This is a full plot synopsis and review of Doctor Who S8′s “Robot of Sherwood.” If you have not yet seen the episode, this article contains episode spoilers. Please proceed with caution!!!!
“Robot of Sherwood” penned by Mark Gatiss was a light hearted and funny episode that brought our hero, The Doctor and the Legendary Robin Hood together under the most unlikely of circumstances. The Doctor offers to take Clara to any point in space and time she would like. She tells him that she knows he will laugh and tell her it is impossible, but she has always wanted to meet Robin Hood. He indeed responds with the fact that Robin Hood is fictional, telling her that “old fashioned heroes only appear in old fashioned storybooks.” Clara points out that The Doctor is a hero, constantly saving people, and he brushes her comment off calling it a way to “pass the time.” Clara insists that it is her choice this time, and she would like to visit that time period. The Doctor resigns himself to bringing them to the era of the Robin Hood stories, 1190 A.D. England, in Sherwood Forest. Not wanting his companion to be disappointed, he tells her that she should not be surprised when she does not see Robin or a forest full of merry men. The Doctor steps out of the TARDIS and it is hit by an arrow while a man dressed as Robin Hood responds to the name with, “you called?” The Doctor pulls the arrow out of the TARDIS and it heals itself, showing its own sort of regenerative properties. We have seen that the TARDIS is alive before, but this is the first time I can recall seeing it physically repair itself so quickly and fully without prompting
Robin Hood congratulates The Doctor on his fantastical trick, presuming he has used mirrors or some other form of illusion to get the TARDIS to suddenly appear, not realizing it has materialized right before him. The conversation quickly turns sour when Robin Hood declares his intention to take the TARDIS from The Doctor. The Doctor tells Robin that no one will take his “box, in this universe or the next” showing the fierce loyalty The Doctor has to his only consistent companion over the course of his long lives. Robin pulls out a sword and Clara is concerned because The Doctor does not have one to fight back with. Capaldi solidifies his role as The Doctor, stating, “I have no sword. I don’t need a sword. Because I am The Doctor, and *this* is my spoon.” The spoon may have been a call back to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor’s preoccupation with playing the spoons or it may have just been the dullest utensil one puts out on a table, but with spoon in hand, The Doctor begins to duel Robin on a log across a stream. While the pair seems evenly matched for a few moments, showing The Doctor really does not need more than a spoon to fight, Robin manages to get a swing in that cuts a button off of The Doctor’s coat. Big mistake – now Capaldi’s attack eyebrows are ready, and he holds his arm out as if to invite Robin to run him through, turning at the last second and knocking Robin into the stream triumphantly. Clara acknowledges how brilliant he is and appears to wonder where Robin has gotten to as The Doctor is pushed from behind into the stream by Robin who has snuck around behind them while the pair were talking.
The episode cuts to the town which is in mayhem, people screaming and in chaos, while a girl in shackles is being pulled out of a house. A man, Master Quail, begs to take the child’s place to save her from suffering, but the sheriff tells him that the castle needs “gold and labor.” He asks the woman if she is new to town and she replies yes, and the sheriff tells the woman she may prove to be useful. Master Quail tries to step in once more spitting in the Sheriff’s face, who then murders him and has the woman dragged off while crying, presumably to the castle for labor.
Back in Sherwood Forest, Clara and The Doctor are introduced to Robin and his men, who laugh as often as a normal person breathes, irritating The Doctor to no end. The laughter is so irritating to The Doctor that it becomes a running joke/theme throughout the episode. He presumes the men must be simple to be laughing so consistently, even referring to them as “pudding brains” which seems to be The Doctor’s nick name for humans when he is annoyed. During the introductions The Doctor surveys the men in various ways from taking a vial of blood to checking their sandals to scanning the hair on their heads to see if it is real, becoming more frustrated as everything he checks seems to be in order. Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, Allan A Dale, John Little/Little John, and Robin Hood continue laughing and bantering, and after being called “Robin Hood and his Merry Men” Robin acknowledges it is a very “apt description.” The Doctor refusing to acknowledge that the men are really who they say they are, despite the sonic screwdriver indicating no alternatives, hypothesizes they are in a theme park from the future or in a mini-scope, finally deciding they must be in a mini-scope. The Doctor asks what time it is, and clarifies he means which season. Robin answers that it is autumn, and The Doctor points out that everything is still very green and sunny which Nottingham should not be during the autumn months. Clara inquires as to what dark times Robin Hood may have referred to earlier and he explains that while King Richard is away, the Sheriff is terrorizing the people, Clara and The Doctor filling in the rest having read the stories. Robin Hood is surprised at their ability to guess and know what is going on, but is drawn off track by Clara asking him why he is so sad. In an attempt to brush the comment off he asks why she would say that, and Clara explains that “The Doctor is right, you laugh too much” and there must be a terrible sadness. He explains that he spoke out against Prince John and lost the thing most precious to him, Maid Marian. Until Robin can find his love again, he will continue to live as the person Miriam had always wanted him to be, a hero. He also tells Clara that she is “so very quick” inquiring how the TARDIS stands it, which was an interesting comment. Moffat has stated in multiple interviews we will find out more about the relationship between Clara and the TARDIS and Robin Hood is inquiring how the TARDIS stands Clara versus her flesh and blood companion, The Doctor.
An archery contest is announced and Clara proclaims it is a trap, to which the men tell her they know it’s a trap but intend to go anyway. The Doctor determined to show that they are not real looks angrily at an apple that shows no sign of being anything but an apple and Clara asks him when he stopped believing in everything. The Doctor responds with, “when did you start believing in impossible heroes” thinking about her logical side, and she smiles at him asking, “Don’t you know?” Regardless of the change that Clara had trouble accepting in “Deep Breath” she still views The Doctor as not only an impossible hero, but her impossible hero.
Interestingly, he has always called her his impossible girl, so the theme of them both being impossible is woven into the dialogue, yet they are both as real as the Merry Men in front of them. It is also a nice tie in to the fact that Eccleston’s Doctor enjoyed bananas as a good source of potassium, Tennant’s Doctor tells Rose to “always bring a banana to a party” because they are good, and Matt Smith’s Doctor detests the apple young Amelia Pond gives him, calling it rubbish; now Capaldi has his own fruit scene and he seems perfectly happy with apples in general, but very annoyed that he cannot figure out what is causing the illusion of a fairy tale.
As the fairy tale goes, Robin disguised as “Tim the Tinker” and the Lord Sherriff (portrayed by Ben Miller) are the last two in the archery contest in real life. Robin suggests that they move the target back about 20 paces, and the sheriff agrees. The Sheriff hits the target with no issues, and Robin shoots hitting the target so precisely the sheriff’s arrow is split down the middle. Robin starts to move forward to claim his reward, a golden arrow, but a sudden split of Robin’s arrow shows The Doctor has taken a shot, and has moved into the place of champion. He steps forward to claim his reward, telling the Sheriff he does not wish for the arrow, but enlightenment. Robin annoyed, shoots and splits The Doctor’s arrow, and The Doctor equally annoyed turns and shoots another arrow off of the armor of one of the guards and it ricochets splitting the newest arrow Robin has shot. Robin shoots another splitting The Doctor’s and The Doctor determines enough is enough, proclaims that “this is getting silly” and uses his sonic screwdriver (on a seemingly wooden target, which is interesting as the sonic does not work on wood, but perhaps it was the fabric on the wooden target the sonic hits), and blows the entire target up with his screwdriver.
Now the Sheriff is not just interested in capturing the bandit Robin Hood, but also The Doctor and Clara, and the three are surrounded by guards. Swinging his sword, Robin triumphantly cuts the arm off one of the guards and they see that it is actually a robot. Robin sends his men off to “live to fight another day” upon seeing the robot, and The Doctor surrenders telling the others that the easiest way to find out someone’s plans is “to get yourself captured.”
We see the dungeons and the “peasants” being abused by the soldiers/robots. One opens his armour to reveal a metal alien face, after determining a specific peasant has passed the point of usefulness to their plans, and shoots a violet light out of its head, vaporizing the peasant. While our three heroes, Robin Hood, Clara Oswald, and The Doctor are locked up in a cell, Robin and The Doctor start fighting once more, both trying to one up each other, and insult each other at the same time. While the dialogue becomes hilarious, both Robin and The Doctor are calling for the guard, The Doctor shouts out, “Guards! He’s laughing again. You can’t keep me locked up with a laughing person!” amongst other insults. Robin begins to yell for the guard to execute either of them to stop the conversation. Clara watching her two heroes fight, finally yells that they both need to be quiet. She points out that in all of their squabbling, they have both failed to notice there is not actually a guard outside of the door, and they are yelling at the air. When they attempt to defend their actions, she once again quiets them and asks to hear their plans for escape one at a time, inviting Robin to share his first. It turns out that Robin Hood has no viable plan and The Doctor has completely forgotten that he was relieved of his sonic screwdriver by the Sheriff, thus making his escape plan implausible as well.
A guard suddenly appears, and explains that the Sheriff had personally sent him to see who the true ring leader of the group was. As Robin Hood and The Doctor both bravely and presumptuously begin to get ready to see the Sheriff, each believing himself to be the true leader, Clara is taken away by the guard as the real ring leader.
Meanwhile, in the forest, the Merry Men have stolen the golden arrow, and decide they will make camp to rest, and draw up plans to rescue Robin Hood in the morning. The minstrel notices that despite all of the plundering, the Sheriff and his soldiers are only taking the gold but leaving all gems, pearls, and silver. The scene cuts to the dungeon where the gold is being melted down and poured into a cast for a circuit, which is highly reminiscent of the marble circuit portion Caecilius (Capaldi’s character from “Fires of Pompeii”) was creating, unknowingly, for the Pyrovillians to mend their crashed ship.
Clara is brought to the Sheriff, who requests that she eat. He lays out the contents he has taken from The Doctor’s coat, crackers, a needle, his sonic screwdriver, and a spoon. He tells her that he likes her direct manner, and he wonders if she is “from beyond the stars” since The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is evidentially a “thing of awesome power.” Clara quickly quips, “You tell me, you’re the one with the robot army.” She then sweet talks the Sheriff into telling her the story of how he met the robots, by pretending she saw bright lights in the skies a few months back, which is when she believes the Sheriff first met the robot men. The Sheriff assumes she must have seen the same lights he did, and shares his story, filling Clara in that the ship had crashed, and the mechanical men needed a leader to repair the ship in exchange for letting him rule the world. Clara asks why he would still be in the forest if the Sheriff has a ship waiting by, and he tells her it is her turn to share her story. She admits that she has no story and was lying because people tend to share more when they think the other person already knows the story, and she wanted to know the whole situation. The Sheriff is furious, but acknowledges how clever Clara is and determines she would make a good consort, or queen for him. Clara steps back and threatens him, assuring him she would not be taking a place by his side.
Back in the dungeon cell, The Doctor and Robin Hood are still bantering and arguing about how to escape and what plan they should use. They decide the best plan is to have one of them groaning in agonizing pain and proceed to argue over who should have to groan and who should be speaking with the guards. Robin Hood takes a few shots at The Doctor’s stage in life and age, not knowing he is speaking with a Time Lord versus a regular human being, and The Doctor tells Robin that since he came up with the plan he ought to be the one to groan. Working together, they get the guard in the cell, and The Doctor continues to insult Robin to the guard while moving the plan forward. Robin is annoyed, but the plan is working, and The Doctor tells the guard that Robin is worth a very large bounty. Robin pretends to be struggling to say something, and The Doctor tells the guard to go away, convincing the guard that he should stay with reverse psychology. The guard leans in to hear what Robin is saying and gets knocked out by a head butt from the prepared Robin. Once the guard is knocked out, the two men continue arguing, and manage to lose the key by fighting over who can drag it over with their foot, accidentally knocking it down into water in the process. The Doctor points out that at least Clara did not see the error the two men made, and they pick up the chains and weights and leave the cell. The Doctor states they must find a blacksmith immediately, and it appears they find one fairly quickly because within minutes, they are walking down the hallway chainless, and see a door at the end of the corridor.
Opening the door, it leads to a spaceship, and Robin Hood is in awe, as The Doctor proclaims, “at last, something real. No more fairy tales.” It turns out the ship was from the 29th Century, and The Doctor uses the data base to figure out where the ship was originally headed. The screen displays the words, “The Promised Land” and The Doctor recalls that was the intended destination of the half faced man, but this was being done in a more sophisticated manner. Since the ship’s course was set to the “Promised Land” it seems that we as viewers can now rule out “The Promised Land”
as a virtual projection, since the ship was able to lock onto the physical coordinates. It also seems less likely that Missy’s “Heaven” is in a parallel universe, as The Doctor has explained in other seasons (primarily S3 and S4 of New-Who) that travel between parallel worlds is impossible, yet this ship had chartered a course to this place. It is seeming more and more as though “The Promised Land” is a true destination, though we still do not understand how people who have died could be revived there and be living under Missy’s care, nor where it is or how The Doctor has never heard of it.
Similarly to the ship from “The Lodger” above Craig Owen’s flat, the ship had crashed in the 12th century, and disguised itself to fit in. Keeping a low profile, it disguises itself as part of the castle and disguises the robots as soldiers. The engines are damaged, and The Doctor realizes the engines are leaking radiation, which is the same affliction Rusty the Dalek suffered from in our last episode, “Into the Dalek.” The radiation leak was creating a temporary environment making the sun too bright and the plants a bit too green for that time of year, explaining why the forest did not look like autumn to The Doctor. In the ship’s memory banks are every myth and legend in human history, including the story of Robin Hood, verifying in The Doctor’s mind that the man they have been calling Robin Hood, could not possibly be real. The doors explode open and the Sheriff and his knights come on board, they try to exterminate Robin Hood, who grabs Clara, pulling her in front of him. For a split second, I was wondering why Robin Hood was using Clara as his human shield, but it turns out he is simply trying to “survive” the attack, and falls backwards out of the window into the moat. Robin Hood then climbs out of the water, holding Clara, and carries her off.
The Doctor confronts the Sheriff and tells him to stop pretending, that he is aware that they are plundering for gold to create a matrix to repair their ship. As The Doctor learns that the Sheriff intends to get to London and take his place as king there, a robot bonks The Doctor on the head and he is knocked clean out. As the sun rises, we find out that The Doctor has been taken to the dungeon, and is locked up with the other children and workers. The golden circuit seems to be ready, and the ship is building power to the engines while The Doctor is chained. The Doctor yells out that the ship will not be fixed because they do not have enough gold, and that it will explode and blow up half the earth when he realizes he is being watched. It is the young woman from the beginning of the episode who had been taken away in shackles.
Back in Sherwood Forest, Clara awakes to Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, she smiles, and Robin declares that “the time for games is over.” He tells her she must tell him everything she knows about Robin Hood, who The Doctor truly is, and what The Doctor’s plans are. Clara looks confused and we are brought back to the dungeon.
In the dungeon, the young woman from the beginning is now sitting next to The Doctor rather than across from him. A knight/robot walks over and determines The Doctor is fit for work, so his handcuffs should be undone. The Doctor surprises the robot by already having been released from the handcuffs, and holds a plate/platter up to defend himself against the robot’s purple laser shot causing it to bounce back and destroy the robot. The platter is similar to the one The Doctor held up in “Deep Breath” encouraging the half faced man to use as a mirror, though for now, until we see more, it seems this is only coincidental. All of the peasants have been armed with plates and platters as shields, and each of the robot’s shots continue to rebound and destroy the robot knights. Finally, there is only one knight left and he is surrounded by the peasants, his blast bounces around the entire room, and finally fires back at the knight killing him. The Doctor tells everyone to get out quickly, knowing that they are actually in a disguised ship rather than a dungeon, and the girl from the beginning of the episode, who is now the last one leaving, stops and says, “You’ve saved us all kind one, thank you” and kisses him on the cheek. The Doctor touches his face where she kissed him and pauses, before running off himself.
The Sheriff calls The Doctor clever, and tells him his aim is to alter history, else “what would be the point?” as he puts one of the robot knight’s heads into a part of the ship, for seemingly no reason, which is never explained and not revisited. He pulls an internal screen up simply by touching the table, though it is only explained later how a seemingly human being would have the capacity to do something so advanced with a ship from so far into the future.
The Doctor tells the Sheriff that it does not have to end like this, that he will blow up half of England and needs to stop being a “pudding headed primitive.” He demands that Clara be returned to him immediately and the Sheriff tells him that he does not have her. The Doctor confronts the Sheriff about the robots creating Robin Hood to pacify the locals and give them hope. The Sheriff points out that it would be a fairly poor idea to invent an enemy that is trying to stop himself, and The Doctor realizes the sheriff is right; it would be a terrible idea. The Doctor now confused, tells the Sheriff that Robin Hood is not real and is but a legend, and Robin Hood and Clara show up, Robin calling The Doctor “too kind” then sliding down a tapestry with Clara, and informing the Sheriff that his men have taken the castle. While the Sheriff and Robin sword fight, the Sheriff powers down the machine knights. Why the robot knights would have given a human being their off switch would be yet another mystery to us viewers, but it allows for a brilliant fight scene between Robin Hood and the Sheriff, and is ultimately explained that the Sheriff is not human. The Doctor screams that the entire castle is going to blow, that they do not have long, but the sword fight continues.
Robin grabs a rope and flies up onto a support beam above, and the Sheriff proclaims “I’m too much for you outlaw, part of a new breed, half man, half engine.” While it seemed throughout the episode the Sheriff was a real man, he explicitly states that he is part of a new “breed” and is half engine/machine. I highly doubt he would have said that if this will not play into the story arch later in the series, but it brings to light that out of the three episodes Capaldi has been in, he has fought a half human/half machine in each episode. In “Deep Breath” the half faced man started as a machine, and stuffed human parts into himself creating a half man half machine persona. Rusty from “Into the Dalek” is a living creature inside of a dalekanium shell, supported by metal and machinery, and now the Sheriff of Nottingham has proclaimed he too is half man half machine in “Robots of Sherwood.” I am unsure if this will be a recurring theme in all of the episodes this series or if this is just something to cause the viewer to think and question what humanity is, but it seems clear that this incarnation of The Doctor is meeting half humans/half machines with some regularity.
As Robin is up on the support beam, the Sheriff flies up after him after revealing his being “part of a new breed” and the dueling continues. With time running out the Sheriff disarms Robin Hood, his sword falling to the ground below. Robin opens his arms as if to accept defeat and as the Sheriff goes to run him through, Robin turns using The Doctor’s move, pushing him off and into the boiling cauldron of liquid gold. Despite the fact that Robin has a wound on the arm, he sighs relief and comes down to The Doctor and Clara. The Doctor tells them to run, and we see a shot of the Sheriff’s arms reaching out of the cauldron, implying the fall and boiling liquid did not kill him right away, and he was attempting to crawl out when the gold finally solidified and stopped him.
The Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood all get out of the castle just in time, and the ship takes off, attempting to use the golden circuit to reach orbit. The Doctor, having gone through the ship’s data base, is aware that the circuit they have created will not be enough to get the ship into orbit, nevermind past there, and knows it needs more gold to fly high enough to safely explode in outer space rather than in the Earth’s atmosphere, killing half of the population. The band of Merry Men had grabbed the golden arrow in the confusion at the archery tournament as they steal from the rich on a regular basis, and The Doctor believes it may be just enough extra gold to push the ship into orbit. He tells Robin to take the shot, but Robin’s arm is still hurt from the sword fight with the Sheriff and he asks The Doctor to do the honors. The Doctor at this point now admits that he is not as wonderful of a shot as he had lead on, and that he had used special arrows with homing devices to hit the target during the archery competition. Clara is once more annoyed by her two heroes arguing and grabs the bow, deciding she will try. They all realize that they must work together, and the three shoot the golden arrow into the ship, giving it the extra boost and getting it into orbit before the engines go critical and explode safely out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Everyone cheers, except for The Doctor, and Clara points out that The Doctor is “still not keen on the laughing thing.”
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow properly prior to leaving and she tells him she will miss him. They exchange pleasantries and goodbyes, and Clara enters the TARDIS. The Doctor approaches Robin Hood who asks him if he will be forgotten as a real man but his story will remain a legend in the future. The Doctor acknowledges it is true, and Robin Hood says, “Good. History is a burden, stories can make us fly.” The Doctor tells Robin Hood he still has trouble believing Robin’s story as truth, and Robin tells him that it may be a lot to take, but that it is unsurprising that “a man born into wealth and privilege, should find the plight of the weak and oppressed too much to bear. Until finally, one night, he is moved to steal a TARDIS and fly amongst the stars fighting the good fight.” Drawing a parallel between the legend that Robin Hood becomes and the way The Doctor lives his life. The Doctor questions how Robin knew his story, and Robin tells him that Clara had shared; that once she started sharing their stories, she couldn’t help but finish, and that she believes in The Doctor who is her hero. The two agree that perhaps the stories will lead others to be inspired and fight good fights in their names and create other stories. Robin Hood tells The Doctor to remember that he is as real as The Doctor is, and to keep inspiring others to be heroes in their names.
The Doctor walks into the TARDIS and Clara points out that despite the bickering, and The Doctor’s dislike of the consistent laughter, in the end The Doctor liked Robin Hood as a man. The Doctor tells Clara that she is correct and that is why he is leaving Robin a present. The TARDIS dematerializes and behind it is the girl from the beginning of the episode who helped The Doctor in the dungeon. As Robin looks in his locket at his picture of his lost love Maid Marian, the viewer realizes the woman who helped The Doctor is the same woman, and The Doctor has left her behind his TARDIS for Robin to reunite with her. Robin Hood and Marian see each other and embrace, happy to have found one another finally, and the episode ends with Robin Hood and his Merry Men shooting arrows into the sky in The Doctor’s honor.
The episode over all was a fantastic one, and showed exactly how funny, ridiculous, and serious The Doctor can be. The scene where he fights with a spoon is so Doctor-esque, it was perfect. The dialogue allowed the characters to shine and move the story while the chemistry between Capaldi and Tom Riley (Robin Hood) is truly phenomenal and kept me laughing throughout. I feel confident that we will be seeing more half machine half men in the future, and I found the tie-ins to previous episodes very interesting. I enjoyed the fact that we learned more about the “Promised Land” without dwelling on the mystery, and found the circuit connection to be especially pertinent. This has direct ties to “Fires of Pompeii” with the crashed ship needing a circuit board built by humans in both episodes. I have the feeling this “half breed” of machine and man will come back to us as viewers and The Doctor will begin researching the “Promised Land” more now that it has been mentioned to him twice by half man/half robots. I felt the episode was especially fast paced and it seemed shorter than the first two in the series, despite a similar running time as “Into the Dalek.” The banter was the true gem of this episode, while the concept of The Doctor being Clara’s hero is sure to be woven into future episodes. I felt that we learned a bit more about the TARDIS as well through its self healing properties, and the fact that Robin asks Clara how the TARDIS stands her. Overall, the story helped develop the main characters while giving the viewer a mystery and light hearted, funny episode to explore the main concepts in. “Robots of Sherwood” was not only well executed, but reminds us that behind every myth and story is a grain of truth, and that there are heroes amongst us all the time.
Editors Note (added 9.8.14 at 12:15 a.m.): Out of respect for current events, The BBC, Steven Moffat, and the other good folks working on Doctor Who have deleted a scene in which Robin Hood fights with the Sheriff, cutting his head off, and showing he is a robot. This scene would have explained why the Sheriff has control of the robot knights and understands how the ship works. It would actually raise questions as to why the robot Sheriff would want to alter the ship’s course and switch it to London; as well as how he described the ship’s crash from a human point of view while speaking to Clara. It is possible that this scene would have lead into the “half man half machine” line, as we do not know where in the episode it was edited out of at this point.