History is a burden. Stories make us fly.
Robin Hood! Can you believe it’s taken over 50 years to end up with a Robin Hood episode? I mean, at the start, sure, that makes sense. It was an educational show, and Robin Hood isn’t, strictly speaking, “real”. So I suppose it makes sense that there was no Robin Hood story then. (Still, though, imagine a Patrick Troughton Robin Hood story, a la The Enemy of the World!)
But after that, I’ve no idea why he never turned up, especially once the idea of the celebrity historical was set up. There’s the odd short story and reference in the wilderness years, but never a fully blown appearance. (I have consulted wikipedia; I know this to be true.) Admittedly, the BBC series that ran when Doctor Who was off the air back in 2007 probably would have prevented anything being done then. (Loved that show, by the way.) And maybe the ITV version in the 80s, thinking about it.
Still, it’s great that he’s finally turned up. After all, everyone knows who Robin Hood is. Even though is he isn’t, strictly speaking, “real”.
Or… was he?
(He wasn’t, I just like to have little cliffhanger type things to go above the cut. Although, incidentally, the actual history of Robin Hood is quite interesting. Here, start with this Wikipedia page and then do further research.)
Anyway, yes. The structure of this one is going to be a little different, because I want to talk about the Doctor and Robin Hood at the end a bit (actually, that’ll probably spiral off into it’s own post) so I’ll do the whole judgement thing here. Keeps it fresh, I suppose. (I could pretend it’s a reflection of the somewhat muddled nature of the legend of Robin Hood, but I haven’t actually put that much thought into it.)
I really liked this episode. It was a very fun episode, and I mean that as a genuine compliment. It’s ridiculously enjoyable to watch, and it’s very, very funny. It’s the sort of thing you’re going to watch because it’s a romp, and it’ll cheer you up. I spent the fair majority of this one smiling at the screen like a fool, because it’s so daft and cheerful it’s just really nice. Admittedly, that means it’s a difficult one to grade on it’s own merits, because comparatively, it doesn’t have the same pros and cons as another, more serious episode might. It’s probably a 7/10 episode, in that sense, but it’s a different 7/10 to, say, The Long Game. I’d also be hesitant to say that Deep Breath is actually better than this episode, even though I gave it an 8/10. That’s probably entirely incoherent, but it makes sense to me. Which is what matters! Oh dear.
Onto Ben Miller then. I thought he was great – one of my chief complaints about the episode is that he wasn’t in it enough! I just think he’s great. Brilliant in Primeval, brilliant in The Armstrong and Miller Show, and, again, excellent here. Very good performance as the slightly unstable, but very threatening Sheriff. He absolutely managed to sell the slightly off kilter humour without sending everything up – I loved the “First Nottingham. Then… Derby. Next… Loughborough. And then… THE WORLD!!!” line, it was absolutely fantastic. Pitch perfect.
(Mind you, I’m glad they cut out the beheading scene. I’ve watched a version from the leaked copy of the script, and it’s pretty ghastly. It’s not that it’s graphic, it’s just the way it’s staged – the Doctor and Clara put a sheet over the Sheriff’s head, Robin swings his sword, the body falls to the floor and Clara actually cheers. That’s misjudged regardless of recent goings on.)
It was another great episode for Clara here. It was really nice to see her getting all excited about Robin Hood, holding her own against the Sheriff, and the more reflective conversations with the Doctor. Whilst I try and make a point about not bashing other stories to be more positive about the one I’m reviewing, it is becoming abundantly clear that Clara is receiving far more attention now than in series 7. Whether that’s because she stands independently of her arc, I’m not sure, but I’m definitely glad of the shift in focus.
There’s a few weaknesses, here and there. I’ve already spoken about how I’d have liked Ben Miller to get a little more screen time. Some of the dialogue for the Doctor was a little off, and it felt like it was adapted from a Matt Smith script, although that’s not a massive problem. The fighting between Robin and the Doctor got old after a while, really starting to grate, and the final bit with the arrow is the most tenuous piece of pseudo-science… ever, really.
But! The absolute biggest strength of this episode was the parallels drawn between Robin and the Doctor. That’s maybe a bit unfair to suggest, I suppose, because it wasn’t really the main focus of the episode; there was something of a subtle plot thread running throughout, and a few speeches at the end. But they were very, very good.
The Doctor is, just like Robin Hood, a hero who lives in stories. He’s not tied down by the real world, he’s above that. He can be a symbol of hope, and inspire people to do good in his name. It’s the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.
I know that sounds corny and crap, because it’s just a TV show, it’s just a story…
But, after all, stories make us fly.