I hate to call this a filler episode, but that’s what it is. This isn’t a bad thing; after all the drama inherent of “Deep Breath” and “Into The Dalek” we could use a palette cleanser that is free of the over-arching themes and mysteries of the season. And as a filler episode, “Robots of Sherewood” works on many levels. All of that said, there was something about the episode that left me a little cold. And no, it wasn’t the deleted scene. What raised my ire was the lack of specificity. I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.
But first, let’s start with the good. Peter Capaldi gets to flex his broad comedy chops and it’s a lovely sight to behold. If anything, seeing this particular Doctor devolve into farcical physical comedy was a little jarring (more on that in a minute), but to his credit he handles it with aplomb. Matching him laugh for laugh is Tom Riley as Robin Hood. If anything Riley gets the better bits as the carefree Early of Loxley. Even better, Riley nails the more serious moments as when the Doctor shows him his future as a legend. Meanwhile, British comedian Ben Miller makes great hay as the Sheriff of Nottingham, as pompous and hilarious as you could expect.
But the episode, once again, belongs to Clara, and Jenna Coleman delivers when she has actually good material to work with. While I was leery of the series premiere’s notion that Clara is a control freak, it has been mellowed out to mean that her background in working with children (first as a nanny, now as a teacher) makes her ideal to deal with this new Doctor’s more childish impulses with a sans-bullshit attitude. This was on full display not only in the hilarious scene with the Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood in the dungeon as she manages to get them to stop bickering, but also in her scene with the Sheriff where she plays him like a fiddle. Cheers to episode writer Mark Gatiss for delivering another clever episode that was as good as “Cold War” and “The Crimson Horror” were last year.
If there was one complaint about the episode, it’s the fact that this didn’t feel like a 12th Doctor story. Back in the first season of the relaunch, when it was announced that the new Doctor Who would get a second season, then-show runner Russell T. Davies did not know if Christopher Eccleston would return as The Doctor at that point. Subsequently, the first few episodes of the second season had to be re-calibrated for David Tennant’s very different take on the role. As fun as this episode is, the biggest problem is that it wasn’t altered to Capaldi’s darker sense of humor. In fact, Given Gatiss’ admitted love for that era, it is not hard to see this as an episode for Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor. (In fact, if you picture this as an adventure for Pertwee and swap Clara out for Jo Grant, the episode makes more sense.) The problem is that Gatiss didn’t tailor the script for Capaldi’s formidable comedic skills; less slapstick and more dark wordplay.
This is not to say that “Robots of Sherewood” is a bad episode; it’s enjoyable filler and a chance to see Capaldi and Coleman stretch their comedic muscles. But given the fact that it doesn’t fit the leading man perfectly, it doesn’t transcend its filler status to be something greater.
* Did you all catch the surprising cameo by another Doctor in the Robin Hood montage.
* Somewhere, Regina was watching that final scene and gritting her teeth. (Yes, that’s a Once Upon A Time joke. Get over it.)
* As much as I can bitch about this episode, this was gorgeously shot and beautifully costumed.
NEXT TIME: It looks like we better listen up, as things are going to get creepy…
Photo & Video Credit: BBC