love.
All in all…oh, who am I kidding? You all know how I’m going to round this off. I didn’t like the episode, what a surprise. Goodbye, see you next week.
Sam Rahaman: I have to be honest; when Steven Moffat stated that this series would be a darker in tone to what’s come before, I was a little worried. One of the things I love about Doctor Who is that it doesn’t always take itself so seriously, and isn’t afraid to have a little fun, occasionally offering light-hearted entertainment that the audience can just sit back and enjoy – and I was afraid that by going down a more serious route with Capaldi’s first series it would lose a lot of the sense of fun that has made the show so enjoyable for me thus far.
There was no need to be worried, however. Robot of Sherwood was, in my humble opinion, one of the most entertaining episodes the show has had in a long while. Gatiss was on fine form with his writing, creating a wonderfully paced story oozing with laugh out loud humour, thrilling action sequences and most surprisingly of all, a lot of heart as well – I truly believe this was his finest script yet.
What I found most fascinating about this story were the parallels between the Doctor and the character of Robin Hood. Whilst both are viewed to be legends or stories, neither of them are heroes in the typical sense of the word; even though they both strive for goodness they are accustom to committing immoral acts for their own gain on occasion. Instead it is their stories, rather than themselves, that inspire people to become the heroes – it’s a touching message to have underpinning the episode; and one that I found to be very effective.
One of the strongest aspects of the episode was the acting from the main cast – they dazzled in every single scene they were in. Capaldi and Riley in particular were truly hilarious; their chemistry sizzled and their rivalry was one of the highlights of the episodes – the dungeon scene being one of the funniest scenes of the episode. Ben Miller and Jenna Coleman similarly shone throughout the episode. Miller clearly relished playing such a malevolent villain as the Sheriff of Nottingham and despite limited screen-time offered us an astute portrayal performed with gusto. Jenna Coleman was on form for the third week in a row – she kept all three leads on their toes and shared wonderful chemistry with them; if Jenna carries on like this Clara may end up becoming my favourite companion in since the revival.
Overall the episode may not have been perfect, but for all it’s worth Robot of Sherwood was a great addition to the series showcasing a new side to Capaldi’s Doctor with a thoroughly entertaining episodes that is fun for all the family – it’s the highlight of the series so far, for me.