Doctor Who Recap: “Robot of Sherwood”

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Doctor Who‘s take on Robin Hood is more Men in Tights than Errol Flynn. After the Doctor lets Clara choose their next destination, she decides to pursue an old childhood crush: the Prince of Thieves! The Doctor more or less rolls his eyes, saying Robin Hood isn’t real. But when the TARDIS touches down in Sherwood Forest c. 1190, they immediately encounter a laughing, boastful and very handsome Robin of Loxley. As well as an army of robots and the corrupt sheriff who commandeers them.

There were definitely shades of Malcolm Tucker in Peter Capaldi’s Robin-denying Doctor. When they first arrive in Nottingham, the Doctor thinks Robin at best annoying and at worst a total fraud. He’s a legend, not a real person! This skepticism leads to some heated back-and-forths—of both the verbal and fancy-swordplay varieties—during which we see a new, more silly side of the Twelfth Doctor. Instead of fighting with a sword, he uses a spoon. (Is this going to be Capaldi’s new “thing”?) And he greets the Merry Men with a series of bizarre tests (pulling out their hair, taking a sample of blood) to check that they aren’t fake. After the confusion of “Deep Breath” and the solemn tone of “Into the Dalek,” it was fun to see this more wacky impulse in the new Doctor.

Also a lot of fun: actor Tom Riley as Robin Hood. Since the episode plays on the idea of legends, it made sense that his Robin was at once a made-to-order hero and a parody of heroism. There were some obvious parallels between Robin and the Doctor, namely that they both hide their sorrow behind a too-jovial veneer. (Well, perhaps not Capaldi—though past Doctors have definitely been guilty of this.) But deeper layers aside, Robin’s easy laughter was straight-up infectious. Without the extra film of irony, a lot of this episode would have played cheesy. But because the whole thing was tongue-in-cheek, Robin’s final reunion with Marion was an apt conclusion to a fairy tale.

“Robot of Sherwood” also explores the idea of changing history. When the Doctor learns of the sheriff’s faulty plan to fly his gold-fuelled castle/spaceship into the stars, he says it will “alter the course of history”: the ship isn’t strong enough to achieve orbit, meaning it will crash-land, destroying half of England in the process. But as we learn from Robin, there is no set course of history. Robin was a real man, but is remembered as a story. Actions can alter history—but history also alters the past.

And again, we were teased with mentions of the mysterious Promised Land—though no dead bodies woke up in Missy’s tearoom this time around. Where the robots were going—or where they’re from—remains a question mark, though we’re guessing it’s nowhere good.