The Doctor and Clara meet Robin Hood.

By Jeroen Amin
Updated September 07, 2014 at 02:00 AM EDT
Credit: Adrian Rogers/BBC

And now we have come to these episodes… the ones the famous Doctor Who is infamous for… the haphazardly written episodes centering around some sort of gimmick but carrying the same charm that keep viewers enthralled. It’s no secret that Doctor Who has these episodes. Even the most hardcore fans rally around and deride episodes such as the extremely disjointed “Fear Her” to the gag-inducing “Love & Monsters”. “Robot of Sherwood” isn’t nearly as far down the totem pole as those, luckily, but it does come across as flat and insipid compared to the two relatively strong episodes preceding it.

But that’s okay. Doctor Who really wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t have these kinds of average episodes to explore the various incarnations of the character and show off how the overarching plot is meddling in affairs across time and space. And, more importantly, these kinds of episodes always give the actors a lot of room to play around, helping to seal their performances in our minds. And, jeez, does Capaldi ever deliver as the Doctor. It’s worth paying attention only to him in this entire episode to see how convincingly he plays a stoic alien with little regard for anything but his own interests.

The episode begins with the Doctor offering Clara the chance to go anywhere in time and space she wishes (or is that anywhen she wishes?), so Clara chooses to visit Robin Hood. The Doctor and Clara banter for a while about whether Robin Hood is real or just a legend. But Clara won’t acquiesce and the Doctor agrees to take her solely to show her once and for all that Robin Hood isn’t real.

And as quick as an arrow, Robin Hood (Tom Riley of Da Vinci’s Demons) reveals himself to be real, complete with the pretty boy close-up shot, a wink of the eye, and teeth-shining grin. It’s almost a surprise that his hair isn’t being blown back by the breeze, too. Immediately, the no-longer-just-a-legend man announces he’s going to steal the TARDIS. (Let’s just look over the fact that he steals from only the rich. Clearly proper pacing and the natural evolution of plot and characterization are of minute importance in this episode. This will continue happening—just go with it.) Capaldi’s Doctor, in his usual stoically defiant way, tells Robin that it’s not happening. So Robin pulls a sword on the Doctor. And the Doctor responds in kind with a spoon of his own.

Yes, a spoon. The two engage in a lengthy… er, swordfight? Spoonfight? Let’s just say battle. They engage in a lengthy battle until the Doctor tricks Robin and sends him tumbling into the creek. As he stands triumphantly, Robin comes up from behind and knocks the Doctor into the water.

We then see the Sheriff of Nottingham and his army terrorizing villagers, stealing their gold, taking a woman for manual labor, and murdering her father for standing up to him. In case the events don’t make it clear: The Sheriff is probably the villain. And, uh, that’s all you need to know for now. Back to the funny.

NEXT: Once more, with lots of plot

As Robin introduces Clara to his men, the Doctor remains behind the line of them, grabbing hair, sandals, and even blood from each as they get introduced; he’s bound to prove they aren’t real. Of course the men keep ignoring that he’s physically assaulting them to keep the gag going. But that’s okay because it’s their only chance to be on-screen—rather than the Merry Men (thank you Clara), they spend the rest of the time being Robin Hood’s Occasionally Mentioned Men. Herein we also learn that Robin is sad that Marian has been kidnapped and that there is an archery contest, which is definitely a trap. The Doctor continues to protest the very existence of the world when he and Clara drop the only bit of thematically significant dialogue so far, as signaled by the introduction of sombre music:

Doctor: “When did you start believing in imaginary heroes?”

Clara: “Don’t you know?”

The always-climactic archery competition scene of Robin Hood lore—memorable in everything from Disney’s animated adaptation to Robin Hood: Men in Tights—is given the fast-forward treatment in this episode: Robin hood victory. Doctor victory. Lots of split arrows. A sonic screwdriver (since when did that affect wood?). And then robots. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” explains the Doctor, who may have been right after all (as if the episode title didn’t tip you off already). The Doctor immediately decides to surrender the group to the Sheriff and his mechanical pals: “Quickest way to find out anyone’s plans: get yourselves captured.”

Everything happening in a rather immediate fashion seems to be the modus operandi of this episode, where pacing and tension are thrown out the window for shoveling as much plot into as little time as possible. So here we go…

The next scene shows what the Sheriff is taking people for: hard manual labor complete with faraway screams and grunts. It’s not clear what the labor is exactly, since it simply shows a girl futilely trying to help an old man. And now we know just how evil the bad guys are.

We then come to Robin, the Doctor, and Clara chained up together in a dungeon where the Doctor and Robin continue to argue like a couple of schoolchildren over the ownership of a holofoil Charizard. It’s a bit odd to have the Doctor repeatedly state that he hates banter when he spends the entire episode doing nothing but bantering. They keep this up until Clara yells at them to shut up, at which point a guard comes to take her away for interrogation. Then we get an obligatory shot of the Merry Men figuring out that the Sheriff is taking only gold and not any other valuables. (They have to do something in this episode, right?)

NEXT: A quick cleanup

Clara’s interrogation occurs over the course of a feast-laden dinner table with the Sheriff where they share more banter and a big reveal: The mechanical soldiers crash landed, and the Sheriff found them. Some real high-level sci-fi at play here. Oh, he’s going to use them to take over the world also. What a twist, huh? The Doctor and Robin, meanwhile, argue about who should pretend to be sick to lure the guard over so that they can escape. They botch it thanks to their perpetual disagreements, of course, but they manage to escape anyway with a quick trip to an off-screen blacksmith.

They suddenly—or contrivedly—stumble across the navigation room of what the castle really is: a spaceship. Of course. It’s revealed to be heading for the Promised Land in an obligatory plot arch tie-in that is never mentioned again. And it turns out that the ship is sending out a holographic projection based on the legends of Robin Hood. The Doctor confronts Robin, telling him that he’s not real. He’s too perfect, that the environment and events are far too much like the legends to be real. The Sheriff comes barging in to stop them, somehow knowing that they were there, but Robin escapes by using Clara as a shield and jumping out the window. The Doctor, alone with the Sheriff and his machine men, figures out for himself that the Sheriff is taking gold to repair the ship thus negating the point of that short scene with the Merry Men earlier. Then he gets knocked out in order to quickly end the scene.

Robin demands Clara tell him the truth about who they are and what they know about the legends of Robin himself. The Doctor, meanwhile, wakes up in the labor dungeon with the woman seen earlier. It seems the Sheriff has started the spaceship castle’s launch process without enough power, and so it will wind up destroying half the nation, according to the Doctor. He immediately leads a revolt using polished gold plates to reflect the machine men’s lasers right back at them. They quickly, and easily, win. And then all the villagers escape as the Sheriff comes in to end the Doctor once and for all. The Doctor insists that Robin is one of the Sheriff’s robots still until the Sheriff asks why he would make his own enemy—at which point the Doctor realizes that it’s a stupid idea and that he was wrong in his assumption all along. Robin immediately intervenes and reveals that his Merry Men have already captured the castle. Off-screen, of course, since most of the budget for this episode went to “Into the Dalek” it seems.

Robin and the Sheriff engage in a climactic battle that culminates in the Sheriff’s defeat. Robin loses his sword but knocks the Sheriff into a vat of gold à la Terminator 2 using the same move the Doctor used on him earlier in the episode. Everyone flees from the spaceship castle before it leaves the ground. The ship struggles in the sky, but the Doctor gets the idea to shoot the golden arrow Robin won earlier at the ship to give it enough power to leave the atmosphere. He, Robin, and Clara team up to fire the arrow (since Robin is injured, the Doctor cheated before, and Clara need to do something in this episode). And apparently just hitting the side of the ship with the arrow is enough to let it get into space and safely explode there.

Clara and the Doctor say their goodbyes to Robin, and the show remembers to toss in some more thematic significance here. The Doctor is still in disbelief that Robin exists after all. Robin points out that he and the Doctor are very similar and, though they may not be good people, they can still inspire others to be. As the TARDIS takes off, the Doctor leaves a gift for his temporary rival. It turns out that Labor Woman was Marian all along! She and Robin are happily reunited in the end—a perfect, artificial ending for a contrived episode.

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