Last week, Peter Capaldi”s sophomore episode showcased a more alien doctor. A Doctor who is having a harder time relating to humans than other recent incarnations. The Doctor has really always been willing to make hard choices, but now the candy coated shell of charisma has been shed in favor of blunt straight-forwardness. How will this personality change – coupled with his new dynamic with “carer” Clara – translate in a fluffier, stand-alone episode? Let”s find out!
Remember that chalk drawing from “Deep Breath” the Doctor abandoned? Looks like he remembered it and has continued whatever equations he was working on. Of course, we”re not privy to that information yet, but for now let”s assume it has something to do with Heaven/Paradise.
After the necessary setup to get Capaldi sorted out as Twelve, the show can finally get back to the fun of just traveling through time. The Doctor suggests Clara pick anywhere. She chooses Robin Hood, which the Doctor promptly puts down as a never existing. He even breaks out a book to show her and wow, Twelve has a much better grasp of how to utilize the near-magic powers of the TARDIS. Clara is undaunted however, so obviously Twelve can”t turn down the chance to prove himself right, so it”s off to medieval Nottingham. Where the TARDIS is immediately hit with an arrow from none other than the legendary outlaw himself.
The Doctor is confused by Robin Hood. He absolutely shouldn”t exist. Meanwhile Robin Hood is straight up like, “I like your box. It”s mine now.” Which isn”t exactly stealing from the rich to give to the poor but legends usually stray far from their source material…like a generations' long game of Telephone. Of course Clara takes this exact moment to appear in a beautiful red dress. I would like to take a moment to wonder if the costume designer and Moffat are putting Jenna Coleman in this much red this season on purpose and, if so, what could that symbolize? It”s probably just a reflection of her personality but hey, fan theories are half the fun!
Clara is instantly attracted to Robin Hood and the feeling appears to be mutual. This leaves the Doctor in the position of looking like a nonplussed father who has opened the door on prom night to discover his kid is dating a member of biker gang. Is a paternal role a step forward or backward from being the object of most companions' affection? I”m tentatively saying it”s a step forward as Twelve is being protective but not in a way that infantilizes Clara or negates her agency. He just hates being wrong.
After a bit more banter, during which Robin Hood channels his inner Westley from “The Princess Bride,” he engages the Doctor in a duel for possession of the TARDIS. On a log in the middle of the river. Because reasons. Twelve accepts but instead of fighting with a sword, he pulls out a spoon. Now this could be a reference to “The Matrix” or the viral video by Rejected from the early aughts. But most likely it”s a delightful throwaway moment to the Doctor”s seventh regeneration, who used to play the spoons.
Clara watches as the Doctor succeeds at pushing Robin from the log only to have him return the favor by sneaking up behind Twelve. Peter Capaldi looks good wet. Just sayin'.
Cut to a village in Nottingham. A Mr. Quail is trying to save his daughter from being taken hostage by the Sheriff”s men. It is not going well. Apparently they mean to use her for hard labor, and since this is a family-friendly show, I”ll take that statement at face value. With all the self-preservation of a martyr, Mr. Quail spits on the Sheriff and is immediately murdered for his trouble. The daughter is taken off by armed knights, screaming all the way. As you do.
Back in Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood has mysteriously given up his quest to steal the TARDIS and instead is introducing the Doctor and Clara to his Merry Men. Clara is freaking out, properly starstruck. Twelve is less enthusiastic…stealing blood samples, and hair, and shoes, from various legendary outlaws. He seems almost accusatory when the tests come back as human, as if these people are actively being obtuse to confound him. Maybe they are?
Clara however, is more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially since Robin is pinging on the “heartbroken rogue masking his pain” radar. She is completely enthralled by the idea of living out the adventures of the Merry Men in real time. Including the infamous archery tournament.
I know the show is running on a time table but things seem to be happening at an alarming pace. Before we know it, we”re at the contest to find the best archer in the land. But the tail end of it where only the Sheriff and Robin – incognito – remain. As the legends go, Robin handily wins but just when he”s about to accept the prize of a golden arrow, a NEW CHALLENGER APPEARS. Twelve puts an arrow right through Robin”s arrow which kicks off a thinly veiled metaphor as the two battle for archery supremacy. The Doctor”s prickly petulance at letting a perceived huckster get the best of him pays off when a knight is accidentally revealed to be a robot. Twelve is triumphant in victory. He knew something wasn”t right. He knows it all the way to the castle dungeon.
Capaldi is playing the Doctor as grizzled and short-tempered and it”s so different from all of the previous New Who playbook. Not everyone will like it, I”m sure. But personally I”m enjoying every cantankerous second.
Less enjoyable is the character development whiplash Clara is still experiencing. It”s probably growing pains but it”d be less obvious if they”d managed to lay any groundwork in the previous season. As it is, having her declare she knows Taekwondo while brandishing a spear is both jarring and unconvincing. Especially when said martial arts skills would”ve been useful in half a dozen previous adventures…or hell, even in this one. Her complete deficit of personality as Eleven”s companion is making her appear as if she is a whole new character and it”s weird. If they wanted to make her spunkier and more in charge, why not reset with a new version of her?
Case in point: this dungeon sequence. Robin and the Doctor continue their pissing match over who is the better legendary hero. Their one-upmanship becomes so bad that Clara is forced to step in as a combination mother/voice of reason. Where was this take-charge attitude the 800 times Matt Smith”s Doctor could”ve used a verbal slap in the face? Of course, Clara acting like a teacher with two crabby schoolchildren signals to the enemy that she is the leader. Again, while I adore this new direction of putting Clara on equal footing with the Doctor, it”s too much, too fast.
A quick interlude back to Sherwood Forest, where the Merry Men have stolen the golden arrow from the archery competition. Turns out, the Sheriff has only been stealing gold…he has no interest in precious jewels or silver. This is pertinent information to have since we cut immediately to the peasants slaving away in the underground chamber where the gold is being processed into computer parts. Because robots.
Hold that thought though, because Clara is being entertained by the Sheriff of Nottingham. He wants to know how the Doctor used his magic wand – aka the sonic screwdriver – to blow up the archery target. Instead Clara deflects, convincing him she has also seen the lights in the sky and the mechanical men they brought. The Sheriff is very to eager to share his story and monologues at length after Clara strokes his ego a bit. Turns out the Sheriff is going to use the mechanical men for world domination, because what else would a caricature of evil do with a serendipitous bounty of murderbots? When Clara reveals she lied to get the Sheriff to reveal his plan to her, he”s not even mad. In fact, he thinks it”s hot. Are we beyond the Mary Sue pale yet?
Look, this new Clara is a martial artist with the manipulation skills of a master intelligence agent. Why is she even hanging around with the Doctor?
Speaking of the Doctor, he and Robin Hood still cannot let go of their testosterone driven contest long enough to escape prison. Every time they make headway, the squabbling undoes it. Get the guard to come back in the room? They fight over who has to pretend to be sick. Finally agree? The Doctor has to insult Robin Hood within an inch of the plan failing. Finally get the key? They kick it into the grate and lose it forever. In the end, they”re forced to walk to the blacksmith – giant manacle block in hand – to free themselves. This might be the most realistic portrayal of two clashing egos I”ve ever seen.
After freeing themselves offscreen, the Doctor and Robin Hood stumble across the mainframe of the robot ship. Which is the entire castle. It”s just a cloaked 29th century ship. A cursory look at the memory banks reveals the robots crash landed on Earth while looking for the “Promised Land.” To the surprise of no one. I mean, it”s pretty clear that”s the main plot thread this season. Although when – or if – we discover what these robots are fleeing from is anyone”s guess. I say fleeing from because multiple ships looking for the same “Heaven” don”t crash for no reason.
But that”s a puzzle for another time as the Doctor is accusing Robin of being a robot – an odd accusation since the cyborgs from “Deep Breath” were less realistic and further down the timeline. But then Sheriff and Clara appear. Clara tries to stop Robin from getting hurt and is kidnapped for her trouble. Instead of immediately following after, Twelve remains behind to explain what the robots are doing – trying to get enough power to get off this godforsaken rock – and how they”ve duped the Sheriff into thinking they”ll help him usurp the throne. Oh, and if the ship takes off, it”ll explode and kill them all. The Doctor is knocked out for his trouble.
He awakens in the slave pits with the girl who was kidnapped earlier in the episode. Somewhere in the distance, a robotic voice declares the engine is at 48%. Not much time now. Earning the trust of the peasant girl, they quickly organize a slave riot. Did…did Capaldi just Kermit-flail at that robotic knight? Yes, yes he did. Bless.
The wheels are starting to come off the plot a bit. We”re rushed through a quick decimation of the entire murderbot army using only gold plates to reflect their laser beams back at them. The humans cheer and flee, with the girl giving him a quick kiss and a thank you. You can almost see the Doctor's heart grow three sizes that day as he remembers what it feels like to help people.
No time to waste feeling feelings though, everything is about to explode. The Doctor confronts the Sheriff in the furnace, accusing him of creating Robin Hood to be an opiate of the people, to give them false hope so he could continue to abuse the peasants. The Sheriff declares creating an enemy to fight to be a stupid idea. I have to wonder if this statement is going to come back later in the season in reference to the Daleks or the Clockwork Droids.
Suddenly, Robin Hood and Clara appear. After kidnapping her back to the hideout of the Merry Men, she must have told them enough to convince Robin to return to save the Doctor. The Sheriff immediately makes a Villain 101 mistake, declaring he will fight Robin one-on-one instead of just letting the murderbots vaporize him on the spot. The fight takes on the tenor of an old fashioned swashbuckling movie. Robin and the Sheriff end up fighting above the molten pot of gold because of course they do. Robin then repeats the move the Doctor used during the spoon battle in the beginning of the episode to knock the Sheriff to his death, neatly bookending the narrative.
Anyone else a little bit shocked we didn”t get a quick cut to “Heaven”? I thought for sure Missy would be welcoming the Sheriff to Paradise.
No matter. The alien ship is attempting to take off from within the castle and everything is crumbling. Our heroes must flee to safety but it doesn”t matter. As the Doctor said, the engines are unstable and will explode. But wait, maybe if they shoot this giant spaceship with a tiny golden arrow, it will give the engines the boost needed to clear the atmosphere before the explosion! But Robin is injured and Clara doesn”t know archery and the Doctor cheated with a homing arrow! So they have to use the power to cooperation to shoot a golden arrow at the exterior of a ship that can travel through the unforgiving environment of deep space, puncturing the hull, and saving the day!
….what. the. hell. No.
I mean, there”s writing yourself into a corner…and then there”s this.
After this bafflingly illogical climax, things peter out rather quickly. Robin teaches Clara how to shoot a bow and arrow, the Doctor has to admit a begrudging respect for legendary heroes, and it turns out the peasant girl from the slave riots is Maid Marian. The Doctor and Clara say their goodbyes and fly off into the time/space continuum sunset.
What did you guys think of “Robot of Sherwood”? Did you like the climax? What do you think of Clara”s burgeoning personality? Or the Doctor”s?