Doctor Who: 8.03 Robot Of Sherwood

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‘Into darkness’ has certainly been the theme of Doctor Who series 8 so far. A darker Doctor, human’s harvested for their organs by killer robots in Victorian London and embittered humans exterminated by Daleks in a grim futuristic war. That was just episodes one and two. So this week’s trip to sun-dappled Sherwood Forest was a wonderful break and thanks to Mark Gatiss’s lively script, there were plenty of laughs.

In fact Robot Of Sherwood might be the funniest Doctor Who episode in years and a big part of that is down to the bickering between the Doctor and Robin Hood. The opening duel, the Doctor’s refusal to believe Robin and his merry men are real, the archery contest and their imprisonment in the cells…there are plenty of moments for Peter Capaldi to show off his comic talents and prove there is more to his Doctor than just a ruthless, brooding figure…as gripping to watch as that might be.

Last week Zawe Ashton delivered an intense support act in Journey Blue and this week Tom Riley steps into the guest star role, albeit with a very different performance. He is confident, charming and always wears a dashing smile, it’s easy to see why his sunny disposition grates on the Doctor. The rest of his group are equally chipper and provide a great contrast to the weary soldiers of Into The Dalek.

Ben Miller too is having a blast as moustache-twirling villain the Sheriff Of Nottingham though he doesn’t make as much impact as might have been intended. Against the interplay between Robin and the Doctor, he blends into the background, though he does get one great scene with Clara (continuing to deliver a very confident performance) where she manipulates him into revealing his plans. He’ll use his robot henchmen to ‘take over Derby, then Lincoln…and then the world!’ It’s those great one liners in Gatiss’s script that make this episode.
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The robots themselves look great, providing an effective menace to the poor people of Nottingham. Again we witness a rising body count, suggesting perhaps that darkness isn’t totally absent after all. My only issue was with their story; robots trapped on Earth abusing humanity in their quest to escape to the Promised Land. Sounds familiar? Well we had the same plot two episodes ago – whether it’s intentional to the series’ on-going story arc or coincidence, it lacks a little of originality.

But ultimately it doesn’t matter because Robot Of Sherwood is so much fun. You can’t help but watch with a smile on your face. That aforementioned archery contest at Nottingham castle had me in stiches and Doctor Who rarely does that. It’s hard to imagine that last week we were gripped by a hopeless war between Daleks and a rag tag unit of humans and debate over the nature of evil.

You might be forgiven for believing that this week’s episode was more style than substance. But in the bigger scheme of things – the Doctor’s search for his identity – it was a perfect follow up. Where Into the Dalek looked at the nature of villainy, Robot Of Sherwood examined what made a hero, a question raised by both the Doctor and Robin Hood.
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So while a few elements didn’t work – Maid Marian was a bit of a non-event and I would have preferred Clara to be a play on that role - there was a lot more that did. Most importantly it was a chance for Peter Capaldi to shine and he certainly delivered. We all enjoy the darker, harsher elements of his character, but this week was a nice reprieve. It might not win over everyone with its silliness and slapstick but we all need a little fun in our lives and Robots Of Sherwood certainly gave us that.

Never fear though, if darkness is what you’re after, next week’s Listen looks set to deliver the scares a plenty.

8/10

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