SPOILER ALERT: Don't read ahead if you haven't watched Doctor Who series 8, episode 3: Robot Of Sherwood
'Robot Of Sherwood' treated us to a lighthearted storyline, pairing The Doctor with Robin Hood. The episode was full of Errol Flynnesque swashbuckling, nods to classic 'Who' and camp... so much camp.
Things That Worked
The major theme of the episode is the struggle with heroism, deconstructing the protagonist by matching him with his likeness. The episode leads with Doctor's attempt at debunking the existence of Robin Hood, despite Clara's earnest faith in the legend and the pair's subsequent encounter with Robin and his Merry Men. Why would a man who singlehandedly stuck an entire planet into a pocket universe have such a hard time believing in the existence of a fictional character? This hints at a disturbing internal struggle. The Doctor is questioning his own heroism. Time and again he inquires about being a "good man," claiming he is not a hero.
In an exchange with Sheriff Of Nottingham, Doctor accuses him of creating Robin Hood as the arch enemy in order to provide the villagers with hope. The Sheriff makes a simple, but brilliant counter argument "Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make?"
Coming off 'Into The Dalek,' taking into account The Doctor's past, that would actually make perfect sense. He clearly feels responsible for creating his own nemeses. We saw a vivid build up to this during the 11th tenure, as the Doctor became "too big," "the man who could turn an army around at the mention of his name." He is now facing the emotional consequences. His name erased from all records, he is only a story in the minds of those who remember meeting him, much like Robin Of Loxley, a legend forgotten as a real man.
Clara's blind faith in her heroes grounds 'Robot Of Sherwood' in sentimentality, a necessary emotional link, considering the rest of the episode is loaded with camp, a joke at every scene change. The dynamic between Capaldi, Coleman and Tom Reilly's Robin is a welcome break from the darkness of the season so far.
'Robot Of Sherwood' also gives us more clues in the "Promised Land" narrative. The mention appears on screen only for a moment, as the destination for the stranded robots, but we may have learned more by what isn't pictured. In 'Deep Breath,' we had to speculate whether The Doctor pushed the humanoid clockwork robot to his death or if it sacrificed itself, before the creature ended up in "Paradise." In 'Into the Dalek' a soldier sacrificed herself and immediately landed in "Paradise." In 'Robot Of Sherwood' the Sheriff of Nottingham is killed by Robin, but all we see are his hands frozen in gold, no mention of Paradise in sight. At the moment we don't have enough information to identify a pattern, but I would speculate that "Paradise" is a place for those who've made great personal sacrifices, rather than just those who have died in Doctor's company, especially since the first soldier from 'Into The Dalek' found his end in Dalek bowls instead of a tea parlor.
Things That Didn't Work I am a fan of Mark Gatiss. His writing on Sherlock strikes just the right balance between emotion, suspense and humor. 'An Adventure In Space and Time' was the absolute highlight of the 50th Anniversary celebration. Gatiss told 'Doctor Who' origin story so poignantly, I was teary for an hour after the screening. However, his work on the episodes has been lackluster. It's not that the stories are bad, but they seem uninspired. 'Robot of Sherwood' had pretty much the same storyline as 'Deep Breath.' Stranded alien robots, led by half man-half machine, using human population to rebuild their ship.
The demand for the audience to suspend disbelief was too much. The conflict resolution, where Clara, Robin and The Doctor all come together to save the day by shooting a gold arrow, they conveniently acquired earlier in the episode, into a space ship that runs on gold, was a little dumb.
Are we honestly supposed to believe that shooting an arrow into an arbitrary part of a flying vessel will somehow give it fuel? If no rules of technology applied, why did the robots spend all this time melting gold into an engine matrix? Couldn't they just have dumped all their gold into one room on the ship? And if gold was so essential for running the ship, why did they give it away as a prize? They are shown collecting other gems. Would rubies not suffice for starving villagers? And if sheriff's goal is to just fuel the ship, why is he wasting time hosting archery contests in the first place?
It's one thing if you're writing a storyline for a children's show in the 1960s, your audience fresh and unwitting of plot holes. But when you're writing for an audience that has been loyal for 50 years, that audience deserves better. While the episode hit all the right emotional triggers, narratively the episode was immature and unfit for a savvy fandom. Walking through press briefings, repeating that the new Doctor is the more mature Doctor, doesn't make it true if you don't give the actors better material. I would highly recommend reading this piece from io9's Observation Deck, which dives into those issues more eloquently.
Overall, I'm optimistic for the season arc, we'll just write this one off as a fun filler episode, until we get into meatier stuff. Anyone else hoping, that Doctor's chalkboard scribbles have something to do with Gallifrey?
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