Saturday 6 September 2014

Doctor Who: Robot Of Sherwood

The Brave And The Gold

Doctor Who: Robot Of Sherwood
UK Airdate: 6th September 2014

You know, I’ve never had much of a good time with Doctor Who when he goes back to a medieval setting and gets involved with androids. I remember the classic but, for me, boring Tom Baker story called The Androids Of Tara which, while technically not set on Earth, was at a point in the planet in the story's development where it was a dead spit of those kinds of times but cross pollinated with a futuristic, nowadays we might call it steam punk, sensibility. What it actually was, of course, was a remake of The Prisoner Of Zenda but, whatever it was, it didn’t sit well with this particular audience member at the time.

And continuing on that theme, don’t get me started on the wretched Fifth Doctor companion Kamelion, who was first introduced in the court of King John in 1215 and who was one of the most hideous ideas for a companion ever conceived... no, really don’t get me started.

About the only “androids in history” plot I’ve really taken to in recent years, I would guess, is the David Tennant story The Girl In The Fireplace, which was a real corker. Now Robot of Sherwood is, alas, nowhere near as something as good as that but, contrary to my misgivings about this one, it’s actually not a bad little episode, considering it’s all rather silly... but when did silly stop being anything other than good fun in Doctor Who.

The episode is written by Mark Gattis, who I have been mellowing to a lot in recent years, especially after his absolutely essential Doctor Who 50th year anniversary docudrama An Adventure In Space And Time (reviewed here). Here he delivers a particularly entertaining romp where we get a little more of the flavour of Peter Capaldi’s take on The Doctor as he tries to prove to Clara that Robin Of Loxley didn’t exist... something Robin himself is none too sure of.

The episode includes much homage to Robin Hood stories from the past with more than an emphasis on Errol Flynn’s classic portrayal of the character in The Adventures Of Robin Hood and also with regards to a stunt or two performed by Douglas Fairbanks and recreated here, to an extent. But all this pales in comparison to both Capaldi’s shining moment where he defeats Robin’s sword with a spoon (nice scene that) and in regards to the chemistry between Tom Riley (as Robin Hood), Clara and The Doctor. There are some great scripted moments which highlight the banter between these three, with Clara definitely getting all the points for being the cleverest one in the show, for most of the story, so that’s good. Ben Miller’s turn as the inevitable Sheriff Of Nottingham is also a good one and he matches the congenial lack of gravitas within the script with all the enthusiasm of the others. Cracking dialogue, for the most part, which mostly made up for the story being so... well... a bit rubbish.

The story, such as it is, goes with the idea that a bunch of robots are harvesting gold via the Sherif’s taxes to be able to repair their damaged spaceship, handily disguised as part of an English castle. The reality is, though, that it doesn’t have much substance or make any real pretence to have any, other than to be a story which one can hang on examples of the growing nature of Clara and The Doctor’s current relationship and a few light and fluffy action pieces.

That being said, however, it does manage to hit high in the “entertainment” stakes and deliver the kind of light and fluffy that Doctor Who has always been good at over the years, when it wants to do that kind of thing. So well done to Gatiss for writing such a good ‘un... even if the climax did seem a little pointless and... um... yeah, I said it was silly, right?

Other than that though, nice music which once again gave us some nice versions of Clara’s theme, got us a little closer to the new version of The Doctor in terms of leitmotif elements plundered from the last few years and even did the obvious, though very welcome, Korngold as filtered by Zimmer kind of grooves that everyone was probably expecting, to be fair. Still, not to be sneezed at and it’s hard enough doing stuff like this on a small scale budget and with the kind of deadline demands top shows like this probably incur. So big thumbs up for me on that front too, I must say, and I look forward to cues from this on the inevitable Siva Screen CD to tie in with this series at some point in the near future. Some nice stuff here.

The trailer for next weeks episode looks like it’s the good Doctor going back to dark and scary stuff and I have to say, I definitely approve of that kind of direction, especially for Capaldi’s incarnation. Now that is an episode I am looking forward to... so I’ll hopefully see you here again next week as I pull that one apart, if you can make it. Good bye for now.

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