We go from the inner workings of a Dalek to the forest of Sherwood in this episode of ‘Doctor Who’, and a story that is sure to please any Classic Whovian.
With Clara as the school teacher, and the Doctor a curmudgeonly eccentric, ‘Robots of Sherwood’ feels like it could easily be a 1st Doctor serial. With its robots in an a medieval setting and an antagonist (Ben Miller) that looks very reminiscent of Anthony Price’s Master, it also feels like it could be a continuation of the 5th Doctor serial, ‘The King’s Demons.’ Bonus points to people who noticed the Doctor suggesting they find ‘Enlightenment’ (another 5th Doctor Serial), or a reference to Patrick Troughton (The 2nd Doctor) in the computer data banks.
Really, if you look at social media, the audience reaction to this episode was resoundingly positive. I, however, am more on the fence.
So, if you haven’t figured it out from the title, “Robots of Sherwood” takes the Doctor and his companion to meet Robin Hood, even though he is convinced it’s just a legend. When they arrive, all is not as it seems, and it turns out while Robin Hood is very real, other things are not as they seem — i.e, the robots that are trying to make it to the Promise Land.
Story-wise, I never felt engaged. I never once cared what was going to happen, and I was also annoyed with the Merry Men’s constant laughing (I got your back 12). The story was childish, and so ridiculous at times it made it difficult for me to feel involved in the plot. However, if you look at each element seperately, they do seem to be very Doctor-Who-like, from fighting with a spoon, cheating at archery, and arguing with a fellow prisoner very loudly. Yet, put them all together, and I feel like I’m watching a cartoon.
That being said, the hints at profundity and what feels like Clara truly coming into her own as a companion, make the episode worth the watch.
But what profundity? you ask. Well, two things: 1. what is a hero, and 2. what is impossible.
Firstly, the Doctor’s obsession with what it means to be a good man continues. One wonders if his opposition to Robin Hood is that he sees a man who is a legend and a hero without the weight of tough decisions in the past. There is the famous fan theory that all reincarnations of the Doctor are in reaction to what they were, and perhaps the Doctor is still grappling with the hard decisions his previous incarnation made.
In response to this, Robin says:
“History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.”
He also tells the Doctor:
“But if we both keep pretending to be [heroes], perhaps others will be heroes in our names.”
Earlier, Clara alludes to the problem that the Doctor is having with trying to believe that he can be a hero himself:
Clara: When did you stop believing in everything?
Doctor: When did you start believing in impossible heroes?
Clara: Don’t you know?
Which segues neatly into my second point, “what is impossible?”
For the third time in the series, the Doctor has said something is not possible, and Clara just sort of “hmms” and walks away. It’s almost as if he’s forgotten that Clara is “the impossible girl” (his words, no less), and that plenty of things in his life time have not seemed possible but turned out to be.
(Though, as an aside, I will say that I’m slightly disappointed that Clara’s echoes have not been a continuing theme in this series.)
In any case, the episode is both good and bad depending on your tastes, but it does have character development, and that matters an awful lot to me. Too bad it was only about 10% of the episode. The rest is shooting golden arrows into spaceships, pushing people into streams, and yelling about who is going to die faster. Okay, that last bit was pretty endearing, actually. But for me, it was the silliness was jarring in the face of a character they feels like they are trying to establish as slightly darker.