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Monday, 8 September 2014

Doctor Who S34E3: Robot of Sherwood

Doctor Who
Series 34 Episode 3:
Robot of Sherwood.

Here's a new game for me to play while doing these reviews: Steven Moffat bingo!

Moffat bingo!

As I haven't discovered it before now – and many credits to Chibilou and Bee for making it, you've made this whole experience that much more enjoyable for me – I'll only be filling in spaces from this episode onwards, and not for the first two episodes. If I was going to fill in the first two episodes, though, it would look like this:



But okay, third episode is the charm, right, and I didn't find last episode awful, so much as just – kind of weird. This is a Mark Gatiss episode, and I like Mark Gatiss as a writer, so it should be an improvement on what we've seen before, right?

Well, yes. It was. The premise is very, very silly, even moreso than Into the Dalek: Which is fine. Silly is good. Doctor Who is light, fluffy children's programming, so why shouldn't it revel in some silly premises?

The ridiculousness of the premise is played up throughout the episode, with Robin and the Doctor getting into a sword-and-spoonfight over the TARDIS, a moustache-twirling Sheriff as played by Ben Miller, the Doctor rather insensitively testing all of the Merry Men to see how they can be real, and charmingly poor teamwork from Robin and the Doctor when they're eventually captured.

Clara, you look ridiculous, I mean really, that's not practical.

The episode isn't without its flaws, but I have the pleasure of saying that the flaws aren't crippling ones: There's nothing like Clara's bizarre out of character behaviour in this one, and Gatiss' plots are rarely as incoherent and mangled as Moffat's almost always are. The bare bones of the episode are all fairly sturdy. The flaws are predominantly in the details: The sci-fi plot is weak, coming off less as an earnest attempt to combine science fiction with Robin Hood and more as a rather thin connecting tissue to compel the Doctor to involve himself in the Errol Flynn swashbucklery. It also doesn't make a gigantic amount of sense a lot of the time: The robots and their ship apparently draw power from gold, a mostly inert metal, enough so that a golden arrow (how would that even fly?) apparently gives them enough power to break the atmosphere.

The thing is, a science fiction plot isn't really necessary, even for Doctor Who. In the very earliest series of it, it was quite often a case of 'the TARDIS has gone back in time, and now we must deal with the unpleasant things that come with being in this time.' The Doctor isn't Picard, he doesn't have a Prime Directive, it would absolutely be in the realms of plausibility to just have a plot about the Sheriff persecuting the people of Nottingham, and the Doctor and Clara stepping in to help out Robin Hood with some particular large heist. That would have allowed the episode to be a lot more focused, zeroing in on the swashbuckling and adventure while cutting out the more forgettable elements of the script – that is to say, the robots.

The pacing is also off, with the episode's 'reveals' coming abruptly and then often having to be swiftly forgotten about to make way for new plot points. The whole episode feels rushed, like there were too many plot points and dramatic action film moments to really fit into forty-five minutes, especially on top of a sci-fi plot and the requisite nod of the head to the Promised Land plot arc.

Ben Miller hams things up gloriously.

Lastly, there were a few bizarre choices that left me scratching my head a little. Robin's remark that 'whoever he is, he's a lucky man' or somesuch to Clara towards the end left me squinting at the screen, as there's both no way he could know she had a gentleman caller, nor any reason that he really should, as it didn't add much to the episode at all. Was Little John meant to be the little person, because if so that's kind of entirely missing the point of that particular joke. Lastly, as suggested by the angry people over at Nine Over Five, why was the Doctor annoyed over how sunny it was when this would have been right in the middle of the Medieval Warm Period?

They're small problems in what is, mostly, a serviceable episode. It's not stunning. It's probably never going to be anyone's favourite episode, nor be remembered as one of the great Doctor Who stories, but it was fine and enjoyable and it didn't make me want to tear my hair out. I would rewatch it if the opportunity were to arise, and it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend forty-five minutes, barring the brief period where my internet shut down and iPlayer, thusly, stopped working. That wasn't enjoyable. Also, not really Gatiss' or Moffat's fault.

This was an excellent chance to get the BBC Robin Hood cast in
and you wasted it, Beeb.

So, how does this episode score on the Moffat Bingo?

Not bad! Not very many spaces filled in at all, and those that have been filled are, by and large, the more innocuous ones. I'll be using the same bingo card for the rest of the series, but I'll mark the different episodes in different colours – this episode is Lincoln green, for obvious reasons – and we'll see how many squares are filled in by the end of the series. 

Also, that title is a terrible pun. I didn't even get it until just now.

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