Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 3: “Robot of Sherwood” Review

by William Hohmeister

Confession: I missed the last 30 seconds or so of “Into the Dalek”, so I didn’t hear Clara say that she didn’t have a rule against soldiers. This lightened my attitude toward her a bit, and made the ending more tolerable, since she clearly feels something about leaving Journey Blue behind.

Robot of Sherwood” is surprisingly good. I expected to dislike it; the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) meet Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) and robots. I don’t like the Robin Hood legend, and robots appear as villains too often in Doctor Who. But this is my favorite episode of series 8 Doctor Who so far. It does pretty much everything right, even the goofy ending.

Clara gets to pick the destination this time, and she insists on Robin Hood (Kevin Costner). The Doctor claims he isn’t real, but lands in 1190 Sherwood Forest. Robin greets the Doctor with an arrow and tries to mug him. The Doctor pulls out a dueling glove and a large spoon.

They duel on a log over a stream and the Doctor knocks Robin into the water with a fancy move. The episode is full of Robin Hood tropes, and the duel means you’re in with Robin’s gang. He takes Clara and the Doctor to his hideout, where Clara joins the ranks of Companions creating history by dubbing Robin’s group the “Merry Men.” She and Robin talk, while the Doctor takes hair, blood, and “other” samples from the Merry Men for testing. The Doctor is convinced Robin is not real, and remains so for most of the episode.

The Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller) and masked Knights kidnap peasants for labor and steal gold from the rest. When a peasant mouths off, the Sheriff kills him with a great pre-mortem one liner: “You’ll live to regret that… Actually, you won’t.” He also sets up the classic trap for Robin Hood (Sean Connery), an archery contest.robot-of-sherwood-doctor-bow

The best scenes in this episode are all silly. When Robin enters the contest, he wins by splitting the Sheriff’s arrow in two. Before he can claim the gold arrow as his prize, the Doctor splits that arrow. He and Robin one-up each other until the Doctor gets exasperated and blows up the target. The Sheriff arrests them, and the knights reveal themselves as robots. The Doctor is smug and glad, and surrenders quickly.

The rivalry between Robin and the Doctor deepens in the dungeon. Clara acts as the moderating voice, but even she gets fed up. A guard picks her as the leader, and takes her away. While she interrogates the Sheriff, Robin and the Doctor try to escape. They knock out the guard, but both try to grab the keys and accidentally kick them away. The Doctor says, “Well, there is a bright side here. Clara didn’t see that.”

Clara is at her best in the interrogation. She leads the Sheriff on without ever becoming as sleazy as he is, and gets his plans, his history, and his motivations. She pretends to have met the robots as well, and the eagerness with which the Sheriff believes her is pathetic. The Sheriff is my favorite villain so far because he is believable. He feels ill-used and lonely, but he’s also a total creep when he hits on Clara. He seems somewhat insane, as he rambles on about a vague plan to conquer England, then “the WORLD!” with the robots’ spaceship.

The Doctor and Robin stumble into that same ship, and the Doctor searches the computer. He finds references to Robin Hood (Tom Riley), and tries to tear him down as a fake. He loathes the idea that Robin might actually exist. The Sheriff finds them, but Robin escapes with Clara as the Doctor is captured again.

sherrifThe Doctor creates a riot with the kidnapped peasants, and nearly breaks out before the Sheriff appears. He claims the Sheriff and Robin are in on the plot together, but the Sheriff points out: “Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.” Seriously, the Sheriff is super-cool. He baffles the Doctor with common sense. The Doctor is forced to realize he’s wrong about Robin.

Robin and Clara reappear to save the Doctor. The ending has an odd misstep: the Doctor and Clara stand and watch while Robin duels the Sheriff. The episode is paced so well that this really stood out. Robin knocks the Sheriff into the vat of molten gold, but the ship takes off. Without more gold it won’t reach orbit, and the exploding engines will take out half of England!

The gold arrow is so, so goofy, but it fits the episode. I see it as a reaffirmation of heroes doing impossible things. Before leaving, the Doctor and Robin talk about heroes. The Doctor despises heroes and legends. Robin and the Merry Men are both. They fight impossible odds, laugh at death, and show up just in time. Robin says he’s not a hero, but by pretending he inspires others.

This shakes the Doctor up. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a real character arc, so this is especially welcome. Both Robin and the Doctor started off as similar characters, but with a drastic difference: Robin believes in heroes, the Doctor does not. Robin Hood is impossible to the Doctor. He knows from long experience that silly heroics don’t save the day.Robot_of_Sherwood_RobinHood

The gold arrow saves the day, though, against good sense and gravity. It shows that heroes are rewarded. The scene is ridiculous I think because believing in the Doctor and Robin Hood is ridiculous. The success of the arrow mirrors their own possible success as actual, big damn heroes.

Other things of interest: What is the Doctor writing on the blackboard as the episode begins? It looks similar to his scrawling in “Deep Breath.” And where was Missy? I expected her to pick up the Sheriff. We see his hands, covered in dripping gold, reaching out of the vat. I hope he comes back. Finally, why do only robots believe in the Promised Land?

images © BBC

Doctor Who Pandorica Opens/Big Bang Review

by William Hohmeister

I left out The Unicorn and the Wasp from the artist episode. Donna and Ten solve a mystery with Agatha Christie (zoinks). There is one artist episode per Companion, not per Doctor, and I suggest watching all of them, as they are great.

The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang form the series 5 two-part finale of Doctor Who. The Pandorica is the central plot device of both episodes. The Doctor (Matt Smith) called it a fairy tale in Flesh and Stone, and hasn’t changed his mind. River Song (Alex Kingston) calls him and Amy (Karen Gillan) to Rome-controlled Britain to show them a painting by Van Gogh. It’s called The Pandorica Opens, and it shows the Tardis exploding.

The Doctor, despite his skepticism, picks Stonehenge as the likeliest hiding place. River, Amy, and the Doctor ride out to it, and from there it’s a straight shot to the end of the universe and series 5. I’m going to review both the episodes and series 5 as I go along from this point. I think the themes, highlights, and problems of the series are all shown in this two-parter.

The Pandorica is a big creepy box buried beneath Stonehenge. It is supposedly the perfect prison, built to house the worst thing in the universe. Cryptic clues written on the box warn of a creature that would “…drop out of the sky and tear down your world.”

This actually refers to the Doctor. The Pandorica was built by an Alliance of all his old enemies, including the Nestene Consciousness, Daleks, Cybermen, Judoon, Slitheen, Silurians, Sycorax, Roboforms, Hoix, Sontarans, and more. As the Pandorica opens it emits a signal that calls all of them to Stonehenge to spring the trap. The Doctor emerges from beneath Stonehenge to find the sky full of alien ships.

The Alliance should have been the series 5 story arc. The Cracks only feature as a part of three episodes: The Eleventh Hour, Flesh and Stone, and Cold Blood. They are forced into the ending of other episodes, usually with a close-up. And the answer to why they exist isn’t interesting: the Tardis exploded. Straightforward, easy, boring. How did the Alliance form? What convinced all of the universe’s deadliest species to stage an elaborate setup?

River enlists Roman army volunteers to help hold off the Alliance, while the Doctor bluffs to gain more time. Matt Smith is at his best Doctor here:

This Doctor is the oldest chronologically but the youngest by his behavior. He often seems more like a teenager than a grown man; his morals, recklessness, and fashion choices display his immaturity. He never wonders if sacrificing the Romans is right, and unlike previous pacifist Doctors he admires their military. This is the Doctor series 5 needed; not a hypocritical hero (like Ten) or a damaged survivor (Nine), but a rock star who reminds us the power of time and space in the hands of a teenager is both incredibly dangerous and ridiculously cool.

Amy reveals the nature of the trap: the Romans were her favorite history subject, and Pandora’s Box was her favorite book. The Alliance used her memories to trick the Doctor into accepting the premise that the Pandorica already has a prisoner. River leaves to bring the Tardis to Stonehenge. A damaged Cybermen attacks Amy and the Doctor; and the best part of the trap appears:

Rory Williams returns in full Roman garb to save them! Sadly (actually awesome), he’s an Auton, a plastic duplicate created by the Nestene Consciousness. So is the entire Roman army.

Rory is my favorite part of series 5. Even back from the dead as a Roman soldier, he downplays it. He still loves Amy, and is broken up when he realizes the Crack erased him from her memory. River is great too, but Rory still wins my vote for best character.

When the Pandorica opens, the Alliance springs the trap. The Romans grab the Doctor and force him into the Pandorica while his enemies beam down and explain that the Doctor will destroy the universe. The Tardis then explodes with River still inside, which destroys the universe. Rory succeeds in reminding Amy of who he is, but the signal to the Autons forces him to kill Amy with his handgun. As the episode ends, the stars go out until the earth is alone in the sky.

This sets up a lot of interesting stuff for series 6. Before it exploded, a Crack appeared in the Tardis and a creepy voice said: “Silence will fall.” The Alliance is being played by someone with greater power and knowledge than even the Daleks, and they don’t mind destroying creation to get at the Doctor.

The Doctor escapes thanks to a paradox as The Big Bang begins. Despite the timey-wimeyness, the episode is straightforward: The Doctor tells Rory to free the Doctor and put Amy in the Pandorica so it will heal her. The freed Doctor travels to the night he first met Amelia Pond. Rory stays behind to guard Amy.

These episodes use fairy-tale aspects of the series well. Amy and Rory are lost children following the Doctor. The Doctor is part fairy godfather, part monster. This is clearest in Amy’s Choice: Rory tells Amy that they all have to grow up someday, and Amy replies, “Says who?” In the same episode, the Doctor’s subconscious (it’s weird) points out that the Doctor “likes them young.”

The Doctor likes Amy because she is still so much the little girl that she was when they first met; it’s easier for her to believe in the Doctor than it is for Rory, who met the Doctor as an adult. This stunts Amy’s character growth, while Rory goes from the simple village boy to “The Last Centurion.”

There’s also quite a bit of Changeling legend mixed in. Both Amy and Rory are at different points replaced by duplicates – Amy by Prisoner Zero in The Eleventh Hour, and Rory by an Auton. I’m not sure what, if anything, it means, other than to hammer home the fairy-tale theme, but I thought it was interesting.

The Doctor, back in the present, leads Amelia Pond to the Pandorica so she can open it and free Amy. If you’re wondering how human history still happened with no sun (it went out with the other stars) it’s because the Tardis, exploding over and over in a time loop, serves as the earth’s source of heat and light.

The Pandorica also revives a stone Dalek that attacks on sight, but Rory stuns it. The group escapes, with the Doctor taking time to rescue River from the Tardis and instruct Roman Rory in the past, closing the paradox of how he escaped.

I’m not going to explain the Doctor’s plan to save the universe. I tried a few drafts and it made my brain hurt. Basically: Pandorica + Exploding Tardis = Big Bang Two. But the Doctor has to fly the Pandorica, which will trap him outside of the rebooted universe. The Doctor watches the series rewind, as now none of it ever happened. The Doctor leaves clues to let Amy remember him, however. This is the most subtle plot point in this series; if you’re not sure what I mean, watch Flesh and Stone again and observe the Doctor’s wrists.

Amy remembers the Doctor on her wedding day, and the Doctor reappears, thankfully dressed for the occasion in top-hat and tails. Rory and the other guests also remember the Doctor, though I’m not sure why.

In-universe, the Doctor never existed. This is actually a big problem with the finale, as the Doctor achieves amazing things and loses nothing. It takes away the danger that lurks behind the Doctor’s adventures. He’s a rock star, but don’t worry, he’s a nice, wholesome rock star. He’s a hero! And the hero always gets the girl. Series 5 had a great chance to tell a Doctor Who fairy tale, but the ending wastes it.

The Doctor can’t die, if the series is to continue, but I think he should have lost Amy. If she remembers him, the Doctor can return to reality. Why should he be able to see her again? Why should her memory last more than a moment? The theme of series 5 is fairy-tales, and the payoff, I think, should have been how people grow out of – even forget – them.

The series ends as Rory and Amy continue to travel with the Doctor.

Series 8 is coming up fast, so my next two reviews will be of series 6 and series 7 as a whole. I also have a preview of series 8, what I hope and fear it will be, as well as a review of Moffat himself, and the writing of series 5-7.

Doctor Who Review: Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone

By William Hohmeister

I’m reviewing two Doctor Who episodes again this week, the two-parter: The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, in which the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) run into several old faces.

River Song (Alex Kingston) reappears in The Time of Angels. We last saw her in Forest of the Dead, when she died to save the Tenth Doctor’s life (David Tennant). River and the Doctor meet in the wrong order: River’s past is the Doctor’s future, and vice-versa. River doesn’t know she’s going to die when she meets Ten, and this is only the second time the Doctor has met her at all.

Dr. Song  image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

Dr. Song
image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

He does know that River is important to his future, however. River leaves a message requesting a rescue on the black box of a space ship, which the Doctor finds 12,000 years later while browsing a museum. He and Amy steal the box and escape to rescue River, who tells them to “follow that ship” as it blasts off.

River and the Doctor fly the Tardis in pursuit until the space ship crashes on a planet. The Doctor asks where River learned to fly, but she only says she was taught by the best – “Shame you [the Doctor] were busy that day”. She lands the Tardis without the traditional braying noise, which she says only occurs because the Doctor “drives with the brakes on”.

River is a nice contrast to the Doctor. She challenges him. She drives the Tardis better than he does, knows more about him than he does about her, and takes absolutely zero crap from him. When the Doctor shows off, she only says to Amy: “He thinks he’s so hot when he does that”.

Father Octavian

Father Octavian
image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

The ship crashes on a human-colonized planet, where River introduces the Doctor to a group of Clerics, soldiers for the Space Catholic Church, and reveals why they’re here: a Weeping Angel was onboard the crashed ship. The Cleric leader, Father Octavian (Iain Glen), tells River she promised him an army. She replies she promised the equivalent of an army, and turns to the Doctor. I love this, because it shows right away that at least one character understands Eleven well enough to realize that he’s dangerous, deadly, and incredibly useful if pointed in the right direction. River seems just manipulative enough to get the Doctor involved in an interesting story.

River apparently has an interesting future/past as well. Father Octavian warns River not to reveal too much about herself to the Doctor. He claims that the Doctor won’t help them if he finds out what crimes River has committed. I’m more interested in River than any other character we’ve met so far, including the Doctor.

The Clerics, Amy, River, and the Doctor enter a small shuttle to watch a video loop of the Angel trapped in the crashed ship. Later, while the Doctor and River read through a book about the Angels written by a lunatic, the image of the Angel on the screen moves through the screen and threatens Amy. They discover that “whatever holds the image of an Angel, is an Angel”. Amy calls for help, and the Doctor tells her to watch the Angel, but not to look it in the eyes. Amy rescues herself by pausing the video, which freezes the Angel.

The group deduces that the Angel must have descended from the ship into the Maze of the Dead, a necropolis built by the Aplans, the planet’s former native inhabitants. They descend to search for it and kick up a gravity globe to provide light.

Amy Pond doesn’t do anything without the Doctor, and that continues to be her problem. Throughout these episodes the Doctor has to act as her babysitter. When he’s not around, she has no real personality. River brings out a bit of character in her, however. Amy figures out that River and the Doctor must have a romantic past, possibly marriage. River grudgingly admits that Amy is good, but does not confirm or deny it. She and Amy also joke that River knew how to contact the Doctor because he always ends up in museums eventually – it’s how he keeps score. It still centers her character on the Doctor, but it’s better than having no role or point other than being rescued.

image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

The Aplan Maze of the Dead is full of statues, which makes looking for the Angel both impossible and deadly. The Angel slowly picks off several Clerics as the group explores. One Cleric, Bob (it’s a holy name), panics and fires randomly. Octavian chastises him for it, but the Doctor steps in. I think we’re supposed to side with the Doctor, as he confronts mean-old-Mister-Octavian and reassures Bob, but I don’t. The Doctor comes off as needlessly hostile and wastes time in a dangerous situation.

It ends up not mattering anyway. While the Doctor tells Bob that “scared makes you fast” and that “anyone not scared is a moron”, the Angel kills Bob just as the Doctor and River realize their mistake. The Aplans were a two-headed species. The statues have only one head. The statues are all Weeping Angels, starving to death. The ship is a rescue ark for these Angels. I am a bit confused and annoyed. How did the Angels – who look human – infiltrate the Aplan (who don’t look human)? The Angels supposedly exist all throughout the universe, but how can they when they look only like one distinct species?

I empathized with the Angels in Blink. Ten called them the “lonely assassins”. They fed off energy produced by sending people back in time, and could never be seen except as statues. This was awful, but understandable because it was how they had to survive. Rather than feeding on the Clerics, though, the Angels snap their necks, feed off the radiation from the engines of the crashed ship, and taunt the Doctor using Bob’s voice. They turn from necessary predators into cliche villains. 

The Doctor shoots the gravity globe, which propels the remaining group onto the crashed ship in the cavern ceiling. They manage to escape into the ship, pursued by the Angels. Eventually they reach a control room, with a door leading to a borg forest. Cyborg trees on board the ship provide air during long spaceflights, and make an awesome setting. The Doctor opens up one to expose the wires and circuits. Another control room lies at the opposite end of the forest.

Amy slows the group down here. She looked into the eyes of the Angel earlier, and is slowly turning into an Angel. She counts down to it without realizing, and the countdown is effective and creepy. The only way to stop the process is to close her eyes. The Angels surround the group in the forest and the Doctor is forced to leave Amy to reach the control room. He takes only River and Octavian with him, and tells the other Clerics to keep Amy safe, or they will answer to him.

What happened to the Doctor between sticking up for Bob and threatening the Clerics if anything happens to Amy? He went very quickly from supporting one Cleric to stating that the other Clerics don’t matter as long as Amy lives. Everyone other than Amy is just a casualty. I think it points to the Doctor’s self-righteousness and self-serving morality. This character can work if it includes repercussions for the Doctor, which I hope to see as the series goes on. So far, the Doctor still gets treated like a regular hero.

The Doctor and River make it through the forest, but Octavian is caught and killed by an Angel. Before he dies, however, he warns the Doctor not to trust River, claiming that she killed “a good man”. The Doctor and River find a new control room and search it for a way to escape, but find only a broken teleporter.

Meanwhile, a new Crack in reality has appeared near Amy and the Clerics. The Angels initially attempt to feed off it, but flee when it consumes some of them. The Crack eats the Clerics one by one, and we learn that the Cracks erase people from existence. This is quite a change from The Eleventh Hour, when a Crack allowed Prisoner Zero to escape through it, and I’m curious about what caused the change.

Amy calls the Doctor, who helps her walk through the forest to him with her eyes still closed. She has to walk through a group of Angels by pretending she can see them, but trips. The Angels slowly turn to look at her. This ruins the remaining mystery of the Angels, as we now know they always look like statues and actually see them move. The Doctor manages to get the teleporter working and saves Amy.

The Angels demand that the Doctor sacrifice himself to close the Crack, which can apparently only be closed by a huge space-time event (though the sonic screwdriver managed it in The Eleventh Hour). Instead, the Doctor turns off the gravity and the Angels fall into and seal the Crack.

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