The common perception is that for the majority of Capaldi’s time on the show, everything’s been dark and miserable, and it’s only in the latest series that he started to be fun. This episode is evidence to the contrary, setting its tone in the opening TARDIS scene which shows Clara and the Twelfth Doctor noticeably more comfortable with each other. This is one of those occasions where life with the Doctor feels like an absolute blast.
It’s an episode that stands alone far more than most, without any scenes of Clara’s non-TARDIS life, or cameos from Missy. Just a good old fashioned Doctor Who adventure, which brings together two of Britain’s all time greatest folk heroes, both of whom have been played by Patrick Troughton. Tom Riley does a good job as a Robin Hood who laughs in the face of danger in order to hide the fear, even if the script didn’t need to point this out so explicitly. Always nice to see Rusty Goffe too, as one of the Merry Men.
I mean, it was no Maid Marian, but there was a great sense of fun to proceedings, such as the Doctor bringing a spoon to a swordfight, and the archery competition, which saw him exchanging more and more elaborate shots with Robin, until he got bored and set fire to the target. I enjoyed the rivalry between the pair, especially the Doctor railing against “banter”. He is so right.
Of course, in amongst all the fun and games, you’ve also got Ben Miller turning up and skewering passing old men. He was on his way to being a great villain, but his story didn’t quite make sense, and I only figured out why when I remembered what was cut. The revelation that he was a robot in disguise changes everything about the character, and fills in all the gaps. Obviously they kind of had to cut it in the circumstances of that particular week, but it’s a shame.
It makes me wonder whether the scene should have been reinstated for the home release – normally I’m a stickler for preserving the original broadcast versions, but the omission really does damage the episode, inelegantly removing the thing that the Sheriff’s story has been leading to, while leaving in references to it that become non-sequiturs. With the boxset release having come long enough after broadcast to avoid any offence, I’d rather have been presented with the originally-intended version of the episode as the definitive version.
It does lose its way a bit after this, culminating in the whole golden arrow thing. This spaceship has nowhere near enough of the gold it needs to get into orbit, but an extra arrow’s worth will do it. Let’s deliver it via the traditional refuelling method of jabbing it into the side, and then everything will be fine. But it hardly matters – as always with Robin Hood, the facts and practicalities aren’t as important as the myth and the legend, and this was a hell of an entertaining story.