It’s time for a delightful romp as the Doctor and Clara head to Sherwood forest to meet the not-so-fictional Robin Hood! This was a lovely episode that showed just how good Doctor Who can be when it indulges in a bit of silly fun. I have absolutely no complaints, so this week I’m not going to do a proper review. Instead, I’m going to have a bit of fun myself and do an episode recap!
The episode starts with Clara convincing the Doctor to seek out the fictional Robin Hood, a character she has always admired. The Doctor intends to let her down easy with a brief visit to Sherwood forest, only to accidentally stumble upon the real-life Robin Hood. Of course, the very first thing that Robin Hood attempts to do is steal the Doctor’s TARDIS and challenge him to a sword fight. The Doctor chooses to fight back with a spoon. This isn’t quite as condescending as pausing in the middle of a sword fight to eat a sandwich, but I’m sure the Third Doctor would approve.
Though I have to admit, once the spoon was introduced, I was very disappointed when there were no “I’m going to cut your heart out with a spoon” references.
(Anybody? Prince of Thieves, Alan Rickman as the Sheriff? No? Right then, I’ll just sit here in the corner with my American Robin Hood.)
After a brief scene to establish the evil tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham as he plunders local towns and kills innocent villagers, we return to Sherwood forest, where the Doctor is rather desperately attempting to prove that Robin Hood and his merry men aren’t actually real. Gatiss, King of the Pertwee fans, slips in a miniscope reference (yay!). The Doctor is being grumpy about absolutely everything, and rather sweetly has no idea why Clara so steadfastly believes that impossible heroes like Robin Hood can exist.
The Doctor and Clara then accompany Robin to the Sheriff’s archery contest. Robin wins the tournament by splitting the Sheriff’s arrow, but at the most dramatic moment possible the Doctor arrives and, with a bit of cheating, manages to split Robin’s own arrow. Robin has his own “I can’t lose!” moment-
-and fires another shot, splitting the Doctor’s arrow. The Doctor and Robin take turns for a few moments, splitting each other’s arrows, until the Doctor decides he’s tired of your genre tropes and blows up the target.
The Sheriff orders them all captured, and Robin and Clara come to the Doctor’s rescue. The Doctor, of course, wanted to be captured all along, and looks about ready to murder Robin Hood when Robin unveils himself with a dramatic flourish. Still, Robin’s battle with the Sheriff’s soldiers reveals that they are robots, so Robin’s useful for something. After a bit of Venusian Aikido by the Doctor to disarm Robin (be still my fangirl heart), Robin, Clara, and the Doctor are taken to the dungeons.
It’s there that Clara finds herself in the most dangerous place in the universe: chained to two competing egomaniacs.
Clara tries to force the boys to focus long enough to come up with an escape plan, but they compete about everything. Since she’s clearly the only one with her wits about her, she’s taken to be interrogated by the Sheriff. In her absence Robin and the Doctor cooperate long enough to knock out the guard, but they manage to lose the keys and have to lug their chains down to the blacksmith’s forge to get them removed.
Meanwhile, Clara is putting her experience dealing with the Doctor to good use by manipulating the Sheriff’s ego in order to get him to reveal his plans. Unfortunately it works a little bit too well, and the Sheriff is so impressed with her cleverness and ability to manipulate him that he decides to claim her as his wife, something Clara is clearly not interested in.
Deep in the heart of the castle, the Doctor and Robin have stumbled upon the robots’ spaceship, where the Doctor confronts Robin with the legend of Robin Hood, attempting to force him to admit he’s a fake. Clara and the Sheriff arrive, and the Sheriff orders his robots to kill Robin. The Doctor refuses to lift a finger to help Robin, convinced he’s a fake and a tool of the Sheriff. Robin manages to hold back an existential crisis exceptionally well, then takes Clara hostage in order flee the castle. Back in camp with his merry men, he demands to know exactly what the Doctor knows about his life, and why the Doctor believes he is a myth.
The Doctor, meanwhile, is captured once again. With the help of the maid Marion, he escapes, starts a riot, frees the captive peasants, and destroys most of the robots. He confronts the Sheriff one last time, trying to convince him to abandon his plans to take over England, and even accidentally engaging in a bit of bantering (sorry Doctor, you’ve been bantering for about 2,000 years, I don’t think the habit is going to go away that quickly).
And then the Doctor tells the Sheriff that Robin is a robot created by the Sheriff in order to pacify the local population. The Sheriff basically responds with:
It’s at that moment that our legendary hero, Robin Hood, makes his dramatic return to the castle with Clara to rescue the Doctor and face the Sheriff. Using some new moves picked up from his earlier sword fight against the Doctor, Robin knocks the Sheriff off a ledge into a giant vat of gold, Viserys Targaryen style (has Gatiss been hanging out with GRRM on the set of Game of Thrones?).
Unfortunately, some of the robots survived the Doctor’s earlier assault, and they attempt to launch their rocket, even though the engines are damaged and they’ll explode before they reach orbit, destroying half of England in the process. With a little help from Clara and the Doctor, Robin manages to fire a golden arrow into the spaceship, which somehow helps propel them into orbit, where they explode safely. England is saved and it’s a happily-ever-after ending for everyone (except Alan-a-dale, who only gets a happily-for-six-months ending).
But because even fun episodes need to be a little serious, the Doctor and Robin Hood share a moment about being heroes and the power of narrative. Both the Doctor and Robin Hood are legendary heroic figures, in their own way. Both of their stories have survived longer than anyone may have expected them to, in part because they are uniquely compelling stories about seeking out and fighting injustice. Robin Hood isn’t just a story about damsels in distress and pretty castles, it’s about fighting against abuse of power. Doctor Who isn’t just a story about time travel and aliens, it’s about rebelling against what is expected of us and fighting for justice.
And so the episode closes with a lovely moment of meta commentary, as Robin Hood leaves the Doctor with this final statement: “Perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”
Yeah, sorry about the delay. I just figured I should write my review of “Listen” while the episode was still fresh in my mind. I got very behind on my reviews after moving/traveling to London. Hopefully my review of “Robot of Sherwood” will be up tomorrow, it’s mostly done!
When I was a little kid, I often went to visit my great grandmother at her home in a rural part of California. It was a small, quiet house, nestled between farms and horse ranches. On one of our visits there weren’t enough beds for everyone to share, so I had to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of the bedroom. I hadn’t ever been afraid of monsters under the bed, but that night, as I stared under the bed and drifted in and out of sleep, I had a nightmare of a face snarling at me, and a hand reaching out from under the bed…
I don’t like high beds, or narrow beds, or beds that are out in the middle of a room. My bed is low to the ground, very wide, and tucked into the far corner of my room. So believe me when I say that this episode spoke to a very deep, ingrained fear in my psyche.
I have very conflicted feelings about “Listen.” It’s an episode that employs a lot of Moffat’s familiar tricks and themes, but for the first time I felt that some of them actually worked. There might even have been some self-commentary on the way he continues to return to some themes repeatedly. But I think I would’ve liked it better if I hadn’t felt like this was something I’d seen before, and I am still frustrated by a lot of very familiar problems in his writing.
Moffat loves to create monsters that play on very basic fears. The Weeping Angles can only move when you aren’t observing them. The Vashta Nerada lurk in the dark and can’t be seen until they infect your shadow. The Silence make you forget them as soon as you turn away. Your natural impulses betray you. So what do you make people afraid of, once you’ve made them so afraid of themselves?
Their fear itself.
In a way, it’s the natural and logical extension of Moffat’s previous monsters. We’re entirely willing to believe, for a large part of the episode, that there really is a monster under the bed, a creature lurking behind us, a silent companion who follows our every move and hides just out of sight because it draws on our most basic fear of the unknown. Given enough time alone with our thoughts, as the world creaks around us, the creaking of pipes can become a monster lurking in our walls. And the Doctor has far too much time alone with his thoughts.
In his opening monologue, the Doctor states that evolution has created perfect hunters and perfect defense, but no perfect hiders. This, of course, is not true. Lions are incredible hunters, but humans have managed to hunt them to extinction in parts of the world. Puffer fish have an incredible defense system, but they are frequently caught and eaten as delicacies. And evolution has created animals with incredible camouflage abilities.
Evolution creates many incredible things, but it does not create perfect creatures. Evolution has given us a fear of the dark and the unknown because, as the Doctor says, fear becomes a superpower that endows us with incredible abilities of self-preservation. But our fear of the unknown is also flawed, allowing us to create dangers that are never really there. Moffat is uniquely skilled in drawing on our most primal fears to create fictional monsters that can terrify us to our cores. And in “Listen” I feel like Moffat makes a rather unique commentary on his own penchant for drawing on and exploiting those fears. Once the audience, and the Doctor, are trained to believe irrational fears might be rational, they are more likely to believe a real danger lurks in every irrational fear.
This is by far the most successful and unique episode written by Moffat that plays on the idea of a monster that can’t properly be observed, but I think I would’ve liked it better if we hadn’t seen this trick so many times before. For most of the episode I felt like we were getting a repeat of the Silence (which, arguably, could be the closest evolution has ever come to creating “perfect hiders”). Ultimately, I think Moffat did something unique with this theme, but it took me quite a long time to become fully engaged in the episode because I started off exasperated that we were revisiting this trope again. (Apologies to Gatiss, but there is literally no way to discuss “Listen” without using the word “trope”).
Moffat revisited a few of his other favorite themes in this episode, particularly the idea that time travel allows for meeting someone throughout their timeline and inadvertently influencing their life in profound ways. I’ve not been the biggest fan of the way Moffat continuously returns to this theme, particularly when he uses it to have the Doctor visit a girl as a child, only to make her a potential love interest when she is a grown woman.
But this time, it was Clara who was influencing the lives of Danny PInk and the Doctor. We returned again to the theme of what it means to be a soldier, and the various ways in which the Doctor and Danny have selected or rejected that title. I’m really interested in the parallels that are being set up between the Doctor and Danny. Clara has now been shown to have a foundational influence in both of their lives, inspiring them both with the broken toy soldier who was missing his gun. Yet each got something very different from that encounter. The Doctor seems to have been inspired to avoid becoming a soldier and instead become a Time Lord; Danny, meanwhile, was inspired to join the military and become a soldier.
I don’t think Moffat is going for a simplistic “soldier=bad” story though. The past few stories have focused on Danny’s discomfort and anger with Clara’s assumption that all soldiers do is shoot people, and given the number of parallels being drawn between Danny and the Doctor, I think Moffat is setting up a confrontation between the two.
But let’s put a pin in that for now and focus on Clara’s influence on the Doctor. The last ten minutes was, without a doubt, the most controversial scene of the entire episode. I saw two common complaints. First, many were arguing that Clara’s visit to the Doctor’s childhood violated established continuity about Gallifrey being time-locked after the Time War. But really, after “The Day of the Doctor,” why should I care that Clara’s visit to the Doctor’s childhood appears to create a few minor continuity issues that can mostly be explained away by the fact that Gallifrey wasn’t actually destroyed? It’s not a big deal, and it’s not the biggest contradiction in continuity in Doctor Who’s history.
And then, of course, there were complaints that Moffat was trying to set up Clara to be the most important person in the Doctor’s life. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with this argument. I first started seeing it crop up in responses to “The Name of the Doctor,” when Clara was shown interacting with the Doctor throughout his various regenerations. My big complaint with that moment was that we didn’t actually see Clara doing anything to save the Doctor, we just saw a lot of scenes of her looking distressed in various period costumes. In “Listen,” we actually saw her doing something substantial to influence the Doctor. I think this line of argument has a lot more to do with the fact that many people don’t like Clara. If Rose was the one comforting the Doctor as a child, would we be up in arms claiming it was wrong for a showrunner to show one particular companion having a foundational influence on the Doctor’s life? I understand why many people dislike Clara, but I think that many of the problems with her characterization are genuinely being addressed, and I’m not particularly concerned that she was the companion that had this moment with the Doctor.
Personally, I think it was one of the most touching, beautiful scenes of the entire episode (and wow was it gorgeously shot and edited). I’m really beginning to get a feel for Clara’s character now: proud but learning to admit her faults, assertive, compassionate, and intelligent in a way that is often undervalued. She understands how people work, and she particularly understands how to reach out to children.
I wish I could leave my review there and walk away saying that “Listen” was one of the better episodes of the series, but unfortunately it was plagued by a problem which has been showing up in the past few episodes written by Moffat: the Doctor’s constant harassment of Clara.
Someone described the Doctor’s treatment of Clara as “negging" to me. I don’t think that’s quite the right term—the motivation is very different. Still, it seems to follow a similar pattern. The Doctor has been continuously insulting Clara in small ways, usually targeting her appearance, and he almost seems to be deliberately aiming to attack her self-confidence. The Doctor’s rude comments to Clara go beyond mere guilelessness or obliviousness. He tends to make a patently false and insulting comment to Clara, but when Clara corrects him or otherwise indicates she was offended, the Doctor doubles down on the comment, refusing to back down and indicating that it must be Clara who is delusional for thinking otherwise about her personal appearance.
It seems that, in trying to differentiate the Eleventh Doctor’s rather flirtatious relationship with Clara from the Twelfth Doctor’s relationship with her, Moffat has gone too far in attempting to show that the Twelfth Doctor has absolutely no interest in Clara. The Doctor doesn’t need to call Clara “ugly” in every interaction to show he no longer has any interest in her appearance. He could simply stop commenting on her appearance.
The Doctor is a flawed character and one of his biggest flaws is that he is often condescending and rude towards his companions. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want him called out on it every now and again. And I don’t think it’s wrong of me to assert that the Doctor’s rather pointed attacks on Clara’s appearance are beyond the pale, even for the Doctor. I don’t particularly care that Clara’s self confidence doesn’t appear to be harmed by the Doctor’s comments; I’m more concerned that Moffat seems to be determined to make this a defining feature of their relationship. It’s one of the major issues that keeps me from truly enjoying Capaldi’s interpretation of the Doctor, and moving forward I hope that this won’t continue to be a major part of their dynamic.
The Doctor arrives at Coal Hill School
fifteen minutes late with a Starbucks three weeks late with a nondescript brand of coffee, and he and Clara are off on another adventure! Like last week’s “Deep Breath,” “Into the Dalek” was a superb episode marred by an increasingly odd dynamic between Clara and the Doctor. But with the introduction of two fantastic new characters, plus the continuing development of Clara, there was plenty of wonderful things to keep me entertained.
Much has been made of the similarities between “Dalek” and “Into the Dalek,” and while there were obvious parallels and deliberate references, I found the two to be very different. Once again, a Dalek served as a foil for the Doctor’s darker tendencies, but this time the Doctor’s conflicted history with soldiers and his internal struggle with his own sense of morality were the focus of the episode. During the Moffat era the show has teased the question of whether the Doctor is a good man, and in this episode the Doctor and Clara both directly grappled with what makes someone “good.” Is it their ability to see good in the world and learn from it? Is it their intentions, or their aims? Or is it ultimately the actions that they take, regardless of their intentions?
The Daleks have frequently been used to explore this moral dilemma in the Doctor. The Daleks’ sole aim has always been genocide on an unimaginable scale. They cannot be reasoned with, or otherwise dissuaded from this aim, and the Doctor almost never has any option other than to kill them. But he has often wrestled with whether or not he has the right to take equally violent actions against the Daleks, even to save innocent lives. Creating a “good” Dalek adds another wrinkle into that moral dilemma. If the Daleks are an indistinguishable mass of hatred, innately evil and always seeking to kill, than it is easier to excuse or even justify their deaths. But if Daleks are capable of becoming “good”—that is, if the system which forces them to focus single-mindedly on exterminating others can be overcome—then the Doctor has to reconsider his own single-minded focus on exterminating the Daleks.
The Doctor may have eventually reconsidered his previous judgement of Daleks, but he remained firmly prejudiced against soldiers, which is rather unfortunate for the two breakout characters of this episode, Journey Blue and Danny Pink. Zawe Ashton (who, fun fact, won a Guardian poll back in 2013 as the actor readers wanted to play the Twelfth Doctor) was absolutely stellar as Journey Blue, showing us a woman who was determined and brave, even when she was terrified, and capable of standing up to the Doctor when he is at his most uncaring and callous.
Samuel Anderson, joining the cast as future companion Danny Pink, was equally engaging. Some people found the meet-cute between him and Clara to be overly awkward, but I actually found it rather sweet. I’m particularly interested in seeing how the dynamic between Danny, Clara, and the Doctor plays out. In the beginning of the episode, Clara was casually rude towards Danny in the way that many civilians who have had little to no interactions with members of the military are towards former soldiers, with her comment that being a moral soldier means that you kill people and then go cry about it. But after her time with Journey Blue, Gretchen Alison Carlisle, and the other soldiers aboard the Aristotle, you see her begin to gain a new respect for soldiers. She said nothing when the Doctor refused to take Journey with him for the sole reason that she was a soldier, but you could see her quiet disapproval, expressed just a little too late when she tells herself that she, unlike the Doctor, isn’t going to have a rule against soldiers. I’m hoping as the season progresses and Danny joins the TARDIS crew properly that this issue will be addressed again, with Danny and Clara ideally criticizing the Doctor’s rather hypocritical attitude towards soldiers, given his own militaristic past.
Though Clara may not have said anything about the Doctor’s prejudicial attitude towards soldiers, she played a crucial role in forcing the Doctor to recognize that Daleks are not innately evil. I have to say that I’m loving this new assertive Clara, and her passionate anger as she confronted the Doctor was absolutely breathtaking to watch. Though surprisingly, absolutely nothing was said about her own history as a Dalek. In “Asylum of the Daleks” one of her alternate selves was converted into a Dalek, yet she managed to overcome her programming in order to retain her humanity. it’s quite an impressive feat, and it would have provided a fascinating nuance in her confrontation with the Doctor if it had been included. Add it to the list of reasons I’m upset that Clara appears to have no recollection of her alternate lives, despite an indication in “The Name of the Doctor” that she might.
There was only one problem that kept me from truly enjoying this episode, and that was the constant stream of insults and rude comments Clara endured from the Doctor. Throughout the episode the Doctor made a variety of low-level insults towards Clara, none of which on their own seemed to merit any real push-back, but overall attempted to to belittle Clara and diminish her self-confidence. Thankfully, Clara never seemed truly bothered by it, but I’m not very happy that this is now a prominent part of the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara.
Sure, the Doctor has always been a bit rude and condescending towards his companions, but there’s a difference between, say, the Ninth Doctor’s disparaging comments about humans generally and the Twelfth Doctor spending so much time making disparaging comments about Clara’s personality and appearance. It seems as if the writers are trying too hard to make a break from the Eleventh Doctor’s flirtatious interactions with Clara by having the Twelfth Doctor be so casually horrible to her.
Still, I have to admit that I’m intrigued by the way Clara’s character has been developing over the past few episodes. I can always hope that this assertive and forceful Clara will have the opportunity to confront the Doctor on his behavior soon.
What’s that? I’m really really late on them because I went to London? Oh sorry, I didn’t notice—OH LOOK AT THE SHINY OBJECT OVER THERE.
(I’m working on them. I’m hoping to get my review of “Into the Dalek” up tonight)
Good morning everyone!
Today, I’m presenting my senior Capstone paper, “Doctor Who’s Feminine Mystique: Examining the Politics of Gender in Doctor Who” at a symposium discussing the politics and law of Doctor Who!
I’ll be livetweeting here throughout the day as other presenters discuss their papers. You might also want to follow me on Twitter if you have any interest in laughing as a jet-lagged American tries to navigate the London underground.
I’m going to try and see if someone will be willing to record my presentation, and hopefully my paper will be posted her on Tumblr sometime within the next week.
Thank you all for your continued support!
Normally I’d stop responding to people like you after making my first pithy remark, but I have to admit that I’m fascinated. You don’t actually think episode reviews are something that Tumblr made up, do you?
Like, do you think we’re the first ones to look at the details of a plot and think about why the writers wrote an episode the way they did? Do you think we’re the first ones to pay close attention to the way an actor plays a part, and think about why they interpreted the role the way they did?
You think it’s sad that people do this? Seriously, there’s entire industries around doing reviews for everything. People get paid ridiculous sums of money to review movies, TV shows, and all kinds of products. People make their careers out of doing this. Have you never heard of Roger Ebert?
Now, I’m no Roger Ebert. This isn’t my career, and I’m not making ridiculous sums of money to do this (obligatory Patreon campaign plug here). This is my hobby.
But for a hobby, I’m doing pretty damn well. I’ve found a great community who are always willing to talk feminism and Doctor Who with me. I’ve had my work published in an anthology. And the university I just graduated from is funding my entire trip to London next weekend so that I can present my paper discussing feminism and Doctor Who at a symposium.
Yes, you’re right, my life is very sad. I’m going to be crying for hours on my free flight to London, drinking my free wine, so that I can hang out with awesome Whovians for a weekend in London, for free.
“Eccleston was a tiger and Tennant was, well, Tigger. Smith is an uncoordinated housecat who pretends that he meant to do that after falling off a piece of furniture.” — Steven Moffat
I think we all know who that makes Capaldi.
This is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Except THAT WASN’T MOFFAT!!!! Or if it was, he got it from elsewhere, namely from Lynne M. Thomas, editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords.
Lynne! Time for some provenance. ;-)
I see it.