This was a fun one. The “pissing contests” between The Doctor and Robin Hood were particularly entertaining. This is the first time we’ve gotten to see this new Doctor play the cranky old man to a younger hero type, something they obviously couldn’t do with Tennant or Smith but something they should now take full advantage of.
I thought the robots here were quite interesting. It cannot be an accident that their weapons materialized in a cross across their faces and made the sign of a cross on the faces of their victims. To me at least, these oppressive, totalitarian robots disguised as knights and their sign of the cross laser beams symbolized the way centralized religious or state power can oppress and control the masses. After all, this episode was all about the masses and the symbols and heroes they create to give them hope in the face of their plight. The robots are instruments of state power, levying taxes and forcing the peasants against their will to work for which they will not enjoy any benefit. Whether the filmmakers intended it or not, in this episode the cross indeed stands for oppression, as it directly and physically enacted the will of power on the oppressed. Lest anyone accuse me of harping on religion I’d also like to note that there is a cross on the flags of England and the United Kingdom.
It seems to a large degree that these first three episodes (and perhaps the entire series) have been about who The Doctor is and how this new Doctor deals with issues relating to his identity. The first episode dealt with The Doctor in relation to Clara and his friends as well as his approach towards his adversaries, the second was about The Doctor in relation to the Daleks and his nature as a belligerent in his long-standing conflicts, and this episode explored The Doctor’s status as a legendary figure or hero. For me the purpose of any monster or guest companion of the week is to provide some kind of reflection for The Doctor, highlighting one of his many personality traits. In the case of Robin Hood it’s The Doctor as swashbuckling hero, something Matt Smith’s Doctor certainly relished. We may be seeing the aftereffects of that phase.
The stuff with Clara as the damsel hostage to the Sheriff of Nottingham was a nothing we haven’t seen before in any number of series and features. It felt like it was there purely as exposition for the Sheriff but surely there was a more interesting way to accomplish that. Likewise with the fights, but then I suppose that’s just television.
“Robot of Sherwood” could have easily been a silly, throwaway episode, but it was clever enough to be the right mix of funny and revelatory. Credit to Mark Gatiss, whose writing for Who as well as Sherlock is consistently strong.