Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood
(1 episode, s08e03, 2014)
Whilst in the TARDIS, the Doctor writes some equations on a blackboard while offering Clara the opportunity to take them anywhere and any time. She gleefully chooses Robin Hood but the Doctor tells her that the legend is not real. The character is made-up. He offers up alternatives such as the Ice Warrior hives of Mars or the Tumescent Arrows of the Half-Light, but Clara is adamant. She wants to visit Sherwood Forest in 1190.
The Doctor is sure that she’ll be disappointed but relents. While Clara changes into appropriate attire, the Doctor steps outside and surveys the area, but is surprised when an arrow pierces the TARDIS door. He’s even more surprised to find that the archer is none other than Robin Hood.
The Doctor extracts the arrow – the TARDIS heals immediately – and confronts the archer. The testy interaction is interrupted by Clara’s arrival. She is enthralled and the archer is smitten, however, Robin wants to take the magic box from the Doctor. He and Robin duel spoon-to-blade until the archer is knocked into the river, but Robin gets the last laugh as he pushes the Doctor into the water as well.
In a nearby village, knights are abducting prisoners as Master Quayle pleads with them not to take his young female ward. The Sheriff of Nottingham appraises the gold that the knights have gathered, tosses a ruby aside, and kills Quayle as the master confronts the sheriff. The woman is taken away for labor at the castle.
Clara is introduced to Robin’s merry men while the Doctor intrusively investigates the party. She meets Will Scarlett, Friar Tuck, Alan-a-Dale, Walter, and John Little, then pulls the Doctor aside to chastise him for his rudeness. The Doctor has confirmed that the men are real people, but questions if the surroundings are a Miniscope. When he asks when Clara began to believe in impossible heroes, she reminds him that it was the day they met.
As the Doctor continues his scans, Robin talks with Clara about her friend and his own history. While the king is away, the sheriff has been causing nothing but misery. Robin spoke out against the tyranny but was stripped of his title – Earl of Loxley – and forced into hiding. He fights against injustice in order to end the sheriff’s campaign and reunite with his love, Marian.
Robin announces the sheriff is holding a contest to find the most skilled archer in the land. The prize is a golden arrow, and Clara immediately warns that it is a trap to capture Robin. Robin knows it is, but enters anyway since he is the best archer in Nottingham. Under the guise of Tom the Tinker, Robin enters the contest and wins the prize but the Doctor immediately shows him up. Robin and the Doctor duel until the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to blow up the target. The sheriff orders the protagonists to be apprehended, but Robin, Clara, and the Doctor fight back, eventually revealing the knights to be robots. They are soon apprehended and taken to the dungeons as part of the Doctor’s plan to unravel the mystery.
The robots readily execute any of the peasant workers who don’t perform adequately. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Robin continue to spar until Clara has had enough. She gets them back on track, but the plan for escaping hits a snag since the sheriff has taken the sonic screwdriver. Luckily, one of the sheriff’s lackeys arrives and demands to know who the true ringleader is. From the arguments he has overheard, he selects Clara and leaves the other two behind.
While the peasants continue to toil, melting down the gold they have seized for extraterrestrial purposes, Clara is taken to dine with the sheriff. The sheriff is intrigued by the Doctor’s possessions, including the sonic screwdriver, and asks Clara if she is from beyond the stars. She is able to goad the sheriff into revealing that he witnessed a spaceship crash and has been trying to repair it by collecting gold to repair the circuitry. Planning to seize the kingdom and the world, he offers to make Clara his consort, but she vehemently rejects his advances.
In their cell, Robin and the Doctor execute a plan to attract the guard. The Doctor eventually suggests that Robin carries a vital message for the king that promises a large bounty. Robin headbutts the guard but they are unable to retrieve the keys due to their bickering. They uproot their posts and break their chains at a blacksmith’s forge, then locate the spacecraft in the castle. The Doctor examines the logs and finds that the ship was en route to the Promised Land. Every anachronism that the Doctor has seen is being caused by the ship’s presence, including (he presumes) Robin’s very existence, but Robin rejects the notion as the Sheriff blasts open the door and orders the robots to kill the men. Robin escapes by jumping with Clara into the moat, leaving the Doctor with the sheriff. The Doctor is soon knocked out and taken to join the peasant workforce.
Clara, meanwhile, awakens in Robin’s camp. Much to her confusion, the archer demands to know who the Doctor is, what he knows about Robin Hood’s life, and what his plans are.
The Doctor meets the woman from earlier, escapes his chains, and arms the peasants with reflective platters to defeat the robots and their energy beams. This angers the sheriff, who arrives as the Doctor frees the peasant workforce. The Doctor tries to dissuade the sheriff’s plan, which cannot succeed due to a lack of sufficient gold. They also discuss Robin’s status as a robot, but the sheriff denies it. When the Doctor realizes that he’s been wrong and that Robin is a legend, the archer and Clara arrive to finish the battle.
Robin and the sheriff duel, resulting in the archer using the Doctor’s earlier footwork to send the sheriff to a fiery demise. The survivors rally outside the castle as the spacecraft takes off, and the Doctor realizes that the golden arrow may provide enough fuel to reach orbit. From there, the spacecraft can harmlessly explode. The former rivals work together – the Doctor and Clara hold the bow while Robin fires the arrow – and the kingdom is saved.
At the TARDIS, Clara says her farewells and asks Robin to stay safe if he can. Robin is pleased that history will forget that he was a real person. After all, history is a burden but stories can help people soar. Robin sympathizes with the Doctor and they part on good terms.
As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor reveals that he left Robin a gift. The woman he met in the dungeon was none other than Marian, and she reunites with the legendary archer as the travelers move on to the next adventure.
This story is hit and miss with me. The moral at the end is the best part as it reflects upon what makes Doctor Who great. Between “A man born into wealth and privilege should find the plight of the oppressed and weak too much to bear… until one night he’s moved to steal a TARDIS and fly amongst the stars, fighting the good fight.” and the concept that both men should continue to pretend to be heroes to inspire others to rise up, the episode touches on the heart(s) of the franchise itself.
But the journey to get there is often weighed down by bickering and one-ups-manship. Instead of something inspiring or uplifting, we get the “privilege” of watching the equivalent of a penis-measuring contest. The novelty of that wore off after the first duel on the river.
Quite frankly, the legends of the Doctor and Robin Hood deserve better.
I did find joy in the Doctor explaining that he was taught fencing by the best – Richard the Lionheart, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Errol Flynn – particularly since this story intersects with two previous adventures. During this tale, King Richard is fighting the Crusades, and met the First Doctor during The Crusade. About twenty-five years down the road, the Fifth Doctor met Kamelion masquerading as King John in The King’s Demons.
Also fun was how the spaceship was disguised as a castle (see State of Decay) and escaping a prison cell by feigning a possession (see The Smugglers). We also saw the TARDIS struck by arrows in Silver Nemesis and The Shakespeare Code.
Finally, we continue the Third and Fourth Doctor comparisons as this brash Time Lord uses all sorts of scientific toys to analyze the goings-on. I just wish this adventure better aligned with one of those predecessors instead of being filled with pettiness and meaningless feuds.
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Listen
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.