Written by Mark Gattis
Directed by Paul Murphy
Here is a list of all of the writers from season one of Doctor Who who are still writing on the show: Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis. Gattis first appeared writing a memorable episode called “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the Doctor encountered a great skeptic in the person of author Charles Dickens. He then wrote a terribly messy episode about a sinister character living inside televisions and sucking people in (I can’t write a short description without making it sound even dumber than it was.) in the second season’s “The Idiot’s Lantern,” which is centered on the event of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. As if either he or the show was stung by the negative reaction to “The Idiot’s Lantern,” Mark Gattis did not write for the series again until season five, when he wrote the episode Moffat described as “Churchill versus the Daleks,” “Victory of the Daleks.” He has written a couple more episodes since, but those episodes showed a particular predilection toward connecting the Doctor to famous historical events and people. Even later on, he made Vastra Sherlock Holmes, thus making all of her appearances fit his pattern.
Gattis and Moffat also work together on Sherlock, and the latter has regularly discussed his hope for an eventual crossover between the two series (a terrible idea for both series, but that’s a deeper discussion than we need here). Moffat has regularly discussed the potential of having “two great egotists” in Holmes and the Doctor meeting one another. So, it’s rather unsurprising to see Gattis putting the Doctor and Robin Hood together, depicting the famed outlaw as an impressive egotist who can’t quite match wits or skills with the Doctor but puts up quite a respectable showing for a human.
And that conflict of two egos reveals itself in competition over Clara. Clara was already smitten with the story of Robin Hood, but she also already knew the Doctor as her hero. So, the two battle over her adulation, and Clara is just clever and egomaniacal enough to recognize the situation and let it play out, perfectly happy to receive the attention.
It’s a funny situation that leads to a series of wonderful little bits of banter between the Doctor and Hood, after the Doctor has already professed his hatred of “banter” and laughter when meeting Hood and his apparently simple-minded rabble of constantly laughing friends.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is also thrown into full-on skeptic mode by discovering what appears to be a real-life version of what he knows to have been a mythical story, and the all-too-common “The skeptic versus the believer” storyline happens between him and Clara, with Clara playing the annoying True Believer and the Doctor being his usual scientific, skeptical self. His attempts to disprove the “reality” that Clara so wants to believe are as funny as the conflicts between the Doctor and Hood, and do much to undercut the annoyingness of Clara’s easy credulity.
That said, much of the episode is a bit obvious and/or clearly derivative of other episodes. The basic set-up is nearly indistinguishable from Moffat’s clockwork robots in “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Deep Breath.” The use of the golden arrow to get the ship out of orbit and Hood’s use of the Doctor’s tricks from earlier in the episode to melt the Sheriff of Nottingham are both so telegraphed as to be laughable (and the arrow is laughable for a number of other reasons as well–too many to bother bringing up).
Overall, it’s a fun but very slight episode. The Doctor and Robin Hood have some great banter, and the Doctor putting on his James Randi impersonation is always welcome as far as I’m concerned, but the story is obvious and silly and the ending is nearly as pathetic as “prayer?!” That’s enough for a filler-type episode, I suppose.
- “If we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name.” Okay, if the Doctor is not actually a hero, no one ever has been.
- The silly meta-theatrical “I’m just as real as you are” led me to roll my eyes.
- Wait, so Alan-a-dale isn’t a rooster???!!!!
- It looks like there is a very dark episode coming next week, which makes sense after a lighter episode.
- One dark note: While we never actually saw the killing blow, the Sheriff did essentially kill a peasant on-screen. That’s the type of violence we don’t see much of on Doctor Who.
- A passing thought about Clara: I was a little annoyed at how she enjoyed the Doctor and Hood fighting over her, and then I thought, “Well, would Amy have been any different?” I’m not sure. I may still just be holding not being Amy against Clara far too much.
- I love lutes. Seriously. I went to a Renaissance Faire once, and the best part was that there were lutes all over. I love their tone and we never get to hear them.
- “I’m the Doctor and this . . . is my spoon!” I can’t really decide whether that works or not. The first time, I rolled my eyes. The second time, I laughed. Maybe that’s exactly the right reaction to a Doctor Who gag.
- I’m happy with Peter Capaldi’s performance. He doesn’t have any of the weak moments that Matt Smith sometimes had (see the aforementioned “Victory of the Daleks”). He might not be capable of bringing as much effervescence as Smith or David Tennant did, but he has the possibility of every bit as much depth as Christopher Eccleston had, and that’s a very good thing.