It's three out of three for team Capaldi, as Mark Gatiss delivers his best script for the series.
|Maid Clara and Sir Robin of Hood. (Image: Mirrorpix)|
The moment I saw Tom Riley's roguish wink at the Doctor and the audience just before the opening titles, I knew 'Robot of Sherwood' was going to be brilliant.
Mark Gatiss is REALLY back on form; the man is back who wrote the brilliant 'The Unquiet Dead' and Crooked House, rather than the disappointing 'Victory of the Daleks' and 'Night Terrors'. 'Robot of Sherwood' is terrific, not wasting a single second of its running time to entertain and offer a thought provoking fable on how myths can be more powerful than real historical figures. My only real gripe is the climactic golden arrow fired into the robots' spacecraft, which does stretch credibility rather. Even then, you can forgive it as it fitted with the overall spirit of innocent and optimistic heroics.
|Errol Flynn: the sword of Sherwood Forest.|
(Image: Kobal Collection)
Tom Riley certainly knows his Errol Flynn: hands firmly planted on hips, arching his back and laughing heartily, his Robin Hood is cast from the same mould as the man who flourished a sword and swung from chandeliers through The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – the two actors even look similar. The style of Flynn's cinematic adventure also informs the look of 'Robot', as this Sherwood is a place of verdant technicolour and cheering peasants. Impressively, Gatiss' script also has an emotional maturity and gentle self-awareness, as the ever improving Clara realises that Robin is unhappy because he laughs too much, and the point is made throughout that the Doctor is just as mythical a character as the hooded man.
Capaldi's Doctor continues to be a joy to watch. It's a delight to see him duel with a spoon, talk himself out of a dungeon and improvise weapons to defeat robots, as well as being human enough to use an arrow with a crafty guidance system to beat Robin in the archery contest. Ben Miller's Sheriff of Nottingham is faultless, too: witty, but taking the part seriously and accidentally providing an exemplary audition for the new Master. I'd also single out for praise some of the stylish dialogue that sparkled from start to finish, but there was so much that, happily, I just can't.
So where was Missy this week? Just as we start looking forward to her popping up, the writers surprise us and she doesn't appear at all. Instead, we have the emerging theme of another spacecraft crewed by robots looking for the 'promised land'... fascinating. Clearly, we've come a long way from how obvious references to the Bad Wolf and Torchwood were crowbarred into the scripts. Another interesting, understated element is the Doctor's mathematical scribblings on the TARDIS blackboard. I wonder if he's trying to work out where Gallifrey is?
On a more serious note, it beggars belief that some 'fans' complained when the BBC, acting as a sensitive and responsible public broadcaster, deleted one small scene that would have been in poor taste considering the recent, appalling beheadings of western journalists by the Islamic State. These are the same unhappy people who'll moan that 'Robot of Sherwood' is a rip-off of 'The Time Warrior', think that another spaceship full of robots betrays a lack of ideas and completely miss how playful and sophisticated Gattis' best script for the programme is. These people shouldn't be watching Doctor Who in the first place.
Anyway. My heart soared watching 'Robot of Sherwood'. Without a doubt, Doctor Who is the best thing on British television again. Capaldi's third story is funny, dramatic, intelligent, incredibly well made by director Paul Murphy – more from him, please – and overflowing with clever literary and cultural references, from Karl Marx to Robert Holmes. In short, it's back to what I signed on for all those years ago. Put 1978's 'The Ribos Operation' on after 'Robot of Sherwood', as I did, and you can't see the aesthetic join.
There's now a consistent, high standard the series is yet to drop below, making it three out of three for team Capaldi so far and, in terms of 21st century Doctor Who, the best run of stories since 'Partners in Crime', 'The Fires of Pompeii' and 'Planet of the Ood.' Going even further back, I'd say it's the best hat trick since 'Destiny of the Daleks', 'City of Death' and 'The Creature from the Pit'.
'History is a burden.... Stories make us fly.' So, so true.
I nearly shed a happy tear.