Doctor Who blogging: “Robot of Sherwood”


[previous: “Into the Dalek”]

warning: spoilers!

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


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:


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


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:


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:


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!


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:


(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!



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

• The Doctor is a secret fan of The Tick!



• Venusian aikido?


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


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

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


• I love this shot:


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:


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?


That’s working great.


Keep it up.


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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Sun, Sep 07, 2014 11:31pm

“Venusian aikido” was not the only Pertwee reference. The mini-scope he references as an explanation of what the situation might actually be was from Carnival of Monsters.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  GeeksAreMyPeeps
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 11:48pm

Ah, right! I knew that was a thing, but I couldn’t place it.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 11:39pm

So your take on this was a lot more positive than the “I liked this episode a lot better when they called it ‘The Time Warrior'” reaction I was predicting. Good.

Not that “The Time Warrior” wasn’t a good episode as well…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 11:49pm

No connection occurred to me. I did think a bit about “The King’s Demons.” :->

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Sep 11, 2014 7:36pm

I didn’t even think of “The King’s Demons” for some reason though I normally like Peter Davison’s stories much better than Jon Pertwee’s. Then again “The Time Warrior” is so iconic — having been the first episode to introduce not only Sarah Jane Smith but also the Sontarans — who seemed a lot creepier in Old School Who than in New Jack Who (plus no short jokes) — that it’s kind of a hard episode to forget.

However, your mileage obviously varies. And I would not come here so often if you mirrored my thoughts on everything Who-related.

reply to  Tonio Kruger
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 11:55pm

The Time Warrior did occur to me too for a couple of reasons. Part of it might be that Capaldi reminds me of Pertwee with an edge, and another might be that this episode had some women doing interesting things (much like Sarah Jane).

reply to  GeeksAreMyPeeps
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 1:56am

Of course, even if the plot of the Time Warrior was similar (it’s been years since I watched it and don’t remember, that’s not what this episode is *about.* This a story about stories.

Mon, Sep 08, 2014 12:24am

I really liked most of this episode. The core, of course, was the Doctor’s interactions with Robin Hood. They played off each other great, and I like that, cynical as he is, he can still get caught up in a juvenile pissing match. Clara was great as the voice of reason, and I also loved her mocking the Doctor. “Tell me your plan, and don’t use the words ‘sonic screwdriver.’ Screwdriver, it’s always the screwdriver with him!” And Clara is so much better this season. She actually has dreams and personality aside from just “saving the Doctor.” I believed her when she said she grew up reading Robin Hood stories, and I loved the way she wheedled the Sheriff to get information out of him. She’s actually showing independence and intelligence for once. The spoon fight was a lot of fun- it was just the blend of silly and dramatic I expect from this show. And I thought the Sheriff was played with the perfect confused level of megalomania. Reminds me of the Archmage from Gargoyles: “Once you have ultimate power, what do you plan to do?” “I hadn’t thought that far in advance. I suppose I could conquer Scotland!” The robots were basically knock-offs of the Cybermen, but the focus was on the Sheriff, so it really didn’t matter.

The ending had problems. Shooting the golden arrow was just stupid. The thing is powered by gold, but it doesn’t have quite enough, so hitting it with an arrow from the outside will do the trick? Come on, they had tons of gold, a few extra pounds won’t make a difference, and it wasn’t even in the engine. I also didn’t care for it turning out that Robin was, in fact, real. You’d think the Doctor, of all people, would have known whether someone from history was actually historical. The message at the end was that, even if he was forgotten by history, the story is what matters, but that message would have been even stronger if he had been fake. And he just happened to find Maid Marian? That was a cheat. Similarly, him landing right in front of Robin Hood at the beginning, just by coincidence, was very implausible, but I can handwave that as saying the TARDIS was steering him to where he needed to be.

So far, this season is 3/3 with me. This was a funny episode and developed the relationship between Clara and the Doctor nicely. There were some missteps plotwise, but the characters were spot-on, and that’s more important to me.

Radek Piskorski
Radek Piskorski
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 12:45am

I’m SO happy you liked it!

Mon, Sep 08, 2014 1:31am

I enjoyed this episode a lot. I missed that it was written by Mark Gattis. Makes sense…. I got a very Sherlock vibe from it at several points.

Mon, Sep 08, 2014 2:37am

Oh, and a fun cameo that I’m not sure you noticed. At one point, the Doctor looks at an archive of representations of Robin Hood, including this one:

Played by Patrick Troughton.

Beth M Downs
Beth M Downs
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 4:44am

This episode was absolute CRAP writing.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Beth M Downs
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 10:20am


Paul Wartenberg
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 12:23pm

the spoon bit was a shout-out to Alan Rickman’s “I’ll carve your heart out with a spoon!” (later, a mook thinks it over) “A spoon?” “SO IT WILL HURT!”

Mon, Sep 08, 2014 12:29pm

All aliens land in England. It’s probably something to do with the thickness of the Earth’s crust here.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 11:16pm

So apparently E.T. really landed in England and not in California. No wonder he had such problems trying to phone home — he was in the wrong time zone.

Mon, Sep 08, 2014 4:53pm

My only real quibble with the episode was that resolution. It bugs me that simply firing a golden arrow at the ship is enough to send it into orbit. I might need to watch it again, but I thought that they were melting the gold down to make components but it turned out to be fuel somehow and the ship can be refuelled by sticking gold on the hull (reverse cyberman technology?). It’s sloppy writing in an otherwise good episode.

I’d call for Gatiss to take over from Moffat but we’ve played that game before and it didn’t end up well…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Martin
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 8:35pm

Yup, that’s another dumb thing that I didn’t mind, cuz most of the rest was so fun.

Jim Mann
Jim Mann
reply to  Martin
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 8:58pm

Yep, that was the one thing I really disliked in an episode that I otherwise really enjoyed.

And I do disagree about your last note. I think overall Moffat has done well with Doctor Who. The first Matt Smith season ranks with the best of the series, Day of the Doctor is one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever, and there have been many good things over the last few years (even if most years I find his arcs a bit too ambitious.)

reply to  Jim Mann
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 9:39pm

I agree that his ambition has caused him problems and that Matt’s first series (as well as Day of the Doctor) was good, but it’s been kind of downhill from there.

Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 8:16pm

And I was struck by how much the Sheriff looked like Count Rugen–look at their costumes, and how closely they match.

Tue, Sep 09, 2014 4:26pm

I’m very much appreciating your reviews, because I can’t quite get the hang of this Doctor, or the season so far. There’s something about it that fuddles my brain. I *like* Peter Capaldi much more than I expected to, because he’s – well, a goofball, and I expected a sterner personality. But sometimes I find myself seeing the 10th in him. The episodes, please forgive the ridiculous idea, seem so very *far-fetched.* Deep Breath was typical but of a sort that I’d expect for other Doctors, and for Capaldi, with him veering between that goofball and sternness, my brain hasn’t caught up. Robot of Sherwood was ridiculous. I thought it was ridiculous from the start and expected to sneer at it, and there by George it was endearing.

On the whole, it looks like the 12th Doctor is going to be a fun ride.

Thu, Sep 11, 2014 6:29pm

Okay…I’m going to have to admit this to you all, and I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve never enjoyed the historical Doctor Who episodes. For any Doctor. Ever. It’s meeeeee, but I don’t know why? :(

Thu, Sep 11, 2014 9:50pm

My assumption regarding the exploding archery target was that The Doctor’s arrows, which he revealed were rigged for perfect accuracy, were also rigged to explode when activated by the sonic screwdriver’s frequency or something to that effect. But nothing is said one way or the other, so I suppose he really was blowing the target up with nothing but the screwdriver itself.

reply to  Trackrick
Fri, Sep 12, 2014 5:35pm

oh, i like and accept that explanation!

Reginald Anselm Leppik
Reginald Anselm Leppik
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 12:46pm

Robot Of Sherwood is easily the best episode of Series 8, although that’s not saying a lot. I think it’s criminally overlooked – when I first watched it, I immediately called it a classic.
I do like Mummy too, unlike you, but this really is the highlight of this god-awful, obnoxious season.