Saturday, September 6, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x3)

Don't over analyze this one too much, kiddies. This weeks episode of Doctor Who, "The Robot of Sherwood," is pure unadulterated fluff and nonsense. And it's glorious. I think sometimes the writers and the viewers get too caught up in the morality and philosophy behind Doctor Who and we forget that the show has never been hard core science fiction and often likes to poke fun at itself. This episode took every single cliche it could think of when it comes to the story of Robin Hood, put it in a blender, and gave itself to Mark Gatiss for final puns and touches. It's kitchy; it's a bit nonsensical, and it doesn't matter. Two heavy weeks in a row of moral relativity and Doctor Who stepped into the light (of 1190ish England) for sword play and legendary heroes. This is not to say that there wasn't some philosophical extemporizing--hero worship being at the forefront--but for once the episode did not feel weighted by all that metaphysical consideration. This is an episode that finds itself back in one the chambers of the Doctor Who heart--if you could meet anyone in history, time and space, where would you go? Clara's answer: to meet the legendary Robin Hood. 

Of course, the Doctor insists that Robin Hood isn't real; he's made up! The old fashioned heroes only exist in old fashioned stories, the kind that have fallen by the wayside long ago, replaced by anti-heroes and morally gray characters. It's a testament to Clara's naivte that when the Doctor expounds on this new quality of hero, she replied, "what about you?" In her eyes, The Doctor is still a hero, something that weighs on him greatly. So far there's the android in Victorian London and the two soldiers in the far future, all of whom have died because the Doctor could not or would not save them. He doesn't consider himself a hero anymore. Indeed, did that hero ever really exist? Well, if the arrow sticking out of the front of the TARDIS is any indication, then the answer is yes. Lo' and behold: Robin Hood really exists and Clara is having a sheer fangirl moment. And so was Mark Gatiss when he wrote this, you can tell. Everything you'd ever associate with Robin Hood is packaged into this week's guest star. He's cheeky, egotistical, clad in nothing but green and wearing a funny hat; he's plucky and and dashing, witty and considerate. He turns the charm on in a heartbeat and his sword play is impressive, though clearly not a match to his word play. The Doctor hates him. I find this hilarious. Past Doctors, like 10 and 11, would have been all in a happy dither to see Robin Hood; in fact, they would have made the association between themselves and the Prince of Thieves. This Doctor, this colder, darker, brooding man wearing almost all black, finds Robin Hood irritating because he laughs too much and it's too sunny in the forest. The Doctor doesn't like to be reminded of who he no longer is, or no longer considers himself to be. There's probably something to be said about the nature of the sword fight between the Doctor and Robin Hood; as if the Doctor was battling his own past self, the happier, more noble, cheerful selves that he is keeping carefully locked away behind his Scottish brogue and angry eyebrows. And I'm sure Gatiss had that in mind when he wrote this, but the scene in question--in which Robin Hood and the Doctor battle with a sword and spoon, respectively--is so damn fun that the higher analysis isn't strictly required. There are puns galore, including a clever nod to Errol Flynn.

 There are Merry Men as well, each one as cliched and unnuanced as Robin himself. They don't need to be something mold breaking; they exist as familiar stories come to life before our very eyes and we'd mourn the loss of any of their hallmark characteristics. Robin explains his lost titles and lands and lover, Maid Marian, again all well worn tropes of the Robin Hood storyline. And yes, there is a Sheriff of Nottingham, a right dark-hearted, black clad scoundrel who is plundering the nearby villages for laborers and gold. The Sheriff is just what you'd expect: corpulent, greedy, ambitious, and feels that his efforts of governing have gone unnoticed by King John (Richard, of course, being off on Crusade).  There is one big difference between the classic Sheriff of Nottingham and the one in this episode of Doctor Who: this one has robots. Oh come on, you didn't think there would NO science fiction, did you? It is still Doctor Who. Yes, there are robots dressed as knights who are forcing the peasants to do hard labor and killing them when they are too exhausted to carry on. We learn later that the robots crash landed here on Earth in their 29th century space craft and blended in to their surroundings by disguising the ship as a castle. They used the Sheriff to gather their peasants and their gold; the gold is used to fuel the ship. Honestly, it doesn't matter much. The story is not really about these robots and their ship; this is a Robin Hood story and the robots almost feel like an after thought. If they really wanted to focus on the robots they would not have spent several rib-tickling moments with the Doctor and Robin Hood arguing over who's in charge or who has the better plan or how Robin never stops laughing. I love that it's Clara who is viewed as the leader because the Doctor and Robin are obviously inferior at the moment. See, people who are not Moffat can write Clara as a strong independent non-weepy woman.

There is a really wonderful fight scene between Robin and the Sheriff, and it's exactly what a fight between those two should be: almost old Hollywood style with someone sliding down a flag with a knife, rope swinging, and someone falling to their death while screaming dramatically. There is also some quibbling over who will save the day, but all three--Clara, Robin and the Doctor--band together and blow up the spaceship. The Merry Men cheer and celebrate and there's even some singing! Because you have Alan a-Dale and he has a lute, so of course there's going to be a song. The end of episode is quite nice with Robin and the Doctor discussing heroism and whether or not they really are heroes. The Doctor bulks at the idea of being called a hero, and even gets quite upset. I think Robin understands this and tells him, "Neither am I. But maybe, if we keep pretending to be, others will be heroes in our name." Clara, of course, played her role this week as the true hero. While Robin and the Doctor argued, she actually found out the Sheriff's plans. Is she--the companion--the real hero of Doctor Who? Aren't all the companions the real heroes? The answer is yes; Rose Tyler became a god, Donna Noble became a Time Lord; and Clara Oswald became a Merry (wo)Man. Ok, not as illustrious, but it's a start. In the end, you walk away from this episode with some laughs, some smiles, and a little more knowledge into the Doctor's perceived sense of self. Not a hero, but he can pretend.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Robot of Sherwood

--"Stop laughing! Why are you always doing that? Are you simple or something?"
"When did you start believing in impossible heroes?" "Don't you know?"
"Everyone should have a hobby. Mine is annoying you."
"History is a burden. Stories can make us fly." 

--The space ship of the robots was headed to the Promised Land. So, while there was no Missy in this weeks episode, we did get a reference to her heaven. Is this like some sort of great exodus en masse? I had thought that the people in heaven were the Doctor's victims, but he didn't do anything to these Robots prior to this episode.

--The Doctor cheated at the archery contest. Because of course he did. 

--Did anyone else expect Worf to show up and declare, "I am not a Merry Man!" (if you don't get this reference, I don't want to know you)

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