Saturday, 6 September 2014

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood

"Old-fashioned heroes only exist in old-fashioned story books, Clara!"

It's only been a few hours and I've already seen some negative reaction to this episode online, which is interesting as this is, at a push, my favourite of the season so far.

Is it Mark Gatiss, I wonder? Fandom as a whole doesn't rate him as a writer, although The Unquiet Dead, Night Terrors and The Crimson Horror were superb, and two of those were his most recent. He seems to have rediscovered his mojo since Victory of the Daleks, and that was four years ago now. This is his best since Night Terrors, a fun historical romp with much wit and, arguably, the best example of putting Doctor Who into a space defined by another iconic character, with its own narrative conventions, since The Androids of Tara, with which it has in common more than robots.

The comparison between the Doctor and Robin Hood as iconic heroes is, of course, highly appropriate, working on both a literal and a metatextual level. It's an interesting observation on the new Doctor's character that he doesn't believe in heroes yet is one himself, just like Robin Hood. This lack of faith in his own heroic nature is a feature of this Doctor, harking back to last episode's "Am I a good man?" and leading to my suspicions that this is leading to something. And this Doctor has no Time War guilt.

On the metatextual level, of course, Gatiss is using the comparison with Robin Hood to say that the Doctor is an iconic hero up there with Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes and the like. And when Robin tells the Doctor that "I'm just as real as you are", this can be taken to also mean that both are equally fictional. 

It's a nice twist that Tom Riley's chisel-jawed Robin, Ben Miller's splendidly moustache-twirling Sheriff of Nottingham (who plans not to stop at ruling Nottingham, but to go on to Derby, Lincoln and perhaps even Worksop...) and even the Merry Men and Marian are all in fact, much to the Doctor's surprise, real. And it's a nice touch that the brief montage of Robin Hood in popular culture includes a glimpse of Patrick Troughton, who played Robin Hood on television in 1953. Bizarrely, I came across this last week when I read Michael Troughton's excellent biography of his father. Another nice touch is that Alan a Dale is played by Mark Gatiss' real life partner, and reminds me of Sir Robin's minstrel from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Better still, Clara is yet again shown as brave, clever, awesome and just as she had been since the regeneration. And her chemistry with Peter Capaldi is still much better than with Matt Smith.

An awesome episode, then, possibly the best of the season although I'm torn between this and Deep Breath. No Missy this week, but we do get another load of robots looking for a "Promised Land"...

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