Sunday, 7 September 2014

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood

Hood: 'And remember, Doctor. I'm just as real as you are.'

This is an episode I've been dreading since I first saw it advertised. The title sounded awful, the premise laughable, Robin Hood himself looked ridiculous, and the less said about the teaser the better. So why did I spend half of the episode cackling like a loon? One word: banter. The Doctor may not like it... but I do.

I've been saying all week to anyone who'll listen, if they're going to do Robin Hood, they better (a) camp it up, and (b) go big with the humour. Thankfully, Mark Gatiss did just that. The legend of Robin Hood has been so abused by modernity that it's virtually impossible to think of the man-in-tights without snickering. Trying to tell a pseudo-historical story would have been disastrous. Thankfully, Gatiss chose to portray Robin Hood and his Merry Men as stereotypes—with magnificent britches, outrageous laughter and clich├ęd dialogue—and, surprisingly, managed to create some of the show's funniest exchanges to date.

The Doctor and Robin's continuous pissing contest and subsequent banter was hands-down my favourite part of the episode. Peter Capaldi and Tom Riley looked like they were having a ball. Unfortunately, the laughter came at a price. For the humour to work, they had to knock several hundred points off the Doctor's IQ, which made him look astonishingly stupid at times. But for an episode like this, it was an acceptable compromise. This was a distinctly kid-friendly piece, and judging it on those grounds, I think it worked fine. How it'll fare when pitted against the season's bigger episodes—or even the two which preceded it—is another matter entirely.

From an adult perspective, however, there was just too much effort required to explain some of the plot deficiencies. How did firing a gold arrow at the side of the ship help it into orbit? Was the gold absorbed by some kind of osmosis? It also telegraphed a few too many set-pieces (most notably, the spoon), and the classic episode shout-outs ('Carnival of Monsters', 'The Smugglers', 'The Mind of Evil', etc.) felt, at times, clumsily inserted. Explaining Hood's traditionally over-the-top laughter as a compensatory mechanism for personal loss, however, was a nice twist. I also liked that Hood ended up reunited with Marian, despite there being insufficient time for us to care about either of them. Forty-five minutes just isn't long enough to do an iconic love like theirs justice.

The Robin Hood storyline, as long as you treated it as pantomime, was generally enjoyable. It was clever, generated plenty of hilarity, and provided the perfect backdrop for a stand-alone high-definition romp. Is it possible to reconcile the personality of the Doctor here with the Doctor of last week? Maybe. Maybe not. I also didn't quite understand who Hood was talking about when he said 'He's a lucky man.' Was he talking about the Doctor or Danny Pink? Since the context was romantic, I initially thought he was referring to Pink. But they only met last week, for Kroll's sake. And Hood surely knew nothing about... I'm going to say it, you can't stop me... Clanny! No, Piswald. Wait! That sounds terrible. Dara? (Nailed it!) So he meant the Doctor, right?

The robots storyline, was more problematic. That's not to say it was a total bust – unless you had a problem believing that an all-gold arrow would be robust enough to be fired from a bow. Obviously the robots were there to give momentum to the season's 'Promised Land' arc, although it took me a while to twig that the Sheriff was actually part-robot. Apparently they deleted a scene of him being decapitated (out of respect for the recent executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff), so his part-mechanical make-up wasn't obvious. (Especially if you missed his 'half-man, half-engine' line as he ascended to the rafters... and the music at that point was awfully loud.)

And I'm not sure how good a week this was for Clara. Initially, she came across as quite clever, what with keeping the boys in line and outwitting the Sheriff of Nottingham. But since everyone around her was either (a) acting like a buffoon, or (b) had twelfth-century sensibilities, it wasn't really that difficult to appear intelligent. I didn't think her intellectual contributions weren't quite as sharp as last week, but I don't think anyone really sparkled tonight. The Doctor did seem to come to his senses once he'd actually laid eyes on the alien ship, but he spent the bulk of this episode getting things drastically wrong.

Gatiss' musings on the nature of the hero, and legend versus reality, I thought worked well. I particularly liked Hood's 'I'm just as real as you are' line. Real or not, heroes are meant to inspire, and their stories bring hope to generations. Who cares if the odd detail is embellished? Or the whole thing, for that matter?

Other Thoughts:

—Where did the Doctor find time to make a homing arrow?

—I racked my brain trying to remember when Doctor Who last used a mythological character. All I could come up with is Santa... but even that feels like a stretch. I asked Classic Who doyen, Mark, and he responded with 'How about all that Arthurian bollocks on 'Battlefield'?' A classy reply, I think you'll agree.

—Great reference to the size of Errol Flynn's todger. I know it was legendary, but was its enormity mythical too? Why do I want to know? I don't k... moving on.

—Here's Patrick Troughton's brief appearance, for those who missed it.


—Thanks a bunch Terry Gilliam and Mel Brooks for ruining Robin Hood forever... and by ruining it, I mean making it better.

—Using shiny plates to deflect lasers with that sort of accuracy? Utter bollocks!

—According to Mark Gatiss, it was Steven Moffat who first pitched the idea of Robin Hood with robots. I guess we can't hold that against Gatiss then. Damn!

Quotes:

Doctor: 'I am totally against bantering.'

Doctor: 'When did you start believing in impossible heroes?'
Clara: 'Don't you know?”

Doctor: 'Shut it, Hoody!'

Hood: 'I had the situation well in hand.'
Doctor: 'Long haired ninny versus robot killer knights? I know where I'd put my money.'

Hood: 'I'll tell you one thing, I'd last a lot longer than this desiccated man-crone.'

Clara: 'Thank you, Prince of Thieves... Last of the Time Lords?'

Clara: 'Can you explain your plan without using the words sonic screwdriver?'

Hood: 'You're as pale as milk. It's the way with Scots, they're strangers to vegetables.'

Hood: 'Soiled myself?'
Doctor: 'Did you? That's getting into character.'

Hood: 'Now what?'
Doctor: 'First, the blacksmith's forge.'
Hood: 'So as to remove our chains?'
Doctor: 'No, so I can knock up an ornamental plant stand. Of course it's to get rid of our chains! I don't want to be manacled to you all night.'

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