Having defeated Robin the Doctor and Clara are introduced to the Merry Men who lay out their situation with the Doctor poking and prodding them the entire time (convinced that they are not what they say). One of the fun and delightful aspects of Doctor Who has been how it sometimes toys with history. Sherwood Forest is not the most pleasant of places with its typical “British” weather and the Doctor points this out. In real life this was the end of the Medieval Warm Period, a brief period of global climate change where the temperatures raised to make Britain unusually warm and clement (though the period lasted approximately 200 years). Everything is too perfect for the Doctor who seems to see monsters behind every corner (or if not monsters at least incompetents trying to pull a fast one on him).
The Doctor never liking being second fiddle bests both the Sheriff and Robin and tosses away the arrow instead asking for knowledge as a prize. This point everything goes pear shaped and it is revealed the knights are in fact robots. The Doctor immediately assumes Robin is one himself as well as the Sheriff but surrenders in order to gain information. One thing to watch out for though is a little karate chop performed by the Doctor. Immediately it put me in mind of this:
What happens next is brilliance and again pure 4th Doctor. The Doctor and Robin squabble in the dungeon with neither being able to come up with a plan to get them out of this situation and Clara channeling high school teacher in possibly the most believable piece of acting on the show to date. She is having none of their rubbish and calls them both out brilliantly. This is what we need more of.
Of course it is assumed (because the other two are acting like children) she is in charge and she’s brought before the Sheriff to explain herself. We see Clara again manipulating and steering things the way she wants. We need more of this Clara, she is smart, she is funny, she is fierce and she is no one’s fool. In short she has in three episodes become possibly the best companion in years!
The Doctor is confined to the Dungeons where he meets a young woman seen earlier being taken prisoner. She is not given a name as of yet but it’s clear she is a strong woman who has already once pushed back against the authority of the Robot guards. They begin a rebellion among the captive peasants meanwhile Robin confronts Clara on what the Doctor has said demanding to know the truth behind it and who this Doctor is and what his plans are.
Cutting back to the rebellion the serfs mount a brave defence disabling the robots using the very gold they covet to reflect the robot’s energy blasts back at themselves. After the serfs flee the Sheriff and his robots corner the Doctor who confronts the Sheriff with his plan laying out that he was going to use the gold to repair the ship which had been leaking radiation (which had been causing the warming period) and that Robin was in fact a robot like the robots who had been helping him, an “opiate for the masses” quoting Marx. The sheriff (in a delightful snub towards the world of conspiracy theorists) called this one of the most stupid things he had ever heard and how it made no sense which the Doctor slowly realized was true. It was intensely stupid and Capaldi again brings his full acting game with minor expressions on the Doctor’s face conveying vast realizations and sweeping changes in perception.
Right on cue Robin steps in and challenges the Sheriff, it wouldn’t be a Robin Hood appearance without at least one tapestry slide and here we get it followed by a battle that mirrors the opening one instead this time above a molten vat of gold. Taking a lesson from the Doctor and his earlier spoon wielding Robin prevails and they flee unfortunately the robots are still trying to get away in their ship that is perilously close to exploding due to a lack of gold. Robin, Clara and the Doctor are able to work together using the golden arrow to boost the ship in to orbit before it explodes (only after the Doctor admits he cheated during the archery contest earlier).
We close with Clara reminding Robin to never give up and to continue to be who is, the Doctor confronts Robin who admits that Clara told him about the Doctor’s similar past as a thief and a rogue. This is where the denial thread comes to a close (at least for now), Robin insists it is better to be a legend than history, legends inspire great deeds and history are but facts. The Doctor and Robin, he insists, need to be the men who inspire others to greatness and not simply men doing great deeds themselves alluding to Clara who pictures them both as heroes. Robin and The Doctor are one in the same which is why they infuriate one another so much. The doctor shakes his hand and bids him adieu before leaving him a gift in the form of the young woman from the dungeon who it turns out is Robin’s lost love Marian.
This is, in short, the best episode of Doctor Who in ages. Robin Hood and Doctor Who are both quintessential British stories, Robin is one of the few English myths (the other being King Arthur) and the Doctor in many ways is a modern adaptation of that especially in his current incarnation since 2005 coming to reflect Robin. Simply look at Smith's Doctor's loathing of Victorian England, an era defined by greed.
I know I’ve said that a lot so far this season but it is a real classic episode with some of the trappings of modern Who but never at the detriment of what made classic Who so special and fun. There is humor and there is conflict, there is swash buckling and there is brainy solutions to problems. It is a great balance of old and new, we had the monster of the week story but we also had the overarching story touched on in a gentle way no Missy and no more than a couple of lines devoted to it. It really feels like Moffat learnt from all the complaints of the last couple of years of his run and the complaints about the Davies run and has brought us back to something fans old and new can enjoy together.