Doctor Who (8.3): Flights of fancy

robot of sherwoodSpoilers all the way down this week, folks…

I’m not sure what to make of a story that I only really enjoyed after the final twist was revealed.

When the only character you really like is the Doctor, the first 40 minutes feel like a bit of a slog. Now that I know the answer to the question of whether Robin Hood is real, a rewatch made Robin and his merry men more bearable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself in my attempt to decide whether I like this or not. So – plot. The Doctor makes his traditional ‘anywhere in space and time’ offer to Clara, who reveals she’s always wanted to meet Robin Hood (but hasn’t said so, because she knows the Doctor will say he’s not real). The Doctor, of course, says he’s not real, but points the Tardis in the direction of Sherwood Forest (1190AD) anyway.

Capricious creature that she is, the Tardis lands within shooting distance of Robin, no doubt feeling a little smug at her Time Lord’s discomfiture. The trouble is, he’s not the only one rubbed up the wrong way by Robin and his extremely merry men. As we discovered with the whole Impossible Girl arc, when you make someone (almost) purely a plot device, it becomes much harder to care about them.

robin hoodThey do such a good job of selling the idea that Robin can’t really be the prince of thieves, Earl of Locksley etc, that (like the Doctor) I was impatient to have him unmasked. By the end, when he steals the trick the Doctor used to defeat him on the bridge (well, wide beam) at the start of the story, I finally warmed to him.

And don’t get me wrong, I think they made the right choice in going for the Errol Flynn approach to Robin, rather than a grimy, realistic one, but I was totally behind the Doctor’s “And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?” to Robin’s “Robin Hood laughs in the face of all – ha-ha-ha!”

The good news is that Robin (played with great sparkle and mischief by Tom Riley) is much less annoying on a rewatch, without the cumbersome conundrum. Though I’m still not sure how I feel about him using Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s “property is theft” line (or the Sheriff paraphrasing Henry II on the matter of turbulent priests). I do know that I liked the Doctor fighting with a spoon (I’m really hoping that’s a Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves reference too), and using brain rather than brawn to win. (Again, I was annoyed that the Doctor was equalled by Robin the first time round, now I like that they’re well-matched. All of which makes me want to plead with the writers to stop pulling this trick – I don’t like it.)

What I did like was the decidedly meta undercurrent – all those little conversations about heroes and stories and legends, designed to leave you hoping that perhaps the Doctor isn’t just made-up, that all these stories are echoes of real heroism. Though, if you follow that train of thought too thoroughly, it brings you to the notion that the monsters are real too. (Where’s Nick Ross with “Don’t have nightmares, do sleep well” when you need him?)

And speaking of monsters, I did like Ben Miller’s Sheriff. I don’t envy anyone who has to follow in Alan Rickman’s footsteps – I’m not sure anyone will ever better his Sheriff – but this was done so well, I stopped comparing him to Rickman almost immediately.

Full marks to Mark Gatiss for not letting the Sheriff sexually assault Clara and for letting Clara stand up for herself. Let’s hope it’s a seed that grows in the young minds watching. And because I like to end on a positive note, let’s agree to skip over the final golden arrow thing. You know. I know. And you know that I know, yeah?

Let’s hope next week’s episode lives up to the spooky promise of its trailer…

Posted by Jo the Hat

1 Comment

Filed under Dr Who

One response to “Doctor Who (8.3): Flights of fancy

  1. Tim

    While this was funny, for me it was almost *too* funny and really grated in places because of the paper-thin plot. Yay Clara, definitely. And yay Ben Miller too.

    I did like the meta references, and there’s no doubt Gatiss knows his stuff: references to The Crusade, The Mind Robber, Carnival of Monsters, Henry II, the Peasants’ Revolt and Karl Marx made for a full house for people who like that sort of thing (i.e. me).

    But the gold arrow thing – yeah, that summed up everything that was wrong with the episode for me. Pure popcorn – enjoyable but lightweight.

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