DWO’s spoiler-free review of Episode 8.3: Robot of Sherwood:
In the build-up to Season Eight, Robot of Sherwood has often been touted as the ‘comedy’ episode of the year. The premise in itself - the Doctor meets Robin Hood! - is somewhat amusing, and automatically suggests that this is going to be something a bit special. Well, the fact is that, yes, Robot of Sherwood is a funny episode, and it works wonderfully because of that.
Back in The Rings of Akhaten, the Doctor offered Clara the opportunity to go anywhere and see anything… and her mind went blank. The sheer enormity of choice offered by the TARDIS was far too great to choose one single moment in all of time and space. Eighteen months on, though, she’s gotten the hang of this time-travel lark, and she knows exactly who she wants to meet.
The ‘celebrity historical’ episodes have been a staple of Doctor Who since its 2005 return, taking us to meet the likes of Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie. In Season Seven we saw the format shaken up with an historical figure - Queen Nefertiti - being brought into the future. Robot of Sherwood shakes the format up once again, taking the TARDIS and dropping it directly into the legend of Robin Hood.
All the elements that you could want are here - the band of Merry Men, the Evil Sheriff, and the oppressed villagers. And then, of course, there’s the man himself, complete with a little green hat. If the story can be really compared to an earlier ‘celebrity historical’, then it’s closest in style to 2007’s The Shakespeare Code, with our resident celebrity being a little bit too full of himself - he is the Robin Hood, after all. Tom Riley shines in the part, and watching him spar with the Twelfth Doctor is fantastic.
Where the episode really sings, though, is in the direction. Paul Murphy makes his Doctor Who debut here, and he certainly arrives in style, keeping you hooked throughout. Right from the start, and the way he chooses to shoot the TARDIS set, you know you’re in for something rather special, and that doesn’t stop as the story goes on.
All the talk of comedy in the script can threaten to under-sell the drama in the story, and there’s plenty of that here. Three episodes in, Clara and the new Doctor are getting more used to each other now, and this episode is perhaps the first time that the pair have really felt comfortable travelling together. This is still an incarnation who can be a bit more aloof and alien than some of his more recent predecessors, but here he feels closer to the Doctor that we’ve come to know and love, and pitting the legend of the Doctor against the legend of Robin Hood is a great way to examine his quest to find himself…
Five things to look out for:
1) "It’s not a competition to see who can die slower."
2) There’s references to First and Third Doctor stories, and a more oblique reference to the Second Doctor…
3) "Old fashioned heroes only exist in old fashioned story books."
4) "Always carry a spoon!"
5) "Usefulness expired."
[Sources: DWO; Will Brooks]