No damsels in distress, no pretty castles, no such thing as Robin Hood.
At the request of Clara, the TARDIS arrives in Sherwood Forest in 1190, where they meet the folk hero Robin Hood, much to the Doctor’s disbelief. They quickly realise something is amiss as the Sherriff of Nottingham and his army of robots are plotting a scheme that could rewrite history for the worst.
There is an element with Mark Gatiss’ work on Doctor Who that some argue means that it could be lifted from any one series and placed into another without much impact on the show itself. Robot of Sherwood, despite feeling quite light-weight and fluffy in comparison to some other stories in Series 8, is a good glimpse into the sort of man Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor would become later on in his run, while also contributing to his uncertainty about whether he is a good man. It can seem a bit out of place surrounded by episodes emphasising how dark this new Doctor is, but is quite a good fun romp. There are elements that seem slightly over the top and it’s never going to be a story I consider to be amongst the best of Capaldi’s run though.
When did you stop believing in everything?
When did you start believing in impossible heroes?
Don’t you know?
Clara Oswald and the Twelfth Doctor
The story’s real strength is in Gatiss’ script, which has some fantastic dialogue allowing the two stars and the two main guest stars, Ben Miller and Tom Riley, to really shine. Moments that stand out include the scenes in which the Doctor and Robin are imprisoned together and are constantly bickering. The story really is one of a battle of the egos of two iconic heroes, with the Doctor being jealous of Clara’s infatuation with Robin. However, by the end of the story, both men’s respect has grown for each other once the Doctor is convinced that the famous archer is not, in fact, a robot, which does show a slightly softer side to the hard Twelfth Doctor. It is not revealed until relatively late on that Robin is, in fact, real, with the Doctor being so utterly convinced that he is part of the Robot’s schemes that it takes the Sherriff of Nottingham pointing out that there would be no obvious point to them creating opposition to their plans for him to see how wrong he is. In fairness to the Doctor, the Robin Hood we see here is almost like the epitome of the traditional legends and stories about the emerald archer, and Tom Riley’s swagger and charisma really help evoke the Errol Flynn image of the character. There are also elements like the archery contest and the golden arrow, as well as the fight between the Doctor and Robin that allude to the famous stories about Robin Hood that have lasted through time.
Is it so hard to credit, that a man born into wealth and privelege should find the plight of the oppressed and weak too much to bear?
I know, b…
Until one night, he is moved to steal a TARDIS, fly among the stars, fighting the good fight. Clara told me your stories.
Jenna Coleman’s performance deserves a lot of credit here too. Her enthusiasm at meeting Robin Hood means that she is much more accepting of the facts when she discovers that the legends are in fact true, and her frustration at the constant bickering between the Doctor and Robin when they are imprisoned is completely understandable. We see glimpses of what Clara must be like as a teacher in these scenes, especially when she dismisses the Doctor’s plan to escape as boiling down to using the sonic screwdriver. The dinner scene between Clara and the Sherriff, where Clara is able to convince him to divulge his big plan is also really good. Ben Miller plays the Sherriff of Nottingham surprisingly straight and he may seem like a stereotypical villain with his plans of world domination, but Miller does bring something likeable to the role. I remember when we first saw the trailer for Series 8, there was quite a lot of speculation that he was playing either the Delgado or the Ainley Master. Little did we know we had already seen the new incarnation of the Master twice already! The Robots aiding the Sherriff in his plans are quite effectively creepy even if they don’t really contribute much, except to mention that, like the Clockwork Droids in Deep Breath, they are also looking for the “Promised Land”.
The story’s tone can feel a bit jarring, following hot on the heels of Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, however, the story allows this incarnation to have a bit of fun in the story. Capaldi’s comedy chops are well known by most in the UK through the superb (although very sweary) The Thick of It, and he seems to have a great time here being the doubter of the story. I really like the moment when he and Robin discover the spaceship at the heart of the castle, and he rejoices in finding something that he feels is finally real. If we think where the character of the Twelfth Doctor ends up in Twice Upon A Time, it does owe a lot to this episode where he starts to comprehend that an image of heroism can help to make the grimmest scenarios more tolerable. The episode does have moments that I find to be a bit too cheesy though, especially the bit where the Doctor, Clara and Robin are all required to fire the golden arrow to blow up the ship, which just doesn’t really sit well with me.
Verdict: A more light-hearted story for the Twelfth Doctor that has some interesting moments that tie in to the ‘Good Man’ arc of Capaldi’s first season. The tone does feel a bit jarring, however, and there are some moments that make me cringe a little. 7/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Tom Riley (Robin Hood), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Quayle), Sabrina Bartlett (Quayle’s Ward/Maid Marian), Ben Miller (Sherriff of Nottingham), Ian Hallard (Allan-a-Dale), Trevor Cooper (Friar Tuck), Rusty Goffe (Little John), Joseph Kennedy (Will Scarlett), Adam Jones (Walter), David Benson (Herald), David Langham (Guard), Tim Baggaley (Knight), Richard Elfyn (Voice of the Knights)
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Paul Murphy
Behind the Scenes
- One of the images showing depictions of Robin Hood through time shows Patrick Troughton playing the hero, who in addition to playing the Second Doctor was the first actor to portray Robin Hood on television. Additionally, Patrick Troughton’s grandson, Sam Troughton, played Much in the BBC adaptation of Robin Hood broadcast during Doctor Who’s off-season from 2006 until 2009.
- Peter Capaldi celebrated his 56th birthday during production of this story and was given a Dalek-themed birthday cake.
- A scene was cut of the Sherriff of Nottingham being beheaded, explicitly revealing him to be a robot was cut from the episode due to the beheading of two American journalists by the terrorist group ISIS which happened a few weeks before transmission. There is a line that states that the Sherriff is “half-man, half-machine” and his hands are seen in the vat of molten gold which allude to this.
- David Benson and Ian Hallard had previously appeared in Invaders of Mars, a Big Finish audio written by Mark Gatiss.
- The title references the ITV show Robin of Sherwood which went up against series 22 of Doctor Who in 1985, and the golden arrow story are staples of the Robin Hood legend.
- This episode is the first since Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS not to feature a scene on present-day Earth.
It feels like a cheat to include a quote under best moment, but I do really like the final exchange between Robin Hood and the Doctor.
You are her hero, I think.
I’m not a hero.
Well, neither am I. But if we keep pretending to be (laughs) perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end. Goodbye Doctor, Time Lord of Gallifrey.
Goodbye Robin, Earl of Locksley.
And remember, Doctor, I’m just as real as you are.
Robin Hood and the Twelfth Doctor
Aah! All these diseases! If you were real, you’d be dead in six months.
I am real!
The Twelfth Doctor and Allan-a-Dale