This week it was time for Peter Capaldi to face his toughest challenge yet: a Mark Gatiss written, comedic episode of ‘Doctor Who‘. After two weeks of bringing a dark humour to the show and exploring some of the more murky aspects of the Who-verse this week Steven Moffat and his creative team stepped away from the heavy subject matter and took time to craft a more stand alone episode which doesn’t factor in to the slow burning Missy storyline that’s been woven in to the previous two episodes (reviewed here and here).
I’m hearing two main arguments against season 8 of ‘Doctor Who‘ so far:
- Why so much of a focus on Clara?
- Why use robotic villains in each of the first three episodes?
Lets start with number 1: Clara is the eyes of the audience. I’ve said this before that many more casual viewers forget that the character of the Doctor exists as a constant no matter who is playing him or whether he is on or off screen. Often heroes in popular culture are viewed through those who surround them and for us in this version of ‘Doctor Who’ that person is Clara and that relationship is never more important than shortly after a regeneration. When a Doctor regenerates and the companion continues we as an audience need to be able to rely on the companion emotionally to see us through the change. Give Clara a chance!
I would like to argue that Dalek’s aren’t robots but in a way you have to argue that although they are living creatures they are augmented by technology. I would also like to argue that the tick-tock men in episode one were mechanical and perhaps a little steampunk but they were still technological so yes we have three episodes in a row featuring robotic villains. You’ve got me there.
Thankfully the episodes and stories themselves dress the villains up so well that you don’t feel like you are retreading the same issues over and over. Perhaps there is a bigger issue here relating to the use of robots that will become clear as the season continues but for now I’m in the dark as to why they have been featured so prominently as the writers are not continuing to draw parallels with the Doctor as they were in ‘Deep Breath‘.
The preview for next weeks episode ‘Listen‘ written again by Moffat clearly shows no robots.
‘Doctor Who‘ early on struggled with the over arching story, if you look back at season 3 with the Saxon story it was thrust in our faces in very obvious and derivative ways and in comparison the two teaser scenes in ‘heaven’ with Missy are actually building a mystery which will keep viewers ticking over week by week. Similarly what Moffat does do as shower runner incredibly well is balance out the episodes in the overall story with stand alone episodes which ‘Robot of Sherwood‘ clearly is.
At the request of Clara the Doctor takes her back in time to Sherwood Forest to prove that fictional character Robin Hood isn’t real only within minutes of landing the TARDIS he meets the man himself. Clara instantly buys in to all the characters from popular folklore that she remembers from childhood and almost forgets the ever present and real danger that existed within that world. The Doctor remains distrusting throughout until coming to the realisation that something is very wrong.
I feel the promos were a little misleading as actually this was less of a comedy episode than I expected, there were laughs but they continue in the same vein of this new Twelfth Doctors personality and aside from a couple of slapstick moments such as pushing the Doctor in to a river and both being locked in a dungeon together even Robin Hood (played by Tom Riley) himself is not the comic foil that I expected.
With only the 45min running time Gatiss isn’t able to fully explore the world of Sherwood but there is time for Maid Marian and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham – brilliantly played by Ben Miller – to make appearances, this is as close to a science fiction ‘Robin Hood‘ tale as one can get by asking the question of: what would the evil Sheriff do if given robots from space?
‘Robot of Sherwood‘ is well paced throughout and dispenses with a lot of the effects heavy scenery that we’ve seen in recent weeks which makes for a nice change. The woodland scenery looks stunning in high definition and could even be reminiscent of an episode of ‘Once Upon a Time‘ in many ways.
Murray Gold continues to defy expectation with the music although the most standalone theme in this season continues to be Clara’s which is a joy to hear each time it creeps in to the score.
I do feel like the episode is lacking some of the heart which was present in the previous two episodes but when the story is more superficial that is par for the course with ‘Doctor Who‘. The episode is enjoyable throughout and cements Capaldi as a genuine Doctor who won’t let down the legions of fans across the world.