My proudest reason for loving “Doctor Who” is that it is about storytelling and fantasy. Episodes which don’t take the show too seriously are my favourites, because they allow the wonderful escapism that makes the show as great as it is.
“Robot Of Sherwood” highlights the best parts of those aspects. It is tremendous fun – Mark Gatiss can always provide a good romp – as well as being funny, playing like a love/hate buddy cop movie. Plus, there’s the performances. Just as I was thinking my favourite villain so far was Peter Ferdinando’s Control Node, Ben Miller gave us the panto of a lifetime, surprising of course, nobody. Comedy actors are always secretly straight villains inside. Then there’s Tom Riley as Robin Hood – definitely my new favourite supporting actor.
It’s those three characters – the Doctor, Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham – that make this work, and the majority of the fun is provided by their, as the Doctor put it, “bantering”. What we get is a great adventure through Sherwood Forest, with robots, puns and exciting sword fights (plus a few bows and arrows). By the time we get to the end of it all, and you’ve suddenly noticed there weren’t any major problems with the story, you can’t help but appreciate what the episode’s managed to do: tell a fun tale set in Medieval England that’s provided some good, old-fashioned entertainment for the evening.
And yet… that’s just the outer-shell. Because on the inside, there’s more. This is the first Gatiss screenplay in this franchise to air since the broadcast of “An Adventure In Space And Time”, and the final scene proves they were written by the same person. This is a story about stories. Matt Smith once described Gatiss as writing “love letters” to the show, and that’s completely true. While Series 7 may have let us down, Gatiss has pulled-out his best episode so far, a feat not really accomplished since his first, “The Unquiet Dead”. Interestingly, said episode really contrasts what its season was about. Series 1 was very Humanitarian, with religious metaphors and allegories, yet what he wrote rejected the formula and we were given a story that worked best on its own. And he’s done the same here; Series 8 has been promoted as a “dark”, but there’s none of that here. Gatiss proves that sometimes, a writer should be left to write to his own vision. One could say the largest effect of this episode is that it shows, quite clearly, why he deserves to succeed Steven Moffat as Head Writer – and that’s because of how apparent is his adoration for the show.
Which brings us back round to the beginning. Gatiss is a very cultured person, and seems to have written mental essays praising a variety of subjects. From the start, his familiarity with both Hood’s and the Doctor’s legends are clear, and the result was the best fictional crossover this year. He argues what many fans (certainly I amongst them) have argued many times: just because the Doctor isn’t real, why shouldn’t we love him? By deciding that, within this Universe, Robin Hood did, definitevly exist (a far more preferable ending than the sci-fi alternative), that can serve as a model for why we adore stories and legends. Real life rarely inspires us anymore; we look to fiction to solve our problems. Robin Hood’s solution to the world’s problems was to steal wealth to give to those the rich had disadvantaged. The Doctor’s solution is to inspire others to help themselves. Both of them legends, yet known the world throughout. And that’s quite simply because their legend was so successful. Both Robin Hood and the Doctor existed in this episode to compliment the other’s presence, and to prove that sometimes, when a legend begins, if its aim is good and true, and if the wind’s in the right direction, the arrow will fly perpetually, and the wonderful, magical story will never end.
“Robot Of Sherwood“: wonderful romp, tribute to storytelling. 10/10