...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Day 2132: ROBIN HOOD: Turk Flu


We have had a bit of a Cyber-weekend at my flat, obtaining the very excellent "The Invasion" on DVD, listening to Big Fish's "The Gathering" on CD and then staying up late to watch "Torchwood" from under the duvet without Daddy knowing.

But first, you are going to have to put up with Robbin' Hoodie again. I did!

Comparison with Shakespeare probably isn't immediately obvious for this very 2006 series of "Robin Hood", but this week we have an outbreak of one of the most Shakespearean of traits. Yes, it's "I can't see your breasts, madam" week.

Cross dressing is a great staple of the theatre and now, it appears, also Sherwood Forrest where somehow Sir Guy is completely blind to the moulded leather bodice of Marion's "Night Watchman" super-hero costume, and at the same time Robin and his merry men are taken in by new character Safiya's cunning disguise of, er, short hair.

I hope Alex won't mind me saying that he was genuinely surprised by the revelation that she was a woman not because he hadn't thought she was a woman but because he hadn't conceived of the possibility that we were supposed to think she was a man.

Safiya is a character new to the Robin Hood myth, clearly created because (a) the original legend does not have enough roles for women and (b) Nasir was created by Richard Carpenter for "Robin of Sherwood" even though the American makers of "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" did not realise that. She comes readily equipped with the knowledge of her physician father and the secret sciences of the Saracens (a handy magnifying glass cum laser beam for lighting fires being the obvious one).

It's fair enough that Robin should be recruiting. It may be convenient for the opening titles and to make sure all our actors have lines each week (or not, if you're Gordon Kennedy) but as fearsome bands of outlaws go, five is not going to cut the mustard. "Robin of Sherwood" adopted it as almost a stylistic device – in a very stylised series – but seriously, the logistics of Robin's organisation takes some thinking about. Standing guard over the camp – especially at night, hunting for food, making the arrows, spying out merchants and tax collectors to rob, distributing gold to the poor, washing and darning those attractive combat pants: all these things take time. Robin really needs a band of at least ten, and probably twenty to thirty if he is to do any damage at all to the Sheriff's income from merchant and tax collectors.

Bizarrely, this week also played out one of the other central planks of the Robin Hood story, the archery contest for the sliver arrow. "Robin of Sherwood" (yes, them again) take a very novel twist to this by endowing the arrow with mystical qualities and making it a sacred symbol of local Saxon deity, Herne the Hunter. "Robin Hood" also has a novel twist – they reduce the archery contest into a minor sub-plot. This does seem an awful waste of a major set piece.

The main plot was I'm afraid something of a mess as well, revolving as it did around the Sheriff's iron mine. The dangerous conditions and poor wages had led to a bit of a miners' strike. The Sheriff promptly laid all the miners off having Gisborne murder one into the bargain (no Human Rights Act in those days!) intending to replace them with foreign slave workers. Never fear, Robin will put this right for them by… blowing up the mine and leaving the miners, er, still without any livelihoods. Nice explosion, though.

With charming naïveté Robin also managed to recommend that the freed Muslim slaves take sanctuary in Kirklees Christian Abbey. Good job the Church wasn't promoting any major inter-denominational warfare at the time, eh! Or indeed supporting the idea of slavery for non-Christians. Where was that you were just back from, Robin?

Perhaps in an effort to put some peril into the plot, or maybe it was just time for another stunt, they contrived to drop poor old Gordon Kennedy down a previously unseen pitfall. Robin's cunning plan to use the fire at the mine to lure the Sheriff away from Nottingham Fair – and that silver arrow – thus seemed likely to rebound on him and his men. Except the scenes played out with almost no sense of tension or indeed any idea of pace. John's in trouble, Safiya can help, he's safely out just as the Sheriff rides up and there's a brief fight for Robin before everyone escapes: it was all very… perfunctory.

It wasn't really a saving grace, but there was a particularly good scene for Marion towards the end where she convinced young Rowan Dunne, son of the miner murdered by Gisborne, not to shoot her in revenge. (Robin rather stupidly gave Rowan the impression that Marion and Guy were dating.) Having persuaded Rowan that his bow would be better used winning the silver arrow, which could then pay for food for the now permanently jobless miners, her rather waspish instruction to Robin to make sure he wins was also nicely delivered.

Last week's ("Parent Hood" ho, very, ho) was a curious mix of comic and very grim; this week was just back to very flat.


Will said...

I agree with all of that, and am reaching the point where I'm just not interested in watching any more (though I'll tune in for Paul's next episode). The plot was just dumb and the revelation that Djaq was a woman ("As I suspected!" Robin cries stupidly, if I recall) just made you rate the outlaws as particularly blind.

MayorWatch said...

I've all but given up on the series I'm afraid.

All those people who decry RTD's excellent revival of DW should be forced to sit and watch this lifeless series until they learn to appreciate just why Who is BAFTA winning material.

Will said...

Indeed. Torchwood may not be fantastic, but it could have taught Robin Hood a few things about how to write a first episode.