Doctor Who: Tosh and Rambunctious Dithering In South
My dad grew up with Doctor Who in much the same way I have. He kept up with a few episodes of the new series, and we were discussing the newest season in Skype last week. I had my pouty face on because I hadn’t enjoyed the last couple of episodes-too serious, too clunky, not quite Doctor Who enough. Me and my father came to the conclusion that the problem with those episodes (and some episodes of the previous series) was that the creators had forgotten their roots- Doctor Who was created, after all, as a children’s television show that taught unsuspecting kids about history. It was always a little bit naff and a little bit silly- which is not to say it couldn’t be scary, funny, and emotionally resonant at the same time, but, ultimately, this is Saturday night family TV and the show is best when it remembers that.
I felt like this point had been vindicated with last night’s episode Robot of Sherwood (it’s always fun to see a historical episode that isn’t set in Victorian London, though it was clear that the cast and crew had just sidled over to the few remaining sets from the BBC’s ill-advised Robin Hood redo a few years ago while no-one was looking). It was terrible on surface level, but actually pretty carefully constructed on closer inspection. It followed the story of the Doctor and Clara foiling a plan by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of Robin Hood- despite the fact the Doctor is convinced that the entire legend of Robin Hood is just a legend.
It seems like someone had just bothered watching The Thick of It for the first time, after having the DVDs gathering dust in the writer’s room for six months, and realised that this Peter Capaldi guy is pretty funny when you put him in conflict with someone else, whether he’s swordfighting with a spoon or engaging in a three-way archery contest. The Doctor really developed for me in this episode, becoming, like a pokemon in cool shoes, the next stage of his evolution- the funny Doctor. The script split him and Clara up for much of the running time, leaving him bickering with Robin Hood and leading peasants in rebellion against evil robot knights. I mean, just read that sentence back- that’s what I come to Doctor Who for, that zenith of nonsense and fun.
Splitting Clara off from the Doc proved a good plan too, as her level and type of energy was matched by the numerous periphery characters in almost every scene instead of clashing with that sour energy that Capaldi puts out. Ben Elton, as the sleazy Sheriff, was brilliant and a little bit sexy (I’ve still got a hangover crush from Primeval), and the merry men were appropriately merry and manly. The episode broadly tied in to the plot established in the first episode about robots trying to rebuild themselves and return to the promised land (a plot I assume will culminate with the cybermen, who we know will appear in the finale with Missy), but was basically just an audaciously plotted, utterly ridiculous slice of family TV. I was willing to forgive some of the silly plot wobbles (like the golden arrow being shot into the spaceship) because Robot of Sherwood never set itself up as a fiendish masterpiece. It came in with a party hat on squint and a bottle of cheap wine in it’s hand looking to have fun.
I’ve long been a supporter of the art of TV that’s simply fun, and here was an episode that provided me with a score of reasons why. I’m not claiming this was any great shakes at theme, or emotional depth, or fascinating ideas- I’m saying this was an episode of TV that succeeded in entertaining me for fifty minutes, the very reason I fell in love with the show in the first place. Welcome back, Doctor Who.
That theme song is still the root cause for all evil in the world, though. I’ll have you yet, Moffat.