Friday, September 12, 2014

Occupy Nottingham: An Overanalysis of "Robot of Sherwood"

(Sorry, everyone, no excuse for the late blog this week.  I can't blame it on a bad episode.  It was actually a ton of fun and I loved it.  I've just been lazy this week.  I'll try to work on that for next week...)

I was a big fan of Robin Hood growing up.  I remember one year winning the award for best Halloween costume in my Cub Scout pack for my Robin Hood costume, primarily because everyone else had boring costumes like vampires and Frankenstein monsters.  I fell in love with that little toy bow and arrow that I had for the costume, with all the arrows that had the little red suction cups on the front.  At one point, the children's theater group I was a part of put on a performance of Robin Hood and, short on roles for everyone, I played a made up character, the Deputy of Nottingham, and got half of the Sherrif's lines, but I was still very happy to be in a production of that truly brilliant story.  I remember my mother reading me the Great Illustrated Classics version of Robin Hood and fell in love with a story about a hero who displayed the primary values that my parents taught me:  that people are always more important than money.  Robin Hood continues to permeate our culture, and Robin Hood has been depicted in film and television over 60 times between 1908 and today, including a 1953 TV miniseries with the Second Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton, as the title character (an image of Troughton as Robin Hood appears on the space ship's computer screen in this episode).  The Wachowskis are currently in production to create a modern adaptation of Robin Hood, and if the Wachowskis are making it, it's bound to be another huge, blockbuster hit.  The myth seems to be incapable of dying, even in American culture where you would not expect it to be as popular as it is when you consider one simple fact:  When you stop and think about it, Robin Hood is more than a tale of medieval knights and a band of romantic outlaws, it's a deeply anti-capitalist story.  Robin Hood is, in the end, a socialist folk hero, who believes that human life and dignity should always come before petty gain.

Kind of like the Doctor.

We're men!  We're men in tights!

In a revelation that surprised even me, Gatiss managed to write my favorite Doctor Who episode so far this season, although perhaps because he did something that I might have criticized for being too obvious or easy had he not carried it off in such a charming way: drew attention to the striking and obvious similarities between the Doctor and Robin Hood.  He didn't draw the comparison in all the annoyingly obvious ways he could have, but rather showed how two people very similar would become natural competitors and antagonists towards each other.  Tom Riley put in an excellent performance as Robin Hood, whose swagger matches the Doctor's step for step.  Especially now that the Doctor has his swagger down.

With the first two episodes of the season still showing Peter Capaldi's Doctor finding his new identity, "Robot of Sherwood" was the moment when Capaldi's Doctor confidently and powerfully grabbed the reigns of the role and steered it in a wonderfully fun direction.  Seeing the Doctor and Robin Hood challenge each other as two true equals--at least in their virtues, if not in their intellects--we saw Capaldi pull out some of the Doctor's vain and petty nature, which, far from making him unlikable, reminded us of the loveably and deeply flawed nature of this 2,000+ year old character.  Capaldi's Doctor, in the first two episodes, was brilliantly played, but this was the first time I was reminded of the reason that I love Doctor Who:  the pure confidence the Doctor has in his own intellectual abilities.  In this episode, Capaldi showed that confidence in abundance.

Like any Gatiss episode, it had its flaws, but the bulk of the episode was such a fun romp that, for once, I actually found myself able to overlook all of the flaws.  The ending, where they shoot the golden arrow to stop the ship, is absurdly dumb.  The joke about the guard deciding that Clara must be the leader of the group was worth a few chuckles, but I got the punchline long, long before it came.  And the biggest flaw in it is a logical one, as logic is something that Gatiss's episodes often struggle with:  I never understood why, if the Doctor truly believed that Robin Hood was a fictional character, he even bothered to go looking for him, and Clara didn't just take his word for it that Robin Hood isn't real.  It seems that, in the Doctor Who universe, it is confirmed beyond anyone's doubt that Robin Hood is a fictional story.  Even though that turns out to be untrue, I don't understand how any amount of enthusiasm from Clara would convince either of them to go looking for Robin Hood anyway.  Although, part of the reason that this logical flaw annoyed me so much is that there was a very simple way out of it, had Gatiss just acknowledged the reality of the situation:  that it is actually believed that Robin Hood might have been a real person!

According to Wikipedia (I'm not in grad school anymore, I can use Wikipedia as a source) there are actual many historians who think that the legend of Robin Hood is based on a real person.  There has been a great deal of difficulty in trying to track down who exactly he might have been because Robin Hood (or Robyn Hood, or Robyn Hoode, Robyn Hode, and so on) was actually a surprisingly common name in 13th century England.  Because of that, there are a number of people actually named Robin Hood who may have been the basis for the legend, and a few people who were not named Robin Hood, who may have been using the very common name as an alias, kind of like someone going around in modern times using the alias "John Smith."  (Sound familiar?)  It wouldn't have taken much for someone to point this out in the episode.  Clara is, after all, a teacher, and while I don't think anyone has said what subject she teaches on screen, it seems to be implied that its history due to her obsession with Marcus Arelius.  (On a related note, why do all Moffat-created companions have the hots for ancient Romans?)

Now, the main point of my blog really is not to simply write reviews of every episode, but rather to explain an episode's links to past episodes, and analyze the clues that an episode gives about what's to come.  This episode, actually, gave me little to work with on that front, though.  The only tie in we really have is that these robots, like the last ones we saw this season, were making their way towards "The Promised Land."  However, these robots actually seemed to have a better idea of where they were going.  "The Promised Land," to them, seemed to have been a specific planet.  That lends itself to a lot of other questions, now.  Where exactly is Missy?  Is her heaven just another planet?  If so, how did Gretchen and the Clockwork Droid end up there?  My friend Victor's theory that it's a sort of digital heaven could easily explain this, and even makes more sense in light of this week being about another artificial life form looking for it, but it still raises a lot of questions as to how Gretchen ended up there.

The less generous robots end up being serenaded by Dan Castellaneta
With such a charming performance of Tom Riley as Robin Hood, I'm really hoping that Moffat is gearing up to do something like what he did with "The Pandorica Opens" or "A Good Man Goes to War" where a number of the most interesting characters from past episodes will rejoin the Doctor to help him fight a larger battle.  Robin Hood showing up to help the Doctor again would make for a really fun time.  Robin Hood and the Doctor had such a grudging respect for each other that brought me such joy.  I'd love to see them reunited!

Next week is Moffat's second installment this season.  A lot of Moffat's episodes recently have been about introducing or saying goodbye to characters, or episodes that open or close out a larger plotline in the season.  We haven't seen a lot of regular old Moffat episodes lately, where his focus is just to tell a really interesting story, not to introduce a big turning point in the larger plot arc.  Admittedly, he's probably going to be introducing Danny Pink to the Doctor next week, but the preview still makes me think we might have a really interesting Moffat one-off story.  And, as much as I love his overarcing plots, I'd be happy to see a nice "Blink" or "Silence in the Library" style one-off again!

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