The Doctor and Clara seek out Robin Hood. Despite the Doctor’s insistence that he never existed, they find him almost immediately and discover that the Sheriff of Nottingham is working with robotic knights. The Sheriff thinks he will achieve world domination, but the robots plan to repair their ship in order to reach the Promised Land.
The Doctor offers Clara her choice of destinations and she asks to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor says that he’s a myth, but they go to Sherwood to seek him out anyway. When they land in Nottingham they find him almost immediately. Clara is ready to accept that the mythological hero is the real deal, but the Doctor is suspicious. The Doctor and Robin clash, squabbling inconsequentially and competing with each other pointlessly – much to the bemusement of Clara. They all attend the archery tournament in competition for a golden arrow, the Doctor, Robin, and the Sheriff all splitting each other’s arrows ad nauseam until the Doctor thinks it’s become too silly and blows up the target with his sonic screwdriver.
It is revealed that the knights in armor are really robots and the trio is captured by the Sheriff. While the Doctor and Robin argue, Clara is singled out as the ringleader and taken to meet the Sheriff. While she tricks him into revealing his story, Robin and the Doctor escape and discover that the heart of the castle is really a spaceship. The ship was damaged and the robots are gathering gold to repair it in order to finish their journey to the Promised Land. The Doctor thinks that Robin must be a robot too, created in order to lull the locals into a false hope. The Sheriff surprises them in the spaceship with Clara. Robin escapes with Clara while the Doctor is recaptured and taken to the dungeon where the Sheriff has enslaved peasants to smelt the gold.
The Doctor teams up with the peasants to take down the robots, using metal platters to reflect their laser beams back at them. The Doctor saves the peasants but is overtaken by the Sheriff. Robin and Clara return to save him. Robin defeats the Sheriff in a sword fight, using a move the Doctor taught him to push him into the caldron of liquid gold. They escape in time to see the space ship taking off, but the Doctor says they don’t have enough gold to make it safely away before it will explode. Together, Clara, the Doctor, and Robin shoot the gold arrow at the spaceship, boosting its power enough to make it out of range before it explodes.
Clara is surprisingly excited about meeting Robin Hood, having apparently always wanted to meet him. The Doctor is cynical, telling her that he’s a made up person. After they meet Robin and the Doctor refuses to accept his existence, he chastises Clara for being so easily convinced. “Since when did you start believing in impossible heroes?” he asks. She looks at him incredulously, the answer obvious, “Don’t you know?” She replies. She finds Robin’s existence comforting, reinforcing her faith in the possibility of impossible heroes.
The very practical Clara, of course, is singled out as the ringleader after the guard overhears the idiotic squabbling between the Doctor and Robin, and her clear authority over them. She is taken to see the Sheriff, where she easily extracts information from him about his encounter with the spaceship and his collaboration with the robots. The Sheriff is impressed with her directness and cunning and wants her to be his queen when he takes over the world. When Robin escapes the castle with her, she finds that he is disturbed by the Doctor, his knowledge, and his suspicions regarding Robin’s existence. It turns out that Clara tells him the Doctor’s whole story – from his theft of the TARDIS to the end of the Time War – and that she could hardly stop raving about him and their adventures once she got started. Through her, Robin comes to understand the Doctor and comes to an understanding with him before he and Clara leave. They are both impossible heroes, existing in legend to inspire those who know their stories.
And here come the old jokes. Robin cracks wise about the Doctor’s apparent age, obviously not knowing how actually right he is. There is a point where the two compete over who could live longest in confinement, and thankfully, Capaldi had the perfect answer, childish as it is: “I think I have the genetic advantage,” He confidentially and gleefully tells Clara. More new sides of the new Doctor are revealed during this episode, clearly one being his general cynicism and skepticism. His disbelief in the seemingly fanciful existence of Robin Hood is in complete contrast to the more magical, fanciful, whimsical Eleventh Doctor who often accepted “love” as a reasonable answer to explain the outcome of events.
This Doctor, while still plenty silly, comes by an honest Scottish moroseness and is genuinely annoyed by what he sees as Robin’s false gaiety (which is partly true, because the Doctor is actually pretty insightful like that). I think I’ve partly figured out of whom he reminds me. He’s part Hugh Laurie and part his good friend Craig Ferguson, but he is somehow also totally, completely, uniquely Capaldi. As of old, of course, the Doctor has many skills with which he can surprise his companions. In this case, it’s sword fighting but with his trusty spoon. At the beginning of the adventure, he betters Robin’s sword with his spoon, teaching him the daring move with which Robin will eventually defeat the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Doctor is gratified by the tribute. And if there’s one thing that never changes about the Doctor, it’s his generosity. The peasant woman who becomes the Doctor’s main accomplice in defeating the robot knights turns out to be Robin’s lost Maid Marion. He saves her and returns her to him in Sherwood Forest as they depart. Looks like this new Doctor is a romantic after all.
The Promised Land
So here’s another group of beings on their way to the Promised Land, and for some reason it’s robots again. It can’t just be robots who end up there, though, because the Doctor’s miniaturized companion from Into the Dalek just had tea there after his untimely demise. There was no scene depicting the fallen robot knights arriving or with Missy to greet them, however, so whether or not they finally made it in the end is unknown. The pattern is missing a link, so we don’t know yet who goes to the Promised Land and who doesn’t. Is it just people with connections to the Doctor, or is it more generalized than that? And what’s the catch? I might be cynical, but it can’t really be the Promised Land, can it? I mean, there’s probably something rotten in Denmark that the Doctor will need to fix. Or maybe the Doctor will finally arrive in the Promised Land only to decide that he’s not ready to join the legion of angels. I really have too many theories to expound upon in this recap, and the angles are only growing. We’ll see how far I can narrow it down by the end of the season.
Mark Gatiss is a regular contributor to both Doctor Who and Sherlock and is a well known Whovian. This episode, written by Gatiss, is likely his dedication to that age old favorite Doctor Who episode The Androids of Tara, which in itself is a tribute to the fabulous Prisoner of Zenda movies. While Errol Flynn did not appear in the original or their remakes, their style was very much up his ally and the Doctor’s comment on learning his fencing skills from Flynn is likely as much a reference to the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood movie in which he starred as much as the Prisoner of Zenda style epic for which he was known. The Androids of Tara serial pitted the Doctor against robots masquerading as humans in some kind of plot to take over the world, which I’m sure sounds familiar.