Doctor Who, S8 Ep 3 — Robots of Sherwood

When the teasers for Doctor Who’s third episode of Series 8 were released, most fans, I imagine, blinked and said, “but how can The Doctor meet Robin Hood?” It’s a question even the Doctor himself asked throughout “Robots of Sherwood,” as he finds himself face-to-face with Robin and his Merry Men.

After all, Robin Hood is a fictional character, or so we think. Clara, given the choice of any time, person, or place in the universe to visit, picks her childhood hero, Robin Hood. After some argument, The Doctor sets the TARDIS to 12th Century Nottingham and prepares to bask in the glory of showing her an entirely Robin Hood-free medieval forest.

Doctor Who: The Merry Men of Sherwood

The Merry Men of Sherwood

So, naturally, a smiling, bow-wielding man who calls himself Robin Hood is there to greet them. Clara is overjoyed. The Doctor, not so much. Robin Hood quickly challenges The Doctor to a swordfight, which The Doctor responds to by pulling out an oversized spoon. It’s silly and juvenile, and probably just what the 12th Doctor needs to appeal to the kids in the audience. The whole episode is swashbuckling, kid-friendly fun — maybe not the deepest episode ever, but not, by far, the worst.

What makes “Robots of Sherwood” fun isn’t just the action, it’s the snarky rivalry between The Doctor and Robin. It comes to a head when The Doctor rather arrogantly inserts himself into the archery competition between Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham — and arrow after perfectly-aimed arrow splitting the previous one in half. All good fun, until it’s revealed, in Monty Python-fashion, that the armor-clad knights on the field are, in fact, robots who shoot lethal lasers from their faces. The Doctor, naturally, defends himself and Clara, and they soon find themselves locked in the dungeon with Robin. The Doctor and Robin bicker like children until Clara scolds them, leading the guard to believe that Clara is in charge. While she’s off meeting with the Sheriff, The Doctor and Robin manage to escape and stumble on the truth: part of the castle, is, in fact, a spaceship, and the Sheriff is using alien technology for his evil deeds (that’s right, another spaceship disguised by an old building, not unlike “Deep Breath” just two episodes ago). The Doctor, meanwhile, uses old-fashioned technology (deflecting light with shiny metal) to help the poor villagers who’d been imprisoned escape before a final showdown with the Sheriff.

Doctor Who: The Sheriff contemplates the sonic screwdriver

The Sheriff contemplates the sonic screwdriver

By now it’s clear that Series 8’s “main” arc has something to do with “The Promised Land,” which may or may not be the “Heaven” we’ve seen a couple of characters go to after dying. There’s no Heaven or Missy in “Robots of Sherwood,” but there is a brief mention, reminding us that it’s still a thing. I’m hoping the Promised Land arc doesn’t take over the series; I’m enjoying the self-contained episodes quite a bit, and I find Moffat’s showrunning to be at its weakest when it’s dealing with larger, usually convoluted arcs. I’m curious about Missy, sure. I’m also a bit worried that she’s another super-special who turns out to be more important than anyone who’s ever existed on the show before, because that’s where Doctor Who series arcs generally lose me.

I’m also finding that I don’t miss Madame Vastra and Jenny at all during these back-to-basics episodes. Somehow, without them it feels more like Doctor Who. Which I don’t necessarily feel good about. “Robots of Sherwood” is a good episode, but it’s also the first of S8 that doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (nor does it prominently feature a single character of color). Which, let’s be honest, is pretty Classic Who, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way, as “Into the Dalek” proved. Next week, we’ll be seeing more Danny Pink, and a pretty creepy-looking episode that looks like it will tell us more about his mysterious background.

So, who is Robin Hood, and how can The Doctor and Clara visit him in the TARDIS? The mystery is solved with surprising simplicty. Sometimes it really is best not to over-complicate things — an concept I hope continues in Series 8.

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