In writer Mark Gatiss’s splendidly irreverent “Robot of Sherwood,” Clara the companion fulfilled a childhood dream of roaming Sherwood Forest with Maid Marian, Robin Hood and their band of Merry Men, robbing from the rich, giving to the poor and defeating the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham, armed only with a trusty bow and arrow…
Except that didn’t happen. It’s true, what we got instead was a glorious romp through one of Britain’s best-loved legends. It’s just a shame that Clara, whose love of the stories of Robin of Locksley took them there in the first place, got relegated to the role of damsel in distress.
“Robot of Sherwood” actually has Gatiss as a writer at his bonkers best — the Doctor and Robin’s spoon-and-sword duel was reminiscent of the best of the Baker era, and the interplay between the two heroes was delicious. The dialogue was snappy, the plot just twisty enough to be enjoyable whilst still make sense, and the whole thing cocked several snooks at English history.
True, Clara gets some wonderful moments here — her love of Robin Hood feels real, not just like a plot device. (And of course the guard assumed that she’s in charge.) But I was longing for her to pick up a bow and join in the fun, not just be the object of flirtation. The moment where it looks like she’s going to save the day is squandered (although I do like that she knows tae kwon do). Plus, the subplot where the Sheriff wines and dines her, in the creepiest seduction ever — I’ll show you my alien story if you show me yours — is infuriating because there are so many other ways to put a character in peril than sexual harassment and the threat of a forced marriage.
And of course Marian is stuck in the castle until the end. Of course their paths never cross. God forbid you show two women in one episode interacting.
It’s a shame, because this episode is so close to perfect. The grumpy Doctor has a perfect foil in Robin Hood’s hysterical hombres, Ben Miller is on top form as the baddie of the week and Ian Hallard’s musical accompaniment is a lovely shout out to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I would take a whole episode — nay, an entire musical — about the trials of Allan a-Dale, who just wants to hang out in the forest playing his lute but who keeps getting dragged into hijinks by his anarchist cave-mates.
For an episode that is summed up nicely by this line from the Doctor — “A long-haired ninny versus robot killer knights” — the third episode in Season 8 is a delight. But Gatiss, Moffat and the rest would do well to remember that historical episodes are great, unless your idea of women is stuck in the past.