Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 3: Robot Of Sherwood

This week we take a break from the previous weeks' serious tone with a lighthearted romp of an episode. Most dramatic series have comedy episodes from time to time (think The Trouble With Tribbles on Star Trek), but this one gets a little too silly at times.

If nothing else, this episode will be known as The One They Had To Edit. The BBC significantly altered the ending due to various recent horrific world events. More on that in a minute.

Clara 2.0 continues to impress, proving she's fast becoming the Doctor's equal (if not superior) as she expertly manipulates the Sheriff Of Nottingham in this episode.

All through the episode the Doctor dismisses the idea that Robin Hood is real (despite the apparent evidence before his eyes). So was Robin a real person? Eh, probably not. Some scholars insist that there was indeed a historical Robin Hood, but most people believe he was just a legend was inspired by various songs and ballads of the time.


The Plot:
When the Doctor asks Clara who she'd like to meet in all of space and time, she tells him Robin Hood. The Doctor insists he was just a legend, and takes her to 12th Century England to prove it, where they promptly meet– Robin Hood.

The Doctor believes Robin and Sherwood Forest are all part of some illusion or alien construct, and does his best to find the truth. Eventually he finds out that the Sheriff of Nottingham is using an army of Robot Knights to repair a crashed spaceship, so he can use it to rule England.

The Doctor, Clara and Robin Hood eventually defeat the Sheriff and the Robots of course. And the Doctor finds out that Robin is apparently real.

• This episode had a pretty convoluted plot, and I have to admit I had to rewind certain parts and watch them again to understand everything that was happening. Or maybe I'm just dim.

• Wasn't that a lucky break that five seconds after the Doctor and Clara land in 12th Century England, Robin Hood just happens to walk by.

I guess the TARDIS was right, and it (or I guess, she) really does "take him where he needs to go.")

• As the Doctor first steps into Sherwood Forest, an arrow whooshes past his head and hits the side of the TARDIS. He yanks out the arrow and the hole it made promptly disappears. 

So the TARDIS can heal itself, eh? Makes sense, I guess, since it's not really a blue wooden box, but a simulation of one.

• I get that this was a light hearted episode, but the idea of the Doctor wielding a spoon against a sword-armed Robin Hood– and beating him– was a little too silly for my tastes. 

And why the hell was he walking around with a spoon in the first place?

• The Doctor refuses to believe that Robin Hood, his Merry Men and even Sherwood Forest could be real. He theorizes that they may all be inside a "miniscope."

This is a callback to the Third Doctor episode Carnival Of Monsters. A miniscope is a device that keeps miniaturized creatures inside a miniaturized environment for the amusement of the owner.

• Ben Miller plays the Sheriff of Nottingham, and looks remarkably like the Anthony Ainley version of The Master. Acts like him too. In fact if they ever decide to bring The Master back again, Miller would be the perfect choice.

• The Mast, er, the Sheriff reveals his origin story and plan to Clara. He witnessed a spaceship full of robots crash land near Sherwood Forest, and somehow became their leader. He's now collecting all the gold he can get his hands on in order to get the spaceship flying again. He then plans to fly it to London and take over the country. 

Or he could just ride there and use the army of incredibly deadly robots at his disposal to usurp the throne. But, no, his plan seems well thought out too (insert eye roll here).

• I suppose when you're doing a Robin Hood episode, it's inevitable that homages to previous adaptations will creep in. Especially here, with the "arrow's eye view" shots we get during the archery tournament.

• Robin Hood does Clark Kent one better, as he completely disguises himself by wearing a floppy sunhat.

• The Wilhelm Scream makes an unwelcome appearance during the tussle at the archery contest. It's way past time to retire this sound effect. It used to be a fun little Easter Egg when you'd hear it, but it's been way, way overused at this point. Whenever I hear it now it drags me right out of the story.

• The Sheriff's army of Robot Knights were hands down the coolest part of the episode. I don't think we've ever seen robots who shoot death rays out of their foreheads before. Eyes, yes. Forehead, nope.

That said, the Robots bore an unfortunate resemblance to the Black Knight from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. And once you realize it, you can't unrealize it. One of the Robot Knights even gets his arm hacked off! Fortunately he doesn't say, "Tis but a scratch!"

I have to wonder if this was intentional. The whole episode strayed well into farcical territory– is it possible they were meant to look like the Black Knight?

• The Robot Knights' faces (complete with their full, sculpted pouting metallic lips) looked a lot like the VOC Robots from the classic series episode The Robots Of Death.

• Robin's Merry Men are present, but they're given so little screen time they honestly might as well not have been in the episode at all. Sometimes the current 45 minute runtime can be a bad thing.

• A nice touch: Robin keeps referring to the Doctor as "ancient," despite the fact that he appears to be around 50 years old or so. 50 is still relatively young to us today, but to someone in that time period, such a person would be considered elderly.

• After being sentenced to work on a chain gang, the Doctor stages a peasant revolt by using shiny gold trays and dishes to reflect the Robots' death rays back at them.

Lucky for our side that the peasants immediately become experts in deflecting and aiming death rays, as they consistently manage to blow the Robots' heads off. Skillful! 

• The Doctor finally discovers the truth of the situation when he and Robin stumble into a spaceship from the future that's disguised as a medieval castle. The ship, which crash-landed, contains extensive Earth records (which I guess means it was from Earth?). 

The Robots consulted these records and disguised themselves as knights in order to fit in with the time period while they repaired their ship. The Doctor says this is why the whole fictional "Sherwood Forest" milieu appears to be real. Convoluted!

• When the Doctor is operating the Robots' computer, the readouts are very clearly projected onto his face! Somebody needs to turn down that monitor's brightness, STAT!

These super bright projecting screens are nothing new. They've been a staple of sci-fi movies and TV for decades (see ALIEN and Jurassic Park among others). I suppose it's a way to add visual interest to an otherwise dull scene of someone reading text from a screen. However, I've been using computers for many years now and can say with confidence that no monitor has ever projected its contents onto my face.

• The Doctor sifts through the ship's records and finds many different texts on Robin Hood. As these examples flash on the screen, one of them is from a BBC Robin Hood miniseries that aired in 1953. Oddly enough, Patrick Troughton, who of course played the Second Doctor, starred as Robin Hood in that series! Cool!

• The Doctor learns that the robots' ship crashed-landed while on the way to "The Promised Land." This is the same place (and let's face it, the exact same plot) that the Half-Face Man was trying to reach in the season opener. So it's official-- Missy and The Promised Land are the season's big story arc.

• The Doctor is puzzled by the fact that Sherwood Forest is greener and more lush than it should be in this time period. He finds out that the robot's spaceship is leaking radiation, and this is what's causing the anomalous flora. He says the radiation is creating "a temporary climate of staggering benevolence."

Um... OK, I'm no scientist, but isn't radiation generally considered bad for living things? Wouldn't radiation kill the plant life, rather than cause unchecked growth? It's not solar radiation (which plants need), but nuclear.  

• So about that edited final battle. In the original cut (heh), Robin and the Sheriff are dueling with swords. Robin swings his sword and chops off the Sheriff's head. His head falls to the floor, but continues to "live." The Sheriff reveals that when the Robots' spaceship crash-landed, it fell on him. The Robots then rebuilt him, turning him into a cyborg. His body then grabs his head and screws it back on. The fight continues, and Robin eventually knocks the cyborg Sheriff into a vat of molten gold far below.

In the edited version, everything pertaining to the Sheriff losing his head and being a cyborg has been removed, leaving only Robin knocking him into the vat.

Obviously the scenes were removed due to the recent real-world events in Iraq, in which several journalists have been beheaded by ISIS terrorists. The BBC called for the edits out of respect for the families of the victims.

I suppose they did the right thing, even though I'm not a fan of censorship. A cyborg losing his head– and then sticking it back on– seems many miles away from a gruesome real world beheading, but what do I know?

Actually I think that removing every line about the Sheriff being a cyborg makes Robin's action seem worse. Somehow shoving a cyborg into a vat of molten gold seems less horrific than pushing a fully human character into one.

Hopefully once things have died down a bit they'll include the original version on the inevitable DVD release.

• Even by Doctor Who standards, the ending of the episode is completely ludicrous. As the castle-ship blasts off into the sky, the Doctor frets that it doesn't have enough gold in its whatsis matrix or something, and it'll explode in the atmosphere, wiping out life on Earth. The Doctor, Clara and Robin then shoot a golden arrow into the escaping ship, which gives it just enough oomph (or something) to reach outer space before it explodes, saving the planet.

First of all, a solid gold arrow would probably fly about ten feet before plopping unceremoniously to the ground. Secondly, even if they could somehow manage to shoot it half a mile into the air and pierce the side of the ship, so what? What are the odds that it would hit the exact spot needed to provide an energy boost? And how is it providing said boost? Seems like it would be the same thing as throwing a bucket of gas into the open window of a passing car and expecting that to cause it to travel an extra twenty miles.

Ah well. It's a comedy episode, so I'll give 'em this one.

Next week: Back to serious stuff!

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