This review contains no spoilers. You can find our spoiler-filled version here.
8.3 Robot Of Sherwood
There’s a continued sense of “on we go” with Doctor Who series 8’s third episode, “Robot Of Sherwood.” The most standalone of the three episodes this year to date, it’s light on references to Who lore (and when one pops up, it’s hardly blatant), and instead is forged as an adventure that crosses one figure of legend with another. The new Doctor has been set up: it’s time to let him have some (sort of) fun. As such, it’s very much a shift in tone from what we’ve had this year so far. Played far more as a comedy than anything else, it’s brisk, very funny, and easily rewatchable.
To be fair, Mark Gatiss must have been rubbing his hands with glee when he realised he was going to get to write this for Peter Capaldi. More than the episodes this series thus far, “Robot Of Sherwood” is pitched very closely to Capaldi’s weary demeanour as the Doctor, highlighting his wonderful comedic intolerance. The darkness that has underpinned the series to date is set aside, as instead, “Robot Of Sherwood” is a Saturday night swashbuckling romp.
It’s at its best in the first half too, where Capaldi’s comedy chops take center stage, and Gatiss also joyfully punches holes in the Robin Hood legend. The furthest we can go without spoiling things is to say that, after the TARDIS lands in Sherwood Forest at Clara’s behest, the Doctor doesn’t exactly see eye to eye with one of its residents. The same resident that Gatiss’ script all but welds the Doctor to for a good deal of the running time. The best, funniest moments all come from that central decision to keep these two characters side by side. Let’s just say that Clara has to be the grown-up again this week.
As the title of the episode implies, there’s still a science fiction idea underpinning the story, but also, there’s a sense of sheer fun to it. To be clear: it doesn’t in any way put aside the work of the last two weeks, rather it puts a grumpy Doctor in a more joyful situation for large portions, and lets sparks fly. It’s also an episode that proves that it’s no easy feat to win over this Doctor’s respect.
The veil is gradually pulled back on the underpinning plot as the episode progresses, and that’s less fun than the verbal sparring that’s been taking place to that point. Furthermore, given the keywords for Doctor Who series 8 thus far have been about darkness, loneliness and a man trying to work out whether he’s good or not, it’s fair to say much of that is rested for a week. Yet that’s the joy of a full series run of Who: that each week, the tone can shift, the genre can change, and you don’t always quite know what you’re going to get when the Doctor steps outside the TARDIS.
“Robot Of Sherwood” may not be one that wins too many fan polls, but it is very funny, and sits well as episode three in a 12-part run. Especially given the dark and menacing teaser for episode four, “Listen,” that sits at the end of it…