Last week we had “Doctor Who meets The Fantastic Voyage”, and now we have “The Doctor meets Robin Hood”. While on the surface it may look like showrunner Steven Moffat was throwing darts at a board with plot ideas when mapping out the eighth series of the show, Mark Gatiss deftly turns in a witty script that proves to be one of the best Who stories of the past few years.
Whereas the past two episodes have focused on the darker nature of this new Doctor, “Robot of Sherwood” turns the idea on it’s a head a bit, contrasting the Doctor’s new-found cynicism against Robin Hood’s heartfelt heroism. Thankfully, the Doctor’s ongoing attempts to disprove Robin Hood’s validity never ventures into camp territory, or feeling like a joke that’s worn out its welcome. It’s a credit to the cast involved. Capaldi is fantastic as usual, and Coleman’s Clara acts as the perfect foil for his morose nature.
Even the few quieter moments, such as Robin Hood admitting to Clara why he laughs so much, fail to veer into cheesy, trite tripe. It all works wonderfully together, even if the tie-in of an ongoing arc element leaves you scratching your head a bit (as it will, I’m sure, until the end of the season).
The religious iconography was an odd choice in the episode. The beams shooting from robots’ foreheads were cross-shaped, and in the scene with the Doctor in the dungeon, the light coming through the cross-shaped window (and shining down onto exactly where the Doctor was sitting) was obvious and strange. With the ongoing mystery this season having to do with a mysterious woman named Missy meeting dead (or deactivated) beings in a place called “Heaven”, the continued mentions of robots across time seeking “the Promised Land”, the symbolism prevalent in this story, and the season finale being titled “Death in Heaven”, it all adds up to an unusually theocratic theme for Doctor Who. To be clear, I’m not offended and am not fretting over any such references, but it is interesting to see Moffat having a plan that skirts with an area Who was tended to ignore.
“Robot of Sherwood” is a beautiful piece of Doctor Who television. It’s a genuinely funny piece that perfectly contrasts the new Doctor’s more brooding and serious nature against the impossibility of folklore and heroism. While Gatiss was 1-for-2 last season (I felt “Cold War” was a total clunker, but loved “The Crimson Horror”), it’s nice to see him start off with a bang this go-around. If this episode is indicative of the range Capaldi is truly capable of in this role, I expect great things ahead.