Screenwriter Mark Gatiss returns to “Doctor Who” this year with the third episode of the season. In “The Robot of Sherwood” the Doctor travels to Nottingham and uncovers an evil plan from beyond the stars. Forced to team up with Robin Hood, the Doctor and Clara must determine who is real and who is fake before it's too late.
Gatiss often partners with “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat. The two co-created “Sherlock,” the other international BBC juggernaut. Gatiss has written 5 episodes for “Doctor Who” prior to “The Robot of Sherwood,” as well as several novels and audio plays set in the Whovian universe.
On this outing, Gatiss has “Da Vinci's Demons” star Tom Riley along for the ride as the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. The BBC Worldwide show explores a fictionalized version of Leonardo da Vinci's early life.
After introducing Capaldi as the 12th incarnation of the Doctor and setting up his prickly personality in “Into the Daleks,” Gatiss is finally able to get the show back to it's core – time-traveling the universe to see cool stuff. We spoke with Gatiss and Riley over the phone about what fans can expect from Peter Capaldi's third episode.
Photo Credit: BBC
The first episode you wrote for Series 8 – “The Robot of Sherwood” – premieres on Saturday September 6. What can you tell us about it?
Mark Gatiss: It”s exactly what it says on the tin. The Doctor meets Robin Hood. Clara, who has always loved the character, wants to meet him. The Doctor says there is no such thing and takes her back to 12th century Nottingham to prove there”s not such thing. But there is. And then the Doctor spends the rest of the episode trying to disprove the fact that this man in Lincoln green who is laughing and firing arrows is not Robin Hood.
This seems to be a running theme. In the last episode “Into the Dalek,” the Doctor was trying to disprove that Daleks could be good despite looking right at one.
MG: The Doctor is basically a skeptic, yes.
When writing for “Doctor Who,” how much do you know about the overall season?
MG: Steven sort of pitched me the series, not every single bit of it because I don”t like to know, I like to watch it as it goes out. So quite a lot of the rest of the series I know very little about because I just want to watch it as a viewer.
I”ve done the third episode for two Doctors now and it”s quite an interesting place to put yourself because the audience is getting used to the new person and there”s something about having this kind of episode around about episode 3 which sort of seals the deal, I think. It”s a very challenging thing to do but also rather exciting because you”re bringing together lots of elements.
And then there was an overall conversation, and I put in a little bit about the ship”s destination being the ‘Promised Land” which is this sort of the arc for this year. But apart from that it”s very much a stand alone episode.
Photo Credit: BBC
The Series 8 premiere harkened back to the Clockwork Droids from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” Is this Sherwood robot of the same species?
MG: Oh I don”t know. I think that”s for someone to work out in ten or twenty years time. when people try to put together very minute coincidences. I knew basically what was going on in the season but I wasn”t trying to fit into a bigger overall plan. I was in New York for the launch of the series and somebody said that they noticed at the end – with Missy in Paradise – that it looks extremely like the location for the episode for “The Girl Who Waited.” They”d extrapolated this enormous theory about the fact that it was linked to that episode, which I promptly punctured by saying “Well, yes. It was shot in Cardiff and it”s the same location, I”m afraid.” You can work out all kinds of elaborate things based on the fact TV programs are made in the same place.
Do you ever see a bit of fan theory and think “Oh that”s good, we should use that.”
MG: To be honest, you”d go a bit mad. I always compare reading anything on the Internet to listening at doors. If you don”t want to hear anything bad about yourself, you should never do it. There”s so much stuff out there, you”d go crazy if you looked at it.
However, having said that, with “Sherlock” last year the worldwide conversation about how Sherlock feigned his death was too big to ignore. So by the time we came to do the first episode, I knew we”d have to address it somehow. That”s why we came up with the idea of having false openings, because it was just too big a thing to sort of casually get on with. But with “Doctor Who” I think there are millions and millions of speculations from anything, just from the fact that someone had their hair parted different. You”d just go crazy.
Tom, when you agreed to play the legendary Robin Hood, did you know if your character was trustworthy or not?
Tom Riley: Yes I knew. I”d read the script and I knew who he was and what he was and wasn”t hiding. But also I knew that just the fact the Doctor doesn”t believe that he”s not real was a license to play him up and be that huge bright, beaming hero and not be apologetic about it.
Photo Credit: BBC
Was it part of your Bucket List to play a character on “Doctor Who”?
TR: Absolutely. Mark will testify for that. He knows it was something I desperately wanted to do. You hope that if you get a chance to do “Doctor Who” it will be as something memorable and iconic and not someone who pops in and out of a scene. But I would”ve done that too. I would”ve quite happily turned up. It was the final thing on the Bucket list. I”ve got nothing left now.
The larger-than-lifeness of the episode almost seems to be channeling “The Princess Bride,” was that intentional?
MG: “The Princess Bride” was an influence to the extent that it”s how to write a fantastic fairy tale with wonderful sword fights and, actually, pathos. But the Errol Flynn movie (“The Adventures of Robin Hood” – 1938) was much more my touchstone for this episode. But any comparisons I will happily take because it”s a wonderful movie.
In the promotional images for “The Robot of Sherwood” there”s a photo of the Merry Men but a crucial character is missing. Will we be seeing Maid Marian?
MG: Wait and see. Wait and see.
Photo Credit: BBC
Clara seems to wearing a lot of red this season. Is that a visual cue about her character somehow?
TR: I think it”s because Jen is quite short, so she”s easy to lose on set.
MG: You”d have to ask Howard, the costume designer. All those choices are made between Jenna and Howard and Steven. I wouldn”t read too much into it though; it”s not a warning sign.
Anything fans of the series should keep an eye out for?
TR: There”s a few references for Whovians, aren” there?
MG: Oh yes. God, there”s a throw back reference that even Peter (Capaldi) had to ask me what it was. I was ashamed of him. [laughs]
TR: There”s even an old skill the Doctor may have forgotten.
MG: Oh yes, that”s true.
Tom, any chance of you returning to reprise your character on “Doctor Who”?
TR: Who knows, maybe? That”s been my standby thing to say. Maybe, maybe not. Probably not.
MG: It”d be nice though, wouldn”t it?
TR: It would be lovely. I”d come back in a heartbeat.
“The Robot of Sherwood” premieres on BBC America on September 6, 2014 at 9/8c.