“Robot of Sherwood”
The buzz is that veteran Doctor Who scripter and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss wrote this episode before Peter Capaldi was announced as the Doctor, and made only minor tweaks to adapt it to his persona. And that fits the evidence pretty well, because on the whole “Robot of Sherwood” plays as a pretty generic breather episode of Doctor Who. Humor-driven, based on a famous historical figure from Earth, with a stock alien plotline. There is an excuse for that I suppose, in that the “Promised Land” scenario is clearly a key part of Moffat’s MacGuffin this season.
There’s also buzz that Jenna Coleman will be leaving after (or even before) the Christmas special this year, and I confess my heart wouldn’t break. Clara has always had a bit of the Mary Sue about her – which is of course a real nightmare when the queen of the Mary Sue’s River, is about – but she’s becoming annoyingly perfect this season. Playing the Doctor as highly vulnerable is a risky but potentially interesting direction we’ve only seen undertaken a couple of times in 35 seasons, but it doesn’t work when the companion is so unassailably flawless.
I wouldn’t say this was a bad episode, but there’s just nothing memorable about it. In truth it seems very much like an episode that doesn’t try to be memorable, just pleasant. There are some nice moments – the Doctor’s deflection of Clara’s praise for his heroism as “just passing time”. And the subject of heroism is a major player here, part and parcel of the ending that’s another part of the ep I quite liked. Robin Hood (Tom Riley) gives a mannered but rather affecting speech about his own fate, and the Doctor’s (though it’s rather alarming just how much Clara told him). I’d also give a nod to director Paul Murphy for including a shot of Patrick Troughton playing Robin Hood in the 1953 BBC series as part of a montage on the Robin Hood legend.
On balance, though, I’d be surprised if there’s much about “Robot of Sherwood” that sticks with you once it’s over (I don’t mean to keep bringing it up, but Star Trek: The Next Generation by contrast handled the Robin Hood legend in far more enduring fashion). And given that we’re already a quarter of the way through the season (time flies) I’m getting impatient for a script that will be the equal of the brilliant actor inhabiting the role of the Doctor. Capaldi is superb with drama, but his most famous roles have been darkly comic in nature, and even with the middling material he’s given here he manages to mine every drop of possible amusement. The thought of what he could do with a script that challenges him is almost mind-boggling, but on that score all we can do is wait and hope.