It’s been a dark couple of weeks for Doctor Who with both last week’s Into the Dalek and Capaldi’s premier Deep Breath taking on a more serious tone to match Doctor Who’s new direction for the the last of the Timelords. Thankfully, Robot of Sherwood takes a step back from all that to take audiences on a more lighthearted and comical adventure – Capaldi’s grumpiness be damned!
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
A Robin-Hood themed episode of Doctor Who was always going be a silly affair, but the way that this week’s episode so wholeheartedly threw itself in that direction made it all the more endearing. In a fun twist, Robot of Sherwood doesn’t strive to sustain itself on premise alone (like the ill-fated Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) but rather, structurally models itself on the historical-figure episodes of the Davies-era of the show. It feels like the show hasn’t done a proper episode like this since Series 5’s Vincent Van Gogh episode and it was a delight to see both a return to and clever subversion of the formula here.
There was a great contrast between The Doctor’s skepticism and Clara’s adoration towards Robin Hood and the episode did a good job of making you second guess whether or not the whole scenario was real or not right up till the end. While last year was all over the place in terms of its handling of Clara, this series seems to have a much better handle on her character and her chemistry with Capaldi continues to be terrific.
Lines and quips that could have come off as corny are made all the more hilarious by Capaldi’s refusal to pander to Clara’s Robin Hood fantasies and Robin’s own ‘Merry-Men-Shtick’. There was more than a few great recurring gags that helped really carry the rivalry between The Doctor and Robin.
There were a number of highlights here with the archery contest and prison-cell escape being my favorites. Tom Riley and Ben Miller did a great job of playing the show’s caricature-esque takes on Robin Hood and The Sheriff of Nottingham and their performances really held the whole thing together. Riley struck a great balance between the jolly man-in-tights and the heroic figure of legend that Robin Hood is and Miller definitely hit his darkly comical mark as the Sheriff. I hope that one, if not both, of them can somehow make a reappearance or cameo later down the line.
The only real niggle I had with the episode was the resolution. Stopping the ship from exploding by shooting the golden arrow at it seemed a bit haphazard and over-the-top – and that’s saying something in an episode where there was more than one musical interlude. That aside, Robot of Sherwood did an exceptional job of leading the audience into Robin-Hood cliches only to let Capaldi drag them back out again.
This not only formed the comedic backbone for the episode but also its thematic one. Into the Dalek asked the Doctor if he’s a good man, and it’d be easy to dismiss Robot of Sherwood as a throwaway episode, the whole affair did a good job of opening The Doctor upto the possibility that maybe he – like Robin Hood – has a claim to being a hero and a good man after all.