Robot of Sherwood Review

(166 comments)

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Right. Top-line assessment is that this one's a bit more polarizing than the last two, which seemed to be widely liked with an inevitable pool of detractors. The first comment on the episode to come through declared it to basically be the worst thing ever, and GallifreyBase currently has it at 55.48% in the 8-10 range. Which is on the whole still pretty good, but clearly the most mixed reception of the season to date.

For my part... well, look, this was never going to be my favorite episode. I'm not a huge fan of Gatiss, the celebrity historical is not my favorite Doctor Who subgenre, and I've seen enough Doctor Who at this point in my life that the business as usual/meat and potatoes episodes, while often enjoyable, aren't exactly highlights. And this was, at the end of the day, a meat and potatoes celebrity historical written by Mark Gatiss.

But none of those are reasonable things to hold against the episode on any level other than ranking it in the list at the end of the review. One can't critique a beach for not being a paperclip. Instead, what jumps out is that everyone involved knows exactly what they're doing. This alone puts it ahead of Gatiss's previous swing at a celebrity historical, in which nobody quite seemed to know what tone to go for at any given moment. Here, everybody from Gatiss on down understands that they're doing a fluffy one.

Perhaps more to the point, however, everybody gets how best to approach one of these. Gatiss is at his best when he's taking an old and well-worn structure and giving it a spit and polish to modern tastes (The Unquiet Dead, Cold War, The Crimson Horror), and so this is firmly in his wheelhouse. There's nothing particularly extraordinary about the script (indeed, when the first five scripts leaked, more than a few people proclaimed four of them good and this one to suck), but it moves through its set pieces and knows what it's doing at any given moment.

But this isn't a story about the clever script. It's a story about dancing merrily through the obligatory set pieces. Gatiss holds up his end of the bargain by getting them all in and keeping the pace up. But the heart of this one is the execution, and it's there that this does sparkle. It's pure melodrama, and everybody gets that. The episode would be completely derailed if either of the two major guest roles (Robin and the Sheriff) pulled a Graham Crowden (or, if you want a more recent option, a Roger Lloyd-Pack). Instead it's elevated by two performances that on a fundamental level get how to play a story like this.

The casting of Tom Riley, the lead in one of Doctor Who's at this point legion of cultural descendants, namely BBC co-production Da Vinci's Demons, was a solid choice. Robin needs to feel like a leading man in his own right, since this is as straightforward an execution of "Doctor Who crashes into another show" as exists, and so casting someone who actually is the leading man of a period-based science fantasy show is at once obvious and very, very savvy. Riley plays the part as it needs to be played - with a sort of recklessly simple charm that is entertaining while still basically explaining why the Doctor immediately wants to punch him in the face. He's a cardboard cutout, but the cutting is precise and meticulous.

Similarly, the Sheriff would have been easy to play as ludicrously over the top. Instead he's played with exactly the steely camp that a cybernetic Sheriff of Nottingham requires. Of particular joy is the "first Nottingham, then Derby, then Lincoln, then THE WORLD!" scene, which will land comfortably on the list with "nothing in ze world can stop me now," "my dreams of conquest," and "next time I will not be so lenient" for those who think this is a list of sublime and wonderful moments in Doctor Who, while managing to avoid said list for anybody who hates them.

Past that the roles do fall into over the top caricatures, but crucially, that's what the Merry Men are scripted to be - single line gags that fit into the story's larger and slyer joke about how its setting feels like the artifice of a film and not like actual history. It's a story where the entire point is that it's taking place in Heritage Theme Park Britain, a fact that exists primarily to set up the final scene, in which it's pointed out that, well yes, but that's because the Doctor himself clearly hails from Heritage Theme Park Britain, or, at least, from the logic of storybook heroes that underpins it.

Ah, yes. The Doctor himself. Clearly one of the basic points of this story is to reiterate that this is still Doctor Who and to resist the temptation to conclude that this is the Dark Doctor in some sort of broad and polemical way. Much of Deep Breath was concerned with precisely this point as well, hence the more or less plotless first half hour, but here we get an episode that seems to exist mainly to shout very, very loudly and emphatically that this is not a dark show, but rather one that, in amongst the many other things it does, sometimes does darkness. Similarly, it's clear that the point of the first couple stories is to do familiar sorts of adventures so that Capaldi can make them his own.

Actually, let's pause for a moment and tackle one of the most common complaints I've seen going around over Season Eight so far, which is that it's "derivative," because it's absolutely idiotic and anyone making it should pretty much just be ignored because it's clear that they have pudding for brains and are incapable of intelligent or useful thought about Doctor Who.

Seriously, as a thought experiment, imagine the reaction to almost any other Doctor introduction being held to the standards here. "Ugh, more Daleks and historicals. This show is just recycling ideas from the Hartnell era." "Ugh, an entire season of remakes of The Invasion." "Ugh, three returning monsters in a row, and the fourth Dalek story in four seasons." "Ugh, another weird story about computers and the Master." "Ugh, another action-packed Cybermen story." "Ugh, the Rani again." "Ugh, a remake of Spearhead From Space, a base under siege by a villain with an over-elaborate plot, and a story in the Victorian era." "Ugh, the Victorian era and the second alien invasion of Earth in four stories." "Ugh, the same past/present/future setup of every other season."

Which is to say that the way you introduce a new Doctor has always been to put him in familiar iconography and watch the actor define the ways in which he's going to be different from everyone else who has done this. And Season Eight seems consciously structured that way, with the first half of the season being two Moffat episodes and four by writers who have done Doctor Who before, and the second half being two Moffat episodes and four by writers who haven't. In other words, start by letting Capaldi have a familiar backdrop to define himself against, then once he's clearly defined himself as playing the same part that Smith, Tennant, Eccleston, et al played, move him to bold new stuff. If you start off with changing everything at once, you never get the moments where your new actor fits into the grand tradition of the series.

But what's interesting, given all of this, is the way Capaldi recognizes that one of the things this story requires of him is stepping into the background for substantial stretches of it. He has to fundamentally misunderstand the plot for a hugely long time, spend a sizable chunk locked up doing comedy scenes while Clara actually gets the plot (and if I have one concrete criticism of the episode, it's spending around an eighth of the episode on prison banter was probably a bit much), and, most notably, have an extended section (another eighth of the episode, in fact) in which he flits around the background of a scene. For all that this is (being a Gatiss episode) drenched in Pertwee jokes, it's written as an almost Davison-style Doctor, providing essential motivation and insight within a story in which the plot is actually resolved by other characters. (And of course, along with the Pertwee references, it is The King's Demons that this most resembles, plotwise.) And Capaldi adapts to it smoothly, hitting his comedy beats impeccably and understanding that this week, at least, it isn't entirely his show.

In doing so, he goes a long way towards developing his take on the Doctor, showing how he can handle a story in which he doesn't get any big, stormy, and "dark" set pieces, and thus showing how his ability to do scenes like the restaurant confrontation in Deep Breath or the sacrifice of Ross in Into the Dalek - scenes that it's difficult to imagine most other Doctors doing - are one arrow in his quiver, as it were, and not the whole of his take. Which is obvious enough to anyone who's followed the variety of Capaldi's career, but still important inasmuch as it tempers and shapes the reaction to the character. With the chatter still oddly obsessed with whatever "darkness" means in this context, this is savvy and in keeping with the pulse of the moment.

So sure, when the DVD set comes this will undoubtedly be one of the filler episodes. When and if there's a Capaldi volume of TARDIS Eruditorum, I'll surely be left either cheating and writing a review or waffling about the comments on the nature of fiction at slightly longer length than is justifiable given their obviousness. But in the context of September 6th, 2014, as summer winds down and the time of mists and harvest approaches, it's exactly what the series needed in its dialogue with the public, and it's well-executed to boot.

Miscellaneous thoughts.

  • It was terribly nice of them to clone Anthony Ainley to play a supporting role, but what on Earth is Ben Miller an anagram of?
  • Similarly, Troughton. Lovely. I'm so glad he's canon now. 
  • Several people have already pointed out that this has the same underlying plot of Deep Breath. It's entirely possible nobody noticed this during production, but given the focus on gold here, it also makes the second time that the iconography of the Cybermen has haunted a story. "The Promised Land" obviously, as a concept, evokes some of the original mythology of Mondas and the spiritual dimension of the Cybermen's journey through the stars. Obviously, having written on these themes somewhat extensively, I'm rooting hard for a finale that will just be a massive pile of thematic toys for me to play with. 
  • Despite my ambivalence about many of his episodes, I really do think the venom that characterizes Gatiss critique in fandom is a bit over the top. I mean, yes, at its best Doctor Who is the Joan Rivers of fandom, and bitchy humor is part of its identity, and yes, I hope the next showrunner is someone other than Gatiss, but good lord, the man doesn't drown kittens or anything. All of which said, his near complete disinterest in creating female characters who aren't going to be played by 60s style icons and his steadfast refusal to even think about passing the Bechdel test is a real problem. Just think how many interesting nuances could have been added if Marian were used for a plot line instead of an end-of-episode reveal.
  • There's been several criticisms of the "shoot the golden arrow at the departing ship" scene. While I will readily grant that this is more or less at the limit of how threadbare the plot logic can get away with being, I would suggest that the entire thing is redeemed by the fact that the spaceship has a bullseye on it. It's not even, like, a bullseye-shaped vent that the gold might enter the engines through. No, it's just a piece of metal with a bullseye embossed on it. I think that may be the most Doctor Who moment of the season so far. Possibly of the entire new series. 
  • Blimey, over 2000 words of review on this one. And here I was thinking I'd struggle to find anything to say. I think this is actually far longer than Into the Dalek was. Weird. 
  • And, of course, the episode ranking thus far. Which looks conspicuously like the episode order so far, though I suspect that Moffat will change that next week. And in any case, last place is still an episode I quite enjoyed. (And I really did have to pause to finish laughing at the Derby/Lincoln/THE WORLD joke.) Odds on the trailer being a substantial feint, by the way?
  1. Deep Breath
  2. Into the Dalek
  3. Robot of Sherwood

Comments

iWill 2 years, 11 months ago

If anyone's looking to find out a bit of background on Robin Hood, I can recommend the Robin Hood episode of In Our Time, available on iTunes or the BBC website. Some really interesting stuff about Hood as a revolutionary figure, which ties nicely into Doctor Who as a whole. Whether any of that makes it into the episode remains to be seen, but even if it doesn't, we'll still have Ben Miller. He's usually good value.

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Bob Dillon 2 years, 11 months ago

In Re Patreon, I got a message today that my donation hadn't gone through, I've logged on andf I think I've fixed it but it might be that I've only fixed it *from now on*. Phil: can you check if individuals have paid? If it turns out I haven't let me know and I'll up the rate for the subsequent ones.

Bob Dilllon

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Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

Not holding out much hope for this one. Gattis delivering the obligatory 'comedy historical' Maybe Capaldi and Coleman's chemistry can redeem it. Of course I'm looking forward to Phil's redemptive reading. Also we might want to discuss this -http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29068551
I don't imagine anyone would have predicted this episode would get censored.

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xen trilus 2 years, 11 months ago

I'm a bit nervous about the censor honestly. Not to spoil anything, but I'm not completely sure how they will remove that element without creating a rather glaring void.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes it's really worth a listen - had it on whilst I was cooking dinner last night - and the part I found really interesting was the part about the American writers, who had been ousted out of the US during the McCarthy era, wrote on the British Robin Hood TV show and how they inserted their radical ideas about Robin stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

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William Whyte 2 years, 11 months ago

Not directly related to the episode, but In Our Time is often brilliant. I particularly like the Industrial Revolution two-parter (where Melvyn Bragg almost shouts at a guest when she refuses to say that there were a clutch of British geniuses working at the time) and the Little Big Horn one.

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William Whyte 2 years, 11 months ago

Cold War was as far as I could tell the first Doctor Who story ever to have not a single idea in it. I don't understand how Gatiss keeps getting invited back.

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prandeamus 2 years, 11 months ago

IOT has a benefit of being transmitted live. The host and his researchers clearly have an outline, but the academics don't always play ball. It can be amusing. Or ghastly.

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ferret 2 years, 11 months ago

Relevant to nothing bar our core interest: Australians may be interested to find out that the ABC is currently adding classic episodes of Doctor Who to the iView service (that's like BBC iPlayer - our non-commercial broadcasters free IPTV service).

Currently available in full is The Krotons, The Sensorites, The Daemons - seemingly complete serials are being added every week. Presumably a Tom Baker is due this time next week, although The Krotons came before The Sensorites, so who knows.

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Whittso 2 years, 11 months ago

Trifle unfair, surely? It had ideas. Maybe not good or new or good and new, but there were ideas.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 11 months ago

The Beeb's been treading on eggs with the Establishment for several years as it is. If they let that shot through they'll have the usual knee-jerk complaints from viewers about how callous and thoughtless they were, questions will be asked in the House, Murdoch will be fanning the flames in his tabloid rags...

They're damned by the fans if they do, and damned by the Press and the Government if they don't. I'm sure they don't want to butcher their programme, but these days they really have no choice.

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prandeamus 2 years, 11 months ago

Patrick T as Robin H while you are waiting...black and white: http://youtu.be/I_lcc-LNUUY

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timber-munki 2 years, 11 months ago

Just hope Gatiss doesn't over-stuff it full of era signifiers a la The Crimson Horror's Victoriana overload.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

Looking at Patreon, it has you listed as "pending" for both charges - there's still some people who it hasn't processed one way or another. I'll let you know how it resolves. (Patreon still seems to have about two dozen people to try to charge in the first place.)

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Absolutely! In Our Time is brilliant and the BBC Radio website has an archive of every episode that can still be listened to.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Patrick Troughton was also the first actor to play Robin Hood for the BBC in 1953 - isn't that brilliant!

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jonathan inge 2 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Didn't see this when I posted above - thanks for sharing!

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Is the version broadcast overseas also going to be censored?

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jonathan inge 2 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Chicanery 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, it's terrible. But... I've nothing it's straight up terrible. I mean, they managed to keep everything in shot and no one forgot their lines, so there's that.

At least series 8 can't get worse.

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jonathan inge 2 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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xen trilus 2 years, 11 months ago

I really appreciated the final scene between the Doctor and Robin outside the TARDIS, the rumination on their mutual existence as stories.

That's about it though.

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Frankenollie 2 years, 11 months ago

I was completely surprised by this, but...it's easily the best episode so far this series.

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Josh04 2 years, 11 months ago

it's /hilarious/

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Brightcoat 2 years, 11 months ago

I liked the final dialogue between the Doctor and Robin - reiterating the Doctor's history as a figure of privilege who rejects class structures and oppression in order to help the oppressed.

The rest was a bit rubbish.

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Frankenollie 2 years, 11 months ago

It was just really fun. It didn't take itself seriously in the dull, ultra-dark manner of last week, was wonderfully metatextual (Clara's line about the sonic being the Doctor's plan, for example), delightfully camp and breezy, was awash in little historical references (from Henry II's bemoaning of Thomas Becket to Marxist theory), and the verbal sparring between the Doctor and Robin really helped Capaldi's incarnation shine. Also, who else noticed the clever little Patrick Troughton cameo?

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Bennett 2 years, 11 months ago

Between the posts and comments concerning Series 8, there was a tangible sense that Episode 3 - from synopsis and author's name alone - would prove little more than filler. Something to mark the time between the big Dalek epic and Moffat's first mid-series episode in ages. No anticipation, nor anxiety, just apathy.

And it intrigued me. This resignation that, not only would Robot of Sherwood be incapable of greatness, but would probably not even be bad in interesting ways. What is it about Gatiss (and in particular, Gatiss with a historical brief) that leads to this feeling, when even the most vehement of Moffat's and Davies' detractors at least give their episodes the dignity of getting worked up about?

Over the week, I settled on the idea that it is because Moffat and Davies tend to follow an idea into a story, whereas Gatiss tends to fill an idea into a story. As a nostalgic person, Gatiss appears to love Doctor Who too much to interrogate it or push it into new shapes. When he writes, he is clearly aiming for "great Doctor Who story", which gives his writing bounds on what it can achieve. Whereas Davies and Moffat, while clearly coming to scripts with fixed structures and story beats, only use these as guideposts through the Maybe. This is what has allowed both of them to write stories that are completely and utterly Doctor Who while simultaneously doing something the show has never done before.

I'm not sure Gatiss has a Maybe. In a recent Q&A on Reddit, Gatiss mentioned how he loathes being interrupted during writing as that "breaks the data". While obviously not meant as a serious description of his writing process, that this description would occur to him at all seems odd to me. It paints writing as an ordered process of transmission, rather than the terrifyingly nebulous thing depicted in The Writer's Tale. It's no wonder the results are a bit less thrilling.

Those were my thoughts going into the episode.

And coming out of it? Well, the confirmation bias held strong. Robot of Sherwood delivered more or less what was expected of a celebrity pseudo-historical featuring a hero of debatable origin. It struck me as a script that could be slipped into any of the modern series with little alteration, which is not what Series 8 has been about thus far. Now a decade into the revival, the path Gatiss took through the story is well-worn and its structure very familiar. He delivered to the brief given to him, but took it no further.

But this itself is no mean feat, as anyone who has sat in front of a blank page will attest. And it was an enjoyable way to wile away forty-five minutes. Some nice set pieces, a few good jokes, visually interesting robots, explosions, and banter. Lots of banter. Nothing to withstand the scrutiny of fandom's hypercritical reviews, but nothing to say this was ever a goal of Gatiss in the first place.

There is no crime in delivering run-of-the-mill Doctor Who, nor is there crime in obliviously enjoying it.

...still, that next time trailer hey?

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evilsoup 2 years, 11 months ago

I think that was the most fun I've ever had with an episode of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who crashes into a Robin Hood movie. Fantastic.

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Bennett 2 years, 11 months ago

By the sounds of it, the screener copy is going to make interesting viewing.

John - Is the version broadcast overseas also going to be censored?

There was no beheading here in Australia. Just a lopped off arm and the stabbing of Marian's master.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Chicanery: Well, it's terrible. But... I've nothing it's straight up terrible...At least series 8 can't get worse.

Frankenollie: it's easily the best episode so far this series.

Polarizing!

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 11 months ago

Reverse the polarity!

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 11 months ago

The "spoon" bit just seemed like forced whimsy, to me. Maybe it's a clue that Gatiss adores "The Sea Devils", or something.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 11 months ago

Well lots of people will hate this, but I had a great time. It was fun, funny, lots of nods (particularly to some Pertwee episodes), and carried on the job or resetting after Matt Smith (the 'banter' stuff most obviously I suppose, but there was some other stuff going on). It certainly wasn't amazing, but there were some lovely lines, and it was lots of fun.

Very keen to hear Phil's thoughts as ever.

So...the beheading... was there supposed to be a human beheading? I didn't spot an obvious gap - where was it supposed to be? There was a big deal made of a robot beheading though...

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xen trilus 2 years, 11 months ago

The removed scene occurred during Robin and the Sheriff's swordfight. Doctor Who TV's posted a concise explanation.
http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/robot-of-sherwood-what-was-cut-66300.htm

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 11 months ago

Oh thanks. That makes sense of the part-man part-engine line. But otherwise I'm inclined to suspect that it probably actually worked better with the edit.

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Scurra 2 years, 11 months ago

And there I was, thinking that this was going to be an episode that it was difficult to sit on the fence about.

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Bennett 2 years, 11 months ago

@ Scurra - Conversely, I wrote the post-episode portion of my comment completely failing to see how the episode could evoke the polarising reaction that already seems to be coming in these comments. Perhaps I've done Gatiss a disservice, and only saw what I went in expecting. A second viewing seems to be in order...

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 11 months ago

I really liked it. Best episode of the series so far for me. But...

An alien spaceship crashes on Earth.
It’s damaged in the process, too much so to continue its journey.
Its mechanical occupants set about trying to repair it.
They come up with a subterfuge to take what they need from the local area.
The spaceship itself is disguised as a local feature.
The principal antagonist becomes a hybrid of human and machine.
(And both ships have the same destination - the Promised Land.)

Isn't it essentially the same plot as Deep Breath?

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Jack 2 years, 11 months ago

I suspect that's the point, actually.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 11 months ago

At least Moffat was only ripping himself off in Deep Breath :P (I'm being completely facetious, I liked the episode too :D )

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Andrew 2 years, 11 months ago

Interesting that Dr. Who has now done its own Robin Hood story, when just a few years ago, the BBC were re-inventing Robin Hood for Saturday night TV in the style of new Dr. Who (see http://www.philipsandifer.com/2013/10/pop-between-realities-home-in-time-for.html).

I like the idea of the TARDIS crashing into, basically, a 1930s Errol Flynn movie. It's fun. However, I can't really imagine that many people are going to think of the twinkly, thigh-slapping, green-tighted character we saw here (except people like Mark Gatiss). They're going to envisage the Robin Hood they would have been watching on Saturday night just a few years ago. As would Clara, presumably, if she's such a big Robin Hood fan. So that's a bit of oddness.

But I liked the episode. And I thought the series needed something twinkly and daft like this before it started alienated viewers who thought it was all suddenly 'dark' and alienating.

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Jack 2 years, 11 months ago

I frankly loved it, simply because, at its heart, it was literally the collision of two separate stories, and what happens when they collide. The Doctor and Robin Hood, being the alpha heroes of their stories, naturally butt heads, interfere with each other, and generally turn each other upside down before figuring out how to co-exist in the same story. (While Clara steals the show doing the thing the heroes are too bull headed to get around to actually doing.) Sure, it's lightweight, it's fun, it's The Time Warrior dressed up for 2014 and having the balls to actually put Robin Hood and his Merry Men in it, but it was, again, FUN. Worth it for every scene in the dungeon.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Surely the most obvious parallel is The Time Warrior?

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cavalorn 2 years, 11 months ago

Spooky. That's essentially the same post as I made to tumblr earlier this evening! :D

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arcbeatle 2 years, 11 months ago

For those who have been following, my book of Doctor Who poetry has finally been released for print and Kindle :)!!!!!

http://www.amazon.com/Eloquence-Time-Space-50th-Anniversary/dp/1499750153/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409893794&sr=1-1

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Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, I actually rather enjoyed that. Need to think about it and comment more tomorrow.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

I'm with Bennett, I think. I don't really understand the extreme reactions here. It seemed to me to be basically as Bennett says - a kind of typical paint-by-numbers Gatiss pseudo-historical, sort of remaking The Time Warrior in the same way Gatiss often plunders the classic series, and pretty well done as these things go.

So, I mean, it seemed totally fine to me. Certainly not a disaster in any way, but also not in any way a cut above the first two episodes of this series, or, for that matter, any of the non-arc stories of series 7.

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Ombund 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, I really, really enjoyed that. I went in with very low expectations and they were greatly exceeded. Probably Gatiss's best Who script (I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but still). Great dialogue and fantastic performances from the whole cast. We saw a new side to Capaldi, and a side I wasn't sure would fit in all that well with what we'd seen of him so far, but actually, it really worked. I found the final discussion on the nature of stories quite touching as well.

It's been a brilliant start to series 8 so far. Like series 1 it seems to be making a point of setting out all the things the show can do.

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Prandeamus 2 years, 11 months ago

Confuse the polarity!
Hai!

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Prandeamus 2 years, 11 months ago

INT. DAY. OFFICE.
SECRETARY SITS AT DESK. PHONE RINGS.
SEC: Mr Gatiss' Office? Oh, Hello Mr. Moffat. No, he doesn't want to be disturbed when he's writing.
PAUSE
SEC: Memo? Did he get the memo? Is the one about being dark and brooding?
PAUSE
SEC: Yes, that vital memo.
PAUSE
SEC: No. Sorry. Yes. Yes, Bye Mr. Moff-
SEC: Charming. Well, I'm sure it can wait. I'm off to that new pub, Elsie "The Promised Land" it's called.
SEC LEAVES. SHE TURNS TO CAMERA. IT IS MISSY.
END CREDITS

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Adam 2 years, 11 months ago

I loved it. What could be better than Peter Capaldi growling "I'm the Doctor and this is my spoon!" with all the conviction in the world?

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Prandeamus 2 years, 11 months ago

What bugs me a bit is that the story went to extraordinary lengths to validate the truth of Robin Hood's existence. Not only did he exist, all the legends are true. Well, if you look under the surface, all the legends in the Errol Flynn style are true and the others aren't. It wanted to have it's cake and eat it. Yes, Robin Hood was a true man who became a legend, and coincidentally over 800 years of retelling the legend, it became an exact copy of the truth. It doesn't hold up logically.

As for robots repairing a spaceship twice in 3 weeks, well that's either poor script editing, or a massive thematic clue.

But stuff logic, I did enjoy it in other respects. It was pretty, moderately amusing, and broadly inoffensive.

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Adam 2 years, 11 months ago

I thought the most obvious comparison was with Androids of Tara actually.

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Frankenollie 2 years, 11 months ago

Capaldi definitely developed his performance further here. At first I was unsure of him, but - for me at least - this episode has truly cemented him as the Doctor.

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timber-munki 2 years, 11 months ago

Enjoyable, although one question, why was there an issue with the lack of gold required for the space ship repairs when there was a spare vat of the stuff just bubbling away?

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

I mean, both Robot of Sherwood and Androids of Tara have robots and swashbuckling, but otherwise the story's not too similar. Also, in the episode as broadcast the sheriff is not a hybrid of human and machine. Time Warrior - crash landed alien offers to help local warlord conquer medieval England in exchange for help fixing his ship - basically has the exact same premise as this.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

They even end similarly, with the Spaceship almost making its escape and then exploding.

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K. Jones 2 years, 11 months ago

As soon as I saw the severed gears in the arm, almost like clockwork, I saw the Deep Breath comparison, but I was relieved to see that Clara saw the similarities as well. Not is she proving to be very competent by companion standards, her line about "always be amazing" kind of turns her into the spiritual successor to Matt Smith - as those elements have left him, they've persisted through her.

I was happy with how straight they played the classic Robin Hood tropes. The core five merry men, the sheriff, John Lackland's England but before Richard's death, and being fairly down-to-earth with the vagabonds and highwaymen always rings true for me.

I surely expected a gilded, half-cyborg Sheriff of Nottingham to pop into "Missy's Heaven" at the end, but perhaps one overt reference to the Series Arc and a plot that virtually echoes Deep Breath (and The Girl in the Fireplace) is more than enough.

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 11 months ago

Gatiss is not a writer capable of show-running Doctor into the future. Great for the interesting filler episodes, the funny ones, never really awful (okay, Victory, but I blame the direction, and even some of the acting as much as the writing), but never really scaling the heights either. The Bob Baker & Dave Martin of the new series, perhaps. But you'd never let Baker & Martin loose with the reigns of the show, would you?

Robin Hood and The Doctor; add Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur and you've got some serious UK mythology there. Doctor Who as legend is something worth exploring, but maybe too meta for inclusion within an episode. Or maybe it's the heavy handedness with which Gatiss approaches and delivers the message. After the relative subtlety of Moffat in episode one and even Ford to an extent in episode two, this one feels a bit amateurish with its theme. Much in the same way Victory bludgeoned viewers with the 'power of love' ending, the Doctor as story, as myth, as legend, is so front and centre it's distracting.

Still, it's well made, and Capaldi gets some traditional Doctorish ™ moments here. Ticking the boxes; the Doctor choosing to fight without a weapon (tick), overcoming an opponent with guile and cunning and not a sword (tick), hubris undoing him in a humorous way (tick), but turning out mostly correct in the end (tick), feisty female companion upstages the doctor and pseudo male companion/guest star with female common sense (tick), the Doctor delivering the final feel good twist after behaving like a bit of an ass and only revealed after he has gone (tick)... I could go on.

And now… The firing of the final gold arrow into the failing rocket, which is short of gold for enough thrust to attain escape velocity. Just how they use gold to accomplish this I'll let slide because alien science=magic in Doctor Who and if I started here, there would be no end to it. But they ... shoot a gold arrow at the exterior of the rocket to achieve this... the other gold inside was melted down and formed into circuit boards; so how is this gold going to be integrated?

Thinking too hard on it you say? Well how about this; the exterior of the rocket will be a protective surface of some sort to withstand the rigors of space travel. The engines will be inside somewhere, in an engine compartment, one would assume, shielded against contaminating the crew or something similar, one would assume. So you shoot an arrow at the exterior of a rocket and, um... it bounces off!

Imagine the Saturn V taking Neil and Co to the Moon. It's running short of rocket fuel just after lift-off, so NASA lobs a 44 gallon drum of rocket fuel at the side of it with a slingshot. Seriously. Yeah, that'll work.

This is why Gatiss falls short. There were problems in Ep2, with Clara reactivating the plot convenient memory circuit buttons, but nothing on the scale of this logical logical miss-cue. Brings back the worst memories of Victory with talking the bomb into deactivating, then leaving it in his chest....

I love doctor Who. I really, really do. The new series as much as the old. But this sort of thing just takes me straight out of the story. Poor writing, poor script editing.

It's competent. It's certainly a bit fun. The kids will love it. I'm not quite as sold.

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Triturus 2 years, 11 months ago

Nice review. I liked this episode more than I thought I would. I do think that the golden arrow engine thrust is pretty weak, but the rest of the episode was pretty good.

On the subject of Gatiss and the Bechdel test, is he really that bad? Cold War didn't pass but if you set an episode on a submarine where there wouldn't be female roles anyway, that's OK; the Bechdel test should never be used as an indictment of a single episode.

I'd expect Unquiet Dead passes because of Rose talking to Gywneth. Crimson Horror definitely does. Not sure about Idiot's Lantern - there might be a conversation between the mother and a neighbour that scrapes a pass? Victory of the Daleks probably doesn't, and I'm pretty sure Night Terrors doesn't.

That's something like 33-50% of his stories passing, with Cold War being an entirely understandable 'fail', and Night Terrors an OK 'fail' given the 'fatherhood' aim of the story.

Not sure where I'm going with this, as he wouldn't be my choice of showrunner either, but it does seem a bit unfair to accuse him of *complete* disinterest in female characters talking to each other.

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 11 months ago

Enjoyable and actually funny. I enjoyed seeing the Doctor and Robin Hood competing to be the leading man of the story, and how similar they actually are. Some good jokes here and the episode moved fast enough that you don't actually get to stop and think about how silly it is. You just sort of go with it.

Next episode looks like a Moffat horror. Looking forward to it!

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Bennett 2 years, 11 months ago

Just watched the screener version (and flicked through the script), and I'm in two minds about the cut narrative-wise. On the one hand, Clara's jubilant cry at seeing a human get decapitated seems the most tin-eared attempt at writing for her character yet. On the other, it's hard to tell from a half-finished edit how the tone of the scene would actually have played out. And it makes it clear that the Sheriff is a cyborg before he is boiled alive in gold, which helps.

No other changes leapt out this time, save for the unexpected appearance of My Heart Will Go On on the temp soundtrack.

Oh, and self-correction: Quayle is Marian's guardian, not her master. Not sure how I got that impression first time around.

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 11 months ago

Must add that I laughed out loud at The Doctor disarming Robin with an Aikido chop to the arm with a wonderful 'Hai' and pose afterwards... I thank Gatiss and Capaldi for that alone.

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K. Jones 2 years, 11 months ago

Part of the Bechdel Test is that they talk about something other than "boys". Rose and Gwyneth definitely talk about boys. However, Gwyneth's boy isn't a protagonist, is never even seen onscreen. It's a tough shake, I'd say it at least comes close to passing.

I'll agree firmly with the statement about not indicting based on a single episode. It's never supposed to be bad for a writer to write what they know, write from life. So they're always going to use science fiction and allegory to explore their own fears, relationships, and flavor it with their personal interests.

So long as other episodes balance (or tip the scale the other way), this shouldn't be a problem. A "Robin Hood" episode is always going to be a bit of a boy's club, and while I don't necessarily think it would have to be, has the potential to feel inauthentic if it strays from that. At least, it's an understandable concern.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

I would, however, point out that when three out of your seven stories pick settings that are going to be overwhelmingly male, that also starts looking like bias. Sure, any one is defensible. But the list of significant female characters Gatiss has created for episodes other than The Crimson Horror (which was tailored to writing for Diana Rigg specifically, and so, while I'm loathe to say it doesn't count, at least requires some context) basically reads "Gwyneth," and that's a deeply unimpressive record.

Equally, if it were something I wanted to raise major ire over, I'd have put it somewhere other than the bullet points.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Gatiss's Bechdel Test pass rate doesn't seem particularly bad in the context of entertainment as a whole, especially given that Cold War is a story which basically can't pass. On the other hand, I think it's fair to ding this story for not making any real effort to pass.

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Marionette 2 years, 11 months ago

I don't think it works if you keep making exceptions for one reason or another. It would be entirely possible to pick a writer who writes about nothing but men and male relationships, never has more than one female character and then have them pass because in one story she gets to talk to another woman about shoes.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

Even if I make no exceptions, five of seven episodes with no major female characters in the guest cast still seems pretty crap.

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David Ainsworth 2 years, 11 months ago

Wrong point of focus. The real question is, where is the promised land, why are so many trying to get there, and why do they end up on Earth? I'm going to be massively disappointed if the answer isn't Mondas.

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David Ainsworth 2 years, 11 months ago

Why not? A gold coin kills a Cyberman. Something to do with alchemy, right?

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David Ainsworth 2 years, 11 months ago

I wonder whether the dividing line between those who liked or hated this episode is related to one's willingness to wonder along with the Doctor and suspect that he'd ended up back in the Land of Fiction? (For myself, I also wondered about Cybermen briefly when gold was mentioned, though the real twist would have been the Sheriff collecting gold to fight them off!)

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Marionette 2 years, 11 months ago

I quite enjoyed this one. I mean the robots were barely two dimensional, and I'm assuming that giving them the same plot as Deep breath was intentional, so i expect it will get an actual explanation for why they keep breaking down and crashing on Earth in historical periods, and the banter did get a little annoying in places, and I think it's extremely dodgy when it becomes explicit that the Doctor's magic wand of plot convenience is actually also a weapon and can blow things up, so that when he never uses it to do so on anything important, it looks a bit lame (though the same can be said of any of the magic things it can do in one episode but not in others), and the Doctor and Clara just standing around during the sword fight rather than actually doing anything, but I liked Clara doing the interrogation, and it almost made up for the rather awkward Marian non-plot, where helpful extra #3 becomes a reward for the hero because by complete coincidence it was her he was mooning over but making no effort to do anything about (to the point where I thought that Marian was dead until the end) after all.

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Justin A. Harwood 2 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, I've never quite gotten the intense Gatiss hate, I mean he's not my favorite writer and he's done a few stories I'd rather not see again, but he's done several I quite like too, he's reliable and he obviously gets on well with Moffat. I wouldn't pick him as a showrunner based on his work, but he no Baker and Martin, where you simply have no idea why anyone keeps letting him write for the show.

I think this is probably my favorite of the season so far, just because it was so fun and light. It may be the least ambitious of the three episodes yet, but also knew exactly what it wanted to be and executed on its vision pretty flawlessly. Deep Breath was well made, but sometimes tonally discordant. Then again, it also had a lot of heavy lifting to do, introducing a new Doctor and practically re-introducing Clara. Into the Dalek seemed to think it was profound while being painfully obvious. This one was fluffy fluff, but at least it recognized it and said okay, let's have a good time with this nonsense.

I think it's important to note that episodes like Robots of Sherwood are crucial in that they're mostly standalone episodes with obvious cultural hooks, and that's the sort of thing that often ends up introducing non-fans to Doctor Who. Which, by the by, is even more crucial when you've got a new Doctor and curious individuals or kids may be tuning in to see what this new fellow is all about. Besides, if you don't wanna watch a fun, inconsequential story where the Doctor pops off to Nottingham, meets Robin Hood, and proceeds to duel him with a spoon, you're probably taking this show too seriously.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

To be fair, I think it's pretty inarguable that I take this show too seriously.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes, no sign of her anywhere. I wonder if there is a missing scene where Alan a Dale dies, and winds up in Heaven to sing for Missy.

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Justin A. Harwood 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes, but I think you've always been willing to admit to when an episode is fun or well-executed despite being critically dull. It's one of the things I really enjoy about your writing, you try to avoid being critical in a myopic way that excludes the possibility of something simply being the televised equivalent of cotton candy.

And to be fair to Baker and Martin, yes I said an expletive every time I saw their name pop up on a new serial, but I was proven wrong a whole one time when I ended up enjoying The Hand of Fear. Even a broken clock, etc.

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

This has all gotten a bit too silly.

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

The Doctor is Neo in the Matrix. This is all an illusion, a fake. It's not real. He's still dying all along the watchtower.

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

The Doctor = The Joker
Robin Hood = The Thief

There's always a way out of here...

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

Laughed my silly head off the whole way through. :)

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

Sorry, The Crimson Horror was Gatiss's best so far...

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

The Sheriff was not a willing sacrifice. No Promised Land for him.

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

The bubbling vat of Gold is shot in almost exactly the same way that the bubbling vat of Crimson was. So yes, it's alchemy.

In a Great Working of alchemy, one starts with a blackening, then a whitening, then a reddening. Well, the reddening is sometimes twofold -- it being preceded by a yellowing.

But the last episode, Into the Dalek, that was really the nigredo stage of this season's alchemical working. So really, this one is more of an albedo episode -- it's light, it's frothy, and there's at least a couple mentions of Milk.

Certainly the iconography of this episode -- all those crosses on foreheads -- points to an alchemical reading. And, notably, one that includes Phil's take on alchemy, too.

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 11 months ago

Add in the very pronounced sunlight 'fingers of god' coming through the cross in the dungeon window when our three heroes are chained up and bantering.

I do appreciate those readings, and thanks to this blog, Phil, Jane and others, I even come close to understand them now and take time to read the stories on deeper levels in my own limited way, but the practical storyteller in my head, the one who just watches for fun, gives up on any suspension of disbelief at such logical gaps and cries 'bullshit.'

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Jarl 2 years, 11 months ago

I found it a bit weak, but enjoyable nonetheless. More of a Robin Hood shaped frame onto which comedy was hung, which works for me. I'll admit, I bought the Doctor's theory about Robin Hood being the opiate of the masses, which meant I got a good laugh out of him deciding it was a stupid idea when the time came.

Man, I cannot get over how much that looked like Anthony Ainley as the Master. There was even a tiny foolish part of me considering the possibility it actually was, and that they'd achieved a frankly marvelous bit of stunt casting for a timey-wimey collision (a bit like Geoffrey Beavers meeting the 8th Doctor in a Big Finish story), even though the beheading controversy had already spoiled it for me.

I think Jane's wrong. People aren't sent to heaven because they commit willing sacrifices, otherwise there would be no mystery about how the half-face man got there and Missy wouldn't ask. The Sheriff didn't go to heaven because he was turned to gold, and heaven is the Cyberiad. Calling it right here, right now.

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prandeamus 2 years, 11 months ago

@ozy, this is exactly how I feel about the arrow resolution, but written rather better than I could have done.

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Froborr 2 years, 11 months ago

I enjoyed this. It wasn't High Art, but I don't believe in High Art as distinct from low anyway. It was fun, it was funny, it had the Doctor channeling Pertwee and Little John simultaneously, and then it ended with Robin Hood being as real as the Doctor, which I think is as close as we're every likely to get to confirmation that he's actually the original Master of the Land of Fiction gone rogue.

Does it make sense? Well... no, but who cares? It's Robin Hood, it's supposed to be fairly ridiculous.

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That Guy 2 years, 11 months ago

Idiot's lantern definately has major female characters in the guest cast. The Wire, for one...

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Tom O'Bedlam 2 years, 11 months ago

"I think it's extremely dodgy when it becomes explicit that the Doctor's magic wand of plot convenience is actually also a weapon and can blow things up"

I didn't think of it that way at the time, but it's a reasonable point. However, there IS an out!:

Later on it is revealed The Doctor had used homing arrows to accomplish his feats of archery, so presumably before he did the explodey bit he just got tired of the game and used the sonic to remote-destruct his own homing arrows. there was even a clue since most of the butt and arrows are made of wood-like materials, so to be able to explode them with the sonic would be doubly strange (recent upgrades notwithstanding)

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Tom O'Bedlam 2 years, 11 months ago

Like a lot of people, I enjoyed this much more than i expected. My co-viewer thought the spoon fighting was silly, I was quite happy with it. Co-viewer also thought the gold-arrow bit was silly, but by that stage I had enjoyed it all sufficiently that I was happy to overlook the daftness.

Speaking of the arrow: Did anyone else have a sense of a callback to the silver arrow in Silver Nemesis? I'm an alchemy noob, but silver/gold seem to form some sort of a system: moon/sun etc., mondas...

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

I think the Cyberiad is an interesting theory, and I'd be happy to be wrong if it turns out to be the case. But I'm not so sure that's it, given the limited evidence available. The strongest contention for it is that we've had two sets of robots trying to find it, sure.

But the fact that Gretchen ends up there, despite not being a robot, well... that doesn't fit. Nor does Missy herself (though Mr Clever might say otherwise).

Perhaps, though, we're both right. The Cyberiad has developed a promised land, and Missy has co-opted it for her own purposes, capturing those who've sacrificed themselves for others under the influence of the Doctor?

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes, I got a Nemesis vibe from it as well.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 11 months ago

The Nemesis arrow was "validium" rather than silver - though given it was described as a living metal it might be termed quicksilver...

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 11 months ago

My own perspective on the episode is on my own blog this morning.

http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2014/09/the-reality-of-stories-doctor-who-robot.html

As usual with my own review project, I'm in Phil's debt for introducing a storehouse of concepts and approaches to the show that I'm co-opting into my own perspective. In the short form, the episode is good fun, but can't quite make a coherent concept out of its pastiche of sci-fi tropes, mythic national narratives, and pretensions to realism.

And I found Gatiss' treatment of Marian horrible. Especially as I was raised on images of Marian as Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio stabbing dudes in the chest and the Maid Marian and Her Merry Men children's show.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

Re: the Land of Fiction....the Doctor mentioned Cyrano de Bergerac among his swordfighting tutors...you'd think he'd be a but more sanguine about meeting "fictional" characters.

And blogger wants to make sure *I* am not a robot! Even Google is onboard with the theme of this season!

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 11 months ago

"Of particular joy is the "first Nottingham, then Derby, then Lincoln, then THE WORLD!" scene".

Coming from Derby myself (it is indeed next-door to Nottingham) I can say, frankly, the Sheriff of Nottinham's welcome to it!

Personally, having seen this twice now - the first time I was trying to work out where the infamous "beheading" sequence was; I thought it was maybe Marian's ward, and they'd used an outtake or something. Not for the life of me would I have guessed the Sheriff himself - I was thoroughly entertained, giggling throughout at the appropriate moments. Ben Miller was superb as the afforementioned Sheriff, and the whole thing felt that most derided of emotional responses - fun. Sheer, unadulterated fun. Peter Capaldi IS the Doctor, and I hope he remains so for a good few years yet.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 11 months ago

Gatiss being the 'Bob Baker & Dave Martin of the new series', yes, perfect comparison.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 11 months ago

Instead of just using her as a surprise reveal at the end, perhaps Gatiss should've put Marion into this latest episode proper.

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Cdog Zilla 2 years, 11 months ago

I'm incredulous that the Doctor engaged in a sword fight armed with a spoon against a man wielding an actual sword and we didn't come away with another hand floating in a vat.

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Cdog Zilla 2 years, 11 months ago

And, knowing he really, really needed the gold, why was the Sheriff basically handing solid gold arrows out as party favors? Wouldn't it have been more prudent to fashion a prize out of all the other jewels and precious metals they were extracting from the peasants (who must have looked fabulous before the collections ramped up) and didn't need to power the spaceship?

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William Silvia 2 years, 11 months ago

Can this blog please stop eating my comments? This seems to be a recurring thing lately, and I rarely have the energy to retype.

This is the funniest Gatiss episode I've seen, which means something as to me a Gatiss episode is assumed to be an okay episode with one or two glaring flaws but nothing horribly offensive or particularly brilliant.

The blog wants me to prove I'm not a robot, which means that it must assume this is the promised land.

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GarrettCRW 2 years, 11 months ago

It's also an extremely timely reference to The Tick, and to McCoy's spoon-playing.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 11 months ago

My view was basically summed up by Al Kennedy on Twitter:

"it's okay for Doctor Who to be silly sometimes, if it doesn't it could turn into Babylon 5 and nobody wants that to happen."

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Daibhid C 2 years, 11 months ago

I wondered that, then I remembered; he wasn't intending on handing it to anyone. The whole point of the archery contest is to capture Robin. Since the winner of the contest will actually get the grand prize of being clapped in irons, the Sheriff expects to keep the arrow.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 11 months ago

Speaking of which, I doubt very much that Clara's reference to Worksop was a coincidence.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 11 months ago

Except virtually nobody was watching Robin Hood on Saturday nights a few years ago, as it really did haemorrhage ratings the way doom-mongers claim Doctor Who is doing, and those of us who were were mostly complaining about everything except the Sheriff (and sometimes him as well).

Honestly, the main problem with Robin Hood was that it couldn't decide if it wanted Robin to be Errol Flynn or Michael Praed. (And sometimes it felt like it would work better if it just decided he was Wayne Morris and had done with it.) At least "Robot of Sherwood" picks a register and sticks with it.

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Lo-Fi Explosion 2 years, 11 months ago

Cyrano de Bergerac was real. He just got fictionalised. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrano_de_Bergerac

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Lo-Fi Explosion 2 years, 11 months ago

Which is entirely appropriate, considering the idea behind this episode.

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Aylwin 2 years, 11 months ago

If I were tempted to over-analyse a bit, I might suggest that the Derby - Lincoln - the WORLD joke was a reference to the tendency of more recent Robin Hood stories to splice the Sheriff of Nottingham's role as the original and archetypal villain of the legend together with the way its later development brought Robin into national politics as a foe of Bad Prince John, by giving the Sheriff grandiose ambitions of a sort that are historically quite improbable. I mean, sheriffs were mostly pretty small fry. Now and then serious magnates were appointed to the post, but they wouldn't be primarily notable for being sheriffs. Having the Sheriff of Nottingham plotting to take over the country is a bit like The Dukes of Hazzard doing a storyline where Boss Hogg is preparing a coup d'etat to seize power in Richmond. I mean Washington.

For that point to work, I'm hoping they didn't actually do that.

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Aylwin 2 years, 11 months ago

"If we're to really pin Robin down, we need to ignore the myths of Hollywood film and focus on the facts. So what do we really know? Well, we know that he wore green tights and had a little moustache and beard, and that he spoke with an American accent."

- David Oxley, BA, We Are History - The Real Robin Hood

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 11 months ago

However, Clara's role as a leader, influencing the Sheriff to get information out of him and convincing Robin Hood to help the Doctor out, did have a hint of what Maid Marian could have been.

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Froborr 2 years, 11 months ago

You're not imagining it. Broadly you have gold/sun/male/sulfur existing in opposition (or as a complement) to silver/moon/female/mercury. There's a hierarchical relationship as well, however, at least in that gold/sun are generally considered higher than silver/moon. (Oddly, I think for sulfur and mercury the hierarchy is reversed.)

Having only the vaguest of memories of "Silver Nemesis," I can't actually speak to how relevant all that is to the episode, but that's the alchemical system you're seeing, I think.

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Froborr 2 years, 11 months ago

In the show? No, I don't believe Boss Hogg ever schemed to take over Washington.

In real life, though? Corrupt, power-hungry rural thugs scheming to take over Washington? That's basically all the bits of the Tea Party that aren't corrupt, power-hungry urban thugs pretending to be rural.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

It wasn't awful. I'm always going to love a good comedy episode just a little bit more than a dead serious one ("City of Death" > "Caves of Androzani" in my book for just that reason) but for me, most of the jokes in this just didn't quite work. They were maybe one script polish or one directorial tweak or one editing decision away from working a lot of the time -- case in point, Errol Flynn's ego, a dumb joke to begin with but one that could have just worked with quicker timing. This felt like Gatiss trying to pull off a Gareth Roberts script, and their comedy styles are just too different. I did like "THE WORLD" and I especially enjoyed the Doctor's small victory of being able to die slower.

I quite liked the robot design, also. Have we talked about the cross imagery yet, to go along with this Promised Land thing?

The Doctor's new coat looks strange in bright sunlight. Is that the same one? The wine-colored shirt looks a bit odd with it too.

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Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

This one has really divided opinion hasn't it. Well, I've just rewatched it after about an hour of debating whether I should or not, because, surely it couldn't have been as good as I thought, it's a Gattis comedy celebrity historical fer gawds sake! This just in. It's even better the second time round. I laughed at all the same jokes and gasped at all the same jokey plot twists. What witchcraft is this? Never mind alchemy, Gattis has turned an unpromising throwaway concept that Moffat was probably using to line his cat's tray 'Robots and Robin Hood' and turned it into comedic Fantasy/Adventure gold.

Even ignoring the gags there's plenty to relish. The TARDIS self repairing the arrow hole while the Doctor strokes it. The many references to classic Who. Many of them detailed by others above but let me run through some of my favourites. For a start TROUGHTON! I mean apart from the cheeky photo cameo and reference to the Ice Warriors there's the specific call out to The Mind Robber when the Doctor claims to have learnt swordsmanship from Cyrano De Bergerac. I'm sure regular readers of this blog experienced the same frisson as I did all the way through as the Doctor battled with the suspicion that he must have somehow rocked up in the Land of Fiction.

As for the Series Eight Arc I'm glad there was no Missy this time. I think less is more on that front and I'm almost convinced she's an elaborate Moffat feint. I'm agreeing with those calling the Promised Land to be Mondas. It's gonna be a Cyberrific finale.

Did anyone else wonder for a second whether Robin was another renegade Timelord (the Corsair perhaps) when he called the Doctor 'Time Lord of Gallifrey'?

And did the Doctor ever get his sonic back? Or is he getting a new model?

(Took me two attempts to prove I'm not a robot to captcha. Made me feel like part of the series arc.)

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Froborr 2 years, 11 months ago

It occurs to me to wonder how much the split on this episode corresponds to the old gun/frock divide...

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

I typically vote frock, and that's probably the only reason I enjoyed this even a little bit, so you might be onto something there.

I will say I'd rather watch this again than "Victory of the Daleks," "Curse of the Black Spot," "Cold War," or even "Night Terrors," for what it's worth.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person.

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brownstudy 2 years, 11 months ago

Bennett's thoughts on Gatiss reminded me of something the Canadian author Robertson Davies wrote somewhere, that his students would oftentimes deride this or that author as "second-rate" or "third-rate".

His response to them was along the lines of, "Do you know how hard you have to work to be considered third-rate? How much harder to be second-rate? Is there no wonder there are so few first-rate artists around?"

Davies and Moffat have both commented elsewhere on how difficult it is to write a DW episode, so to have one that is entertaining, funny, a little thrilling, where all the beats are hit and buttons are pushed as intended -- that's all as it should be. I'd rather see Gatiss do a first- or second-rate Gatiss script than Gatiss deliver a no-rate Moffat script.

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Chris 2 years, 11 months ago

Even more Mind Robber allusions with the many references to the Doctor being a story (everyone focuses on the very end of the episode, but they start right at the beginning). I think this episode just reinforces what Phil wrote about in that wonderful essay.

Really, the only thing I strongly dislike is my personal distaste for sword sound effects (in particular, the peasant killed by the Sheriff at the beginning). Sword goes into human, sword is pulled out, and we hear a metal on metal sound. "Don't worry," I say to my squeamish friend, "that was clearly a robot he stabbed, just listen to the sound it made." That part at least gives me a nice joke to make every time somebody is stabbed with a sword. But then this episode went further and when the Sheriff wipes the blade with a handkerchief it still makes the metal on metal sound?! AGH!!!

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Chris 2 years, 11 months ago

I agree with encyclops, though I do like Victory of the Daleks. The WW2-era Dalek is just the coolest Dalek design in my book.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Can I say that what I love about Doctor Who is that it can do a totally "gun" story last week, and a totally "frock" story this week? Is there any other show that has ever been able to pull that off?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

Buffy did it a couple times.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

The Baker/Martin comparison seems a bit off to me. I get the idea that they're kind of reliable hands who can be trusted to turn in a competent story, but they don't seem all that similar as writers.

I think there's a lot of differences, though, in how they actually write. Baker & Martin always had a ton of interesting ideas in their stories that weren't necessarily well-developed, and they were generally bad at coming up with interesting supporting characters. Gatiss's big problem is a lack of interesting ideas, leading him typically to kind of classicist exercises of creating pastiches of classic Who.

I'd suggest that possibly a better parallel for Gatiss is Terrance Dicks. Both are solid craftsmen who can create a well-structured story that moves along easily, but aren't necessarily wildly original thinkers. Note also that Gatiss and Dicks have written stories for more doctors than anyone else, at 9 each.

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Chris 2 years, 11 months ago

I was thinking less "collect gold to fight them off" and more "collect gold so as to disarm anybody who could harm us."

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

(I have not read any comments above yet, so apologies if am repeating anyone, just wanted to get my fresh thoughts down!)

Well I gotta say that I basically enjoyed this for the romp it was. In my own head the whole plot and possibility for the story happening at all comes out of the ideas presented in The Doctor's Wife, as we see here the tardis trying to prove the Doctor wrong. He says that Robin Hood does not exist, but the Tardis takes him straight to the Hood, to his iconic bridge in fact!

It did feel afterwards like a bit of fluff, but real comedy gold I thought as there is much that is absolutely hilarious. I love the Doctor striding through the story questioning its veracity and then seemingly deciding to just take it all (including characters) with a pinch of salt. Yeah I got a Mind Robber vibe going on too and was even more excited at the Troughton mini-cameo. So is it canon now that the 2nd Doctor acted in a 1950's BBC TV show? Some hints in the episode at the artifice of stories we create about who we are and the idea of performativity being central to creating legend.

I did adore the discussions in the plot around us being stories.

I was not very keen on the way that Marian was sidelined in the plot, I would have liked it a whole lot more if she had been more central to the story, especially as a lover of Maid marian & Her Merry Men like a commenter above.

One thing that struck me was the symbol of the moon. The door to the heart of the ship initially looked like the moon, and when Robin launched himself and Lara into the moat the Doctor gazes deeply at moon's reflection in the water. Is this a hint of something to do with the promised land? Tarot again - the Moon in the Major Arcana represents the realm of dreams, imagination and is often associated with the feminine. This realm can be a place of revelation and inspiration where it's possible to overcome fear - but if we do not it can be a trap that ensnares us with delusion.

That sounds like the Promised Land to me.

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elvwood 2 years, 11 months ago

Finally got around to watching it with the kids one day late. We all loved it - had to keep pausing because we didn't want to miss stuff while we were laughing.

I must agree with Phil that the banter while chained up was slightly too long, but apart from that I have no complaints. The difference between our opinions is purely a matter of taste. Because of the tone (very Invaders from Mars, I thought), even stuff I would normally grumble about - like the nonsensical 'arrow in the spaceship' bit - worked fine for me.

We've got a three-way split on the series so far - this was my favourite episode, Deep Breath was May's (Vastra/Jenny is her OTP which probably helps) and Into the Dalek was Isaac's, though he almost picked this one.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Just like this I though the episode was really funny!

ARTHUR: Well, on second thought, let's not go to Camelot -- it is
a silly place.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Yep there is something interesting about Doctor Who crashing into a programme that had itself tried to replicate in a way the style of Doctor Who. TV Recursive Occlusion, show inside a show...

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Yep found it really hilarious, loved the banter between the two alphas!

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Mmm think also Crimson Horror was Gatiss's best story to date also, and utterly loved Capaldi in this.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Also alchemically add in the repeated images of the moon: door to the spaceship's bridge and reflected on the moat (see the Doctor gaze at the reflection). The moon represents the chemical wedding of the King and Queen. But importantly for this series it also represents silver - Mondas and the Cybermen? As the moon also connects with the feminine - Missy?

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Agreed on that last point Christian, I feel it would have served her character much better.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Aye I thought of the Silver Nemesis arrow too. Silver as you say Froborr also has a relationship to the moon which crops up in the episode a few times too.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

"And I found Gatiss' treatment of Marian horrible. Especially as I was raised on images of Marian as Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio stabbing dudes in the chest and the Maid Marian and Her Merry Men children's show."

Yeah I think that was problematic and in the end was the something I did not enjoy in the episode, despite loving the humour.

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elvwood 2 years, 11 months ago

I've only seen this one once, so it hasn't had a chance to "bed down" yet; but I'm inclined to put it as second-favourite behind Crimson horror.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

More moments I like:

- Beautiful direction in opening Tardis scene: love the use of close ups.
- Interesting cube made of circle symbol on blackboard behind Clara.
- Lovely photography in Tardis dematerialisation scene and at Robin's bridge.
- Somehow wonderful to see the Tardis in the greenwood.
- Great funny moment during robot fight at archery contest where Capaldi does a comedy Pertwee with wonderfully funny bit of Venusian Aikido.
- Clara in the cell & with the Sheriff.
- Escape from cell not being done with sonic screwdriver.
- "Stories can make us fly."
- Pretending to be heroes & "I'm just as real as you are Doctor."

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ferret 2 years, 11 months ago

Why did he need a special glove? If you're sword-fighting with a spoon, I'm not sure how the glove is really going to be instrumental in pushing things in your favour. Grip?

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ferret 2 years, 11 months ago

I did indeed use Robot of Sherwood to successfully introduce my almost-4 year old son to Doctor Who (bar a few short clips in the past and awareness from such things as my TARDIS USB hub), and he loved it. Being familiar with Robin Hood, knights, castles etc helped ease him into it nicely, and it wasn't too scary.

The robots certainly left an enthusiastic impression ("they set the grass on fire by shooting from their noses!") but the only part that bothered him enough to want to look away was, interestingly, when Robin was in the spaceship - the combination of Robin Hood and Creepy Spaceship was momentarily too strange for him.

I don't think he'll be watching next week though, judging by the trailer!

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Jarl 2 years, 11 months ago

Cyrano de Bergerac and d'Artagnan were both real people who worked and lived in Paris at the same time and likely knew each other professionally, if not personally. Chew on that thought for a minute.

Speaking of, I dunno about Cyrano but the Doctor definitely knew a well-nosed fellow who was handy with a sword in his prior regeneration.

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Jarl 2 years, 11 months ago

Salamander got his start as an actor in retro black and white action movies. Sin Forest, directed by Robert Rodriguez.

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arcbeatle 2 years, 11 months ago

To be super late with my thoughts about this week's episode and miss the party....

http://www.jameswylder.com/home/doctor-who-83-robot-of-sherwood

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Matt Bogen 2 years, 11 months ago

To which I would add:

- The Sherriff's comment (paraphrased) of "This is quite a gallimaufry of items your Doctor had." That's when I knew what kind of a ride Gatiss had in mind for us.

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Matt Bogen 2 years, 11 months ago

Clara serves the purposes to which the Maid Marian character would be put in a Robin Hood story, though. There would have been narrative room for Marian to do interesting things, but in the context of a 45-minute TV story, I was glad to have Clara doing all the awesome things rather than have Marian doing them, and leaving Clara with nothing to do. She did enough of that in Season 7, thankyouverymuch.

If the robots substory had been excised, then there would have been room for things for a traditional Marian-character to do, I think. But without robots, it's not really a Doctor Who story, so there is our compromise.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes absolutely, that was brill!

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Totally love that!

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Sure Matt yeah, agree if she was being put totally up front - but maybe she could have been named early on in that first scene, then the Sheriff would *really* want to imprison her. Then instead of her being a mystery for no reason , we'd know who she was and really root for her.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

I thought the episode as a whole was a good bit of fun, but that ending with the arrow is just lazy and stupid. It's not even trying to make sense - and only barely makes "Doctor Who sense." It annoyed me greatly, because it smacked of "you lot will buy any old thing, won't you?" A huge step down from the actual science of the "Unquiet Dead" plot resolution.

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Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

Thinking about it, maybe that Troughton photo wasn't merely a call out. Let's not forget we're only two episodes away from the Doctor wondering "Who frowned me this face?" "Where have I seen this face before?" "What am I trying to tell myself with this face" etc. (Also remember the second Doctor just post regeneration seeing his first incarnation's face in a mirror (using a stock photo of Hartnell for the effect). "Remember also the line "Don't look in the mirror, it's really angry!". All this, together with this story's theme of creating a heroic identity to inspire others. Perhaps we've been asking the wrong question. Is the hidden arc of this series to be faces and identities both false and true?

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Toby Brown 2 years, 11 months ago

What worked least for me was the humour. I enjoy it when Doctor Who gives us a good comedy episode with no other ambition, but ultimately this wasn't a good comedy episode. The stilted dialogue excused as 'banter', throwing out logic so you can get a bad gag with a spoon fight and a golden arrow as fuel... I get that it's subjective but it just ended up getting on my nerves.
Also, Clara's characterisation has gone backwards, which wouldn't have been too bad if it hadn't previously been an issue but the last two episode had made me so hopeful for her finally getting a personality of her very own. Unfortunately that hope was stripped away before the opening credits with the out of nowhere fascination with Robin Hood and then the rest of the episode basically gave her not much more to do than fancy same fictional character.
Robin Hood being factual annoyed me as well actually. I don't usually mind Doctor Who playing about with history (it's Doctor Who after all), but literally the first 20-30 minutes set up his existence as a mystery to be solved by the episode and then it was thrown away at the last second with a casual "Totally real actually". Up until the credits I was expecting a quick line about the computer's databases imprinting on a local or any kind of acknowledgement at all really beyond a vague meta "You're technically fictional so I might as well exist too, right?"

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

Anton: I've been feeling also that this series so far certainly seems to be exploring the theme of identity. As you say, the Doctor's wonder and curiosity regarding his own face, the half-face man and robots seeking to recreate themselves out of the image and flesh of another race and their purpose to find the Promised Land seems to be shaping who they are. Next we have the dalek with an identity crisis and lots of exploration of what it means to be a soldier or to be good. The with Robin Hood we have as you say the idea of "creating a heroic identity to inspire others", how history is distorted by the creation of legends and how we essentially are stories.

Good call.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

The Derby bit made me absolutely hoot with laughter as I know the place myself and have friends who used to live there.

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Jesse 2 years, 11 months ago

First of all: Of course it was the same set-up as Deep Breath. Didn't the Doctor even comment directly on that? I assume that's for story-arc reasons.

Beyond that...

Sometimes it was a little too self-conscious when it was being tongue-in-cheek—and heaven knows it was far too heavy-handed in the rare moments when it *wasn't* tongue-in-cheek. And some of the punchlines were too easy to see coming. But it was an enjoyable light entertainment. Certainly far better than that Dalek dreck.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 11 months ago

I know that it's only supposed to be generic Nottingham (or perhaps "Theme Park" Nottingham as Phil would call it) but I work in Nottingham, and cycle past the Castle every day, and I'm afraid it doesn't look like it does on TV and never has. For a start it's perched on top of a sandstone rock. Secondly that rock is on the slope of a hill. Unless the Normans had figured out how to make water slope at 30 degrees, it was never going to have a moat.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

It's that radiation, man.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

In cutting out the beheading they also cut out the revelation that the ship landed on the sheriff, which was one of the nicer points in the episode.

Otherwise I disliked this version less than the leaked version, perhaps because the colour was so good.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

But I still think the dungeon scene plays like an inferior, ill-judged imitation of the one in "Day of the Doctor."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

Gives him a chance to subtly flip Robin the bird, however.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

I have to disagree. In the leaked version the completion of the sheriff's backstory ties up his character's narrative thread satisfyingly. In the broadcast version it's just sort of limp.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

There were also prominent nods to "Silver Nemesis."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

I didn't know LBJ was a Tea Partier.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

Turns out the Clara who angrily protested that her only pin-up boy was Marcus Aurelius has all along been a giggly Robin Hood fangirl. The characterisation seems slightly inconsistent.

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UrsulaL 2 years, 10 months ago

I expect that the glove was there to protect Capaldi's hand, not the Doctor's.

Even with blunted swords, I expect that he probably was hit in the hand with the sword quite a few times during rehearsals and shooting. And it would be hard to keep working with a bruised and swollen hand. Since appropriate protective equipment couldn't be hidden, making a dramatic point with him putting the glove on was making a virtue of necessity.

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