Doctor Who: “Robot of Sherwood”

After last week’s somewhat heavy “Into the Dalek,” we’re treated to a much lighter, comedic episode, “Robot of Sherwood.” The Doctor gives Clara the opportunity to visit anyone in history she wants, and she chooses Robin Hood. What follows is a virtually plotless adventure romp in Sherwood Forest that had me frequently laughing out loud.

Capaldi continues to excel in the role. I mentioned last week that I thought he couldn’t do humor quite as well as Tennant or Eccleston, but this episode proved me wrong. His annoyed and defensive banter with Robin Hood, especially when they were in the Sheriff’s prison together, was a delight. In fact, I thought the episode had a very David Tennant/Tenth Doctor feel to it in both the pacing and the humor.

Ben Miller was outstanding as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He also looks so much like Anthony Ainley that I half expected the Sheriff to be revealed as the Master, “The King’s Demons”-style!

Wow, three episodes of Doctor Who in a row that I’ve enjoyed? I’m almost getting my hopes up that everything that annoyed me so badly in the last three seasons has been remedied. Almost. More on that in a moment.

**MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW**

As enjoyable as I thought “Robot of Sherwood” was, there were a few things that tripped me up. First of all, the plot (such as it is), which involves a crashed spaceship whose occupants are secretly manipulating the locals into building a giant circuit that will repair their craft, is identical — and I mean identical — to the plot of the 2008 Tenth Doctor episode “The Fires of Pompeii” (which also starred Peter Capaldi, incidentally!). Additionally, we just had a story that featured a ship of robots from the future that crashed on Earth while looking for “The Promised Land” two episodes ago with “Deep Breath.” Why do the same thing again so quickly? Is it going to be a theme this season, or is it just laziness?

Don’t get me started on the use of the golden arrow at the end, when the ship was in danger of crashing. Just…don’t. It’s a solution so ridiculous it pulled me right out of the story, in which I was otherwise fully and happily engaged.

Let’s talk about Clara a moment, and how the writers don’t seem to be able to give her character any consistency. For example, she used to be a nanny, but now she’s a school teacher. (This sudden shift in jobs isn’t unusual for the Steven Moffat-run era. You might remember the previous companion, Amy, had about a hundred different jobs over the course of her time on the show, to the point where she actually seemed to have a new one every time we saw her.) Speaking of Clara’s time as a nanny, whatever happened to those kids she was taking care of, anyway? The ones she told about the Doctor and took on an adventure in the TARDIS? (I don’t actually expect to see them again or have their plot lines carried forward, because this, too, isn’t unusual for the Moffat-run era. How many seemingly important characters have been introduced only to be dropped right away? How many of them were in the episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” alone?)

Anyway, my point is that there’s not a lot of character consistency with Clara, and the reason it comes up for me again now is because in “Deep Breath,” Clara mentions the only poster she had on her bedroom wall as a teenager was of Marcus Aurelius (likely she means posters of statues, not of the man himself, who lived in the mid-100s AD, long before cameras were invented). She’s obviously a big fan of this Roman emperor and philosopher. In fact, when we see her at the start of the 50th anniversary special “Day of the Doctor,” she’s teaching Aurelius’ philosophy to her class. So when the Doctor asks her who, out of anyone in time and space, she would like to meet, of course she says Marcus Aurelius Robin Hood. What?

To me, this is a weird oversight on the writers’ part. Why not have her mention Robin Hood instead of Marcus Aurelius in “Deep Breath” so her choice doesn’t feel so out of the blue? Or why not have her ask to meet Marcus Aurelius but they wind up in Sherwood Forest? Or why not just have them wind up in Sherwood Forest without all the “who do you want to meet?” preamble, since the TARDIS tends to materialize in random times and locations anyway? Maybe I’m being too much of a stickler, but it bothered me.

Not enough to make me dislike “Robot of Sherwood,” though. This is a very fun adventure, full of comedy and swashbuckling. The Twelfth Doctor even breaks out some Venusian aikido at one point, just like the Third Doctor used to do. Add to that a mention of a miniscope from the 1973 Third Doctor serial “Carnival of Monsters,” and the Jon Pertwee-like aspects of Capaldi’s Doctor are really brought to the fore. And as I mentioned before, Clara — despite her inconsistencies — is a much more interesting character now that she can just be herself and not saddled with being the “impossible girl.”

Unfortunately, I heard a rumor that the next episode, “Listen,” brings back the “impossible girl” nonsense in such an egregious way that, if it’s true, will likely launch me into an epic anti-Steven Moffat rant to end all epic anti-Steven Moffat rants. You’ve been warned.

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