The Doctor said it best, “This is getting silly,” right before blowing up the target at an archery contest with Robin Hood. Sure Doctor Who should be fun, but “Robot of Sherwood” goes beyond that. Between The Doctor insisting that Robin Hood and his Merry Men can’t possibly be real, to the alien robots that have crash landed in Medieval England, there’s a little too much going on that doesn’t work together.
When this episode was announced, I was excited. I think that the legend of Robin Hood is a perfect fit for Doctor Who. It’s fun and slightly educational even if it does massively botch the facts of the time period. Robin Hood also shares many similarities with The Doctor, an outcast trying his best to help the downtrodden. This is why The Doctor’s aggressive mistrust of Robin is so grating. They are same, outcasts and unlikely heroes. The legend might not be entirely based on fact, but Robin of Laxly was a real person. The fact that The Doctor dismisses any chance that there could be a real person who inspired the myth doesn’t add up. Hasn’t he himself inspired legend and myth? We were promised a more mature Doctor, but we seem to be getting one that is just a more crotchety version of the 11th Doctor instead.
And did we really need the robots? One thing that the classic series did much better than the current incarnation is historicals. While I have no objection to having aliens popping up throughout Earth’s history, it would be nice to mix it up a bit instead of trying to force science fiction into stories where it doesn’t belong. The show is becoming a bit too technology reliant in its storylines. The first three episodes of this season have all leaned heavily on robotics and cybernetics, and the use of the sonic screwdriver is getting absolutely ridiculous. (Kudos to Gatiss for acknowledging that as The Doctor, Clara and Robin are discussing escape from the Sheriff’s dungeon.) The episode needed more of moments like The Doctor fencing Robin with a spoon. Ridiculous, yes, but very Doctor to turn a potentially violent moment into something nonthreatening.
This could have been a great episode, one that is light and fun, pure entertainment. Instead the titular robots bog it down forcing a storyline about displaced extraterrestrials that doesn’t really work. Surprisingly, the episode’s saving grace is Clara. Moffat doesn’t seem to have any idea how to write her, but Gatiss manages to give us an engaging and independent character. While The Doctor and Robin bicker, Clara manages to determine what’s going on from the Sheriff in the most Doctorish manner. She is smart, resourceful and seems just as frustrated with The Doctor and Robin as I am, as they spend the episode trying to one-up each other like small children instead of attending to the task at hand.
The most frustrating thing is there are moments where where the episode shines, although they are few and far between. It’s a nice stand up and cheer moment when The Doctor saves all the peasants from the killer robots by teaching them to deflect their lasers with metal plates, and the final words exchanged between The Doctor and Robin gives a glimpse of what the episode should have been. It’s a beautiful meta conversation about the creation of legends and heroes. Unfortunately outside of these moments there is too much that really makes no sense. How does the Sheriff have the ability to deactivate robots if they are intelligent aliens? More importantly, they are only one gold arrow short of having enough to exit the Earth’s atmosphere. Really? One arrow to the engines is enough to stop it from blowing up half of England? I expect better.