Doctor Who – “Robot of Sherwood”

“I’m not a hero. ”

“Well neither am I. But if we both keep pretending to be perhaps others will be heroes in our name.”

Mark Gatiss is always welcome in the writing chair in my book and it’s a pleasure to see him contributing again to Doctor Who’s Eighth season. After a dark introduction to Capaldi’s new somber Doctor, “Robot of Sherwood” brings back the childish fun that defined the series, but doesn’t neglect the grown-up seriousness that’s always been central to its success. Doctor Who, at its best, is always about more than fun and games.

But it is all fun and games for the first act, as Clara requests to meet her childhood hero, none other than one Robin Hood. No, the Doctor insists, he is nothing more than a story, a legend, no more real than any other myth. And yet to his surprise, and continued disbelief, but much to Clara’s excitement, who should they meet upon stepping out of the TARDIS in the 1100’s? Capaldi really brings the fun here, delicately balancing his dark aspect, especially carrying over the personality that made him famous for The Thick Of It, with the silly but goodhearted nature that shone through the Matt Smith era. It’s a nice transition, perhaps more apt for a viewer unfamiliar with any earlier incarnations than Smith, but nonetheless it remains good fun.

Of course the biggest plot reveal is given away in the title, but I guess this is after all Doctor Who and most stories turn out involve robots in one way or another. I’d like to see an episode where the Doctor confronts a villain he can’t explain away. The show has always focused on science, and good on it, inspiring others to pursue knowledge rather than revel in ignorance, but sometimes I do think robots feature a little too prominently. It doesn’t have to be ghosts or anything like that, I’m just saying, maybe it would be better to see a new invention of technology, something that isn’t a bit of a worn out trope.

The banter between the Doctor and Robin Hood is undoubtably the focal point of this episode, which unfortunately leaves Clara once again on the sidelines, with very little to do other than fawn over Robin’s good looks and clever wit, and correct the Doctor. Face it, he needs it, but does she always have to be his babysitter? They even revealed that she took years of Tai Kwan Do, only to never let her use said skills. Sorry boys, but that doesn’t count. If it weren’t for Jenna Coleman’s impeccable delivery, Clara might not be any more believable than Robin is to the Doctor.

The plot is as predictable as any tale of Robin Hood, overly familiar, but perhaps that’s not the point. We tell ourselves our favorite stories over and over again because they speak to us on a deeper level.

History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.

Isn’t that it? Stories become legends and legends stay with us, living on long after the truth is gone. This can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and often is, but whenever that happens, heroes spring up simultaneously to give us hope. Yet as the Doctor remarks, perhaps legends are indeed the opiate of the masses. The sense of false hope keeps us placated. How long have we endured suffering simply because we settled for hope rather than truly seeking change? I cannot help but see another parallel between an old story and today’s world of injustice. We’re all stories in the end, our real selves fading into time, only the legend remaining. There are two sides to every story, and while we may be heroes in one, we could just as easily be villains in another. Or vice versa.

So is the story of the Doctor and Robin Hood meant to fade into time, or will it inspire others to take up their fight and be heroes in their name? Each of us will be thrust into difficulties, and live to see times we would wish we had not. All we can do is decide what to do with the time we’ve been given, to paraphrase a great wizard. I think Doctor Who is about this decision, at its heart. I think that’s a good thing.

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