Robot of Sherwood

12-episode set
Region A/1
12-episode set
Region B/2
(Doctor Who Story No. 249, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Mark Gatiss
  • directed by Paul Murphy
  • produced by Nikki Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 48 minutes
Story: Clara instigates a face-to-face comparison and egotistic competition between the Doctor and Robin Hood in late 12th century England. But what is the real plan that the Sheriff of Nottingham has cooked up with his army of mystery robots? Is the Robin Hood legend merely a ploy to give the people false hope, or can legendary heroes really exist?

DVD Extras for this story include:

  • Audio commentary by director Paul Murphy.
  • Behind the Scenes featurette (13 min.) with Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Tom Riley (Robin Hood),
    Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Ben Miller (Sheriff of Nottingham),
    writer Mark Gatiss, archery advisor & coordinator Dean Goulden, and special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


This is one of the stranger outings of the season. Because of the heroic themes it tackles, and the strong mythical backbone at the heart of its source material, it seems there was obvious potential here for a decent episode. But in the end, it feels like a rushed job that doesn't quite hit the right tone during most story beats.


Our angle into the situation here inherits problems from the developing season as the Doctor questions his status as a "hero". I don't think that really works to draw the audience on through the episode to find the answer. Simply put, it's all too obvious what the correct answer is. If the episode determines that the answer is yes - the Doctor is a hero after all... Well we knew that all along, and what took you so long to figure it out? If the episode determines that the answer is no, then you've broken the television show called "Doctor Who" in ways that will whittle the audience down enormously. As scripted here, this question is not my idea of a "page-turner". Perhaps this is one of those occasions where Clara ought to smack her friend and say, "No, Doctor, that is NOT the question we should be asking today." Perhaps we should instead ask what the qualities and standards of a modern hero should be, particularly with respect to violent solutions, and whether the Doctor's qualities vindicate the obvious problems flaunted since the Saward-era, or if he's now ready to grow beyond. That might just make an unmissable episode.

One is also forced to wonder... If the Doctor believes that Robin Hood does not exist as a real person, exactly where is he aiming to take the TARDIS? Would he not be aiming for a time and place where he expects to find proof of the story of Robin Hood being invented as a fiction? It's a little bizarre that he just happens to land on the correct random spot in the forest at the right time to bump into the actual person.


That said, there is a certain amount of fun to be had in the interaction between our leading trio of Tom Riley's Robin Hood, Peter Capaldi's Doctor, and Jenna Coleman's Clara, with some scenes working much better than others. The opening clash with the duel on top of the log is one of the highlights of the episode. Riley does some good work in this episode to lift writer Mark Gatiss's version of Robin Hood off the page and make him function as an emotionally engaging character. The same cannot be said of many of the other characters - some of which are simply casualties of the modern crammed fast-paced structure of Doctor Who stand-alone episodes. The scene introducing Robin's band of Merry Men really falls flat, unable to rise above the pallor of indulgent fan-fantasy gone wrong.

Ben Miller delivers a compelling performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and yet the character never really becomes interesting. On reflection, I think Miller would be an excellent choice to be cast as the Master - bringing back a lot of qualities we haven't seen since Delgado and Ainley, and adding a sense of increased power and disturbing menace. A trick has been missed here, so far.

Maid Marion also suffers terribly (literally), and never seems to get the right things to do in the script. It's a bizarre concept to hold back her identity until the very end, at which point the identity doesn't seem to suit the character we've seen up until then.

Perhaps the great failing here is that there is a predictability that comes with re-telling this famous legend, and where this episode deviates, it does not really improve over other versions... with the possible sole exception of the archery competition. Director Paul Murphy seems to think, on the commentary, that Gatiss is skilled at switching tones between tragedy and comedy - but for me the tone of many scenes, especially the one where the Sheriff's villainy is introduced, jarred badly. Far too much screen time was spent with lead characters in captivity for my tastes, and in many cases more interesting, sometimes vital scenes were deleted. The scene of the Doctor freeing the workers was one of the better bits, and more beats like this would have been welcome.

The robots are not bad in terms of how they look and what they can do, and personally I was never more hopeful for the direction of the story than in the moment when the Doctor finds his way on board their spacecraft and begins to get some information out of their data banks. But it is fairly disappointing to find nothing more to this tale's sci-fi plot than yet another example of ye olde backyard-alien-of-the-week whose presence is tied to the situation that will be revealed in the season finale, and tied more loosely than usual in ways that never really make much sense. The alliance between the robots and the Sheriff also doesn't seem to work well, since they don't seem to share the same goals or have much of value to offer each other.

In the end, I have to say I think I really like the Doctor's theories much better. They actually make far more sense than anything that was revealed to be supposedly true here today. For my money, I think a purely historical tale concerning Robin Hood might have held up better, while another delving exclusively into mysterious robots might have then had the depth and scope to be far more fascinating.

I will say though that Robin's final move and its source produced a satisfying dynamic between the characters. The very best scene of the tale is the very last one between the Doctor and Robin Hood - for me the only scene where writing and acting really knocked it out of the park. Nice profound concepts, perhaps deserving a better episode to sit atop.


And so, once more, I end with a very bizarre and uneasy feeling towards the latest Mark Gatiss Doctor Who story. Two formulaic ideas merged here, in Robin Hood legends and sci-fi robots, with neither one overcoming its inherent predictability to engage my emotions or interest, and with an overarching question for the Doctor that MUST for the sake of the continuation of the show, be proven moot. Overall a fairly fluff episode, with just a hint of fun factor to help keep it afloat.



This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:


Season 34 Box Set
11 stories in 12 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.



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