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DOCTOR WHO Review: “Robot of Sherwood”

Comic adventures are not the most common kinds of stories in Doctor Who, and the ones that have existed in the new series have tended to go for zany rather than funny. It’s a difficult tone to strike, and really the show hasn’t done it super well since the 1960s. Still, most modern Who is funny despite the terror, but this week’s episode, “Robot of Sherwood”, is just funny all on it’s own. I don’t remember the last time I smiled that much throughout an episode. It was just so delightful with its dialogue and not-quite-over-the-top silliness, but it also tells a good message about not giving up on legends because any hero can be real so long as they inspire heroism in others. My gosh, what an ep!

Written by perennial writer Mark Gatiss and directed by newcomer to the series Paul Murphy, “Robot of Sherwood” does what few episodes have done before, which is to blend comedy and adventure in a way that isn’t dumb, and to let the series for once be about a “fictional” character from the past. Being the huge classic series fan that he is, surely Gatiss was channeling a bit from the First Doctor story “The Myth Makers”, in which the Doctor and companions go back to Ancient Greece in the middle of the Trojan War and inadvertently cause the events surrounding the Trojan Horse, which the Doctor claims would never work because it’s just an Epic Poem. Of course, this episode forsakes “The Myth Makers”‘ horribly tragic ending and just stays with the swashbuckling adventure theme.

Doctor Who Series 8

Clara wants to go meet Robin Hood, one of her favorite historical figures, but the Doctor tells her he’s just a myth and she’d be disappointed, then trying to get her to want to see the Ice Warrior encampments on Mars (bo-ring). Clara insists and the Doctor sets the TARDIS controls to Sherwood Forest, 1190AD-ish. He exits expecting to be 100% correct and is immediately met by Robin Hood (Tom Riley). That can’t happen, right? He’s just as brash and prone to fits of derisive laughter as his myth and Hollywood movies would lead you to believe. The Doctor asks if laughing ever got him punched in the face (hilarious) and the Prince of Thieves says he’s going to still the bony man’s blue box, despite Clara and her period-appropriate attire and her undeniable glee that they’d found Robin Hood so quickly. Robin draws his sword and the Twelfth Doctor shows what he’s made of by drawing his own weapon… a spoon.

After the duel ends, Robin takes both of our heroes to meet the rest of the Merry Men (what an apt name for them) and the Doctor still thinks something is wrong and that these people aren’t real. They can’t be! He thinks they might all be in a Miniscope (reference to Third Doctor story “Carnival of Monsters”). Clara asks when he stopped believing in legends, and he asks when she started believing in mythical heroes. “Don’t you know?” is her very heavy reply. She then talks to Robin and he tells her everything she already knows about his own mythos and that it was Maid Marian who convinced him to stand up to Prince John’s tyranny. She also knows she’s sad because, the Doctor’s right, he laughs too much.

Doctor Who (series 8) Ep3

If this is Robin Hood, there must also be a Sheriff of Nottingham, in this case played by guest star Ben Miller. He’s pretty darn evil all right. He has set up the famous archery match as a trap to catch Robin Hood. Naturally, Robin does amazingly well and is about to be awarded the golden arrow when another arrow splits his own. It was fired by the Doctor who doesn’t want the arrow, he wants something else. What follows is an increasingly ridiculous show of skill between the Doctor and Robin until finally, Robin reveals he is indeed who he says and the Sheriff’s knights attack. One gets its arm cut off and then the Doctor knows he’s right. He allows himself, Clara, and Robin to be captured because capturing is the best way to find out what someone’s evil plan is.

What follows is one of the funniest and best scenes in the episode, which is already pretty amazing with Capaldi-awesomeness. It’s all about the Doctor and Robin Hood trying to out-hero each other with regard to coming up with the better escape plan. Neither of them have anything, and Clara knows it. The sheer amount of bickering is enough to driver mad; luckily, she is taken to see the Sheriff pretty quickly, and the Doctor and Robin are left to come up with something.

Doctor Who (series 8) Ep3

Clara is a genius! She manages to trick the Sheriff into telling her what happened with lights in the sky and the robots and everything. He wants to use them to overthrow Prince John and become king not only of England, but of the whole world, after Lincoln of course. The Doctor and Robin do manage to escape and, after removing their shackles (the Doctor makes a joke and regrets it when Robin laughs), they find the control room. Seems the castle itself is a spaceship and its engines need repairing, in the form of gold. They were looking for the Promised Land too. Weird, eh? The robots databanks have a history of Robin Hood (including a picture of Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood in Robin of Sherwood from which this episode gets its name) and he thinks this is definitive proof that Robin isn’t real, but when the Sheriff bursts in and the robots begin firing on Robin, the knave takes Clara and jumps out the window into the moat below. The Doctor is then captured.

The Doctor determines the robots plan to blast off soon, but they still don’t have enough gold and the ship will likely explode, destroying half of the country, if they do. After a bit more hullabaloo, Robin is in a duel with the Sheriff and it’s learned that the Sheriff has been turned into a robot as well, so the only thing left for him to do is the Doctor’s sword fighting trick and knock the blaggard into the molten gold. But the robots still want to take off, so the Doctor, Clara, and Robin work together to fire the golden arrow into the ship to allow it to enter orbit, but then it explodes anyway. The Doctor and Clara leave Robin, and Mr. Hood tells the Doctor they’re both legends and that he doesn’t mind not being remembered as a real man so long as people take up the good fight in his name. Maybe people will do the same for the Doctor.

Doctor Who Series 8

As I said before, this episode is just a delight. I loved everything about it. Even some of the sillier moments like the archery tournament worked for me because the overall tone of the episode made it work. The constant rivalry between the Doctor and Robin, not to mention the Doctor’s constant irritation at the very idea of the Merry Men, made for a lot of laughs. He’s grumpy and older-looking but decidedly childlike and petulant about things. Both Tom Riley and Ben Miller were brilliant and gave very funny but not mawkish performances as their respective characters. Robin Hood’s incessant laughter was constantly hilarious to me. This has to rank as one of my favorite Mark Gatiss-penned adventures, up there with “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Crimson Horror.” I can’t wait to see what he does for Series 9.

Next week, it’s a very intriguing-looking episode: “Listen” written by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat and directed by the exceptional Douglas Mackinnon and will see the return of Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink. The Doctor doing a bottle episode? Can’t wait!

Images: BBC

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  1. Kylebert says:

    First Capaldi Episode…. meh… 2nd Capaldi Episode- Loved it, a darker more commanding doctor.  This episode was horrible. Sheer disappointment in every regard. Never bought into the story. The Deus Ex Machina Golden Arrow was shameful. 

  2. I loved it too. Have really enjoyed the season so far and Capaldi is fantastic. Looking forward to seeing how Danny Pink is incorporated into their adventures, I liked his debut episode.

  3. ian says:

    do i get my doctor who fan status revoked because i don’t have a bazillion complaints about the show, always? the golden arrow was dumb, but otherwise, fine episode and i like capaldi. i guess if i’m not constantly complaining about doctor who though i must not be a real fan.

  4. ViewerB says:

    Fun episode, but it felt a bit slighter than the previous two. I enjoyed the swashbuckling at the beginning (with cutlery!), some of the Doctor and Robin’s bickering in the dungeon, and Clara’s “Tell me your plan without using the words “sonic” or “screwdriver”” bit. I’m really liking Clara now that she has an actual character. Otherwise, the episode did feel a bit fluffy (which isn’t bad, just wasn’t expecting it this early in the season when we haven’t really latched on to the Doctor’s character yet).
    On another note, apparently, like with last week’s “Into the Dalek”, there was a different ending that was altered (there, Rusty originally landed on the Dalek ship and blew himself up, instead of just Daleking off into the sunset). During Robin and the Sheriff’s last duel, originally, Robin cut off the Sheriff’s head, revealing him to be a robot. However, rumor has it that due to what’s been happening with ISIS, the ending was changed to the “Robin pushes a man into vat of boiling gold” ending. Ick. I wonder if we’ll get the original versions of these two eps and any future changes on the DVD sets?

  5. xoandre says:

    Overall, there was a squeamish sense of dread and discomfort about the entire episode, from start to finish.

    I am getting this sense that the “Promised land” sub-plot is going to be a huge let-down. Salting it into every episode is overtly convenient – in a bad way.

    I watched with dread as all of the predictable, obvious choices were made in the dialogue, writing, action, and plot of this episode. Not one new, original, or fresh idea was presented in this off-beat disaster.
    I love The Doctor, but he was not in this episode. I don’t know who Capaldi is playing here, but he is not the kind of man I would continue watching, but I will give the producers another chance with next week’s episode – which better be insanely good!

  6. Worst Episode since the reboot.

  7. Matthew Squibbs says:


  8. poiboy says:

    dreadful episode!! Capaldi does his best with terrible script. sonic screwdriver making wood explode.. fail! ummm, they don’t work on wood. a TIME LORD confused with the existence of a too clean robin hood.. fail!! and the bickering between the two & spoon sword fight.. could we not please?? can the show runners PLEASE allow Capaldi to be the mysterious, intelligent and dark doctor he would be perfect for??

    • Mia Passione says:

      I thought “The Day of the Doctor” rectified the wood thing, with the retro-calculations beginning with the War Doctor, then projecting forward into Eleven’s sonic, thus adding wood to its current capabilities?

      • Blarney Stone says:

        IIRC you have the details, except that the sonic could always work on wood, it’s just the calculations would take too long to make it useful.

    • j.smith says:

      Sonic works on wood as of the 50th anniversary. As for making it explode… That was lame, unless maybe he exploded the special homing arrow heads. Bickering was obnoxious. Spoon duel was alright, and set the stage for Robin to beat the superior Sheriff later in the episode, which was a good callback in my book. What really got me was the arrow stuck in the spaceship… Why… why would that ever work?

    • The Sonic doesn’t work on wood. And the 50th anniversary did not change that, because note in the following Time of the Doctor it didn’t work on the wooden Cyberman. HOWEVER, it will work on a homing device hidden in the head of an arrow, which the Doctor explains he placed there later. So, explode the homing device, and the wooden target goes boom. Problem solved.

  9. Hey, let’s make a fan webisode called “The Doctor Bickers”  Since in every episode he seems to be getting into pointless minor arguments.  I had high hopes for Capaldi as the Doctor, but so far, I’m not impressed.

  10. Why not write an actual review, rather than laboriously paraphrasing the plot?

  11. IAmMe says:

    Okay, now, I have a hard time taking this review seriously. It was all fine until the very end. To clarify, Stephen Thompson is not writing next week’s episode.

  12. @mandaluvsjohnny says:

    I <3 capaldi as the Doctor.  I didn’t care for this episode much because I like the darker side of the Doctor. I think he is a good mix of 3, 4, 6, and 7 with his own thing in there to make him unique.  He brings it back to more classic Doctor than the previous incarnations not that i disliked them but its nice to see manipulative dark doctor again.  I cannot wait for Listen because from what I have seen it looks like it will be very dark.  I don’t care much for this writer.  I didn’t like Crimson Horror much either…  Gatiss is good at certain things.. but i just don’t “get” his who episodes. 

  13. @Tmagus_666 says:

    Uhg! Capaldi as the Doctor just sucks…badly! Clara’s character ha sbeen written as if she has already left and acted in the same way….boring and unmoving. I can’t wait until the Doctoer regenerates…and I am 46 yrs old so I have some perspective.

  14. Mel says:

    The episode just made me happy.  Was the arrow at the end a little far-fetched?  Sure… but… it IS fiction.  I look forward to Saturday night all week — I really love Capaldi as the Doctor.  If your creation makes someone happy for a full hour… well, I consider that a huge success. 

  15. I see most commenters didn’t care for the episode, but I think this review captures pretty well why I did. Though the arrow at the end making a difference was still a preeeetty special stretch.

  16. dbryte says:

    I must have watched a completely different episode than Kyle…

    Although the Robin Hood angle seemed very ridiculous, I was more than willing to let my trust in the clever storytelling of the past allow me to accept the “sword-fighting-with-a-spoon” scene, Clara’s “juvenile-fan-girl-schtick”, the randomly placed “robots-in-Sherwood-with-no-back-story” plot, the stupid “repeated-splitting-of-the-arrow” archery tournament, the “mentally-stunted-man-child-penis-size-rivalry” between a 2000 year old Time Lord and a 12th century man in green tights, the “give-us-all-your-gold-because-space-and-time-traveling-robots-from-the-future-can’t-find-any-on-their-own” story line, etc., etc…

    I was so hoping that a super clever ending would suddenly make the first 40 minutes of the show worth watching, BUT…really??? One arrow’s worth of gold shot into the side of a massive castle-sized spaceship was JUST enough? Wow, how awful is that writing?!

    I truly hope I’m 100% wrong, but did Doctor Who just JUMP THE SHARK? Ugh…

    • @Tmagus_666 says:

      I agree with this review 100%…uhg!

      • jonasjrr says:

         Dbryte is spot on.  I audibly groaned at the “golden arrow” scene.  I thought Capalid’s portrayal, and the banter between him and Robin, was enjoyable enough.  But nothing in the episode made sense.  All we needed was a couple of moments at the end to rationalize some of the preceding nonsense.  Instead, we got complete idiocy.  I think Mark Gattis needs to leave writing episodes to others from here on out.

  17. Joelotron says:

    There used to be something really special about Doctor Who. There’s a reason it attracted such a huge fan base upon its reboot, especially once David Tenant came into the picture. The trend of excellence continued through season 5 and partly through season 6 with Matt Smith and his companions Amy and Rory who provided great chemistry humor and intrigue. Adding River into the mix was another stroke of  genius. I felt season 7 was getting over blown with the twist upon twist and complexity, and then once Clara stepped in things got dull. I was really hoping Capaldi would change all that and we’d be back to some great storytelling and wit, but unfortunately that does not seem to be happening at all. I must admit, I laughed throughout the episode, partly because I really wanted to enjoy it. The show now feels like a show made for kids. Yeah I know Doctor Who is essentially already a show made for kids, we know that. But that being said, the writing was always sophisticated and thoughtful, allowing  the grown ups to love it to.The writing  is just starting to feel like its geared for Saturday morning TV. The characters feel very cliche and forced. Even my 10 year old boy thought the ending was stupid and he wears a fez. Oh well. Gonna go watch season 3.

    • Mia Passione says:

      A spot-on assessment of the letdowns. All I need do is view the first three epis of any previous season to know what it felt like to be glued to new Doctors. It’s probably a mixture of things conspiring — a Doctor so understated and non-heroic as to be practically a backdrop; a Companion who is extremely pretty but not compelling; a change in the way they shoot scenes (fewer quick, lively edits); a musical score that has not yet risen to the level of memorable. When Clara’s gown and jewelry are the most riveting aspects of an episode, we may indeed have Doctor issues.

      • joelotron says:

        You hit on a few important things that were missing from this season so far especially the lack of new score. When Matt Smith was introduced in the 11th Hour, we were provided with a great new score to set the tone of  the new doctor and the new journey. The music created a  window into the heart and soul of #11 and the frenetic exciting adventures that the series was about to take us on.  I’ll keep watching and will always be a fan. Just not feeling it this season.

  18. Am I taking crazy pills? Or are all the positive comments about this ep from families of BBC staff members who have been promised cruel and unusual retaliation if they don’t bump up the ratings?


    Next week ALMOST looks like a real Who episode…. gods help us all if it isn’t.

  19. Cat D. says:

    I must admit I’m still struggling with my assessment of Capaldi.  As an actor… he’s super.  As the Doctor… not so sure.  Last week, I thought he was moving in the right direction.  This week… he basically annoyed me.  This review describes him as “childlike and petulant.”  To say the least!  I wanted to slap him a few times and say get over it!  I just want him to be more like an onion… as soon as we understand and taste one layer, he peels off the next (deeper and more complex).  However in these 3 episodes, I feel more like he’s gone from childhood to adulthood and back again.  Anyone else out there feeling the same?

    • Doc says:

      A great man once said when accused of being childish, there’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish now and then.

      • Cat D. says:

        I agree with you there.  However, I think there is a difference in that kind of childish… I think it’s a sort of whimsical, see-life-without-all-the-rules type of childish.  It seems to me, this doctor is just spoiled and determined to complain or pitch a fit until he gets his way. 

        • Mia Passione says:

          Exactly right — ‘childish’ in DW context refers to the way in which the Doctor relishes new experiences and new people/creatures with childlike wonder and delight, not as this Doctor did. He was downright sour about the whole thing, rather than treating it as a great new adventure. Does our dead-serious dark Doctor really need to be such a stick-in-the-mud? Just to name an example: Why did he grumpily question the factual reality of Robin Hood as a man, any more than he questioned Shakespeare when he found him? With the latter man, he absolutely marveled at the whole thing, adoring Will’s genius and drawing him into the plot to save the world from the Carrionites. At the very least it would have been more fun to see him approach Robin with a friendly willingness to have been mistaken.

  20. Scott S says:

    If they’re going to bring back the Master, clearly Ben Miller should be him.  He looks so much like Anthony Ainley and Roger Delgado!  I kept thinking maybe they would reveal he was the Master all along.

    • Yes! I was astounded by how much they look and SOUND alike. Poor Tony Ainley, he was such a good (evil) Master, fully deserving of the mantle shed by the great Roger Delgado…. and John Nathan Turner happened to him. It was so unfair. Maybe there’ll be good stories again one day, before Ben Miller gets old.

    • I strongly suspect they have already brought back the Master, only now she’s the Mistress aka Missy. Just a theory.

  21. Margot says:

    This article is in need of a proof reader.

  22. Erica says:

    Funniest episode I have seen in DW. As review said, just like Crimson Horror, Gatiss got the tone spot on. Not too zany, just very very witty with a lovely sweet ending. Capaldi is seriously the best thing that has ever happened to DW. He gets better every episode. Next week looks amazing. Three episodes in and every one a complete winner.

  23. Michele says:

    Bummer of an episode. Doctor was not heroic at all, just pretty much a jerk most of the time. The banter was funny though.

  24. Dave says:

    So many typos in one article…

  25. MrsRefney says:

    Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.
    Especially when the Sheriff referred to the Doctor’s odd assortment of items found in his coat. A “gallimaufry” of items. Sounds suspiciously like Gallifrey, eh? ha.