Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sherwood Bobbins

Ah, that Simpsons episode with Shary Bobbins always makes me laugh. I especially love the song ‘Half-Assed Job’ which so beautifully celebrates one of the core principles of Homer Simpson’s lifestyle. And, as it turns out, a guide to the writing of many a Doctor Who episode.

Take, for example, Robot Of Sherwood.

In fairness, I was not expecting greatness. At most I was expecting an amusing swashbuckling  barely-historical romp, so it can’t be said to have disappointed but it fell some distance short of greatness. The  episode struck its target better than the preceding two and there were a number of laugh-out-loud gems in the dialogue, but ultimately it split more arrows than sides.

In part, I suspect its failure to impress was down to context. A bit of comedy fluff would not have gone amiss following a couple of blindingly good DW adventures. But after the third piece of fluff I start thinking it’s time to remove the lint.

It seems like we have a meatier (and creepier) story to look forward to next time and if that measures up to the trailer’s promise that can’t come soon enough. Let’s hope.
Meanwhile, Robot Of Sherwood plies its merrye trade. The trick appears to be to cut and paste every other Robin Hood production you’ve seen (too many, in all probability) and add some robot knights and a spaceship disguised as a castle. State Of Decay and Time Warrior take your bows for your respective contributions.

I guess I wouldn’t have minded if it had done something dazzlingly clever with all that borrowed material, but in a 45-minute tale of olde I might not have frittered away so much time introducing all the Merry Men prior to not really using them again. That’s kind of like having the whole of the first Hobbit movie dedicated to the Dwarves coming to dinner – and then only having Thorin along for the two sequels. Also, in a swashbuckler, I might have injected a bit more, I don’t know, movement and action – you know, adventure – rather than waste what felt like ten minutes with Clara dining with the Sheriff while Robin and the Doctor bickered like children in a prison cell.

You can tell it went on too long, because it was well before that when Clara tells the two of them to shut up and you’re thinking, god, yes, I’m with you on that, Clara. Please, someone send in the torturer to get them to stop speaking. At points like this the episode dragged and that’s a fairly crucial failing in a story that aims only as high as romp.

Alas, since Hal the Archer first fought Irongron, bows and arrows have not fared well in Doctor Who. After Silver Nemesis, you would think a golden arrow represented some sort of upgrade, but this story is about on a par with that 25th anniversary 'special'.
Ben Miller, clearly reveling in his role as the evil Sheriff – the Alan Rickmansworth of this Prince Of Thieves, if you will – has been gathering up all the gold in the land in order to repair the space-castle’s drives and relaunch it to conquer Alle Of Englande. And even if his designs are a bit mad, his knights are nicely designed. Unfortunately, the ship’s engines only climb to 83% but somehow a golden arrow striking its hull is sufficient to inject the remaining power necessary to lift it into orbit where it can explode safely.

WTF? Even Silver Nemesis made more sense. Not a statement I would ever make lightly.

To round the whole thing off, we had more jokes about the Doctor being old. And grey. He has grey hair! Haha (fake Merry Men laughter). A strong indication there of the tremendous thought the writers and production team put into the direction they were going to go with Capaldi’s first season.

All in all, witty, dumb as a tree-stump and eminently disposable. But as a scathing indictment of modern educational standards, outstanding in the way it portrayed Clara, a teacher, as someone who so thoroughly believes Robin Hood to be a bona fide historical figure.

Fingers crossed this season arc’s Promised Land will be all it’s cracked up to be – hopefully a land flowing with milk, honey and better Doctor Who stories.

On the plus side, Clara looked absolutely gorgeous in her medieval get-up. Nice that the TARDIS wardrobe includes hair extensions. And if that seems a shallow note to conclude on, well, I apologise. But I have to be careful lest I invest greater depth in a review than there was in the episode.

SAF 2014

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