Sunday, 7 September 2014

Robots of Sherwood

"Their hordes of f***ing robots - they're coming over the hill. And all you have to do now is bend down, pick up any f***ing weapon and t**t the f***ery out of them!"

Mark Gatiss has a... polarizing effect on the Doctor Who fan base. With the possible exception of The Unquiet Dead, all of his episodes have been met with fairly mixed receptions. For me personally I think the only real stinkers have been Night Terrors and Cold War, but his episodes have never impressed me. Which is why I wasn't looking forward to this episode that much; it seemed to be very much a filler story with not much connection to the story arcs or character development and the premise seemed a bit shaky.

To compare to other Gatiss stories, I'd place it somewhere around (albeit below) The Crimson Horror, and overall it's similar (although, again, weaker) to The Shakespeare Code: A perfectly enjoyable, but somewhat underwhelming and silly, psuedo-historical story which isn't bad but ultimately forgettable.

Doctor Who meets Robin Hood. With such a premise, if you thought this episode would have the gravity of the previous two stories then you are a fool!

A ship of robots from... somewhere has crashed in Nottingham in the 1200s. The Sheriff has somehow become their leader, and they're out to collect lots of gold to repair the ship circuits. But what they're really doing is "stoking up a giant bomb" because it's broken or something like that. Meanwhile in the TARDIS, Clara expresses that she has always wanted to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor stresses he doesn't exist, but within seconds of landing in Sherwood, they're greeted with the familar 'THWACK!' of an arrow. Of course. The Doctor proceeds to do what he always does: Rallying up a peasant uprising, exposing the Sheriff's plot and saving the world. You know... it does the job, it's not winning any story telling awards.

Incidentally, about a minute of the episode was cut due the recent beheadings in the news. Details of what exactly was cut can be found here. Hopefully it will be on the DVD!

Before the first sentence, it's clear that this is a lighter episode and an antidote to a very dark series. There is nothing wrong with this. Where I think there is a problem is how obvious it's the lighter episode. Being the filler story, there's little mention of the story arc (and certainly no expansion on it) and the characters remain fairly static. This creates a pretty bad case of disconnect due to how tonally different it is, to the extent at which it becomes distracting.

For example, The Doctor complains about 'bantering' a few times throughout. I agree with him that it's worth complaining about because most of the episode seems to be composed of it! Robin Hood, the Sheriff, The Doctor, and even Clara get in on the 'banter' action and as I got further into the episode, it became increasingly tiresome. The dynamic is very strong, but excessive. The banter is the kind of thing which reads perfectly fine in a script, but on-screen in the middle of a sword fight? It looks scripted, awkward, and leans on the wrong side of cheesy.

Ben Miller <3
The unrelenting quibbling between The Doctor and Robin in particular drags on for far too long to be amusing (partially because we generally have lengthier scenes this series). The Doctor's scepticism drives a bit of the episode, but much of it after a point comes off as arbitrary and leaves me with the desire to get on with the story. Furthermore, while Twelve oozes sarcasm, his behaviour jars a little with the two previous stories as he simply doesn't get enough to do to find room for his interpretation.

Having said all of that, this is not the most glaring example of a 'comedy' episode (coughClosingTime!cough). It still manages to serve some purpose by adding a further - albeit pretty shallow - dimension to the Twelfth Doctor. Just as Into The Dalek examined whether The Doctor was a good man (and boy did it make sure you knew it!), Robot of Sherwood considers whether The Doctor is a hero, and the power of legends. It's not extensive, but it does keep the story from becoming too frivolous.

This is exactly how physics doesn't work. Also, after one is killed,
why do the robots continue to use the lasers?!
While it would be wrong to say this episode is full of plot holes, a number of elements of it are a bit silly and don't add up. The titular robots have even less context to them than usual - they're there because they are. It's a little incredulous that the robots didn't realise the ship would explode until the last moment. The exploding ship has just enough power to enter the upper atmosphere and blow up safely thanks to a (very!) well-aimed shot of the golden arrow. It barely pierces the ship, and the idea that the single arrow of gold was enough to give the ship enough energy compared to the furnaces full of it... Naaaah.

Having said all of this though, the episode was still fairly enjoyable. It reminded me very much of a typical episode from the Russell T Davies era: very standalone, very romp-y and simplistic, but fun nonetheless.

So my score is an average 5. However - and this is where my ranking system starts to show its flaws - despite the lower mark, I'd much rather rewatch this than Into The Dalek. It's not excellent, but there isn't as much about it which is done wrong either. It will one day join the ranks of episodes you forget happened, but for now? Eh, it's alright!