After a fun visit to France, I’m back and was able to catch up on the new series of Doctor Who just in time for this weekend’s episode (I’m also caught up on The Strain, so you can expect a return to weekly coverage), featuring a fun, if somewhat campy take on the legend of Robin Hood starring none other than Tom Riley (the excellent Da Vinci in Da Vinci’s Demons) as this week’s guest star, and boasting plenty of laughs that generally see the positive trend of this series continue.
First off, as I haven’t reviewed the first two episodes (due to me being away in the period that they were aired), I’d like to say that Capaldi’s Doctor is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Christopher Eccleston for me is the strongest of New Who, and John Hurt of course delivers a pretty impressive performance during The Day of the Doctor, so up until now he’s taken second place. However, Peter Capaldi is seriously challenging Hurt for that role, delivering a fantastic performance as the twelfth Doctor and providing some great moments here and there, especially in this
episode, with his back and forth comments with Robin Hood (who he refuses to believe is actually real) always being a great source of banter and witty dialogue allowing for this season’s funniest moments so far.
If you’ve not been a fan of the darker direction that the show has been going in lately then Robots of Sherwood offers a return to the Russell T. Davis era of Who. It’s funny, campy and not too serious, with Mark Gatiss doing what he does best, writing a good historical-era drama that’s probably one of his best written episodes since The Unquiet Dead, which was the third episode of the first season. The humour is pulled off better than the previous two Moffat episodes, and the pace is pretty good as well. There’s even a brief blink and you’ll miss it reference/cameo to Patrick Troughton.
There are several references to the legend of Robin Hood here, that Gatiss deals with remarkably well. We get to see a re-enactment of the fight on a bridge over water, with the Doctor using a spoon (which is far more entertaining than it sounds) and the Archery Contest that the Sherriff of Nottingham uses in an attempt to expose Robin’s identity provides the funniest moment of the episode. There was also a great one liner when The Doctor, Robin and Clara were captured in the Sherriff’s dungeons and Clara told the Doctor to come up with a plan that didn’t involve the words “Sonic Screwdriver”. Gatiss may not always have the best track record, but when he’s at the top of his game, he can deliver some incredibly fun episodes and should Moffat step down from showrunner, Gatiss would be a more than welcome replacement (however, that said, I certainly wouldn’t say no to either Horowitz or Gaiman, but both seem to be too busy).
There are mild references to the rest of the series here, and it seems that this is moving away from the sometimes confusing serialized adventures of Moffat’s divisive sixth and seventh seasons. There’s a definite sense that things are more comparable with the likes of Davies’ series, that often included arc words (Like Vote Saxon being a reference to John Simm’s character in Season 3, and Torchwood being namedropped almost constantly) – this seems to be adopting the Promised Land and Missy’s appearances as a consistent theme. Hopefully it will receive payoffs come the season’s end, and whilst there was no Missy or Danny Pink this week there were still several references, but otherwise this was very much a self contained episode.
Are there problems? Unfortunately, yes. Robot of Sherwood never feels especially memorable and although it’s notable for including Robin Hood, we haven’t yet really had an episode that’s become anything more than an “enjoyable” one. There are no great stories yet – but hopefully, that will change with the upcoming Steven Moffat-episode Listen. The humour looks to be replaced by a scarier episode next week, and if Moffat is at the top of his game than this could well become as scary as Blink was when everyone first watched it. But we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.