On a trip to 12th Century Nottingham, the Doctor tries to prove that there’s no such thing as Robin Hood and instead uncovers a plot that may change the course of history.
We’re off to Sherwood Forest at Clara’s request to meet one of her fictional dreamboats. The Doctor agrees only on the assumption that he will be proved right and Robin Hood won’t really exist. Proving to be an unhelpful chap, Robin Hood (Tom Riley) shows up exactly where the TARDIS lands and threatens to steal it.
Clara demonstrates an enviable ability to clip in extensions and style herself in period costume in less than five minutes. She steps out of the TARDIS, looking exactly like the kind of person Robin would steal from, and watches as the Doctor bests the dashing outlaw in a duel using little more than a creative hand gesture and a spoon.
Thankfully, Robin is a gracious loser and he introduces Clara and the Doctor to his Merry Men. The Doctor is delightfully disgusted with their new companions, who laugh at everything even when it’s not funny.
An archery tournament for a golden arrow turns into a pissing contest between the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller), Robin, and the Doctor. The tournament ends with the Doctor using the sonic screwdriver to cast Incendio on the archery target. I don’t know what those targets are supposed to be made of but it looked like wood when it exploded so I guess the sonic has a new setting. Alarmed by this act of callous wizardry, the creepy knights reveal themselves to be Robot Knights with vicious face lasers.
The Doctor, Clara, and Robin are hauled into the dungeons, correctly assuming that the sheriff will indulge in a revealing villain monologue. While Clara’s off getting that monologue delivered, we viewers find out on our own that the Robot Knights are melting down gold to build replacement bits and bobs for their ship, which is in fact the entire castle.
There was no sighting of Missy this week but these Robot Knights were heading for the Promised Land as well. It felt a little soon to have yet another episode where robots have crash-landed and are on the prowl for replacement parts. But maybe it’s just the first rule in the Robot Handbook or something: In case of emergency, get replacement parts through cannibalisation or theft and make for the Promised Land.
The fact that the Promised Land is now plugged in as a tangible location instead of a spiritual journey brings an unwelcome reminder of season 3 and all the talk of Utopia. The sky is going to be made of diamonds and everyone’s going to bloody die, aren’t they? Even the robots. I wondered last week if Missy might be somehow hijacking people’s deaths and, with this season 3 parallel in mind, I’m even more worried that might be the case.
I’m told there are a lot of parallels to Classic Who in this episode but, having seen very little of the original series so far, I don’t really feel qualified to comment on it. There is, however, a parallel to The Snowmen when Robin jumps backwards from a castle window and falls into the lake. The Doctor races to make sure that Clara hasn’t fallen to her death for the umpteenth time. She seems fine, apart from apparently having forgotten how to swim. Let’s face it: Clara’s already spoken quite a lot in this episode and gotten the villain to reveal his plan. It’s high time she passed out and got carried away by a strong male hero to reinforce the notion that she’s a delicate flower. (Seriously, I don’t know why she passed out. Maybe she was just faking it so that she could silently fangirl.)
Meanwhile, in the castle dungeons, someone who is supposed to be Maid Marian has been forced into slave labour and has worked out how to wail every line in exactly the same way. Upon seeing the true face of the Robot Knights, Marian calls them ‘gargoyles’ and only looks mildly annoyed and inconvenienced when they vaporised someone right in front of her.
Eventually, the Doctor is forced to admit that Robin might actually be real. As the sheriff points out, there was no reason for them to invent a hero just to be a nuisance. Robin returns and takes on the sheriff in a sword fight, where the sheriff confusingly describes himself as being half man, half machine. From what I can tell, this seems to have been a result of the BBC removing a beheading scene out of respect for recent events.
I think, having read about what was cut, it actually improved the storyline for the episode. The only jarring bit that remained was the unexplored comment about the sheriff being a robot. However, since there are a lot of swords clanging and energetic heroics going on, even that small mention may have gone unnoticed by many.
The Robot Knights take off, despite not having accumulated enough gold to get their ship working properly. Thank God our heroes won a GOLDEN ARROW which, on impact with the space ship, is the difference between 75 per cent engine capacity and 100 per cent engine capacity. Quite frankly, if a tiny golden arrow made that much difference, I have no idea what crappy gold the Robot Knights were using for everything else.
With their trip to Nottingham at an end, the Doctor and Clara say their farewells to Robin. Once Clara woke from her unnecessary state of unconsciousness, she enlightened Robin about the Doctor’s life as a Time Lord and Robin points out the similarities between himself and the Doctor. Neither man thinks himself a hero but, ‘If we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name.’ Good plan. It’s already working since Clara took the reins in this episode and helped save the day, partially inspired by her two favourite heroes and partially because said heroes were too busy throwing shade at each other to get the ball rolling.
At first glance, this episode appears nothing more than pure light-hearted fun initiated by Clara’s fangirl wish. But, with this exchange between the Doctor and Robin, it’s clear that we’re still on a journey to figure out who this new Doctor is and what contradictions arise from his complex character. This, along with the other small acknowledgements of this season’s ongoing issues, helps restrain the episode from teetering on the edge of complete and unwarranted change of tone.
As the TARDIS disappears, Marian is revealed to have been standing behind it for who knows how long. She and Robin are united and all is well. We leave Nottingham behind to allow Robin to transition from fact to legend—something with which he is content, as ‘History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.’
All aboard the Nope Train to Fuckthatville. Creepers are grabbing people’s legs from under their beds and I am so glad my bed is an ensemble right now so fewer things can jump out at me.