Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 3 Review: Robot of Sherwood

Robots of Sherwood

Doctor Who series usually use the same template for what sorts of episodes we see each year. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and companion (Jenna Coleman as Clara) go somewhere in the past, somewhere in the distant future, come across Daleks at some point…and there’s usually an episode where they travel back in time to meet someone famous from history.

But what if that person was a legend? Fictional? Robin Hood, for example? Well, this week’s Mark Gatiss-written episode “Robot of Sherwood” uses that exact concept, and it is really, really entertaining.

The thing about this season of Doctor Who is that it has been consistently entertaining and worthwhile. Though the last couple of series had some misses, so far, Series 8 has been a delight. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that “Robot of Sherwood” is both a strong Robin Hood story and among the funniest Doctor Who episodes in recent memory. Mark Gatiss certainly channelled his comedy roots this time round, not to mention packing in plenty of grand-scale adventure and swashbuckling equal to the subject matter this week.

“Robot of Sherwood” is a great episode that tells a rather simple, straightforward story. The Doctor and Clara have travelled on Clara’s request to meet Robin Hood, and the sceptical Doctor is surprised when they actually come across a man who claims to be the legendary hero, played by the charismatic and perfectly cast Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons). But of course, disbelief doesn’t stop the Doctor from snooping around and investigating and, naturally, all is not quite what it seems. That said, the episode’s mystery has more to do with the surrounding world of a Nottingham bathed in sunshine in the middle of autumn and the ever sinister Sheriff of Nottingham (played wonderfully by Ben Miller, half-hidden behind facial hair), than it does with Robin himself.

This week’s episode features many fun, memorable moments that really play up the clashing of worlds between Doctor Who and Robin Hood. If either element were taken out (Doctor Who‘s sci-fi or the Robin Hood mythology) there would still be enough to make this stand as a strong instalment in either story, but together, the two parts make for a wonderful concoction. This may be one of the best Doctor Who episodes where a famous historical figure is a major part of the plot.

It also delivers what many have been waiting to see Capaldi’s Doctor do: sword fight! But of course, without giving away any spoilers, it comes with a bit of a twist! With all its action sequences, the episode strongly recalls the era of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. It feels like it’s fast becoming a tired observation this series, but these first few episodes have featured increasingly obvious allusions to iconic moments and character behaviours from classic Doctor Who.

“Robot of Sherwood” has a hilarious script which gives the Doctor and Robin chance to build some wonderful chemistry: their back-and-forth is full of great one-upmanship and one-liners. Capaldi’s Doctor certainly has a darker sense of humour than did his predecessor, and it works oh so very well. It’s great to see this Doctor, who is very reined in, controlled and calculating, show that he’s still able to have fun and is ready to drop a laugh here and there exactly when it’s needed.

Some of the comedy is predictable, and you can often see where the story is going, but this isn’t really a problem. This episode is one that’s constantly played with a smile on the face and a laugh in the air, while avoiding straying into slapstick territory. It has a lot of laughs, but it’s also a swashbuckling high adventure that plays all the Robin Hood tropes straight to make for a nice Saturday night’s viewing. “Robot of Sherwood” could easily be mistaken for a lazy Sunday afternoon movie, and that’s no bad thing at all. It works as a Robin Hood story, but it has shades of Who‘s characteristic brilliance.

Gatiss has gone beyond his previous efforts with this script. It achieves exactly what it strives for, and director Paul Murphy does a fantastic job of translating Gatiss’ fun script onto the screen. Every element just works so well, from character and set design, to the special effects and locations. This witty and comedic story seems intended to serve as a nice breath of fresh air before things get a little scary next week, if the preview clips for “Listen” are anything to judge by.

This series of Doctor Who might just be the best for a while, which is certainly something to get excited about.

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