“Robot of Sherwood” (2014, Mark Gatiss)
As a critic, this has got to be one of the most fun episodes of Doctor Who ever made. Even my mom loves this one, because it’s about Robin Hood.
My mom doesn’t usually like this show, because it’s all about evil aliens and scary things that come out at you, but she loves this episode the most, for there are only robots and no extraterrestrial creatures coming to take over the world. And there’s a mention of Errol Flynn, whom my mother adores for swashbuckling heroics.
“Robot of Sherwood” starts with the Doctor and Clara in the Tardis, deciding where to go next on their little adventures. Clara is infatuated with the story of Robin Hood and wants to back in time to meet him, and the Doctor clearly wants to go somewhere else because he still believes Robin Hood is a fake, made up story. Eventually falling for her pleas, the Doctor takes Clara to show her Sherwood Forest, just to prove her wrong.
Instead, he runs into the man himself:
(THWACK!) (An arrow quivers in the Doctor’s Tardis)
Robin Hood: You called?
What a grand entrance. There’s a swordfight between the Doctor and Robin Hood when Clara exits the Tardis in Medieval clothing, only the Doctor fights Robin with a spoon.
Which reminds me of a funny movie involving the late Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Ok, I’ve had my laugh. But getting back to the point, the episode keeps going on and on, where the Doctor still refuses to believe that Robin Hood is real, because the men guarding and helping the Sheriff of Nottingham are robots from another century. We find all this out when Clara and the Doctor get roped into the trap where Robin Hood falls for a contest for the best archer.
Clara: “What are you up to?”
Doctor: “Quickest way to find out anybody’s plans… Get yourself captured.”
And when the Doctor finds out what the Sheriff is up to, he automatically thinks Robin Hood is a robot too, giving peasants false hope.
Doctor: But the engines… The engines are damaged. They’re leaking radiation into the local atmosphere, creating a temporary climate of staggering benevolence.
Robin: I beg pardon?
Doctor: Told you. It’s too sunny. It’s too green. And there is even an evil sheriff to oppress the locals. This explains everything, even you.
Robin: It does?
Doctor: Well, what does every oppressed peasant workforce need? The illusion of hope. Some silly story to get them through the day, lull them into docility and keep them working. Ship’s data banks. Full of every myth and legend you could hope for, including… Robin Hood. Isn’t it time you came clean with me? You’re not real and you know it! Look at you, perfect eyes, perfect teeth. Nobody has a jawline like that! You’re as much a part of what is happening here as the Sheriff and his metal knights. You’re a robot.
Robin: You dare to accuse me of collusion with that villain, the Sheriff?
Doctor: I dare!
Robin: You false-tongued knave! I should have skewered you when I had the chance!
Doctor: I would like to see you try!
But we all know that Robin Hood was a part of history, as the Doctor eventually figures out. There really was an Earl of Loxley named Robert, who eventually became Robin Hood.
Sheriff: Robin Hood is not one of mine.
Doctor: Of course he is. He’s a robot, created by your mechanical mates.
Sheriff: Why would they do that?
Doctor: To pacify the locals, give them false hope. He’s the opiate of the masses.
Sheriff: Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.
Doctor: Yes! Yes, it would… Wouldn’t it? Yes, that would be a rubbish idea. Why would you do that? But he can’t be… He’s not real… He’s a legend!
Robin: Too kind! And this legend does not come alone.
This story teaches a lot of lessons to become heroes, and it’s not just about sacrificing yourself. It can be in kindness, and it can be in protection. It could be letting some pedestrians walk in front of you when you’re making a right-hand turn into traffic. Or, it could be pulling someone back from an accident about to happen.
That’s when Clara says, “Be safe, if you can be, but always be amazing.”
The Doctor mentioned that creating false hope for the locals was always a bad idea. It’s like fixing the Olympics and betting on it. You know who’s going to win the race; it’s Bolt or nothing, for he just wanted to run, and he had more stamina. You can’t make a huge head in Brazil fix the 5,000 meter dash in Rio and use propaganda to make everyone believe he or she will win.
And when it comes to love, like Robin and Marion, you should never give up hope. We didn’t even learn who Marion was in the whole episode until the very end, and Robin himself thought he lost all hope. But it took Clara’s words to turn him around.
It also took the words of some nice people at a support group, my mother, my friends, and a guy who had a crush on me for almost a decade to show me that hope is never false. I thought I’d be alone forever… until I ran into an old friend from college and he gave me the chance to hope again.
And the story of Robin Hood has been twisted and played upon in so many different ways, but I’m guessing that he really didn’t care. He wanted to keep the peace between civilians and the cruel Prince John while King Richard the Lionheart was out on crusade. That was the main truth of the story that still lived.
Robin: “History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.”