Caution: This review contains spoilers on “Robot of Sherwood.”
We’re backtracking a little in my reviews for the eighth season of “Doctor Who” by going to the third installment. In “Robot of Sherwood,” the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) lets Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) pick their destination, which turns out to be Sherwood Forest. He scoffs at her choice, insisting that Robin Hood (Tom Riley) is not real. He’s interrupted by an arrow from the thief himself, who wants the TARDIS. Clara, clad in a resplendent red dress, is quite excited to meet one of her favorite people in history.
There is, of course, only room enough for one egoistic male figure in the spotlight, as the Doctor hardly warms up to this “fake” Robin Hood. They have a bit of a duel: Robin’s sword against the Doctor’s spoon. The scene immediately made me think of Capaldi’s role in “The Musketeers” as Cardinal Richelieu, a part he left to take on that of the iconic Time Lord. (Incidentally, Richelieu didn’t seem to be much for actual sword duels, but instead stuck to formulating his machinations.) Anyway, the Doctor seems to win the duel at first, teaching the overly cheerful thief a couple of useful tricks.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller) harasses the populace with his strange knights, which unleash powerful lasers. He later draws Robin Hood in for an archery contest. Robin appears to be the victor for the prize of the golden arrow until the Doctor interrupts with his own bow and arrow. They keep splitting each others’ arrows on the target until the Doctor has had enough and blows it up with his sonic screwdriver! (Are we dealing with Robin Hood or “Arrow” here?) The Sheriff releases his knights, who capture Clara, Robin, and the Doctor. A dungeon guard mistakes Clara for the ringleader of the trio and brings her to the Sheriff.
The Doctor escapes with Robin to find Clara and the Sheriff, when they uncover that the castle is really the spaceship of the knights, who are looking for “the Promised Land.” Robin and Clara jump, leaving the Doctor behind with the Sheriff for the time being. Predictably, they return to save him, during which Robin uses one of the Doctor’s moves on the Sheriff in a duel. The Doctor finally realizes that Robin Hood is real and not a robot working for the Sheriff. The spaceship takes off and remains a danger to Earth until the Doctor and Clara help Robin fire the golden arrow at it. Upon their departure, the Doctor and Clara bring Maid Marian back to Robin.
This episode, written by Mark Gatiss, seems to be all over the place, never quite deciding its approach. Nevertheless, there are quite a few noteworthy and hilarious moments. Capaldi is very sharp in his performance as the Doctor, which is key to carrying an episode like this one. Aside from the brooding, there’s a bit of cheekiness as he momentarily gives Robin Hood the middle finger when he slips on his black glove. It’s fun to see him as he expresses his annoyance with Robin each and every time: “It’s not even that funny. Stop, you’ll give yourself a hernia.” One of my favorite lines is when he insists, “I am totally against bantering.”
It’s a fun one-off episode if you don’t prod too hard at the plot. The archery scene is pretty brilliant as the Doctor interferes and loses his patience with the contest. Tying in the castle-spaceship and the fake Robin Hood could have been a lot smoother. With this type of writing, one wonders just how much writers thought about what Capaldi would contribute to his portrayal of the Doctor. It’s something that seems to permeate through other scripts as well. Take for instance “Mummy on the Orient Express.” The Doctor Who Magazine quotes writer Jamie Mathieson as picturing the Doctor like “Gregory House in the TARDIS.” (I thought “Orient Express” was a great, refreshing episode for the eighth season.) Undoubtedly, those types of starting points stem from having a new Doctor and being able to try new ideas, but one hopes the scripts will improve markedly in season (or series) 9 next year.
“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings on BBC America at 9|8c.