Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 3 review: Robot of Sherwood

Gadzooks! It’s thigh-slapping farce and clashing egos all round as two legends cross sword and spoon. But how can Robin Hood possibly be real?

No castles, no damsels in distress, no such thing as Robin Hood!
It appears that Mark Gatiss didn’t receive the special memo from Steven Moffat. The one detailing how Peter Capaldi’s incarnation was to be a darker, more brooding, and intense presence than any previous Nu-Who Doctor. Robot of Sherwood (a not-so subtle pun on Robin of Sherwood) proved to be a decidedly mediocre romp from the pen of the normally reliable Mr Gatiss (surely the next showrunner when Moffat calls it a day?).

Whereas Deep Breath and Into the Dalek were stories only tellable with the Twelfth Doctor in place, Robot of Sherwood is easily adaptable as an adventure for any of the Doctors. It’d be perfect for Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor duelling with Roger Delgado’s Master, or Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor trading barbs with Anthony Ainley’s Master. Think The Time Monster or The King’s Demons, and then imagine the Master parading around a studio at the BBC as the Sheriff of Nottingham with his tongue firmly in cheek.

For much of the time Peter Capaldi looks like a guest star in his own programme, mainly bitching about how happy Robin and his band are, whilst Jenna Coleman’s Clara goes all fangirl over meeting the legendary outlaw. For once the companion throws herself into an improbable tale more than the Time Lord. The frivolous scenes where the Doctor attempts to prove that Robin and his Merry Men are androids, robots, or replicants of some nature, through the taking of various samples, is another of those moments (as with the colour of kidneys line from The Time of the Doctor) that simply don’t work for the Twelfth Doctor.

Mark Gatiss is on record as being a huge fan of the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, which remains the definitive telling of the Robin Hood legend. The appearance and mannerisms of Tom Reily’s Robin Hood and Ben Miller’s Sheriff are clearly based upon Errol Flynn’s hero and Basil Rathbone’s villain from this cinematic classic. Kevin Costner’s “Indiana Hood” film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves gets a name check from Clara. And is the Doctor’s use of a spoon as a weapon a subtle homage to Alan Rickman’s classic line, “Locksley, I’m gonna cut your heart out with a spoon”?

The Doctor meeting Robin Hood isn’t a new idea for Doctor Who, with the first proposal coming way back in 1978. Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor was due to meet the legendary outlaw in The Shield of Zarak, the planned fourth instalment of The Key to Time season. The narrative twist in the tail was to be that Robin Hood was in fact a villain, the antithesis of his legendary status as a hero. Ultimately The Shield of Zarak was shelved (due in no small part to the writer turning up to meetings drunk) and replaced by The Androids of Tara, a swashbuckling romp with androids/robots in English-like woodland. That seems oddly familiar…

It’s a pity that Robot of Sherwood didn’t take such an innovative approach as the concept of The Shield of Zarak to proceedings. Although all the familiar beats of the legend were followed; the Merry Men, the archery competition, the final duel between Robin and the Sheriff, everything felt flat. Gatiss’ script felt as if it needed a couple of more drafts before it went before the cameras in order to nail down the plot and characters. The revelation of a spaceship concealed within Nottingham Castle came so fast that it seemed that a linking scene had been omitted from the final edit. In a way it’s a shame that the Doctor wasn’t right about being trapped in a Miniscope, as was the case in Carnival of Monsters.

Given the singular lack of passion or conviction in many of the performances it often felt as though a casual rehearsal had been surreptitiously filmed and used. Though the direction by Paul Murphy (Casualty, Wizards vs. Aliens) was workmanlike enough it was plodding dullness personified in comparison to the innovative and atmospheric techniques employed by Ben Wheatley in Deep Breath and Into the Dalek.

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… until one night he is moved to steal a TARDIS? Fly among the stars, fighting the good fight?
Gatiss normally delivers hugely entertaining romps (his Cold War being the only decent story of the 2013 series) but Robot of Sherwood is decidedly his most lacklustre contribution out of the seven adventures he’s weaved for 21st century Doctor Who. Perhaps expanded to a length equivalent to the old four 25 minute episodes of the classic era, with room to develop the secondary characters and the world in which they operate, Robot of Sherwood might have been a richer experience. Part of the enjoyment of Deep Breath comes from it being the longest episode produced for Nu-Who with room to dwell on character and atmosphere.

Perhaps the most effective moment of the episode comes with the comparison of the natures of the Doctor and Robin. Both being high born nobles who rejected their heritages and societies in order to defend the weak and vulnerable from tyranny and enslavement.

The evolving Capaldi/Coleman double act was one of the few positive aspects of Robot of Sherwood. A refreshing change was seeing the Doctor and Clara already aboard the TARDIS as the story opened. Too frequently time is wasted by the Doctor collecting his companion from contemporary Earth before setting off on a new adventure. A key feature of Doctor Who used to be the companion being separated from their own time and place (perhaps forever) due to the unreliable navigation of the TARDIS. In the 1960s the TARDIS could never be guided to a specific point in space and time. Nowadays it feels as though the time ship is a coach taking Clara for a day out at a theme park. How about getting back to some genuine wandering in the fourth dimension?

Although there’s another mention of the “Promised Land”, an underlying theme of Series 8, ultimately Robot of Sherwood is a frothy tongue-in-cheek lightweight romp that can be enjoyed with a couple of alcoholic beverages without worrying too much about its place within Moffat’s grand schemes.

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 2 review: Into the Dalek

It’s time for Doctor Who to go “Into Dalekness” in an exploration of the alien hearts of darkness beating within the Doctor and the Daleks.

Clara, be my pal. Tell me… am I a good man?
When Doctor Who previously lifted inspiration from Fantastic Voyage the life form that the Fourth Doctor found himself inside of in The Invisible Enemy was himself. Now, in the second adventure for the Twelfth Doctor, the Time Lord and Clara found themselves miniaturised and sent Into the Dalek. A Dalek so badly damaged by internal radiation leakage that it’s core programming had been overridden to place it on the side of the angels. As their original “birth” as instruments of ethic cleansing was due to radiation there’s a certain irony in radiation taking “Rusty”, as the Doctor dubbed the damaged Dalek, to a new level of evolution.

It’s an intriguing concept and one explored to the full by co-writers Phil Ford and Steven Moffat. It’s the first time that Moffat has taken a co-writing credit on Doctor Who. Given the amount of uncredited rewriting he must do to other scripts as showrunner his work with Ford must have been significant. Ford’s previous contribution to Nu-Who was another collaboration, The Waters of Mars with then-showrunner Russell T Davies.

The examination of the Doctor’s morality vs. the hatred of a species bent on racial purity has been a key theme of Dalek stories in Nu-Who. But is the Doctor’s loathing of the Daleks tainting his soul? Is his view of the Daleks no better than their genocidal view of all other races in existence? Is it possible that his crusade to rid all of history of the influence of the Daleks has made the Doctor no better than his archenemies?

In Genesis of the Daleks the Fourth Doctor demurred when presented with the opportunity to avert the creation of the Daleks. In one of the greatest moral moments in the history of Doctor Who he asked, “Do I have the right?”. The Fourth Doctor feared becoming no better than the Daleks themselves if he wiped out an entire intelligent life form for all time.

All those years ago, when I began, I was just running, I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. And then, I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot and I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.
Into the Dalek was filmed in the same production block as Deep Breath, which meant the directing duties were once again handled by Ben Wheatley. With his masterful handling of both this Dalek adventure and Capaldi’s debut, Wheatley has shown himself to be one of the best directors to grace Nu-Who to date - if not the best. The director painted a tapestry that felt as though months of time and millions of pounds were expended to bring Moffat and Ford’s script to life. Credit must also be heaped upon behind the scenes team who, whatever the ropiness of the script they’ve been handed, have consistently delivered polished and sumptuous productions. A long road of arduous toil has been travelled since Rose and Aliens of London/World War Three. That chaotic first production block of the Eccleston era taught all involved how hard making Doctor Who was, especially for a 21st century audience used to filmic quality television.

Since the Daleks arrived in Nu-Who their voices have been provided by Nicholas Briggs (responsible for so much of the success enjoyed by Big Finish). Time after time this self-professed fan of all things Dalek has imbued the premier Doctor Who monster with nuanced and powerful performances. From the lone cyborg of Dalek, to the insane Dalek Cann of the Cult of Skaro, and now to “Rusty”, Briggs has provided subtle, entertaining and chilling individuality to a race of conformity.

Jenna Coleman’s development as Clara continued apace after a virtual reset of her character in Deep Breath. Whereas her relationship with the Eleventh Doctor was mostly scripted as a badly written screwball comedy she’s come into her own in association with the Twelfth Doctor. No longer a lightweight and goofy partner in crime, she’s now the Doctor’s strong moral compass. An audience surrogate to draw attention to the darker aspects of the new Doctor.

I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty. I see divinity. I see hatred.
After spending centuries as a self-professed pacifist, always seeking the peaceful solutions to conflict, the Doctor succumbed to being a soldier when his eighth incarnation (Paul McGann) “died” in The Night of the Doctor. His regeneration into the hidden incarnation of the War Doctor (John Hurt) was a conscious choice to be a warrior rather than a healer. With the Twelfth Doctor the morally questionable aspects of the War Doctor are rising to the surface.

The last time a Doctor was made this darkly humoured, prickly, and unapproachable, the whole thing blew up in the production team’s face and Colin Baker unfairly made the scapegoat. The Twelfth Doctor’s persona is a big risk for Moffat but it’s unimaginable that Capaldi could have played a flirty incarnation in the style of his two immediate predecessors. Accounts vary on how much the decision to eliminate the flirting was a demand on Capaldi’s part before accepting the role. Whatever the truth of the matter it’s brought Doctor Who home. It’s once again a series about a mysterious alien who’s an enigma to those around him.

Once upon a time the Doctor’s best friend was a soldier: Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) - a man “steeped in blood” as Morgaine declared in Battlefield. The Doctor’s rejection of as Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) as a potential companion is a clear indicator that he no longer wishes to associate himself with those versed in death. The introduction of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), Clara’s fellow Coal Hill School teacher, and future boyfriend, seems set to highlight the Doctor’s hanging-by-a-thread morality. As a veteran of the Afghanistan war Danny has obviously killed and one can’t imagine the Doctor being happy about Clara associating herself with such a man.

Overcoming a potentially hokey science fiction concept, Into the Dalek delivered a strong examination of the Daleks and their morality held up in comparison to the Doctor’s. The episode is for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor what Dalek was for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. A bold look into the Doctor’s normally suppressed heart of darkness. An examination of the latent fury that is unleashed as pure hatred when he’s confronted with the Daleks.

Into the Dalek continues the fundamental shift of Doctor Who towards a more adult-orientated format and the series is all the better, and more entertaining, for doing so.

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 1 review: Deep Breath

Peter Capaldi’s arrival as the more alien Twelfth Doctor heralds a darker, more violent, and potentially controversial, new direction for Doctor Who.

Well, here we go again.
As the eighth series of 21st century Doctor Who (hereafter known as “Nu-Who”, rhyming with “yoohoo”) drew closer and closer Steven Moffat harkened on to anyone and everyone who’d listen about the more alien and adult nature of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Combined with the promise of a more horror-orientated tone to proceedings, this evoked in longterm fans memories of the early Tom Baker “gothic horror” years - widely regarded as the series’ Golden Age.

Once upon a time the template for 21st century Doctor Who was the fast-paced, lavishly produced, Douglas Adams-penned romp City of Death. Now it seemed that the Doctor’s adventures would owe their heritage to the darkly humoured, violent and dramatic tales orchestrated by the popular and acclaimed Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. Delivering classics such as Pyramids of Mars, The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, this period of Doctor Who was also its most controversial, as the production team frequently crossed swords with moral watchdogs.

In recent years Moffat’s hype had been built upon rocky foundations. Little substance delivered from a multitude of promises. As his stewardship of Doctor Who continued Moffat’s deservedly award-wining early successes, such as Blink, faded away to be replaced by painful tripe like The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Despite the questionable quality of recent stories, the series’ popularity was at an all-time high in its 50th anniversary year and the more youthful and romantic Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were fan favourites. Would Moffat really go down a potentially dangerous path and alter so much of the format virtually overnight?

Incredibly the answer has been yes. A resounding fantastic yes. For once Moffat delivered on a promise. And how! The difference between The Time of the Doctor and Deep Breath is astounding. Whereas Matt Smith’s finale was a bloated incoherent leviathan, Capaldi’s debut delivered a gritty character-based drama.

Why this one? Why did I choose…this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something, like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I just can’t tell myself what I’m thinking?
The beating heart of darkness inhabiting the centre of Deep Breath is Peter Capaldi. The casting of Capaldi, the oldest actor to play the role since William Hartnell (the very first Doctor) appears to mark a genuine attempt to shake up the format of Nu-Who. Everyone knew Capaldi was a magnificent actor but as the Twelfth Doctor he’s intense, compelling, and, at times, plain bloody frightening. From demented post-regeneration ramblings, through to the fury-ridden and near-murderous confrontation with the Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando), Capaldi is nothing short of astonishing, unpredictable and revelatory.

No longer is the Doctor attempting to conform to social norms by adopting a youthful countenance. His new appearance reflects his 2000 year old soul and his battles against evil throughout space and time. The Doctor’s conviction that he’s seen this new visage is to become a plot device to reconcile Capaldi’s previous appearances within the Doctor Who universe (The Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood: Children of Earth), courtesy of an idea from Russell T Davies.

Whether this explanation can be applied to explain why Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor looks remarkably similar to Commander Maxil from Arc of Infinity remains to be seen…



Droids harvesting spare parts. That rings a bell.
The Twelfth Doctor is genuinely more surprising and alien than any incarnation since Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. Possibly ever. He’s so at odds with the previously established nature of the Doctor it truly genuinely seemed that Clara (Jenna Coleman) had been abandoned to her fate in the bowels of the android spaceship in a moment of total callousness from the Time Lord.

Ah… Jenna Coleman…

Prior to Deep Breath the reviews here have been justifiably critical (in my opinion) of Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald. The actor simply couldn’t deliver a performance of any nuance or depth. Though, in her defence, being saddled with a character that was a shallow plot gimmick didn’t help. With Capaldi’s arrival there seemed every chance that she’d be blown off the screen by the abilities of the more experienced actor. Instead the dynamic between the new Doctor and Clara resulted in a remarkable occurrence: Jenna Coleman was good, she was really really good. Whatever was thrown at her, from pure terror to righteous anger, she rose to the challenge and delivered brilliantly.

In the same way that Sarah Jane Smith came into her own when the Fourth Doctor arrived (let’s face it she was fairly ineffectual in that year she spent with the Third Doctor), the Twelfth Doctor/Clara TARDIS team now has the potential to become one of the classic pairings.

Hello, hello, rubbish robots from the dawn of time, thank you for all the gratuitous information.
Elements such as face masks and hot air balloons rendered from human skin, and rough metallic technology harnessed to human organs, pushed the boundaries of gruesomeness permitted in pre-watershed television in the 21st century. For the first time in decades a concerted attempt is underway to “put the little buggers behind the sofa”, as script editor Robert Holmes once termed his mission to scare the nation’s children.

Marshalled by the skilled hand of inventive director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) Deep Breath, proved to be a grittier and scarier affair than anything previously delivered by Nu-Who. In 2009 much was made of The Waters of Mars supposedly being the most frightening Doctor Who adventure ever screened but that pales in comparison to Deep Breath. Wheatley delivered the most unique directorial vision for the series since Graeme Harper helmed The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks.

You realise, of course, that one of us is lying about our basic programming.
However, after all the adulation let’s look at faults with Deep Breath that bring down its quality to the level of “very good” rather than “classic”…

Whilst Murray Gold has learnt to do atmospheric again after too many years of bombastic and overblown, his latest interpretation of the theme tune is awful beyond measure. It’s the worst since the Dominic Glynn monstrosity foisted upon The Trial of a Time Lord. Based upon the ever-decreasing quality of each successive version by Gold, a campaign must be launched for the reinstatement for all time of the 1970s version of the iconic Ron Grainer/Delia Derbyshire original.

And do we really need another enigmatic female claiming a relationship with the Doctor? He’s already got a “wife” in the shape of Alex Kingston’s River Song, so who the hell is this “Missy” (Michelle Gomez) laying claim to the Doctor as her “boyfriend”? Oh, Steven Moffat, you fool. You so very nearly made it through an entire episode without doing something exceptionally daft. Though the absence of the near-poisonous and astoundingly misguided misogyny of the latter Eleventh Doctor adventures is an welcome deep breath of fresh air.

I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over 2000 years. I’ve made many mistakes. And it’s about time I did something about that…
As the TARDIS departs Earth, the Doctor (an elderly looking unpredictable alien) and his companion (a teacher from Coal Hill School) are destined to meet the Daleks. As it was in the first year so it is again as Doctor Who begins its sixth decade of adventures in space and time…

50 things a Doctor Who fan should know

Tying in with their broadcast of classic Doctor Who stories from the era of the first seven Doctors the Horror Channel have produced a fantastic infographic containing various facts. figures and trivia about the universe’s favourite Time Lord.

Mad Max returns in Fury Road

After an absence of three decades Mad Max returns on 15 May 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road.

From director George Miller, originator of the post-apocalyptic genre and mastermind behind the legendary Mad Max franchise, comes Mad Max: Fury Road, a return to the world of Road Warrior, Max Rockatansky.

Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by an elite Imperator, Furiosa. They are escaping a Citadel tyrannised by the Immortan Joe, from whom something irreplaceable has been taken. Enraged, the Warlord marshals all his gangs and pursues the rebels ruthlessly in the high-octane Road War that follows.
Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) assumes the role of Max Rockatansky from Mel Gibson. Supporting cast includes Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster, Prometheus), Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Rosie-Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers: Dark of the Moon).

More information on Mad Max: Fury Road can be found at the official Facebook page and website.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Comic-Con First Look [HD]

On 8 September 2014 BBC Worldwide are releasing the Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition. Limited to 6,000 Blu-rays and 4,000 DVDs this limited edition collector’s set gathers together a whole of host of material from the 50th anniversary year of the much-loved groundbreaking science fiction series. 

The set includes four special adventures for the Doctor: the Series 7b finale The Name of the Doctor, introducing John Hurt’s War Doctor; the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, featuring the return and regeneration of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor; the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor; and The Time of the Doctor, Matt Smith’s final adventure as the Eleventh Doctor.

Also included is An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’ award-winning docudrama about the genesis of Doctor Who, and The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot comedy spoof, with Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and a whole host of Doctor Who alumni past and present.
Other ancillary material includes:
The Day Of The Doctor read through.
	Trailers, cinema introduction and deleted scenes for The Day Of The Doctor.
	Behind-the-scenes features on The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor and An Adventure In Space And Time.
	Doctor Who The Ultimate Guide.
	The Last Day mini-episode.
	Tales from the TARDIS.
	Farewell to Matt Smith.
	The Science of Doctor Who.
	2013 Doctor Who Prom.

On 8 September 2014 BBC Worldwide are releasing the Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition. Limited to 6,000 Blu-rays and 4,000 DVDs this limited edition collector’s set gathers together a whole of host of material from the 50th anniversary year of the much-loved groundbreaking science fiction series. 

The set includes four special adventures for the Doctor: the Series 7b finale The Name of the Doctor, introducing John Hurt’s War Doctor; the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, featuring the return and regeneration of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor; the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor; and The Time of the Doctor, Matt Smith’s final adventure as the Eleventh Doctor.

Also included is An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’ award-winning docudrama about the genesis of Doctor Who, and The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot comedy spoof, with Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and a whole host of Doctor Who alumni past and present.

Other ancillary material includes:

  • The Day Of The Doctor read through.
  • Trailers, cinema introduction and deleted scenes for The Day Of The Doctor.
  • Behind-the-scenes features on The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the DoctorThe Time of the Doctor and An Adventure In Space And Time.
  • Doctor Who The Ultimate Guide.
  • The Last Day mini-episode.
  • Tales from the TARDIS.
  • Farewell to Matt Smith.
  • The Science of Doctor Who.
  • 2013 Doctor Who Prom.