Gatiss’ Merry Episode! ‘Robot of Sherwood’: A Review
The Doctor and Clara meet Robin Hood and save the world from the evil Sherriff of Nottingham. This is ‘Robot of Sherwood’ basically summed up in one sentence and I mean that as a wholehearted compliment as opposed to a criticism. Whilst watching first-hand Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Tom Riley and Ben Miller filming this episode at Caerphilly Castle in April (the dream of watching the actual filming process being one that I had possessed for 9 years) I had no idea how much I would love it. This episode was beautifully simple, hilariously funny and jam-packed with every possible cliché you can think of in connection with this timeless tale; the Doctor asking Robin Hood constantly what he was laughing at was enough to keep the audience entertained all night! I suppose this comic approach is the marmite of the Whoniverse; some people love it, some hate it and believe that viewers should be forced to hide ‘behind the sofa’ by truly terrifying monsters week in, week out. I happen to belong to the former half of the fan base who feels that every series should have tears, laughs and screams in almost equal measure, something that series 8 is delivering on so far with Peter Capaldi’s natural talent for both comedy and drama.
The real quality of this episode lies in its magic; from start to finish, there was an element of childish fairy tale about it. The main reason for this, perhaps, is that we met the infamous legend through the eyes of Clara who, as we learn, had been captivated by his story since she was a child herself (which, on a side note, offered us a much-welcomed insight into the softer side of this companion – something that has been obtained in every episode of the new series so far and long may it continue). As I mentioned briefly before, this episode wasn’t afraid of making use of the stereotypical features of this piece of folklore, from the panto-like ‘merriness’ of Hood’s ‘merry men’ to the climactic scene which saw Robin, The Doctor and Clara save the day with a humble bow and arrow. It was as if the pages of every tale had been bought to life exactly as they were, without the seriousness of reality impinging upon them, because, in the end, why should Doctor Who need to be ‘realistic’ at all? (As Robin himself says ‘history is a burden. Stories make us fly.’) For 45 minutes, we were placed in a world where a belief in fairy tales and superheroes was completely justified. For 45 minutes we were all children again. The enchanting qualities of this episode didn’t end there either. The Doctor was portrayed by Gatiss exactly as the Doctor should always be portrayed – as a legend woven throughout our culture and responsible for instilling hope into children and adults alike. In this way, (and as much as the twelfth Doctor might hate it) the two men are virtually one and the same. The Doctor professes to Robin that he is ‘not a hero’ to which Robin replies ‘well, neither am I. But if we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end’. It is this quote, written so beautifully, that makes it dawn on all of us – the Doctor is our fairy tale, real or not, and like Clara he is our hero.
Gatiss is lucky that the comedy between Robin and The Doctor and the captivating magic of this episode worked so well because the monster, it has to be said, was definitely not forcing anyone behind their sofa. As I’ve previously stated, this is not a big issue with me if the episode fulfils other purposes but when reviewing this story it has to be mentioned. Although it was an interesting spin to attribute the Sheriff of Nottingham’s evil actions to alien motives (he was stealing gold in order to fuel an alien ship and eventually reign over the world), the ingenuity in the monster stakes stopped there I’m afraid. The robot knights were not featured quite enough to be classed as the main monster of the story and the Sheriff simply wasn’t scary enough. In this respect, I suppose the episode was lacking the presence of real edge-of-your-seat threat and suspense which I don’t doubt Gatiss could have achieved had he put his mind to it. Perhaps this was not Gatiss’ intention though and perhaps this is a good thing. After all, could the same entertaining and light-hearted tone be created if there was real peril and sinister motive to darken it? Of course not! One thing that absolutely must never be forgotten is that Doctor Who is ultimately a family show and I don’t believe any family could be disappointed with the spectacular bonanza that we were given in this episode. Non-stop fun from beginning to end with a warm, heartfelt, RTD-esque ending between Marian and Robin Hood – superb!
When deciding which episode to review, I of course considered the more prominent episodes, perhaps, of the brand new series – ‘Deep Breath’, ‘Into the Dalek’, ‘Listen’ etc. I love these episodes and was in love with them from the first time I saw them and to write about their endless qualities would be an absolute joy. I didn’t choose any of these, however, because as innovative and wonderful as they all are, none sum up ‘Doctor Who’ more accurately than Gatiss’ latest contribution. A pleasure to watch, which satisfied me A LOT more than his most recent efforts ‘Cold War’ and ‘Crimson Horror’, this story had real heart to it. As we all know, Doctor Who lives outside of its 45 minute slot every Saturday; it creates a world of its own and becomes an all-consuming way of life for those who are truly captivated by its charm. Again, as Robin rightly said ‘history is a burden. Stories make us fly.’ This episode heralded hope over despair, legend over reality and good over evil. What better lesson would the Doctor want us to learn for our everyday life? Thank you, Mark Gatiss, for reminding us all of it.