Eruditorum Press

Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

30 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    April 9, 2018 @ 9:30 am

    For all that appeasing me is apparently a doomed project, I’m on record as quite liking Robot of Sherwood. It’s not the Marxism jokes, so much as the upfront and cheerful acknowledgement that the whole idea of Doctor Who having ‘historical’ stories is barking mad. Gatiss writes a historical that is flagrantly about someone who never really existed. And he has the Doctor be discomforted by it. He’s daring the audience, especially the po-faced fans, to say “that’s silly”. Because they can’t say that without facing the fact that the whole thing is silly, from start to finish. As a result, he creates something far more basically intelligent and honest than those stories where the audience is asked to take seriously the Doctor (!) debating ethics with Robespierre or whoever (the kinds of story that only Big Finish seems to think you can do straightfaced anymore). It’s aimed at me in the sense that I complained about the depictions of Shakespeare and Churchill, etc, as if any story where those men meet a time travelling alien could ever be anything but daft. I am my own (admittedly atypical) version of the po-faced fan, and this is a riposte to that mindset. It might not be especially deep, but it doesn’t need to be. And what it says needed saying at least once. In this context, the political choices (making the story about a rebel wealth-redistributor who fights the authorities) are inspired. Because they make the point that Doctor Who’s engagements with history are no less ridiculous (in terms of historical reality) when they’re on that side of the political aisle than when they’re on Churchill’s side. Gatiss seems to make this story both an apology and an alibi for Victory of the Daleks all at once.

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  2. David Anderson
    April 9, 2018 @ 9:37 am

    For those of us for whom our Robin Hood is Michael Praed, this is the Errol Flynn Robin Hood and that is Just Wrong.

    (Actually my Robin Hood is the Roger Lacelyn Green Robin Hood, which is a compendium of Every Robin Hood story Ever told regardless of whether they all fit in one continuity; but the Michael Praed despite entirely reintepreting the stories and throwing in Herne the Hunter and Marxist critique feels right in a way that the Errol Flynn just doesn’t.)

    Although Robin Hood is defined by being very good at shooting arrows, he is also someone whose default mode of operation is disguise yourself and trick your way in, placing him closer to the Doctor in terms of physicality than I think you allow.

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    • Aylwin
      April 9, 2018 @ 10:12 am

      I suppose that reflects Elizabeth’s observation about how when Doctor Who visits a genre, it presents an archetypal version of it as perceived by people who are aware of it but not really familiar with it. For Robin Hood on screen, that’s Errol Flynn.

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      • Aylwin
        April 9, 2018 @ 10:31 am

        Speaking of which, bouncing off that probably redundant “on screen” distinction, being more or less entirely ignorant of non-televised Doctor Who, and not remembering how or even if this was dealt with in the relevant stretch of the Eruditorum … does that distinction play out anywhere in the distinction between Doctor Who on screen and on the page? Like, are there genres that Doctor Who novels and the TV series have both visited but treated in ways that are conspicuously different because one is playing on a literary version of the genre while the other plays on a screen version?

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      • Przemek
        April 9, 2018 @ 11:44 am

        Very interesting comments about the physicality of Robin Hood and the Doctor. I was also wondering whether the contrast of physicality between them is really that strong or whether it simply looks that way because it’s the Twelfth Doctor meeting Robin Hood instead of, say, the Tenth Doctor. When he bested the Sycorax leader in a sword fight it felt true to the character. (Granted, it was during his post-regeneration wobbliness and I don’t think he ever crossed swords with anyone else after that… but still).

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        • David Anderson
          April 9, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

          The classic Doctor sword-fighting episode is in The Sea Devils. I believe that while shooting was taking place there were fan rumours that Capaldi might be basing his interpretation on Pertwee.

          The other point about physicality, where I think Elisabeth misses a trick, is that the opponent that Robin Hood fights on a bridge in the stories is Little John. John is the more physically powerful combatant; Robin defeats him by being more skilful and cunning. Metafictionally if you take on Robin Hood on a bridge above a stream you’re trying to be more cunning than he is, not more physical.

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          • Aylwin
            April 10, 2018 @ 9:33 pm

            The more comical Robin Hood stories of the early modern period also made him prone to losing fights, even against ostensibly unremarkable opponents, while remaining able to outwit his foes. And while those may not be directly relevant to current understanding, it’s in the general nature of a roguish outlaw folk-hero to be more outstanding for cunning than brute force. There’s a reason why Disney made him a fox. So yes, the problem is not so much that there is a huge contrast between the two heroes’ approach (though obviously Robin is still more of a physical-force character than the Doctor) as that when you put two wily heroes up against each other, the contest should resolved by brain more than brawn.

    • crossie
      April 10, 2018 @ 7:41 pm

      As a guy who’s Robin Hood is Brian Bedford, I’m really disappointed Gatiss never had the Doctor point out to Robin he’ll one day be depicted as a cartoon fox.

      Especially as he goes out of his way to have the Doctor mention Disney movies in his “last” episode.

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  3. AntonB
    April 9, 2018 @ 11:15 am

    Robot of Sherwood is one of the few Gattis penned stories I have any time for and I actually have a lot of time for it. It wears its clever-clogs meta-ness lightly and my only regret is that, in a rare occasion of fan-boy restraint from Gattis, it doesn’t reference The Mind Robber directly. I’d have loved to see Jenna Coleman portray Clara’s reaction to an offhand remark about once having visited the Land of Fiction from Capaldi.

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    • Gerard
      April 9, 2018 @ 1:28 pm

      Actually, there is a Mind Robber reference, though it’s indirect – the Doctor lists Cyrano de Bergerac as one of the people he’s had experience sword-fighting. Which gets stranger the longer you think about it, because the Cyrano the Doctor encountered was explicitly the fictional character rather than the historical figure.

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  4. Przemek
    April 9, 2018 @ 12:01 pm

    An excellent essay and an interesting exploration of Gatiss’ style. Indeed, this is his first DW script to have a genuinely clever main idea, and one that plays with the genre used instead of just writing a love letter to it.

    As for the episode itself, all I can remember about it is the Doctor being genuinely unpleasant in a way that made me unsure whether I still enjoyed watching him. He just seemed like a bully and with Clara figuring out the plot ahead of him, not even an interesting bully. A characterization that reached its peak in “The Caretaker” which made one of my friends stop watching the show. But this essay makes me think that perhaps a rewatch is in order.

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    • Voxpoptart
      April 11, 2018 @ 11:31 am

      Yes, the Doctor’s bullying from this through “Caretaker” almost caused me to quit the show as well — which would have been terrible timing, as he then stopped it and began a brilliant run of episodes, but wouldn’t have been my fault. Colin Baker is often unforgiven for portraying a bloviating Doctor who could kill a murderer and then pun, but his Doctor was still an idealist who treated everyone, including members of the enemy team, as a potential ally. I never thought he broke the essential character. For almost half a season, I think the Capaldi character did.

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  5. Yossarianduck
    April 9, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

    I love the fact that this effectively breaks the “great man of history” story. While prior NuWho Doctors gad about with Dickens, Shakespeare and Churchill, by the end of his tenure this is the closest Capaldi gets. From here on out Who far more interested in the everyday person: doomed soldiers, villagers, working class kids, bit players thrust into huge events not entirely of their comprehension – but when it’s not, it’s unapologetic fantasy with Santa and superheroes.

    If Moffat’s Doctor Who can be described as emerging from a storybook, this is the moment when the storybook absorbs our world and becomes something altogether stranger and harder to pin down.

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    • TheSmilingStallionInn
      April 10, 2018 @ 5:54 pm

      There’s a 12th Doctor Titan Comic where he meets Julie d’Aubigny, and for a moment I actually thought she was a fictional character, until I learned she was real. Whoo-hoo!

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  6. Jarl
    April 9, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

    I have a soft spot for this episode. I personally think it’s an open question as to whether Robin Hood is fictional, and I’ve gone into this in more detail before, but my conclusion is this could be seen as a prequel to The Mind Robber. What does it mean to become fictional? Ask Cyrano, ask d’Artagnan, ask Robin.

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  7. mx_mond
    April 9, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

    While I no longer maintain the critical position that this is the best episode of series 8 (I give that title to In the Forest of the Night), I still have a lot of fondness for it. Dropping the grumpy Twelfth Doctor into a setting primarily characterised as “fun” was absolutely the right move at this stage in the series, where we have become accustomed to the new spikiness and darkness – it demonstrates that the show can still do goofy, campy fun.

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  8. Jane
    April 9, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

    The bullseye on the spaceship is placed within a square frame, making it a Circle in the Square motif — an alchemical reference to the integration of Divine Spirit within the Material Body. It’s at this moment in the narrative that Clara, Robin, and the Doctor finally all work together (pulling the bow at the same time) without bickering.

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  9. Gabriel
    April 9, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

    This is my favorite episode from the first half of Series 8. A fun story is always a nice break, especially one placed between Into the Dalek and Listen.

    But then again Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was my highlight for Series 7a, so I have a soft spot for this kind of romp.

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  10. Homunculette
    April 9, 2018 @ 2:11 pm

    Interesting that this one seems to be ubiquitously liked by the EP crowd. I guess that makes me the dissenting voice. This is an episode that I like a lot in theory for pretty much all the reasons El mentions – I love the idea of the show leaning into a Robin Hood story and playing with the artifice and ridiculousness that is always there in the celebrity historicals. The thing is, I just don’t really think this episode pulls it off. I’m not militantly anti-Gatiss, and like Elizabeth I have a lot of time for his series 7 episodes. Here, however, I think he misses the mark (Clara interrogation scene aside, which is genius). The Doctor’s characterization is off here. Gatiss seems to have aimed for the brusque “janitor of the universe” characterization that dominates series 8 and missed, instead hitting “asshole” as the primary character note. I find the hyper-macho Doctor/Robin interactions pretty much unbearable, and Clara’s “I don’t know if you’re a good man” in Into the Dalek jars with her hagiographic fairy tale description of the Doctor here (which isn’t Gatiss’ fault – Moffat should have caught the disparity).

    I also feel like almost everything this story tries to do is done better in The Girl Who Died next season.

    Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that both this episode and Into the Dalek were edited substantially in response to the ISIS beheadings. Into the Dalek had Rusty suicide bombing the Dalek base, while this had the Sheriff being beheaded only to reveal he’s an android, both of which happened in the leaked workprints. Into the Dalek I think is improved by the less bleak ending, but the edits to this make the climax slightly hard to follow.

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    • Leslie L
      April 9, 2018 @ 3:43 pm

      Well, that’s sort of the arc for the Doctor for this series. Finding what sort of person he is.

      Yeah, that I thought was Clara thinking of the Doctor as a whole, which, up to that point, she had met three Doctors (that she could remember) and had fairly good moments with. It would depend how much time off screen they had to go on adventures before ‘Robots of Sherwood’

      Reply

    • Przemek
      April 10, 2018 @ 9:04 am

      Yeah, the Doctor was a real asshole in this one. And perhaps that’s the reason Clara went full fairytale while describing him here – it’s the good, sweet Doctor she chooses to remember and who she wishes would come back.

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  11. Kazin
    April 9, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

    I’ll jump on board now and say that I like “late Gatiss.” Sleep No More is probably the weakest of his Capaldi scripts, but I still like that one, too. Robot of Sherwood is my favorite of the three – I enjoy the comic banter between Robin Hood and the Doctor (and I don’t find the scene where they’re locked up too long, I find the ridiculous bluster from the two of them funny). Agreed on the spoon swordfight being a bit weak, though (I think it’s not shot very well, which doesn’t help, but on the other hand how does one shoot a swordfight where one side uses a spoon?). I’m indifferent on the shooting an arrow at the ship scene – it didn’t stick out to me as dumb on first viewing and I still feel that way.

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    • William Shaw
      April 9, 2018 @ 3:23 pm

      Oh, I have a lot of time for Sleep No More as well – it basically feels like the first draft of ‘Oxygen’.

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  12. William Shaw
    April 9, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

    One thing I think is interesting is that this episode shows absolutely no reverence, or even, iirc, acknowledgement, for the then-recent BBC version of a Robin Hood that was one of the things that was on when Dr Who was away during the Tennant era. I guess the Dr Who clones don’t tend to have that much sticking power (with I guess the exception of Merlin? Has a more devoted fan base, anyway) but it feels weird to not even nod to it here.

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  13. Leslie L
    April 9, 2018 @ 3:38 pm

    What I loved about this episode, which did had it’s clunky points, was the conversation Robin and the Doctor have at the end. How the legands never die, and stories make us fly.

    Aside from the meta point, I felt that, in a way, I enjoyed how wonderful that message was. And how it could be one of the major themes of the overall Moffat era. Stories can inspire you to do greatness. Both good and bad.

    Robin even mentioning the similarlies between him and the Doctor, with saying that Clara told him stories.

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  14. Janine
    April 9, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

    I love that interrogation scene too — it shows how just shaking up the traditional structure of a Doctor Who story can go a long way to improving its characters. “Dine with the villain whilst your sidekick is trapped in a dungeon” is a role usually reserved for the Doctor (or any other male hero).

    Giving that scene to Clara explicitly parallels Deep Breath in another way too — I’m thinking of the Doctor’s confrontation with the Half-Faced Man. Both there and here, we see our “hero” take on an antagonist grappling with its relationship to humanity (the Half-Faced Man wants to attain humanity by harvesting it from others, the Sheriff has surrendered his own) and in turn learn something about them (that the Doctor will sacrifice abstract moral principles to save the lives of his friends; that Clara will happily and carelessly lie to save hers).

    I don’t know whether the whole ‘opium of the people’ thing is included in your comment about Marxist jokes, but I liked how they handled that aspect of Robin — briefly touching on a society’s capacity to weaponize the people’s heroes, keeping the people complacent. Gatiss doesn’t seem to take that particularly seriously here.

    Robin is a hero (like the Doctor) in the way that he inspires others. It looks like quite a banal message, but I like it. Heroes aren’t per se the answer to our problems, they’re not superhumans who’ll save us if we sit around waiting long enough. They’re more like symbols, which, when we’re confronted with them, will wake us up. Robin gets his power through his Merry Men, the Doctor gets his power through Clara.

    One thing I always wondered was why, specifically, Robin Hood was chosen as a historical figure relevant to Clara. The obvious answer is because of his dubious relationship with the real world, Clara being attracted to storybook characters. But why specifically him? Not a complaint, I’m genuinely curious.

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    • Przemek
      April 10, 2018 @ 9:00 am

      I thought it was honestly just plot convenience, like with Amy/Bill and the Romans.

      As for the heroes inspiring us to save ourselves, I liked that messsage (and the ending) as well. And yet the title of this essay is a quote from “The End of the World”, an episode that gave us the first instance of a new series Doctor allowing someone else to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I like the little bit of darkness this quote choice implies in regards to “Robot of Sherwood” and its discussion of heroism.

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  15. Max Curtis
    April 10, 2018 @ 4:21 am

    Would this ep have worked better elsewhere in Series 8? I hadn’t realized it gives us such smooth Clara growth, but Capaldi’s Doctor (though lovely here) has some real tonal whiplash stuck between Into the Dalek and Listen, which otherwise form a nicely contained three-part “here’s the new Doctor” introduction. And this week, Clara’s oddly divorced from life back home: might Sherwood have worked better between, say, Mummy and Flatline, as she drifts away from Danny?

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  16. Daru
    April 12, 2018 @ 10:54 am

    This episode ended up being one of my favourites of the season. I do just simply love the idea of dropping the Doctor and Clara into what looks to be on the surface a celebrity historical, but have it inhabited by fictional characters.

    The lightness of it and how it doesn’t take itself too seriously as story makes it such fun to watch. I just watch it every time thinking that they are indeed within the Land of Fiction.

    Reply

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