DOCTOR WHO: “Robot of Sherwood”

Leave it to the Doctor to dust off a tired, derivative storyline and shine it like a new penny nicker.

I have no sword. I don’t need a sword, because I am the Doctor {Bitch}.

— The Doctor

In case you missed the symbolism, the hour opens with the Doctor working away on a chalkboard as Clara spins around in a chair. We get it! He’s old, she’s young: there will be no funny business this series! When the latter fancies a trip to visit Robin Hood, the Doctor relates to the fact that both are “Old-fashioned heroes in old-fashioned story books,” (cue: eye roll) but he amuses his companion, nonetheless, pointing the TARDIS to England, Sherwood Forest 1190AD-ish. And who’d have thunk it, the first person the travelers meet is Robin Hood himself – a Peter Pan-resembling, painfully quippy version — shooting a character arrow right into the Doctor’s front door.

After a game of knifey-spoony, where the Doctor is bested, we cut to the classic introduction of antagonist Sheriff of Nottingham, slaying old men and capturing damsels. Really not much more needed, I guess, because we are thrown back to the forest almost immediately. All the popular rogues are assembled: Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, and Little John, much to the Doctor’s chagrin, as he scans the men for signs of manufacturing — convinced they are in a futuristic theme park or Miniscope. Still getting used to his curmudgeonly skin, the Doctor is further unsettled by the Merry Men and their constant air of happiness. Clara does what she does best, stare doe-eyed at men and ask about their troubles; so, of course, Robin relates his story of losing Marian and his plan to enter an archery tournament.

At said trap tournament, a measuring contest between the Doctor and Robin plays out with a series of arrow-splitting antics until the Doctor uses his sonic to blow up the target. (Can it do that?) As the Sheriff orders the Doctor, Robin, and Clara seized, the guards are revealed to be robots. “Robots; now we’re getting somewhere!” I couldn’t agree more, Doctor, and only seventeen minutes into the episode! After more bickering in their cell, the Doctor and Robin get Clara carted off as the ring leader, and they have to band together the save the teacher – who frankly lost her girlhood crush on both men during their juvenile squabbling.

We get some cool reveal shots after some Merry Men exposition, which relates that the Sheriff seems to only be interested in gold and no other riches he has amassed in his looting. Turns out, the Robots are melting the good stuff down to repair their ship that was on the way to “The Promised Land.” (Another crashed ship? Haven’t used that plot device in an episode or two…) The Sheriff recounts the origin story to Clara, where the “lights in the sky” crashed to the earth and made him their leader. She attempts to match wits with him; but he only requires her, er, companionship.

The hero pair continues to bicker and one-up each other as they escape (quirkily, natch), until they discover the castle spaceship’s core, and the Doctor tries to convince Robin Hood that he is merely a construct of the aliens to keep a low profile among the locals. A ray of hope to be pitted against the evil Sheriff. Robin uses Clara to escape, however, and the Doctor is left to deal with the Sheriff alone. Poor Twelve gets knocked out by a robot, but not before the bad guy reveals his evil world domination plan. Ain’t that always the way! Something about destroying London and the King; however, the ship doesn’t have enough gold, and the Doctor knows that if it were to fly, ka-boom!

The Doctor teams up with Marian – dude, Clara’s been gone for, like, a second – to take down the robots and get to the Sheriff. The Doctor tries to reason with him, as he does, but we know how this goes: the Doctor learns that Robin is real just as he shows up to battle the Sheriff and save the day! Some silly business with the golden arrow and the ship needing it for orbit almost ruins the end of the episode, but we trudge on, anyway.

Mark Gatiss’s script is best in the moments where the Doctor is pitted against Robin, but giving the man some credit, Clara is at her least-annoying in this episode, not even coming close to Martha proportions. Early in the Capaldi era, Jenna Coleman is given more and more opportunities to play Clara as a true companion and less of a plot device. As far as casting, Ben Miller’s Sheriff shines brightest among the middling guest stars, in all his Christopher Guest glory.

Certainly no “Vincent and the Doctor”, “Robot of Sherwood” aligns more with “Vampires of Venice” in story and moments — a mildly enjoyable, throw-away hour. I’ve never been a fan of the archer or his Merry Men, but in adding in the spicy new Scottish Capaldi element, it was a ride I was willing to take. Every series of Doctor Who has its filler episodes: “Sherwood”, “Venice”, “World War Three,” “The Idiot’s Lantern”…so on and on. The great thing about that, however, is the formation of the Doctor/Companion relationship, most noticed in such episodes that do little to move the specific series arc. Character can be examined in the day-to-day travels in the TARDIS without the high stakes of a “Blink,” “Journey’s End,” or “The Big Bang.” We get a window into the monotonous, a typical Doctor’s Tuesday. Destined to be an hour we rarely discuss, all in all, but still better than most Who season finales these days.

Grade: C+.

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