The Doctor and Clara dove into 12th century England this week to battle aliens alongside none other than Sherwood Forest’s most famous thief. “Robot of Sherwood” makes a brief departure from the “darker” Doctor we’ve been introduced to and shows a whimsy (even if more campy) side of the Time Lord, complete with rigged archery contests, spoon fencing (?), and a band of Merry Men—with some robot aliens thrown in for good measure, of course. In its latest installment, the show pulls away from its scifi roots and enters the world of fantasy as Capaldi shows us that the Twelfth Doctor does have a playful side and is capable of delivering some side-splitting humor with more than a touch of Scottish cynicism.
The episode opens with the Doctor asking Clara to name someone she’s always wanted to meet (apparently this is just what the Doctor does when he’s bored, or when he feels like showing off). She chooses none other than Sir Robin of Loxley (Tom Riley), whom the Doctor proceeds to argue does not exist and is a character of myth. When he whisks Clara away to the 12th century to prove his point, he is instead met by the man whose existence he just denied.
Throughout the episode we see Capaldi really come into his own with his unique balance of cynicism and humor as he confronts the Sheriff of Nottingham and his army of laser-firing robots from space. Jenna Coleman’s performance as Clara continues to impress, perhaps because the idea of the Doctor being a potential love interest has been dashed for good and the writers of the show have to actually write her as a character rather than as some love struck accessory. She holds her own in “Robot of Sherwood,” and even manages to outsmart Robin and the Doctor and get them out of a tight spot or two. Keep it up, Clara, and I might start to really like you.
Something that bothered me about this episode, though, [SPOILER ALERT] was that Robin Hood turned out to be a real historical figure—in the end, the Doctor was wrong. Not that the Doctor is infallible and hasn’t been wrong before, but rather, his mistake was not at the expense of any further character development, but for the sake of a good laugh and the episode’s plot (which, if we’re being honest, wasn’t much more than some lighthearted filler). Is this more human Doctor a trend we’ll continue to see as the series continues, or was the centuries-old Time Lord’s slip up on his knowledge of this world-famous Prince of Thieves just a fluke?
On the whole, I’m loving this new season and what we’ve seen of the Twelfth Doctor, but I remain skeptical of the direction in which Moffat is taking the series. Dramatic introduction, battle against the Daleks, and a quirky period piece followed by a dark thriller featuring a new terrifying foe…. As good as these new episodes are and as brilliant as Capaldi’s performance is, the writing is feeling a bit formulaic. But it draws in veteran viewers and new fans alike, and considering the quality of series 8’s first three installments, these complaints are relatively minor. And if the preview for next week’s episode serves as any indication, it’s going to be the most intense we’ve seen this season, so perhaps a more whimsical episode was in order to keep the show from being absorbed by its darker scifi themes.
“Robot of Sherwood” is a fun episode and worth a watch for Capaldi’s sass and humorous one-liners if nothing else. Doctor Who’s next episode, “Listen,” premieres on Saturday, September 13 on BBC America and BBC One. Watch the trailer below!