9 September 2014

Doctor Who S8E3 "Robot of Sherwood" is an unfortunate misstep

 "Robot of Sherwood" is the seventh episode that Mark Gatiss has written for Doctor Who since the show was modernised in 2005, and continues his streak of writing some of the most forgettable episodes that the show has to offer, with his last attmpt "Cold War" being the only episode of Doctor Who I have ever fell asleep during. In this episode we are taken to the time of Robin Hood at the behest of Clara, despite The Doctors insistence that Robin Hood isn't real. Lo and behold, he is real, and whimsical hi jinks with a very slight sci-fi flavour ensue.

"Robot of Sherwood" encompasses the more childish side of Doctor Who, an episode clearly intended for the younger viewers, focused more on providing a few laughs than an engrossing story. This feels like an episode that should be thrown into the middle of a season that is late in an actors run as The Doctor, not an episode that is still tasked with the responsibility of trying to establish the new Doctor's personality. Some minor work is done towards this at the end of the episode, comparing the legend of Robin Hood to how others see The Doctor, but it feels thrown in at the last minute rather than the purpose of the episode. The whole episode feels very "standalone", with no references to previous episodes or what seems to be the seasons over-arching plot, and it seems unlikely that this episode will add anything to the season in the long run.

Even worse, it is Ben Miller who plays the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham here, completely wasted on the role. His character is poorly written and forgettable in every sense of the word, thanks in no small part to how little he actually matters to the story as it progresses. It is frustrating to have this recognisable an actor, an actor who could have done something wonderful with the right role, wasted on this episode. He's not the only character that suffers either - Clara takes dive by reverting to being the most useless and annoying assistant the series has offered, especially disappointing after both "Deep Breath" and "Into the Dalek" made steps towards making her a more useful and interesting character.

The only saving grace here is how much enthusiasm it seems that Capaldi has for the role, embedding The Doctor with enough energy to keep things from becoming completely unwatchable. His rivalry and interactions with Robin Hood are amusing even if they are never hilarious, with Capaldi's skills as a comedic actor elevating the material and the episode itself beyond what it actually deserves. But any good moment is countered by a bad moment, and the opening of the episode (the unbearable sword/spoon fight) sets the tone of the episode rather more than I would have liked.

With luck, "Robot of Sherwood" will prove to be the worst episode that season 8 has to offer, with the poor writing and lacklustre story hopefully being the exception to the series rather than a hint of what is to come. This episode is more Smith and less Eccleston/Tennant - and I know I'm not the only one craving a return to that era.

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