It’s time for a delightful romp as the Doctor and Clara head to Sherwood forest to meet the not-so-fictional Robin Hood! This was a lovely episode that showed just how good Doctor Who can be when it indulges in a bit of silly fun. I have absolutely no complaints, so this week I’m not going to do a proper review. Instead, I’m going to have a bit of fun myself and do an episode recap!
The episode starts with Clara convincing the Doctor to seek out the fictional Robin Hood, a character she has always admired. The Doctor intends to let her down easy with a brief visit to Sherwood forest, only to accidentally stumble upon the real-life Robin Hood. Of course, the very first thing that Robin Hood attempts to do is steal the Doctor’s TARDIS and challenge him to a sword fight. The Doctor chooses to fight back with a spoon. This isn’t quite as condescending as pausing in the middle of a sword fight to eat a sandwich, but I’m sure the Third Doctor would approve.
Though I have to admit, once the spoon was introduced, I was very disappointed when there were no “I’m going to cut your heart out with a spoon” references.
(Anybody? Prince of Thieves, Alan Rickman as the Sheriff? No? Right then, I’ll just sit here in the corner with my American Robin Hood.)
After a brief scene to establish the evil tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham as he plunders local towns and kills innocent villagers, we return to Sherwood forest, where the Doctor is rather desperately attempting to prove that Robin Hood and his merry men aren’t actually real. Gatiss, King of the Pertwee fans, slips in a miniscope reference (yay!). The Doctor is being grumpy about absolutely everything, and rather sweetly has no idea why Clara so steadfastly believes that impossible heroes like Robin Hood can exist.
The Doctor and Clara then accompany Robin to the Sheriff’s archery contest. Robin wins the tournament by splitting the Sheriff’s arrow, but at the most dramatic moment possible the Doctor arrives and, with a bit of cheating, manages to split Robin’s own arrow. Robin has his own “I can’t lose!” moment-
-and fires another shot, splitting the Doctor’s arrow. The Doctor and Robin take turns for a few moments, splitting each other’s arrows, until the Doctor decides he’s tired of your genre tropes and blows up the target.
The Sheriff orders them all captured, and Robin and Clara come to the Doctor’s rescue. The Doctor, of course, wanted to be captured all along, and looks about ready to murder Robin Hood when Robin unveils himself with a dramatic flourish. Still, Robin’s battle with the Sheriff’s soldiers reveals that they are robots, so Robin’s useful for something. After a bit of Venusian Aikido by the Doctor to disarm Robin (be still my fangirl heart), Robin, Clara, and the Doctor are taken to the dungeons.
It’s there that Clara finds herself in the most dangerous place in the universe: chained to two competing egomaniacs.
Clara tries to force the boys to focus long enough to come up with an escape plan, but they compete about everything. Since she’s clearly the only one with her wits about her, she’s taken to be interrogated by the Sheriff. In her absence Robin and the Doctor cooperate long enough to knock out the guard, but they manage to lose the keys and have to lug their chains down to the blacksmith’s forge to get them removed.
Meanwhile, Clara is putting her experience dealing with the Doctor to good use by manipulating the Sheriff’s ego in order to get him to reveal his plans. Unfortunately it works a little bit too well, and the Sheriff is so impressed with her cleverness and ability to manipulate him that he decides to claim her as his wife, something Clara is clearly not interested in.
Deep in the heart of the castle, the Doctor and Robin have stumbled upon the robots’ spaceship, where the Doctor confronts Robin with the legend of Robin Hood, attempting to force him to admit he’s a fake. Clara and the Sheriff arrive, and the Sheriff orders his robots to kill Robin. The Doctor refuses to lift a finger to help Robin, convinced he’s a fake and a tool of the Sheriff. Robin manages to hold back an existential crisis exceptionally well, then takes Clara hostage in order flee the castle. Back in camp with his merry men, he demands to know exactly what the Doctor knows about his life, and why the Doctor believes he is a myth.
The Doctor, meanwhile, is captured once again. With the help of the maid Marion, he escapes, starts a riot, frees the captive peasants, and destroys most of the robots. He confronts the Sheriff one last time, trying to convince him to abandon his plans to take over England, and even accidentally engaging in a bit of bantering (sorry Doctor, you’ve been bantering for about 2,000 years, I don’t think the habit is going to go away that quickly).
And then the Doctor tells the Sheriff that Robin is a robot created by the Sheriff in order to pacify the local population. The Sheriff basically responds with:
It’s at that moment that our legendary hero, Robin Hood, makes his dramatic return to the castle with Clara to rescue the Doctor and face the Sheriff. Using some new moves picked up from his earlier sword fight against the Doctor, Robin knocks the Sheriff off a ledge into a giant vat of gold, Viserys Targaryen style (has Gatiss been hanging out with GRRM on the set of Game of Thrones?).
Unfortunately, some of the robots survived the Doctor’s earlier assault, and they attempt to launch their rocket, even though the engines are damaged and they’ll explode before they reach orbit, destroying half of England in the process. With a little help from Clara and the Doctor, Robin manages to fire a golden arrow into the spaceship, which somehow helps propel them into orbit, where they explode safely. England is saved and it’s a happily-ever-after ending for everyone (except Alan-a-dale, who only gets a happily-for-six-months ending).
But because even fun episodes need to be a little serious, the Doctor and Robin Hood share a moment about being heroes and the power of narrative. Both the Doctor and Robin Hood are legendary heroic figures, in their own way. Both of their stories have survived longer than anyone may have expected them to, in part because they are uniquely compelling stories about seeking out and fighting injustice. Robin Hood isn’t just a story about damsels in distress and pretty castles, it’s about fighting against abuse of power. Doctor Who isn’t just a story about time travel and aliens, it’s about rebelling against what is expected of us and fighting for justice.
And so the episode closes with a lovely moment of meta commentary, as Robin Hood leaves the Doctor with this final statement: “Perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”