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Posts Tagged ‘Robot of Sherwood’

If you’re the kind of person who wanders t’Internet seeking out the views of complete strangers on new episodes of massively-popular mainstream audience cult children’s TV series, then you probably spotted the little in-joke towards the end of Robot of Sherwood, where the succession of images of Robin Hood from down the years concluded, not with Kevin Costner, Richard Greene, or even Jason Connery as you might expect, but with a youthful Patrick Troughton from the BBC’s 1953 version of the story.

The odd knowing quote from Douglas Adams excepted, this is – as far as I can recall – the first time it’s been implied that any of the principle creators of Doctor Who actually has, or had, a parallel existence in Who-world itself. In theory, then – and I hope I’m not inciting fanfic in the impressionable here – the Doctor could go back and meet Patrick Troughton, or indeed any of the others. (What a terrible idea for a story.)

This, of course, begs the question of how the Who-world version of Patrick Troughton spent his time between making The Viking Queen in 1967 and Scars of Dracula in 1970. Unless, of course – as Remembrance of the Daleks implies – there is an actual Who-world version of Doctor Who which uncannily reflects the Doctor’s actual life. The fact that the fourth Doctor was never mobbed in the street or pursued by groupies seems to suggest otherwise, though.

The Virgin books actually answered the question of what was running on Saturday teatimes in Who-world by creating a show-within-the-show entitled Professor X, although I don’t recall Patrick Troughton being on the list of Professors: the only one to make it to even the borderline level of canonicity the Virgin books achieved was Frankie Howerd, who was apparently the third or the fourth Professor X (he appears at one point in Paul Cornell’s No Future). No doubt it is only a matter of time until we hear of the stupendously-successful Paul Abbott-curated 21st century revival of Professor X starring Alan Davies and someone from S Club 7.

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You may well be thinking I am spending a lot of time obsessing over one tiny detail of Robot of Sherwood and not talking very much about the rest of the episode. Well, this episode got an unexpected and unwelcome piece of extra publicity last week when it was announced that a decapitation had been subtly recut: in the light of recent events, the BBC felt it had to act to protect the public’s sensibilities.

Well, I have to applaud them, but I have to say that I’m not sure the re-edit was entirely successful. If we’re talking about preserving public sensibilities, I would have cut slightly deeper. I would have cut probably about another forty-five minutes from the episode and shown a repeat of The Time Warrior instead so people would get an idea of what medieval-set Doctor Who actually looks like.

Yes, I’m prepared to be the one swimming against the tide on this one, but the last episode I remember taking such an instant and violent dislike to was Midnight. These days I can see the merits of Midnight, but I can’t imagine the same thing happening with Robot of Sherwood. It’s not the case that this is a badly-realised story like… well, you can probably take your pick from the 20th century series… or a badly-plotted story like The Seeds of Death (bracing myself now for another argument about that one) or Nonsense of the Daleks. It’s just that this is a well-produced, decently-acted realisation of a really, really terrible idea.

I am aware some people have been cooing over the episode for its witty deconstruction of heroic cliches and its ongoing reappraisal of the Doctor’s character, but I am quite sure you could have made an episode including all of those things, but without the broad, crass slapstick and the children’s-TV-level acting and plotting. To begin with I thought the idea of putting Capaldi’s sour and curmudgeonly Doctor into a frothy Matt Smith-style romp might actually work quite well, and the first few moments of the episode were not too bad. (I was amused by the tiny touch of the TARDIS shell resealing itself after the arrow was pulled out, which explains a few things.)

And then the spoon came out and I could’ve sworn I felt the internet rising up in fury – but no, it’s just me. My problem with the spoonfighting sequence isn’t just that it doesn’t make sense – in order to be able to do this, the Doctor would need levels of superhuman strength and co-ordination beyond the wildest dreams of Terrance Dicks, not to mention an adamantium spoon – but simply that it makes the Doctor look silly. The main problem with the whole episode isn’t that its 12th century is almost utterly unconvincing, or that the plot is largely ridiculous, but that it makes the Doctor look petty and childish and stupid. An arrogant or flawed Doctor I can get behind and find interesting, but not one as foolish as we got here.

Why would you make an episode which undercuts the authority and dignity of such an established protagonist in this way? It’s almost as if they don’t actually like the Doctor, or – in a continued attempt to woo the Smith audience – feel the need to show that he can be silly and absurd too, in the right circumstances. All I can say is that I felt slightly embarrassed on Peter Capaldi’s behalf: you wait half your life for your dream job and then get handed a script like this. The sense of disappointment must have been crushing.

Ho well. At least next week is the somewhat-feted return of Steven Moffat to a non-event episode, and the trailer does look promising. Almost anything would be an improvement, though.

(For the two or three strange individuals who actively look forward to and seek out these rants every week: I am unavoidably in Seville for the next ten days (the idea of doing a Two Doctors location tour has occurred to me, obviously). Reaction to Listen will probably appear around the 18th. Sorry.)

 

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