Channel Surfing: Doctor Who – Robot of Sherwood

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Last week we went to the future, which means this week we’re traveling back to the past! Buckle on your swashes, ready your quiver, and let’s do this!

We begin this episode in the TARDIS. The Doctor is scribbling numbers and Gallifreyan symbols on the walls of the TARDIS in chalk. He’s been doing that off and on ever since he regenerated. I wonder if he’s trying to track down Gallifrey, perhaps? The Doctor gives Clara the chance to decide where they should go. Clara is tremendously excited, and proclaims that she has always wanted to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor is immediately dismissive of the idea; there is no such person as Robin Hood. Clara reminds him that he gave her the choice, and she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor sets course with bad grace (peevishness? Better word) for Sherwood Forest, in “1190ish”. The TARDIS lands gently, and the Doctor flings open the door and looks out over the forest. See? No Robin Hood.

Suddenly, an arrow buries itself in the side of the TARDIS, next to the Doctor’s head! A man stands up from behind cover, dressed in Lincoln green clothes, longbow in hand, and announces himself as Robin Hood. Now that is some seriously impressive temporal positioning!

The Doctor is quite appalled by the arrow in the TARDIS. Nobody hurts the TARDIS! You can almost see his eye twitch…clearly, he and this alleged Robin are not going to get along.

It doesn’t help that the supposed Robin Hood is as, well, merry and full of laughter as we’ve seen in the movies. The Doctor cannot stand his attitude or the continual laughter. He’s beginning to sound more like a grumpy old man, quite a change from the previous Doctor.

Clara arrives, exiting the TARDIS in a period-appropriate red dress. I wonder why they don’t take the time to change beforehand more often? I’ll bet you that the TARDIS is about 80% wardrobe on the inside.

Robin is captivated by her (how sweet!) and wonders if there are more like her inside the blue box (Oh. Well, now I take back the previous comment.). He wants to steal the TARDIS. He saw it appear, and it seems to be a wonderful blue box. He is a robber, after all. The Doctor is not about to let that happen, though.

Robin draws his sword, and the Doctor draws…his spoon? Well, okay then. It’s going to be that kind of episode, it seems.

They meet on a flat-topped log over a stream and begin to duel. Wait, I’ve seen this before. Aren’t they supposed to be using quarterstaves? Nevertheless, the Doctor is quite handy at spoon-fighting, easily fending off Robin’s attacks. Apparently, he trained with many sword-fighting masters over the years, including Errol Flynn (Ha ha! I see what you did there.). Robin does score a hit, though. He cuts off one of the buttons on the Doctor’s coat, which is treated to a slow-motion fall onto the log. Oh, now you’ve done it. That expression on the Doctor’s face is his attack eyebrows moving into position!

Surprisingly, the Doctor spreads his arms wide, leaving himself open to attack. Robin charges in, but the Doctor spins around him and steps backwards, pushing Robin off the log and into the stream with a terrific splash. The Doctor celebrates, but Clara notices that Robin hasn’t come back up. Just how deep is that stream, anyway? Robin pops up behind the Doctor and pushes him with a merry old laugh, sending him tumbling into the stream. The Doctor is not pleased, though Clara finds it quite amusing. At least it’s not green slime this time, right? Could be worse.

We switch to a scene of a medieval village, where knights in black armor are ransacking the place. A young woman (Seriously? Again?!? At least give her a name! No? Nothing? …Fine.) is being led away in chains. An old man is pleading with the knights not to take her, but they are unmoved. A man in black rides up (No, not that Man in Black, though that would have been cool) explains to the old man that the castle needs labor and gold. He inspects one of the chests, which is filled with rings, chains, and other golden jewelry. Man, these peasants sure have a lot of gold.

Hmm…we’ve already met Robin Hood, so I’m guessing this must be the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Sheriff asks if they are new to Nottingham. The young woman tearfully replies that they are. The old man begins to argue with the Sheriff and spits on him. The Sheriff calmly wipes the spittle off his face and tells the old man “You’ll live to regret that.” He pauses for a second, and draws his sword. “Actually, you won’t.” He stabs the old man and walks off cleaning his blade as the old man collapses to the ground, ignoring the screams of the young woman.

…Ladies and Gentlemen, your villain for the evening!

We switch back to the Doctor and Clara as Robin introduces them to the rest of his band. The rest of the outlaws are even merrier than Robin, if you can believe that. Boisterous laughter abounds from all sides, and you can almost feel it grating on the Doctor’s nerves. He’s determined to prove that they aren’t real. He pulls a hair from Robin’s head and examines it with the sonic screwdriver; it seems real. Undeterred, he steals Friar Tuck’s sandal to prove it’s fake (It’s not), and draws blood from one of the outlaws. After examining it, he tells the outlaw, “So many diseases! If you were real, you’d be dead in six months!” “I am real!”

Clara is having the time of her life. “You really are Robin Hood and his Merry Men!” Robin is intrigued by the name, and asks his band of outlaws if they like it too. It is agreed! Robin and his Merry Men they shall be! Whoops. Got a bit of a bootstrap paradox, there. Don’t worry, though, it’s the kind of thing that happens when you hang around the Doctor.

The Doctor is still unconvinced: even the land itself doesn’t seem right to him. “It’s too green and sunny” to be Nottingham during this time of year.

Clara asks him, “When did you stop believing in legends?”

“When did you start believing in mythical heroes?” the Doctor shoots back.

Clara gives him a level look. “Don’t you know?” Clara tries to get Robin to tell her about himself, which he is more than happy to do, but it’s a little awkward when Clara keeps finishing his sentences for him (especially the part of Marian, his lost love), as she already knows the Robin Hood legends.

The Doctor hears them talking about an archery contest to find the greatest archer in England, with a prize of an arrow of solid gold. “It’s obviously a trap!” he exclaims in exasperation.

“Of course it’s a trap!” Robin responds. “A contest to find the greatest archer in England? There is no contest!” Robin isn’t suffering from lack of self-confidence, in case you were wondering.

The episode skips ahead to the archery contest, where a “disguised” (Seriously, he’s just wearing a brown cloak and a floppy hat. If those glasses with attached mustaches were available in this time period, he’d probably be wearing those instead.) Robin is competing against the Sheriff himself as Clara watches. The Merry Men are equally well disguised in the crowd, trying unsuccessfully to blend in with the rest of the peasants. Robin has the Sheriff command his men to move one of the targets back, in order to make it more challenging. The Sheriff goes first, and shoots an arrow dead center into the target. Robin steps up and fires his arrow into the Sheriff’s, splitting it. Everyone celebrates! Robin steps forward to receive his prize, the golden arrow (Um…wouldn’t that be a tie? I mean, I know how the legend goes, but they both got bulls-eyes. The Sheriff’s arrow just happened to be in the way of Robin’s. I guess I’m not up on the intricacies of scoring medieval archery)

But wait! Another arrow slams into the center of the target, splitting Robin’s arrow! Who could this new challenger be? It’s the Doctor, of course.

The Sheriff presents the Doctor with the golden arrow (I guess the last person to split an arrow wins?), but he tosses it away. He wants something more valuable: Enlightenment.

Before he can get enlightenment, however, Robin shoots an arrow into the target, splitting the Doctor’s arrow. Oh, now it’s on. They proceed to try to out-do each other, each shot more outrageous than the last. The Doctor bounces his shot off the walls, splitting Robin’s arrow, and Robin splits the Doctor’s arrow without even looking. The Doctor finally decides he’s had enough of this foolishness and pulls out his sonic screwdriver and blows the target up. Well, now, that’s just being a sore loser. Just because the target’s gone doesn’t invalidate the fact that Robin split the arrow last, ergo, Robin will still win.

However, using a device that makes things explode in front of a medieval tyrant is not the best idea. The Sheriff immediately orders Robin, Clara, and the Doctor to be taken prisoner. Robin immediately jumps into action, drawing his sword and gleefully fighting the Sheriff’s knights. He manages to cut off the knight’s arm, and it falls to the ground in a shower of sparks. The Doctor is delighted. “A robot! Now we are getting somewhere!” Getting somewhere, maybe, but the Sheriff isn’t going to hand out any answers. He orders the robot knight to kill “them.” Kill everyone? Just Robin and his friends? It’s very unclear. The helms of the robots split open sideways, revealing a metal face with an incised cross between the eyes. The cross glows purple, and then an energy blast shoots out. The other bots follow suit and the archery ground are soon thick with purple lasers, explosions and screaming. I guess the episode should have been called Robots of Sherwood.

Robin and the Merry Men attempt to fend off the robots but they brought swords to a laser fight. They’re not going to succeed. The Doctor knocks Robin’s sword out of his hand, and puts his hands up. “We surrender!” The robots cease trying to kill every moving thing and instead take Robin, the Doctor, and Clara prisoner. The Doctor explains his plan: the best way to find out what’s happening is to get captured. I don’t know, I think it’d be easier to find out what is going on if you had free run of the castle, rather than being chained up in a dungeon.

Oh, look! They’re all chained to posts in a dungeon. And there’s no-one to talk to. This plan needs work. The Doctor and Robin begin squabbling. Apparently the dislike is mutual. They keep shouting for the guard to come in and remove the other, until Clara has had enough, and tells them to shut up: there isn’t any guard out there. She tells them they need a plan, one that doesn’t involve the sonic screwdriver because the Sheriff took it with him. The Doctor is a bit crestfallen at this. I guess he forgot. He really should carry a spare. Or three.

The guard comes in, saying that the Sheriff told him to listen and find out who the ringleader among the three of them was (Ha! There was a guard all along!). The Doctor sneers at Robin. It’s going to be him because he’s smarter and—they finally notice Clara being unlocked from her chains and led away. Oops.

The Sheriff interrogates Clara over a nice dinner, she is a lady, after all. He wants to know what she knows about the screwdriver. Does it come from beyond the stars?

Back in the cell, Robin and the Doctor finally manage to work together and lure the guard in, so they can knock him out, but they immediately begin trying to one-up each other, which ends up sending the keys to their chains falling down a sewer drain. So they’re still stuck, then.

Clara gets the Sheriff to tell her all about the robots and the his plans by letting him think she knows all about it. The Sheriff plans on using the robots to take over London, and then—THE WORLD! Isn’t that always the plan?

Robin and the Doctor are now free of their cell, but not of their chains. They’re hauling around the stone block their chains are fastened to, and are in a search for a blacksmith’s forge to remove the chains. Wait, leaving the cell with the block was always an option? I thought it was bolted to the ground! I guess they did too.

The Sheriff tells Clara she will make a great queen for him, but Clara isn’t going along with it. She admits that she lied about everything: It’s easier to make people tell you things when they think you already know them. This seems like a bad plan—just don’t spit on him, Clara.

Free of their chains, the Doctor and Robin stumble upon a futuristic room within the castle. The Doctor says it’s a control room, and it’s got lovely, lovely databases! A quick search reveals that the castle is actually a spaceship, disguised to blend in with the environment around it. The spaceship was damaged and its engines need repair. What does it require? Gold! This explains why the Sheriff has been stripping the surrounding countryside of gold, the robots have been trying to repair the ship! It’s been leaking radiation, turning days sunny and making every thing green. (Pretty sure that’s not how it works…maybe it’s special radiation?) But where was the ship going before it crashed? The Promised Land, just like the robots from the first episode! This time, at least, we get a quick look at the the Promised Land in a database entry. It looks like an orange-colored planet. What other hard-to-find orange planet do we know of? Hmm…this could get interesting…

The Doctor is convinced this explains everything, The ship is from the future, and it has a database full of Earth history…including the legends of Robin Hood. The Doctor tells Robin he isn’t real, he is one of the Sheriff’s puppets, designed to give the populace false hop, so they won’t rise up against him. Robin protests this, but before they can get any farther, the door to the control room blows down and the Sheriff enters with two robots holding Clara hostage. Why did he have to blow the door in? It’s his castle, right? Did he forget that? Did he forget his keys?

The Robots fire on Robin, but miss, blowing a hole in the side of the room. Well, I guess they didn’t need that wall anyway. Robin grabs Clara, preventing the robots from firing on him (because the Sheriff still wants her as his queen), backs up against the hole and sends the two of them hurtling down to the moat below. The Sheriff thinks they’ve died, but the Doctor sees Robin carrying an unconscious Clara out of the moat and away from the castle.

The Doctor is placed with the labor force, chained next to the young woman from earlier (Please, show, I’m begging you…give her a name? Pleeeease?). The castle begins rumbling, and the Doctor explains to the young woman (Sigh…) that it’s the engines starting up. The robots are attempting to take off. They need to stop them before the castle explodes. He suggests that they need a little peasant riot. The young woman manages to free the Doctor (How? It looks like she’s picking the lock, but where did she get a lock pick, and why hasn’t anyone here done that before?), and when one of the robots comes to check on him, he reveals he’s free! The robot opens its helm to shoot the Doctor, but the shot is deflected by a shiny gold serving tray!

WHAT.

All the other peasants pull out gold serving trays, presumably gathered from all the gold treasure the robots have been collecting. The robots fire on them, but the shots are reflected off of the trays and ricochet around, blowing up the robots.

No! No no no no no! Just…just no. I call Shenanigans! Shenanigans, I say! Lasers (or particle beams, if you want to get picky) do not work that way! Those beams should be punching through the gold like a hot knife through butter!

It seems I have to work on my suspension of disbelief. Moving on, then.

We get a brief interlude in which Clara wakes up back in Robin’s camp, surrounded by him and his Merry Men. There is no laughter here, Robin wants to know about his legend, as well as just who is the Doctor.

The Sheriff arrives with two robots as the last of the peasants escape and congratulates the Doctor on being so inventive. For someone who just lost his labor force, he’s surprisingly chipper. The Doctor tells him its time to come clean: Robin is one of the robot’s puppets, just like him. He explains his theory about the false hope for the people. The Sheriff looks at him like he’s crazy. That happens a lot to the Doctor, though. “But why would I do that? It doesn’t make any sense to create a hero who would make things more difficult for me!”

The Doctor thinks about it. “You’re right, it doesn’t make any sense.” He protests that Robin can’t be real, though, he’s a legend!

Robin appears overhead, on a balcony, thanking the Doctor for his praise. Clara’s back too! They slide down a tapestry using Robin’s knife. The robots immediately head for Robin, but the Sheriff takes out a remote control of some kind and shuts them down. Wait, I thought the robots were secretly in charge? Guess not. Now it’s time for the one of the most famous battles of legend: Robin Hood vs the Sheriff of Nottingham!

It’s quite fun: It has classic swordplay, cutting ropes, banter (lots of banter, naturally) people flying upwards on counterweights, all the good stuff) Eventually Robin and the Sheriff end up on opposites sides of a small crossbeam over a vat of molten gold. I think I know how this is going to end…

Sure enough, the Sheriff manages to disarm Robin, cutting his arm. Left at the Sheriff’s mercy, Robin uses the same move the Doctor pulled on him at the stream, and pushes the Sheriff into the molten gold. All we need is the Terminator theme playing in the background, sadly, no such luck.

Robin gets back down to Clara and the Doctor, and they escape as the castle begins to shake off the stone, revealing the spaceship underneath. It won’t have enough power to break orbit, meaning that when it explodes, it’ll devastate the surrounding countryside. Robin and his Merry Men watch with the Doctor as the spaceship takes off. The Doctor laments that if they had a bit more gold and could get it to the spaceship, they could give it a slight boost, just enough to get it out of range.

Friar Tuck hands the Doctor the golden arrow from the contest. Of course they stole it, they are robbers! It looks like the Doctor is going to shoot the arrow with a longbow and fix the problem, but he reveals he cheated at the contest: He used homing arrows (I’m not even going to ask how that’s supposed to work at this point). He can’t actually make the shot. Robin can’t do it, because his arm is still injured. Clara wants to try, but Robin suggests that they all work together. Aww, teamwork at last!

In the next scene Robin is laying back on the ground pulling back the arrow, and Clara and the Doctor are bracing each end of the bow. Robin lets fly the golden arrow, and it hits the side of the ship and…disappears? (Oh, come on! I demand an explanation! Did it get sucked into the ship by osmosis? Did it suddenly gain the ability to phase through solid matter?) Not really sure where it went, but anyway, the spaceship gets that miraculous boost they were hoping for and makes it into orbit.

And then it promptly explodes. Yet another group of robots that won’t make it to the Promised Land. That place better be worth all the robot genocide, or is it robocide?

The Doctor and Robin say their goodbyes, to each other and the Doctor finds out Clara told Robin about him. Their stories are eerily similar: Turning their back on luxury and wealth to defend and protect the poor and the helpless. Robin is okay with becoming a legend rather than a historical figure. “History is a burden, stories can make you fly” He tells the Doctor that they may not be heroes. but they can inspire others to be heroes by their example. Clara bids Robin goodbye and tells him not to give up on finding Marian, his lost love. The Doctor and Clara leave in the TARDIS, and as it disappears, it reveals the young woman from the peasant riot standing behind it. Robin is overjoyed…it’s Marian! Hooray!

Well, at least she finally got named.

This episode is definitely silly, but aside from some glaring plot-holes, it’s a blast to watch. The comedy is great, the dialogue snappy, and the laughs can be found on both sides of the screen. We’d better enjoy the good times while we can, because next week Doctor Who goes full-on creepy.

There’s something under your bed…

~ K.L. Davis ~

       

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