In this week’s installment of the BBC’s Doctor Who, Clara (Jenna Coleman) asks The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) if she can meet Robin Hood. Despite The Doctor’s insistence that Robin is merely a legend, the TARDIS does manage to take the duo right to the mythological outlaw in Sherwood Forest, circa 1190-ish. The Doctor is immediately suspicious, and as they poke around this new world, soon discover that not all may be as it seems.
I have to admit, “Robot of Sherwood” disappoints me, primarily, because it goes beyond the conceivable. As The Doctor says, Robin Hood is a character, not a real person. Yet, they find him intact right where the story says he should be. Not only is Robin (Tom Riley, DaVinci’s Demons) present, but he’s accompanied by his pals Little John (Rusty Goffe, Stupid), Friar Tuck (Trevor Cooper), Alan-a-dale (Ian Hallard, An Adventure in Space and Time), and Will Scarlett (Joseph Kennedy, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll). They are the spitting image of the Merry Men in the novel, and their nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingtham (Ben Miller, Primeval), invites them to an archery contest that unfolds exactly as one familiar with Robin Hood remembers.
Now, Doctor Who frequently pushes the boundaries of reality, and that is part of its charm. That is, as long as the explanation fits, sticking to the rules of the franchise. My problem is that something matching the fictional work so well should not exist on its own. Either there should be significant differences, the legend distorted over the years, or an alien or technological explanation that might have created this world. Neither ends up being the case.
To rub salt in the wound, The Doctor is intent on proving exactly what I’ve stated in the preceding paragraph, and he does indeed find a robot army led by the Sheriff. These guys have the Robin Hood tale in their computer banks, and are mimicking the story. This would be fine if the robots were behind everything, but in the end, Robin and his fellows are completely real, even if the Sheriff’s men are not. That’s just too much to stomach, even for fans of the spacey-wacey, timey-wimey stuff.
There are a couple of cool parts in “Robot of Sherwood.” While flashing through the various Robin Hood incarnations within the robots’ computer, viewers may catch a glimpse of Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor) among the images, as he once played Robin Hood. The computer also makes mention of Missy’s promised land, though the woman herself is nowhere to be seen. These references are neat for the sharp-eyed, but not nearly enough to distract from the bad plot.
I also enjoy some of the dialogue and jokes. The Doctor and Robin’s attempts to one-up each other are amusing, The Doctor clearly being jealous of the way Clara sees Robin. Robin and The Doctor’s sword / spoon duel is fun, and the bickering in the jail cell works well, too. If the story were a little better thought-out with a conclusion that makes sense, “Robot of Sherwood” could be a fun romp, even if it falls short of the greatness Doctor Who can be. But alas, without a good ending, it leaves the whole thing feeling flat and weak.
In the end, what we’re left with is a stand-alone fantasy that might please children, but will neither stand up to the test of time nor satisfy the fans looking for Doctor Who‘s next epic journey. The series is wont throw in episodes like this from time to time, and usually they are at least middling in quality, but this one borders on unwatchable. “Robot of Sherwood” is not unprecedented, but that isn’t exactly a point in its favor. Hopefully, the show will get back on track next week.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00N40UJ22][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00IT3KQWM]