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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Doctor Who blogging: “Robot of Sherwood”

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[previous: “Into the Dalek”]

warning: spoilers!

So, the Doctor and Robin Hood walk into a dungeon…

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No, wait, into a spaceship…

Oh my god, did I love this episode. Was I just complaining about a lack of a sense of wonder? Well, here it is, in spades:

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Yeah, I’d be doing the same thing in the face of this:

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And I wouldn’t quite believe it, either, though. Thank you, Mark Gatiss — and okay, Steven Moffat, too, for letting Gatiss do this — for getting the important bits here exactly right. Like how the Doctor, when faced with an over-the-top cliché of Robin Hood and his band of merry men, refuses to accept that it’s real. How could it be? He’s doing what we watching are doing: trying to figure out what’s actually actually going on: Surely we’re on a holodeck. No? Okay, then they’ve landed in the middle of a Renaissance festival. No? So it’s not too good to be true, and this is the genuine for-reals Robin Hood? *squee*

(Oh my, they found a cute Robin Hood:

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Hello, Tom Riley, whoever you are.)

Except… no squeeing from the Doctor. He can’t stand not being the only hero in the room. Maybe he doesn’t want to consider himself a hero — fine. But he certainly has to be the center of attention. Of course he’d get himself into a dick-measuring– excuse me, arrowing-splitting contest with Robin Hood. He’s being shown up by a pudding-headed primitive… and one out of a storybook, no less.

The tone is just right here, a balance of silliness and adventure, of embracing clichés and making fun of them (Robin does the Errol Flynn thing knifing down the tapestry!). And the sharp banter is beautifully performed by Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Tom Riley: I can’t remember when I laughed so much at Doctor Who, and it’s still funny on rewatching, because the humor comes as much from the delivery as from the surprise of what’s being said.

I’m glad I didn’t know that Ben Miller was the Sheriff until he showed up onscreen:

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because that was a nice treat. He reminded me a bit of Alan Rickman’s Sheriff in the Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: funny and menacing at the same time.

And hallelujah: Clara gets to be properly smart and clever and interesting!

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She plays the Sheriff like a fiddle, which is — again — simultaneously embracing clichés, of both the Robin Hood story and the Doctor’s own epic, and making fun of them. Clara knows all about men like the Sheriff, both from her own experience and from stories, and knows all about how he has been seduced by the Whatevers from space, because she’s seen that before, too, in her travels with the Doctor.

Because so much here is so engaging on multiple levels — pleasing the self-aware fan in me, the pop culture critic in me, and the me who just wants a fun story — I don’t mind so much the problems with this episode. Some of it’s little stuff, like a medieval dungeon guard mistaking Clara as the leader of two other men: that’s hugely unlikely, but it’s a funny upending of at least a couple of clichés of hero narratives, so I can let it pass. Some of it’s bigger stuff, like how the sonic screwdriver really is getting to be too much of a magic wand:

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(But at least the script did address that later, when Clara snarks about how the Doctor’s plans always seem to require the sonic screwdriver, and this is a problem when it has been taken from him.)

And who are the robot guys from space, anyway? All that gold… at first I thought, Maybe they’re in a war with the Cyberman and need it to defeat them? But no, it’s this “Promised Land” stuff again. What’s more, this turns out to be almost exactly the same story, at its core, as “Deep Breath” was: ancient spaceship manned by robots is stuck on Earth — in England again, no less, tiny speck of an island on this big planet in this big universe; what are the odds? — and is repairing itself in order to get back on its journey to this Promised Land. Not everything needs to be connected to everything else, does it?

Random thoughts on “Robot of Sherwood”:

• If you thought it was a little odd that the Sheriff announces to Robin, during their final sword fight, that he — the Sheriff — is “the first of a new breed, half man, half engine,” implying that he was some sort of cyborg, and then nothing came of that, see this piece at Forbes (h/t @KeithAllGamer) explaining a scene that was edited out at the last moment. Spoiler: It involved a beheading, and this was deemed to be insensitive in light of recent events. (This episode was shot in February, and a lot has happened since then.)

• Self-healing TARDIS skin!

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I think this is the first time we’ve seen anything like this.

• The Doctor is a secret fan of The Tick!

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Spoooooon!

• Venusian aikido?

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• Did the Doctor have a cheese sandwich in his jacket?

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That is very Tom Baker’s Doctor. I like it.

• Didn’t we see this on Game of Thrones?

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• I love this shot:

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and the mock indignity it represents. Or the mocking of the genuine indignity it represents. Beautiful.

• Here’s a bit of mystery, which I’ve also been feeling the lack of:

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Why is the Doctor so moved by a simple kiss on the cheek from a woman he’s just saved? Is he feeling lonely? Is he thinking of someone else who kissed him? Intriguing!

• Yeah, that thing where Peter Capaldi is the too-old, not-sexy Doctor?

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That’s working great.

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Keep it up.

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I’ll be in my bunk.

• Back in my fanfic days, I wrote a Fifth Doctor Robin Hood story. It’s here, if you’d like to check it out.

Great quotes:

“Robin Hood laughs in the face of all. Ha ha ha!” –Robin
“And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?” –the Doctor

“When did you start believing in impossible heroes?” –the Doctor
“Don’t you know?” –Clara

“The quickest way to find out anybody’s plans is to get yourself captured.” –the Doctor

“It is not a competition about who can die slower.” –Clara
“It definitely would be me, though, wouldn’t it?” –the Doctor

“Thank you, Prince of Thieves. Last of the Time Lords?” –Clara, trying to get a plan of escape, any plan of escape out of one of the boys

“Guard! He’s laughing again. You can’t keep me locked up with a laughing person.” –the Doctor

“I’d like to see if his head keeps laughing when you chop it off!” –the Doctor

“Nottingham is not enough. After this… Derby!” –the Sheriff

“Remember, Doctor, I’m just as real as you are.” –Robin

[next: “Listen”]


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