Doctor Who “Robot of Sherwood” review

Doctor Who “Robot of Sherwood” review

Hello! It’s Cariad again, with my thoughts of the third episode of the eighth season of Doctor Who, “Robot of Sherwood”. Last week’s episode, “Into the Dalek“, was utterly awful. Surely the only way now is up? Let’s blast off!

Synopsis of “Robot of Sherwood”

In the TARDIS, the Doctor offers to take Clara anywhere, any time, in the universe. She wants to go back in time to see Robin Hood and, despite the Doctor telling her that he’s just a legend and never really existed, he takes her to Sherwood Forest in 1190. However, when they land and the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, he’s narrowly missed by an arrow shot by Robin Hood.

Robin wants to steal the TARDIS from the Doctor, so he challenges him to a sword fight on a footbridge over a river. The Doctor defends himself with a spoon, and goads Robin into a lunge, which the Doctor uses to push Robin into the river.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham plunders a farm of its gold and kidnaps a young woman to labour at the castle. Back in the forest, Robin introduces Clara and the Doctor to his men. The Doctor still doesn’t believe that Robin Hood ever really existed, so he examines everyone. They appear to be real, but he still doesn’t believe it.

The next day, everyone attends the sheriff’s competition to find the best archer in the land. The two finalists are the sheriff himself and Robin, who’s undercover. After Robin’s final shot splits the sheriff’s arrow, he is pronounced the winner. However, before he can claim the prize — a golden arrow — the Doctor fires an arrow which splits Robin’s. The Doctor is then pronounced the winner, but he only wants answers to his questions, not the golden arrow. Robin then gets the best of the Doctor, and vice-versa over and over until the Doctor finishes the competition by igniting the target with his sonic screwdriver.

The guards attack the Doctor and Robin, and in the frenzy, a knight’s arm is cut off and he’s revealed to be a robot. Clara, the Doctor and Robin are captured and taken to the dungeons. The Doctor and Robin argue with each other while Clara tries to keep them calm and focussed. One of the sheriff’s men overhears them, and takes Clara away.

A meal is served for Clara and the sheriff and they eat together, alone. The sheriff explains how he saw a spacecraft crash, and the robotic inhabitants took the sheriff as their leader. He plans to use them and their technology to take over the world.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Robin trick the guard into their cell so they can knock him unconscious and escape. On their way through the castle, they see a door with a blue glow emanating. They open it, and leave the dark stone of the castle for a brightly-lit, metallic, futuristic room which the Doctor identifies as a 29th century spaceship. He also notices the ship’s engines are damaged. However, before he can work everything out, the sheriff and a group of robots find them. One robot tries to kill Robin, but misses and explodes a hole in the wall. Robin grabs Clara, and they leap through the hole to escape from the castle.

Suddenly, the Doctor figures out why the sheriff is collecting all the gold; he needs it to repair the ship’s engines. However, the Doctor believes the ship is too damaged to survive a launch, even with all the gold, but the sheriff doesn’t agree. The Doctor is taken down to the workhouse, and left in chains.

In the morning, Clara wakes up in the forest with Robin and his men. He’s angry and confused about what he’s seen, and demands to know what’s happening. Meanwhile, in the castle, the Doctor tells the labourers to gather shiny gold objects and use them to reflect the robots’ laser weapons back at them to destroy them.

The sheriff comes down to the workhouse to investigate the explosions, and the Doctor implores him not to launch the ship; he believes it’ll explode and destroy half of the country. While the Doctor pleads, Robin arrives and sword-fights with the sheriff. They end up on a beam over the pot of molten gold, and Robin repeats the move which the Doctor pulled on him earlier on the footbridge to knock the sheriff off and into the molten metal.

Everyone runs out of the castle just in time to see the spaceship within it launch. The Doctor is still concerned that it doesn’t have enough power to reach orbit, and its explosion would be devastating. He, Robin and Clara fire the golden arrow at it to give it the power to break out of orbit, where it explodes far enough way from the Earth to cause any harm.

The Good

I know it’s childish, but when Robin was pretending to be ill and the Doctor was explaining to a guard how “cowardly” and “scared” Robin is, I laughed out loud! I was getting bored by their constant bickering and stalemate, so it was a relief too for one of them to get the upper-hand.

The Interesting

The Doctor offers to take Clara to Mars to see the Ice Warrior hives. The last time we saw the Doctor on Mars, the Doctor broke his code and changed a fixed point in time, which set in motion a sequence of events which ended with a suicide, the Doctor falling into depression and asking himself if it was time to die. I’m surprised the Doctor was so keen to back there!

When the Doctor pulls the arrow out of the TARDIS, the hole heals up almost instantly. That explains how the arrow could penetrate the outer hull but the hordes of Genghis Khan could never get inside (as the Ninth Doctor said in the episode “Rose”)!

At first, I wondered how the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver could blow up the archery targets, since it doesn’t work on wood. But remember that the Doctor’s arrows were self-guiding? They probably contain electronics which the screwdriver was able to blow up, rather than the target itself exploding.

The Doctor’s “karate” move on Robin to make him drop his sword was probably Venusian Akido, which the Third Doctor practised.

The spaceship’s destination before it crashed was “the promised land”. That was also the destination of the S. S. Marie Antoinette before it crashed in the episode “Deep Breath”.

The ship’s databanks contained historical records of Robin Hood. Does that mean it’s a human ship from the future? Is it likely that an alien ship would carry stories of human legends? I wonder if the ship had a human crew who were killed in the crash?

The line “Who will rid me of this turbulent doctor?” is play on the words of King Henry II, who said of Thomas Becket, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

Is the sheriff a cyborg? During his fight with Robin, he says:  “I’m too much for you, outlaw! The first of a new breed! Half man, half engine! Never ageing! Never tiring!” Does this make the sheriff the titular “Robot of Sherwood”? Is there a chance he survived his fall into the molten metal? Will he return in a future episode? There’s also a parallel between this “half man, half engine” and the Half-Face Man in “Deep Breath” who was gradually becoming “more man than machine”.

The themes emerging in this season are intriguing!

The Bad

If the robots are trying to get to “the promised land”, why did they agree to let the sheriff use their ship to rule the world? Won’t they need their ship?

In fact, why did the robots need his help to collect the gold? They obviously have no moral quandary about stealing, so why didn’t they use brute force to roam Nottingham and grab all the gold they needed? Why would they need human help at all? Humans get tired, they get injured, they die, they need food and water, they carry diseases which infect and impede the rest of the workforce — but on the other hand, there are tough, hard-wearing, never-tiring robots with seemingly-endless sources of power (enough to fire super-powerful lasers from their foreheads) — so wouldn’t they be better off, and quicker, doing the work themselves?

When Robin talks about Marian, and how much he misses her and doesn’t even know if she’s alive, he asks Clara if she knows Marian. Clara replies, “Yes! I’ve always known her!” Isn’t it a bit odd that Robin just carries on talking like he was before, and doesn’t respond with anything like… oh, I don’t know… “YOU KNOW MARIAN??? WHERE IS SHE??? IS SHE ALIVE??? TAKE ME TO HER!!!”

Robin and the Doctor bickering in the dungeon and fighting over the keys wasn’t funny at all. Maybe if it had been shorter and sharper, but it wasn’t. It dragged on and on, with constant one-upmanship. I don’t tune into the show to watch the last of the Time Lords engaging in alpha-male big-dick contests with legends of yore.

And while they were bickering, Clara pointed out that they’d been left unguarded. How did she know? She nods towards the closed door, but how does she know what’s behind the door? It turned out that she was wrong anyway, because the sheriff had sent a spy to listen to them. So what was the point of her saying there wasn’t anyone listening when she couldn’t have known and was wrong anyway?

Why would the sheriff have a competition where the prize is pure gold? Doesn’t he need all the gold he can get for his spaceship? So why put on a show about giving it away, even if he intended to win it for himself anyway? Why not offer up other precious metals and jewels as prizes, which would be valuable to other people and mean nothing to him?

Why even host the competition anyway? If it was just a trap to ensnare Robin Hood, then why bother if the spaceship was so close to being repaired?

Who’d have thought that a radiation leak from an alien spaceship would actually improve the local environment? The sun shines brighter and the trees grow greener, all thanks to radiation! Hey, maybe our forests need more nuclear reactors leaking radiation?

Why did the sheriff have the door to the spaceship blown up to get inside? Why didn’t he just open it, like the Doctor did? Was it really just to make an impressive entrance? Was it really worth risking further damage to the grounded ship?

In fact, aren’t they a bit blasé about firing lasers around the damaged engine? The robots are terrible shots, as they prove when they miss Robin and blast a hole in the hull. Speaking of which, they fixed that hull breach pretty quickly before they launched into the vacuum of space…

After Robin and Clara leapt into the moat to escape, the sheriff wrote them off as dead pretty quickly, didn’t he? He barely waited at all to see if they emerged! Didn’t he notice the Doctor wait a few seconds longer, to see them survive? And hey, why not have one of the robots blast the moat with lasers to really make sure they’re dead?

I’m no expert, but I doubt you can use gold to reflect human-vapourising laser weapons without taking any damage at all. Honestly, that whole scene was Wile E. Coyote science — and I demand better science than this in my science-fiction.

Why did the sheriff have a remote “off” switch for the robots? He didn’t build them, so I doubt he constructed the control. Did he find it on the ship? How did he know what it did? Did the robots give it to him? Why would they do that?

The reason for the sheriff collecting all the gold isn’t consistent. At first, he needs to melt it down to rebuild the damaged engine components, but at the end, the gold provides “power”. Even if the gold was a source of power, how would shooting it at the ship’s outer hull channel power to the correct components? And wouldn’t the soft gold just disintegrate against the tough hull of a space ship? How on earth did it penetrate the hull at all?

The Ugly

Is the Doctor’s assault of Robin’s men supposed to be funny? Tearing out someone’s hair isn’t funny. Stabbing someone in the back with a needle isn’t funny. If any villain did that to someone the Doctor cared about, he’d be the first to retaliate — but it’s okay for the Doctor to violate someone’s body and take their blood?

Why does the Doctor take so much joy from telling the man that he’ll be dead in six months? Is the Doctor actually blaming him for catching the diseases he has? What was he supposed to do – live a more privileged life with better healthcare? What chance did he have, living in 1190AD? The Doctor’s gloating and reminders of the man’s poor health are obnoxious.

You wouldn’t know it, but the episode was edited at the last minute to remove a beheading scene in light of the executions of James FoleySteven Sotloff and Palmira Silva. Despite the editing, the episode still showed the Doctor gloating about wanting to see Robin’s head rolling around on the floor and the beheading of a humanoid robot. If the BBC really did edit the episode to show respect to current events, then they didn’t go far enough.

Why did everyone celebrate when the ship exploded at the end? The robots weren’t “evil” — they accidentally crashed on Earth and were mislead by the sheriff. Their story is a tragedy.

At the end of the episode, the Doctor refers to Marian as “a gift” to Robin. He doesn’t see her as a human being rescued from slavery — he objectifies her into a thing to give to Robin as a gesture of thanks.

In Conclusion

…the episode was a good effort, but it was dull, dull, dull.

The parallels between the Doctor and Robin both being men of wealth and privilege who chose to give up comfort to “fight the good fight” was great, and the recurring references to cyborgs and “the promised land” are utterly intriguing.

Sadly, the comedy misfires made the episode a slog to endure. Also, it doesn’t matter how old your target audience is; they deserve better science than this.

Overall, I’ll give “Robot of Sherwood” an unenthusiastic recommendation to watch. It’s light-years more enjoyable than “Into the Dalek“, but not as polished or refined as “Deep Breath“.

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