Recap: Doctor Who, “Robot of Sherwood” (8×03)

Twelve: “I’m not a hero”
Robin Hood: “Well, neither am I – but if we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we’ll both be stories. And may those stories never end.”

Eleven: “When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and a dad, and you won’t even remember me. Well, you’ll remember me a little. I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay; we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best.”

Unlike Eleven, who masked his pain with a floppy and flippant exterior, Twelve is all sharp edges. Sarcasm has driven out all traces of whimsy in his personality; this Doctor hates banter and laughter, two of the cornerstones of his other recent regenerations. He’s also lost his faith in the power of stories, especially the tale built up around him, and violently rejects any attempt to label him a ‘hero’. The thing is, the Doctor doesn’t necessarily have a choice in the matter.

Your regularly scheduled recapper Kristin Marie is out cavorting tonight at her sister’s bachelorette party, so recapping duties for the Doctor and Clara’s excursion to the Sherwood Forest fall to me. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that silly Who is not my favorite Who, so “Robot of Sherwood” wasn’t really my cup of custard.

But, Doctor Who remains a family show, so I suppose it’s nice to have an episode with some swashbuckling and robots for the kids while the adults can enjoy a good ol’ fashioned Errol Flynn penis joke.

The plot of this evening’s episode can be distilled down to one sentence: Clara drags the Doctor to meet Robin Hood in 1190, where they join forces to battle evil alien robots and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Because, as the new incarnation of Who has proven, there is no such thing as the past without aliens.

Much to the Doctor’s consternation, Robin Hood is real, and he’s exactly the proud, gallant, rakish outlaw from the tales of yore. Mark Gatiss has said that he wasn’t interested in writing a ‘drab’ Robin Hood, and he clearly got his way. Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) mostly strikes the right note, playing Robin Hood as a purposeful disguise of the much sadder (but still cocky) Earl of Locksley. It’s no wonder that Clara instantly takes to Robin; he’s the 12th century version of her beloved Eleven.

Robin and the Doctor take an instant dislike to each other, seeing as how Robin announces his intention to steal the TARDIS, and a sword/spoon fight ensues. (Yeah, I said spoon. This guy would be proud.) The Doctor absolutely refuses to believe that Robin and his Merry Men are real; ignoring Occam’s Razor, he fishes about for supernatural or alien explanations. When, at an archery tournament, it is revealed that the Sheriff’s knights are robotic aliens with frikkin’ laser beams in their heads, the Doctor is thrilled. This is his turf.

The Doctor is used to being in charge but Robin is too, and the two men bicker over who gets to make an escape plan after they’re thrown in the Sheriff’s dungeon. Their interaction is childish enough that the dimwitted guard thinks Clara is in charge (imagine THAT happening last season!) and takes her to the Sheriff. Unfortunately, the information she wheedles out of him turns out to be completely extraneous when the Doctor and Robin free themselves and find the spaceship’s control room, discovering the exact same information.

The robots are aliens from the 29th century whose ship got damaged on the way to – guess where? – the Promised Land! There’s some nonsense about needing gold to repair the ship and using kidnapped peasant labor to do it. Robin and Clara escape, and the Doctor is thrown in a forced labor dungeon with the peasants. Really, this is an excuse for the Doctor and the peasants to free themselves through a game of exploding robot laser tag, and this is by far still not the last ridiculous turn of events.

Robin and Clara return to save the Doctor, and Robin defeats the Sheriff in a swordfight by shoving him into a huge (but apparently not big enough) vat of melted gold as the remaining robots prepare to launch their ship. There’s a resolution to this story involving firing a single arrow made of just enough gold from miles and miles away into the spaceship and Robin’s Marian being one of the imprisoned peasants and I just don’t care because it’s all eye-rollingly bad.

What matters, though, is that the adventure forces the Doctor to confront the fact that he doesn’t completely control his own story. When Clara asks him, “When did you stop believing in everything?” he barks back, “When did you start believing in impossible heroes?” She looks at him, bewildered, and says, “Don’t you know?” Even if the Doctor doesn’t think he’s a hero, Clara does, as do many others, and that’s enough to make a legend out of him.

Since the show returned in 2005, Doctor Who has clearly established that with each regeneration, the Doctor forgets some of his past, either willfully or involuntarily. Though Twelve notably declared, “I’ve made many mistakes. It’s time I did something about that,” he’s chosen to forget the side of him that inspired awe and gave hope. He knows that comes hand in hand with hubris; he knows that’s what makes the Alliance try to trap him in the Pandorica. The flipside of heroism is danger and responsibility.

Upon realizing that in the future, he passes from memory into legend, Robin Hood shrugs it off, explaining, “History is a burden. Stories can make you fly.” The Doctor faces the challenge of being both. What will he chose to do about it?

Odds & Ends

The BBC edited out a beheading scene near the end out of respect for the two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, beheaded by the Islamic State in the past month. Apparently, Robin would have beheaded the Sheriff, showing him to be a robot. I actually think I like the story better with the Sheriff being human, for what it’s worth.

– Just because Twelve is a curmudgeon doesn’t mean he’s not funny, and Capaldi’s really digging into this Doctor’s rapid-fire retorts and alien detachment with aplomb.

– The TARDIS heals instantly from the arrow wound, lest we forget it is so much more than a box.

– Fun fact: the one photograph included among the montage of illustrated Robin Hoods on display in the ship’s database was of Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, who played Robin Hood in a 1953 British TV serial.

– We don’t see Missy at all tonight, and I think that’s because nobody sacrificed themselves for the Doctor’s plans. (I’m firmly in the camp that believes the clockwork man in “Deep Breath” jumped.) I’m also convinced that Missy is the Rani, even though Steven Moffat has said he has “no reason” to introduce her, because I don’t believe anything he says. I will remain certain until I’m proven completely wrong later this season.