Saturday, September 6, 2014

Robot of Sherwood - "Is it so hard to credit? That a man born into wealth and privilege should find the plight of the oppressed and weak too much to bear?"

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Series 8, Story #3 (Overall Series Story #248) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via show me the stars
As always: spoilers. You've been warned.

Has Doctor Who ever censored/edited itself in light of current events before?  Nobody was shot in the head in any of the episodes of "An Unearthly Child", which debuted in the shadow of the Kennedy assassination, although the Doctor nearly brained Za, the caveman ...

It's worth asking the question: was the edit (removing the scene where the Sheriff is beheaded*) warranted considering the recent beheadings of the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AKA IS, ISIL, ISIS)? It's the age-old "too soon?" question -- because, obviously, we're not going to see an end to beheadings on TV and film forever, so we're clearly in some sensitivity period -- that I think we only need to look at one of this week's other headlines for which to find an answer. Joan Rivers is no longer with us to remind the world that it's never too soon. We can safely assume the scene will be restored when the series makes it to video release, so we probably oughtn't get our noses bent for the slight damage cutting the scene does to the plot.

Another question it might be worth asking is: should shows still do the Robin Hood episode? Are we past peak Robin Hood in 2014? If your first thought of a sci-fi show doing Robin Hood was this:

The Enterprise D crew in "Qpid" via fanpop
 ... then you might've groaned a little when you first saw "Robot of Sherwood" listed as an upcoming episode. In a period of increasing wealth inequality, the legend of Robin Hood is as timely as ever. That said, could this episode have stood a stronger dash of righteous socialist anger at the exploitation of laborers -- that is to say more than Marxism 101 crib notes dotted throughout?

This is a fun, pacy episode; a perfectly acceptable mode for Doctor Who, the light entertainment. It can't be the only mode, or the series risks becoming forgettable. But small-stakes peril, a plot that leaves the rails, and giving history a proper thrashing in the course of mining public domain literary figure/pop culture mainstays is fair play in my book. Think too hard about how the peasants got hold of all those gold plates, why they worked as perfect reflectors, how unlikely it is Clara would get another chance to get interrogated by a cyborg, how that gold arrow was fired from a regular bow, went that high, and made a lick of difference, and you'll just end up realizing you should have been rolling your eyes all the way through the back half of this one, if you weren't already. So, yeah, I think this is one that's going to provoke love/strong dislike responses. (Or, split the difference. Let's cover all the bases.)

Having just watched "The Mind Robber," this bit felt like deliberate reference to that old classic:
"Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end. Goodbye, Doctor. Time Lord of Gallifrey."
"Goodbye, Robin Hood. Earl of Loxley."
"And remember, Doctor, I'm just as real as you are."
Gatiss certainly couldn't have written that without the Land of Fiction in mind, could he have? On re-watch, that "And remember ..." sounded so Clara, and Robin telling the Doctor Clara told him the story of the Doctor, and once she got started she couldn't stop ... If there's a storyteller in the Land of Fiction, it sure sounds like it could be Clara.

Stray Thoughts (enumerated because there are lots this week):

1. No Missy. Instead we get another group of robots looking for the Promised Land, so it appears the droids in "Deep Breath" may have got their destination from these robots, or been looking for the same place themselves, not from Christian mysticism after all.

2a. Watching the previews, when the Doctor pulls out a spoon to duel Robin Hood, I immediately flashed to Basil Fawlty confronting the man he assumed was a hotel inspector about the man's actual profession. SSSSSsssssspppppppooooooooooooons. So, of course I went looking for it and, lo and behold:

2b. Related:

3. "Feck ya, Robin Hud" *snortlaugh*

Image via RocketJohn
4. What's the strongest Doctor Who - Robin Hood connection? It must be the actor who first played the role on TV, our man Patrick Troughton, who -- amazingly -- is shown as Robin Hood in the database of the damaged robot ship:

Image via GoldenAppleGuy

5. The first literary reference to Robin Hood is in Piers Plowman, and I'll pull the quote here because it also makes reference to the Latin name of the Lord's Prayer, which'll be better known to irreligious Whovians as the name of our favorite gang:

6. redditor Planet_PGS asked: "Did anyone else hear the Jon Pertwee 'Hai!' When he karate chopped Robin's arm?" Hell yes, I did! I jumped on the internet to do a quick search and was, as usual, slightly disappointed I never get to point anything out first.  [reddit thread for this ep] Love the reference to the miniscope as well ... Pertwee's Doctor is all over this one. Even the setting and the basic outline of aliens with superior technology crashing on Earth and going to work for a local strongman calls back to Linx and Irongron in "The Time Warrior".

7. All the crosses in this one, whether cross-shaped robot face blasters, or cross shaped openings in dungeon walls that shine upon the Doctor ... all that was missing was choir music to complete the effect. That Clara had all of time to choose from and decided to go see one legendary hero of oppressed, one man who put used preternatural skills to lessen the suffering of the poor ... and she chose Robin Hood was good on her, but this episode leaned hard on the idea that we somehow need heroic figures to carry on, while debunking the idea that figure would be little more than the opiate of the masses. That didn't sit right with me.

8. 1190-ish, puts Clara and Twelve in Sherwood at about the same time Vicki, Ian, and Barbara are in Palestine with their Doctor meeting up with Richard around Palestine in "The Crusade".

* Why do we say "behead" instead of "dehead", I wondered? Found google does this nifty thing now where searching using 'etymology' as the first operator returns a card at the top of the search results, wherein I learned it's because the prefix "be-" here is derived from Old English, not Latin, as I should have surmised on my own. So we have the latinate "decapitate" but it's "be-" that goes with "head" when were talking about taking one off. Here endeth the lesson.

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