REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Robot of Sherwood"


It’s still too early in the run of Doctor Who Series 8 to make any hard judgments about Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor or the series as a whole. Arguably, we’ll need to see six or seven episodes before we get a real sense of the arc Steven Moffat has drawn and the overall status of the show. It means the creative team has some wiggle room for a lackluster episode here and there without threatening the larger story.

For that reason, I’m willing to forgive screenwriter Mark Gatiss for the less-than-stellar “Robot of Sherwood”. It isn’t so much a bad episode as it is one made up of familiar parts, and fused to a final five minutes that dump a bunch of observations about the Doctor on us. Oddly, despite the fact that Series 8 has been in production for something like six or seven months, Episode 3 feels rushed, as if there’s a big story coming up that will really floor us (or so I hope).

The episode opens with the Doctor agreeing to bring Clara somewhere she’s always wanted to visit: medieval Nottinghamshire during the adventures of Robin Hood. Despite the Doctor’s claim that Hood never existed, he brings Clara there anyways, only to find Hood and his Merry Men opposing the local Sheriff of Nottingham. The Doctor, however, finds this troubling, and sets about proving that something’s not quite right in Sherwood Forest; that perhaps aliens might be to blame for English folklore coming to life.

As much fun as it is to see the Doctor and Clara gallivant around 12th century England with the Merry Men, the underlying premise of the episode – accidental alien visitors rounding up the locals to help them escape Earth – feels a bit warmed-over. We’ve already seen it in a number of Who episodes, including “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “Fear Her” and “The Lodger”, and even when the story structure comes in the form of swordfighting, archery displays and gallant outlaws, there’s still a “been there, done that” feeling to the proceedings.

Ben Miller as the power-hungry Sheriff of Nottingham

That’s not to say the performers don’t try to have some fun with the concept. The Doctor develops a great rivalry with Hood (Tom Riley), and gets into a couple of funny squabbles with him, while Ben Miller has a few solid scenes as the glowering Sheriff. But the villains, a race of robots dressed as knights (with purple crucifix-shaped death rays) are a bit like discount Cybermen, and probably won’t rank very high on fans’ “memorable Who baddies” lists.

I mentioned before that “Robot of Sherwood” feels rushed. It doesn’t always help TV criticism to muse about how to fix an episode, but I wonder what might have happened if someone had done one more pass on the script, perhaps to reorganize the scenes and make them feel less clumsy. I suspect it could have gone a long way towards building the tension in the episode and delivering a less choppy climax and resolution.

One of the pieces that contributes to disjointed vibe is the “goodbye” scene at the TARDIS. After a story that didn’t weave in much examination of the Doctor’s personality, both Hood and Clara suddenly offer an analysis of the Doctor’s aversion to being seen as a hero. It’s certainly something we’ve seen the Doctor wrestle with before, and I can see how Gatiss was trying to compare that side of the Doctor to the Robin Hood stories. Unfortunately, since most of this comes all at once right at the end, it doesn’t flow naturally from the material that precedes it. It’s a fine effort, but not particularly effective.

Whenever we find ourselves with a so-so entry in a TV show, the natural inclination is to look ahead to next week and hope for a better follow-up. Naturally, it’s very hard to tell from the brief trailer we saw for “Listen”, but if that glimpse of an aged Danny Pink in a spacesuit is any indication, I’m kind of excited. Until then, “Robot of Sherwood” gets two and a half stars out of four.

Two and a Half Stars

What did you think of the third episode of Series 8? Did you get caught up in the Whovian adaptation of the Robin Hood legend? Or did this one-shot episode feel more like filler to you? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!