Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood Review (or “Does Anyone Else Think This Was Written For Matt Smith?”)

September 6th, 2014 – 18:00

Ok, so we’re 90 minutes away from the next episode of the new season of Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood.

Now this is a story from the pen of Mark Gatiss, who I personally don’t rate much as a writer. Indeed, I thought his most recent effort – The Crimson Horror – was genuinely the third worst Doctor Who story of all time, and I mean that with all sincerity. It was absolutely diabolical. Not only was it unfunny, it had an insultingly bad cameo from a supposedly talented actress in Diana Rigg.

Everything about it was bad; nothing about it was good. I hate it.

So that has left me concerned about tonight’s episode. I think to myself “Why has this man been given another chance to write for the show? Is it just because he’s Moffat’s mate?” The answer to that is most likely “Yes”.

But then if I’m being objective, not everything he has written is unworthy of reaching our screens. That’s not saying much though; while the likes of the Unquiet Dead, The Idiots Lantern, Victory of the Daleks and Cold War aren’t that bad, they aren’t that good either. The only one that I gave a positive review to in my run-through was Night Terrors.

Thinking rationally then, this will probably be ok, although it carries a risk of being terrible, with the slight possibility of being enjoyable.

I’m a glass half full kinda guy though, so I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I’ll report back afterwards with my findings.

Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood Review: What’s This One About?

Clara wants to see Robin Hood. The Doctor doesn’t believe he exists. It turns out he does.

And there are robots involved too.

September 6th, 2014 – 20:32

Thoughts – An Uneventful Rollercoaster

So I hoped for the best. Did I get it? Did I buggery.

You wouldn't know it by looking, but the guy in the water is the hero

You wouldn’t know it by looking, but the guy in the water is the hero

I don’t think it would be fair to say that The Robots of Sherwood is bad, but it just felt all over the place.

What I mean by that is that certain elements of the story felt extremely rushed (such as the Robots and their motivation), some felt overdone to the point of being boring (The Doctor’s petty arguments with Robin) and others just felt pointless (beyond there being a need for the inclusion of characters from the traditional Robin Hood story, neither Marion nor the Sheriff of Nottingham contributed anything).

So I’d say the pacing was all wrong, and that’s never a good thing.

Perhaps if a little less time had been spent in that dungeon with the Doctor and Robin bickering about who had the better plan, the scenes with the Doctor planning an escape wouldn’t have seemed so rushed that they came across as an afterthought.

But I suppose this is a Mark Gatiss script, and there are limits to what we can expect from him.

Was This Story Written For Matt Smith?

I can’t be the only person who watched a lot of the scenes with the Doctor and Robin and thought “This was written with Matt Smith’s Doctor in mind”.

For the past two weeks we’ve seen Peter Capaldi’s Doctor scripted with a combination of sarcasm and menace, and yet in the Robots of Sherwood it felt like we were back with Matt Smith and his childish, fidgety interactions of the past few years.

It didn’t work, and Capaldi himself seemed to struggle with it.

As big a fan of him as I am, I will criticise him when I have to, and because the writing of his character wasn’t the best, some of his delivery seemed unnatural and awkward.

His delivery in the next time trailer was probably his most assured of the day, and that just backs up my point.

This Idea Has Been Done To Death

I moan about Dalek stories, and justifiably so.

Hey, it's a midget who looks like a combination of Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins. At least the Cribbins bit is new

Hey, it’s a midget who looks like a combination of Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins. At least the Cribbins bit is new

You can only see the same thing so many times before it becomes boring.

Well I’ve had enough of the “Doctor meets a historical figure and leads them on a journey of self discovery” gimmick.

Since the show came back we’ve had Dickens, Queen Victoria, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Vincent van Gogh and now Robin Hood.

That’s enough.

By the time this episode reached its conclusion and we saw The Doctor talking to Robin about their legacies and how similar they are, I thought to myself “We’ve been down this road too many times before”.

I would hope that we don’t see an episode like this for a while, but sadly if the show is still being run by the same people next year, we’ll probably see a story involving the Doctor meeting Enid Blyton as we find out that the Famous Five were real and had helped save 1930s England from The Rutans or something. And it’ll be written by Gareth Roberts.

Actually, I bet that there’s a Doctor Who writer out there somewhere wishing that the Harry Potter books were written 100 years ago so they could do one about J.K. Rowling and alien wizards.

Change the record please!

Is It Good To Have a Fan Write For The Show?

But that leads me to a point about the way the show is currently run.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan who pays attention to online discussion – and if you’re reading this review there’s a chance that you might be – you might have noticed the debate lately about the way writers are picked to pen episodes of the show. Some of that debate it childish attention seeking from people who know better, but there’s an interesting point hidden in amongst the agendas.

Doctor Who right now is produced by a “Super fan” and he generally invites his Who-loving friends – like Gatiss – to write for him.

Ben Miller - or as I call him, "The Guy Who Looks Like The Guy"

Ben Miller – or as I call him, “The Guy Who Looks Like The Guy”

Now the problem with that is that there’s this desire to put in lines to appeal to like-minded fans of the show. Throughout my reviews I’ve called this fanwankery.

Sometimes it has its place – like in the 50th Anniversary year – and other times it doesn’t.

I don’t think it did tonight. The reference to the Miniscope was too prominent and the picture of Patrick Troughton dressed up as Robin Hood was fanwankery at its worst.

You’ll notice that last week there weren’t any direct references to The Invisible Enemy, were there? And that was a good thing.

I’ve got no problems with anyone writing for the show if they do a good job, and it seems more likely that it’ll be fans who want to write for Doctor Who, but I’d much rather they concentrated on making their own stories worth remembering, rather than taking time out to pointlessly shoehorn in references to old episodes to impress their mates.

Random Observations

  • To give The Robots of Sherwood credit, there were some lines of dialogue that made me chuckle, like the Doctor’s “And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that” and the line about how he made an arrow with a homing device installed.
  • Similarly, the scene where the Doctor was investigating the Merry Men and diagnosed the guy with six months to live was the best part of the whole thing.
  • But at the same time, other lines – like the aforementioned argument about who has the better plan in the dungeon – were puerile.
  • The one person to emerge with full credit in this episode is Jenna Coleman. Once again, she played her part with confidence and assurance and was written for well.
  • Though now I come to think of it, this story seemed to forget about the new Doctor/Clara dynamic entirely, which is disappointing.
  • And where was the army teacher guy? Why introduce him last week and not bring him back tonight?
  • If they go to the trouble of saying how Robin has too good a set of teeth for the era, how come Marion also had perfect teeth and that was ignored?
  • Why was Marion waiting round the back of the TARDIS when the love of her life was audibly standing mere feet away from her, having a chat?
  • When the Sheriff of Nottingham first appeared, I asked “Oh, is that the guy who looks like the guy” and my brother said “You mean Ben Miller?” He knew exactly who I was on about. I’m sure everyone would.
  • The midget looked like a cross between Roy Castle (as they all do) and Bernard Cribbins. Spooky.
  • No Missy tonight, but another reference to “The Promised Land”. Let’s see how that develops.
  • What the hell was up with The Spoon? Again, a bit childish for my liking.
  • The scene with Robin and the Sheriff’s final confrontation did nothing for me. I sense we were supposed to care about it because we accept that the two are arch enemies, but within the confines of this story, it was just two thinly written characters having a tentative fight, the outcome of which was entirely predictable.
  • Final thought: what was up with the laughter stuff? Did I miss its resolution? Or did Gatiss not bother?

Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood: Final Thoughts

I’d sum up my feelings on The Robots of Sherwood by saying that it felt directionless.

It’s all well and good deciding that a story with Robin Hood would be fun, but it has to have an interesting hook to it, and this idea of bland robots/aliens interfering with a historical figure is something we’ve seen quite enough of.

Moreover, it felt like a story written with Matt Smith in mind, and it didn’t seem to have much in common with what we’ve seen from the Peter Capaldi/Jenna Coleman stories so far.

To bring it all back to the start of this review, I’d say this was down Steven Moffat giving yet another chance to a man who just isn’t a particularly talented writer.

Mark Gatiss doesn’t have it in him to consistently write good TV. Come to think of it, he doesn’t have it in him to consistently act well on TV either. He should concentrate on one, and I’d recommend acting because he can do less damage that way.

Next season, he needs to be passed over for someone more talented.

Sadly, if Moffat is still in charge, that just won’t happen.

On the plus side though, it was better than The Crimson Horror.

Enjoyed reading this Doctor Who review? Why not check out my book on Amazon. Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book One – The Classic Era. It’s available for a great price and can be read on any mobile or tablet device. Plus, you get a free preview of it so you can try before you buy. Get it here

 

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9 Responses to Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood Review (or “Does Anyone Else Think This Was Written For Matt Smith?”)

  1. I think the Unquiet Dead was very good, very fresh and fitting with the re-launched series, and would say that Cold War was very good up until the completely rubbish ending that ruined it all.

  2. I know that you were referring in particular to Gatiss’ writing for television, but I personally think his Doctor Who novel “Nightshade” in the New Adventures series was great. I haven’t read his three other Doctor Who novels yet, so I can’t comment on them.

  3. peter says:

    SPOILERS IN MY COMMENT….YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

    Great story….fun right up to the incredibly silly ending. An arrow hitting the ship/target gave enough power? what kind of engines are they? No explanation was given. Considering gold is a very soft, inert metal, it would have bounced off…..silly.

    Needed to be a 2 parter.

  4. You’re right the comedy element in the dungeon totally misfired and was tedious, same with the archery section. Interesting that the Sheriff of Nottingham had a passing resemblance to second master Anthony Ainley.
    Having recorded it earlier in the evening on Sky, I found myself tapping fast forward to find to an interesting bit. I do like Peter Capardi as the Doctor but it felt it tonight’s episode he was still finding his feet, or he himself wasn’t over impressed with the script.

  5. Perry Armstrong says:

    “…next year, we’ll probably see a story involving the Doctor meeting Enid Blyton as we find out that the Famous Five were real and had helped save 1930s England from The Rutans or something” – Ha! That sounds scarily plausible.

    Whilst pretty much concurring with the substance of Stuart’s review, I nevertheless found myself enjoying ‘Robots of Sherwood’. It indeed has the ‘NuWho’ self-referentialism we’ve come to loathe, but did so with enough joyousness that I’m sorta willing to give it a pass. I must admit though, that they lost me right at the end with that ridiculous ‘Golden arrow = Starship power’ moment.

  6. […] analytic review, Stuart Milne of Stuart Reviews Stuff does a rather sophisticated breakdown here.  Maybe, when I revisit Robot of Sherwood a few years hence, I, too, will be dismayed by the […]

  7. Flynn Sullivan says:

    It’s called Robot Of Sherwood and while I did love this to bits, I gotta ask: does anyone else feel a kind of deja vu, when it comes to writing on this show? The endless references, the smugness of one of the leads, the bickering… it’s like the 1980s all over again.

  8. Good points as always. I enjoyed this episode generally and found it to be fun. From time to time something light and frothy is always welcome, give me The Androids Of Tara over any Matt Smith S2 crap any day.
    All this “promised land” stuff is already boring the arse off me and there’s still lots more wedged in references to go yet. Let’s face it, knowing Moffatt it may not be resolved for another four f*cking years. It’s all so unnaturally written. As soon as Smith turns up it’s all “silence will fall” and now all this guff. The only season long theme that worked was Bad Wolf and the Harold Saxon references.
    Glad the army guy wasn’t in it. Boring romantic sub plot. Gee, I wonder if maybe the Doc will overcome his dislike of soldiers?
    This episode showed you need the doctor and a companion, that’s it.
    The spoon business was very Smith but Capaldi is nailing it.
    Ben Miller was underused and I think good scenery chewng villains is something the Moffatt era has been sadly lacking. Robots and malfunctioning computers time after time.
    The resolution was the second in a row to be nonsensical garbage.
    3 episodes in and I think the quality has been the best in years (not great competition) but the trend is going in the right direction.

  9. “Actually, I bet that there’s a Doctor Who writer out there somewhere wishing that the Harry Potter books were written 100 years ago so they could do one about J.K. Rowling and alien wizards”

    You know RTD was going to do a Tennant special starring JK as herself at one point? Tennant actually vetoed it according to the Writer’s Tale.

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