Critiquing Capaldi: “Robot of Sherwood”

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Doctor Who is effectively a show about change and this has been evidenced explicitly and subtlety in the previous two episodes. Obviously, the lead actor has been replaced, with Twelve being very different to Eleven in both writing and performance, and the show has been noticeably been shifted towards a darker direction, with perhaps two of the darkest stories both in tone and sometimes content (Deep Breath is pretty chilling if you give it a thought), being the last two episodes to air.

However, Doctor Who is a show about constant change, so much that it has almost become its own genre. I can’t think of many other TV shows which can go from a historical adventure starring a skin balloon, to a character study involving a mechanical nazi, to a fun romp where the Doctor meets Robin Hood, and not only can it do that, but you can tell that these are all from the same programme. Okay, the lead actors and the blue box might help, but I personally feel there are only a few times in the show’s history when I feel I’m not watching Doctor Who. Robot of Sherwood is not one of those times, and while it could be argued that tonally, compared to the rest of S8, this episode sticks out like a sore thumb, I’m honestly having far too much fun to care.

“Fun” would be the word I would personally use to describe this one. I honestly find it to be one of the most enjoyable episodes in the entire programme, which is a factor in my enjoyment. I’ve always felt Robot of Sherwood was one of those episodes which you could stick on any time of day, regardless of mood, and still enjoy the hell out of, which works massively in its favour. Some stories, such as Human Nature/The Family of Blood, for example, while unarguably better than Robot of Sherwood, does require a certain mood to get the most out of. This doesn’t mark the episode down, by the way, but sometimes I do find certain episodes aren’t particularly rewatchable (I have only seen Heaven Sent twice as of yet). With Robot of Sherwood, I don’t think it matters. The story has such a charm to it that I find it highly enjoyable whenever wherever I decide to watch it.

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Why is it so enjoyable? Well, I think that’s a simple question. An excellent mixture of the writing and the performances. Robot of Sherwood is, in my opinion, one of the funniest episodes of the entire revival. The gags are very fast in this one, and while not exactly intelligent humour, they are all delivered in a way which does force you to crack a smile. There are also very many different styles of humour here. Twelve maintains his outrageously blunt style of humour from the last episode, Robin is funny because he’s so energetic, The Sheriff is almost pantomime-y, reminding me of a certain Anthony Ainley at times, and Clara is the straight man (or woman) here, to balance the whole thing out (though Jenna Coleman is naturally funny and is really enjoyable here as always).

It’s fair to say that the guest cast here is absolutely superb. All give full-hearted, rather bright performances, and all look like they’re really enjoying their time on set. Tom Riley as Robin Hood is my favourite, and while being absolutely hilarious on his own, with his very energetic and theatrical performance, while still maintaining an element of sadness to the character, almost like a certain Eleventh Doctor, is at his absolute best with Capaldi. The pair has an absolutely phenomenal chemistry, and the way they bounce off one another makes all scenes they share an absolute treat. Ben Miller is also fantastic, (he’s Ben Miller, though, he’s fantastic in everything), again giving off vibes that he’s thrilled to be here in the role.

The production of the episode is also a treat. While not as visually stunning as Wheatley’s two episodes, Paul Murphy does a good job with the direction. The sets and lighting are beautiful, and the costumes are spectacular (Jenna’s red dress is beautiful). In addition, Murray Gold gives his best score of the series so far, with a lot of memorable and fun pieces throughout, and I do often find Robin’s theme to be one I come back to again and again. I’ve always found historical episodes really bring out the best in the production team in all honesty, and here is no exception.

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There’s also some interesting character work with the Doctor. He continues to be the slightly obnoxious, hilariously outrageous, man we have seen for the first two episode, and you could even argue the self-doubt is present here too. After all, at the end of the episode, Robin notes that he’s just as real as the Doctor, and they both note their similar personalities, that they are not heroes themselves, but inspire others to be ones. The Doctor, of course, spends most of the episode denying Robin’s existence. If he and Robin are the same, does that mean he is effectively doubting his own? The self-doubt of the Doctor is something which is very prominent in Series 8, and while not explicit here, I think it can be found. You can prove me wrong, though.

Overall: A great, fun, comedic romp, with great performances and fantastic production work. Solid gold.

Previous Score: 9

New Score: 9

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