Before I get stuck into this week’s episode a wee coda to last week’s episode, Into the Dalek. It seems that on message boards and social media that some American viewers are annoyed because of the episodes negative portrayal of the military and the lack of an unquestioning respect of people who’ve served in the armed forces.
Forget the fact that there’s a set up via the new character, ex-soldier Danny Pink, and how this might affect the new Doctor’s views, it’s being seen as ‘disrespectful’ and people are threatening never to watch the programme again. Well frankly, good riddance. The fetishisation of the military beyond a basic respect for people as seen in the US is something I find a tad disturbing and if Moffat has decided to tackle this worldview on, then fair play to him for actually getting back to discussing political ideas on the programme.
Who has been since the 1960’s a leftish programme (even for a kid’s programme it was still openly political, especially during the Pertwee years) which was still on display when it returned in 2005 with Russell Davies who made some very obvious political points in many of his episodes. There’s also not the acceptance of the military in the UK as there is in the US, and although the armed forces are respected, it’s done so in context and not as frankly imperialistic as it is in the US. There’s signs that the programme is going to deal with what it is to be a soldier and the idea of killing people. Now, one of the things Moffat has avoided since taking over from Davies is dealing with hard political ideas which question people’s beliefs. I hope this is a sign he takes something on and runs with it as the programme needs a bit of weight.
There’s also some controversy about a scene which has been cut featuring a robot being beheaded after two American journalists were beheaded by ISIS, a third British journalist is being threatened as being next and a woman was beheaded in London in an incident not related to any sort of terrorism, but still none the less utterly horrendous. You’d think people would respect this and realise that the BBC as the national broadcaster has some responsibilities, especially for a family programme shown before the watershed. Sadly no, some fans are complaining about ‘censorship’ and calling Moffat and the BBC all the names you can imagine.
This isn’t about censorship. This is about respect for the families. It’s a simple bit of human decency. Anyone complaining about a scene being deleted (which everyone assumes will be back in come the DVD release anyhow) because it’s ‘unfair’, or ‘the BBC being heavy handed’ or the always annoying ‘people are too sensitive’, then you can frankly disappear under the rock you came from.
Anyhow, this week, Robin Hood!
This is another episode written by Mark Gatiss who’s episodes are either really quite interesting and good (Crimson Horror, Unquiet Dead) or just awful (Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks) and Robot of Sherwood should be crap. It really should. It’s got a Robin Hood right out of Monty Python, a Sheriff of Nottingham played by Ben Miller who chews up scenery like a starving man and some CBBC level gags and puns. It does however work brilliantly as just a silly romp and it also serves to ditch the fantasy era of Matt Smith once and for all. There’s even a line of dialogue saying that fantasy is over.
It’s amazing how concentrating on telling stories in a 50 minutes slot works better than a huge arc that was made up as they went along and even though there clearly is a series arc there was only a very brief mention of it in this episode. Longer scenes work better that Michael Bay style fast cuts from one scene to the next not knowing what’s going on and this works well in what is a gentle and fairly harmless romp that won’t ever get in anyone’s top ten Doctor Who episodes, but it works. From the far too dashing Robin Hood (who can’t be real can he?) to the dramatic improvement of Clara as a companion, and of course Peter Capaldi’s superb Doctor.
Capaldi shows in this episode he can do the slapstick comedy of previous Doctor’s and no more so in the scene where he sword-fences with a spoon and banters with Robin Hood while chained up in a prison cell in Nottingham. It’s all very old school Who, with Pertwee and Tom Baker. being the obvious influences, but Capaldi’s Doctor isn’t as heroically dashing as Pertwee, or as insanely alien as Baker but there’s bits of them here. This Doctor isn’t naturally heroic. He’s not a coward, but he’s not someone who relates to humanity as well as Matt Smith’s or David Tennant’s Doctor did and there’s something warmly comfortable about watching an alien struggle to find out who he is. I’ve heard people say that Capaldi’s Doctor reflects the newer audience hitting adolescence and puberty with all the pain, angst and doubt that brings and there’s certainly elements of this, but at the same time this episode ensures the younger viewers haven’t been forgotten with all the dashing heroes with swords and big nasty robots.
The direction is somewhat Gilliam-esque in places but it’s not on the par of the first two episodes but it’s still good TV direction which helps move the script along quite nicely. This helps hide some of the poorer lines and some of the iffy acting, not to mention the fact this episode is shot in some of the same locations that are popping up all the time on new Who. The script is a romp but it does allow itself a very meta discussion between Robin and the Doctor at the end of the episode which is very Alan Moore in it’s execution.
All in all Robot of Sherwood is fun. You won’t remember much about it in a week or two but you will remember you enjoyed it and with TV producing so little that is enjoyable, this is more than enough these days.