Funny thing about myths and legends: They have a way of taking on lives of their own. Look at the Doctor. He started out as a crotchety old man on a children’s show, and now look at him: a worldwide phenomenon beloved around the globe.
And Robin didn’t start out as a hero. He was a thief who grew into a folk hero, just like the Doctor. The Doctor will be the first to admit he’s not hero – he’s just the guy willing to step forward and make decisions when no one else will (See: “Voyage of the Damned). The 12th Doctor is still unsure if he’s even a good man, let alone a hero, so he resents meeting a man Clara regards as a hero – even if he never really existed. See the problem?
Robin talks about the power of mythology to create heroes, and the Doctor must have recalled River Song’s speech about how the Doctor himself had become larger than life and a legend throughout time and space. The realization that he had become mythic prompted the 11th Doctor to erase himself from data banks all through the universe. But then the Daleks found out about him again (in “The Time of the Doctor”), so who knows who else remembers him again… So will he be forced back into the role of reluctant hero?
Clara (Jenna Coleman) wants to visit with Robin Hood, and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) agrees to take her – but only to prove that Robin Hood is a legend that never actually existed. So, of course, the moment they land in 1190, they run smack into Robin Hood (Tom Riley), who introduces them to his Merry Men. The Doctor is skeptical that any of them are real, but nevertheless tags along when Robin disguises himself to enter the Sheriff of Nottingham’s archery contest (the prize: a solid-gold arrow), where hijinks ensue, revealing that the Sheriff’s guards are all robots.
Clara tricks the Sheriff (Ben Miller) into revealing how he found a crashed starship and helped the robotic crew gather gold to repair the ship in return for help taking over England. The Doctor learns that the castle is the robots’ ship in disguise – and that its engines are too damaged to be repaired. In an ensuing fight, Robin escapes with Clara, who fills him in on the legend of Robin Hood and all about the Doctor. Robin and Clara return in time to save the Doctor from being executed. Robin and the Sheriff battle until the baddie falls into a vat of molten gold. As the robots launch the castle/rocket, the Doctor and friends flee. As the Doctor predicted, the ship does not have enough gold to attain escape velocity – but firing the gold arrow into the ship gives it the boost it needs to reach orbit, where the unstable engines promptly explode.
I figured this would be one of those all-out comedy episodes, and so it was. It appears easy to take the piss out of the 12th Doctor because he appears so gruff. I sincerely hope he’s less of a stuffed shirt by the end of the season. While Capaldi is nothing short of brilliant in the role, the 12th Doctor is proving a bit difficult to warm up to, because he’s having trouble warming up to his companion and the other humans he meets. Clara’s exuberance at meeting Robin makes the Doctor’s grumpiness all the more apparent. He doesn’t seem to be having fun on his adventures anymore.
The Doctor and Robin instantly clash. It’s clear the Doctor is jealous of Clara’s fascination with Robin – if for no other reason than it distracts her from being impressed with his own cleverness.
The Doctor hates all the good-natured laughing of the Merry Men, furthering this incarnation as something of a sourpuss. Considering the way all the other Doctors have behaved, this is a definite regression to the First Doctor, who didn’t suffer fools gladly.
Speaking of fools, Robin and the Doctor were hilarious bickering like little boys in the dungeon cell. Of course Clara was the only adult in the room. The boys shouted and kept trying to one-up each other – and the Doctor refused to let Robin have the last word. The Doctor even kept up ragging on Robin after Clara left, as when he described Robin as a coward to the jailer.
Riley plays Robin as a winking, cheeky rogue; one who knows he’s irresistible and loves it. “Robin Hood laughs in the face of all,” he boasted while strutting and posing like the cock of the walk. The Merry Men are a stereotype archetype of bantering, japing man-boys who tease each other and laugh at danger. They are like 21st century action heroes, making us suspect them much as the Doctor does.
Clara proved herself adept at massaging the male ego to manipulate the Sheriff. This is a skill she fine-tuned during her tenure with the 11th Doctor, who loved having his ego stroked when he was being brilliant (more than most Doctors, I’d say). And the Sheriff was so easily led.
Clara’s red gown is sure to become one of the most popular cosplays on the convention circuit. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the sounds of DVRs being freeze-framed and sketches and dress patterns being drawn.
While the Doctor mentioned Richard the Lionhearted, he neglected to mention that his first incarnation was visiting Richard on his crusade that very same year (“The Crusades”).
The Doctor at first reasons that he and Jenna must be trapped inside a Miniscope, as seen in “Carnival of Monsters.”
Clara revealed she is from Blackpool – the hometown of her portrayer, Jenna Coleman.
Did anyone else hear a Wilhelm scream when the robots attacked the people at the tournament?
The robots were traveling to “the Promised Land” – the same place the Half-Faced Man wanted to go last week.
Missy (Michelle Gomez) did not appear in this episode. Perhaps because the Doctor was not directly involved in the Sheriff’s death?
A link to the Third Doctor: This Doctor remembers how to use Venusian aikido – he even yells “Hai!” as he disarms Robin.
The Sheriff refers to England as “this sceptered isle” some four centuries before Shakespeare called it that.
Originally, Robin was supposed to behead the Sheriff in their final duel, revealing him to be a robot, but the scene was cut in light of the beheadings of two American journalists by terrorists in the Middle East.
The last time the Doctor engaged in sword fighting was during the events of “The Christmas Invasion,” when he lost a hand to the Sycorax leader.
Clara told Robin that the Doctor was born into wealth and privilege. I don’t recall that being part of the TV canon before.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“No damsels in distress, no pretty castles, no such thing as Robin Hood.” – the Doctor
“All these diseases – if you’re real you’ll be dead in six months!” – the Doctor
“I am totally against bantering.” – the Doctor
“Can you explain your plan without using the words ‘sonic screwdriver’?” – Clara
“Taken from your companion’s strange tunic: an intriguing gallimaufry – including this wand.” – Sheriff of Nottingham
“Well, there is a bright side: Clara didn’t see that.” – the Doctor
“Nottingham is not enough. After this – Derby. And after Derby, Lincoln. And after that, the world!” – Sheriff
“History is a burden; stories can let us fly.” – Robin
“Remember Doctor: I’m just as real as you are.” – Robin