Last week on Doctor Who, The Doctor and Clara cheated death by saving a band of rebels from a killer Dalek. With our first two episodes being more serious and dour, it's about time for some levity and high adventure. And I am pleased to tell you that this week's Mark Gatiss-penned episode brought both in equal measure, making “Robot Of Sherwood” the episode where The Doctor just might start to hit his stride! .
”Old fashioned heroes only exist in old fashioned storybooks.”
The Doctor and Clara, for the first time this season, are realized as complete characters and a great pair! While Clara is mooney-eyed over the idea of Robin Hood, The Doctor still doesn't believe that he exists. History does not remember him as a true man, and yet there he is when the TARDIS lands, ready to usurp the “trick” box from the bony rascal. This leads to an awesome sword/spoon fight between The Doctor and Robin, which is probably the highlight of the episode, as well as a great example of what Doctor Who is all about when done right.
It's the banter between The Doctor and Robin that makes this week's episode a true delight; while the secondary examination of what makes a hero is the more serious side to this week's story. Robin almost seems like a mirror of The Doctor, as he's a man who hides his pain with laughter and jokes, is deposed from his homeland, and creates legitimate plans as often as he does ridiculous plans that lead to real ones. The laughs do dovetail into some serious and effecting drama, as the men behind The Doctor and Robin's heroic facades both seem to connect by the end of the episode.
While we're at it, I need to congratulate Clara Oswald for finally being an interesting character that feels like she belongs on Doctor Who. While her set-up was clumsy throughout Series 7, she started to grow into the series during the final Eleventh Doctor adventures, but still wasn't really defined as other companions had been. Thankfully, we now have a more grounded and developed character to root for, and she is an absolute delight this week as she cons hero and villain alike into giving her vital information.
”The quickest way to find out anyone's plans: get yourself captured.”
This week in villainy, we learned that the Sheriff of Nottingham, in addition to being a real jerk, is part robot. At least that's what we would have found out if this week's episode wasn't edited from its original content. (Note: You can read about the entire scene edited out here.) A race of robotic aliens crash-landed in the English countryside (and on top of the Sheriff), and in order to leave Earth they need all of the gold they can get their hands on to power their spacecraft. Unfortunately, without enough gold, the ship will explode and level all of England in its wake.
Of course, the Sheriff isn't fulfilled with the mere plans of “the mechanicals.” While his masters merely want to rocket off to The Promised Land, the Sheriff of Nottingham wants to crush the King of England in his first steps towards world domination. Nothing terribly new, but it's a big surprise that the first proper villain of Series 8 turns out to be one that's already defined by literary and historical lore. Of course, we still don't know what Missy (who's absent from this week's episode) has up her sleeves, so she could prove to be more than just a one-liner generator.
”Thank you, Prince of Thieves. Last Of The Time Lords?”
Mark Gatiss doesn't take Doctor Who seriously, but at the same time he takes it dead seriously. His track record as a writer on the show has shown that he knows which buttons to press and when. Much like Steven Moffat's tenure under previous showrunner Russell T. Davies, Gatiss is not only the best writer on the show's staff, but he's a great choice for the next head honcho should Steven Moffat ever want to leave. Judging by his plans and story arcs though, I wouldn't be heralding the end of Moffat just yet.
“Robot Of Sherwood” has sword fights, decent character work, and enough excitement to keep you awake if you're watching the late night replay. It's a fine addition to the Doctor Who canon, and if this stride that Series 8 and its characters are hitting is the shape of things to come, we should be back to form in no time. Join us next week, when The Doctor and Clara are engaged in the traditional Doctor Who horror story, as we're encouraged to “Listen” very closely. With this week in the can, we can now head on over to page 2 for this week's Doctor's Notes!