...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Day 2118: ROBIN HOOD: Who Shot the Sheriff?


I have been practicing with my BOW and ARROW! So far I have broken FIVE violins! I have no idea how Mr Holmes does it.

Daddy Richard and Daddy Alex enjoyed Robbin' Hoodie much more this week, probably because it was written by someone from the Doctor Who writers club.

This week's War on Terror reference: "War on Terror".
Also: "we're going to win some hearts and minds".

Well, thankfully, Paul Cornell did not let me down and produced an episode far superior to either of the opening two. It was obvious just watching it that it had a far better grasp of pace and dialogue.

And for the first time the series was willing to kill a few people. Eight, in fact. Three each for the assassin and the sheriff's Master-of-Arms. One of them was even the "innocent boy" character!

And two for Sir Guy – ironically, those being the other two killers.

There were a couple of minor niggles:

Maid Marion dressing up as a twelfth century superhero was a little contrived. And her superhero name, "The Night Watchman", even more so. (And she got in and out of Nottingham Castle how, exactly? What with it being all locked up until the Sheriff left and yet she arrived at – woosh kerthunk – Nettlestone Village before him.) It does seem to fly in the face of all her advice to Robin about opposing the Sheriff subtly and politically.

And, as whodunits go, it was a trifle short on suspects. Old retainer Lacey bearing a grudge about his dead wife and, er… Okay, to be fair I was fooled: I thought that Lacey was going to be "the Night Watchman" and the assassin someone we didn't know.

(The only other suspect was the Master-of-Arms De Fourtnoy who we the viewer knew was doing the fake assassinations on the Sheriff's orders.)

But, never mind that, it was a great improvement on what we had seen so far: clearly all that working for Russell T Davies on Doctor Who has paid off! The action sequences were exciting and appropriate; the humour was better balanced, and if it was still at Much's expense it was about his ineptness not his implied lack of masculinity.

In fact Much's character was greatly improved all round, with dialogue put into his mouth that made him the "wise innocent" rather than just a dick. And interestingly Much's insights were played off against the same thoughts coming from the Sheriff: basically they both see the same thing in Robin: he just wants to be loved. But they come from different perspectives: Much sees it as a virtue to be admired, the Sheriff as a weakness to exploit.

Great dialogue for the Sheriff as well: a terrific scene where he and Robin metaphorically get into bed together. (Again, reflected in later action where Robin literally gets into bed with Marion and then later discovers she – though her dual identity – has in fact gotten into bed with him. But back to the Sheriff…) The Sheriff, more than anyone – though they're all doing it, has the mannerisms of a twenty-first century guy. He is, in fact "the Joker": he is vicious, greedy, amoral and very witty. He kills people because it is practical but he wants it done in a way that is funny. "Pretty deaths, pretty deaths," he coos to De Fourtnoy, careful not to give any actual orders. And he gets to physically boot Robin out of his carriage, giving him at last a genuine assertion of their relative positions: Sheriff on the inside, Robin the Outlaw.

Oh, all right, he does have to deliver the crushingly obvious pop reference too, but if you've ever read any Paul Cornell Doctor Who you will know these things are compulsory.

As with much of his Doctor Who, Paul here is also using his writing to explore character emotion: the "he just wants to be loved" theme echoes his lauded New Adventure "Human Nature" (where the Doctor tries out being human and falls in love); the driving nature of Lacey's sense of guilt is reminiscent of the Brigadier from Paul's sublime BBC Eighth Doctor Adventure "The Shadows of Avalon".

These emotional touches helped to fill out the incidental characters, and by extension the world that the series inhabits. Good actors helped, of course. De Fourtnoy in particular conveyed much of his inner thoughts – avarice, arrogance, anger, all the "a"s really – though a series of reaction shots with the words given to the Sheriff or to Sir Guy. Nice to see Sir Guy enjoying his work, too, and being a bit of a genuine bastard.

In fact Robin, ironically, is the least three-dimensional of the characters here, but that is no bother because cleverly Paul makes the plot circulate around him so that we are looking towards him from the viewpoint of the other characters. We learn what they think of him.

Viewing figures were down again, to six million – really that is still perfectly respectable, the sort of pull that gets "Spooks" or "Hustle" described as big hitters, but it's being reported as Robin losing his audience to ITV. It is disappointing, but because I think this one was in fact worth seeing, and if the earlier episodes had been nearer to this formula then I don't think there would be quite so much criticism about.

It's certainly reassured us that there is something here that is worth tuning in for. We’ll see if they can keep it up, or if we have to wait for Paul's next episode.


Will said...

Yes, it was a much better episode, and proved that with a good script the series can overcome many (although not all) of its problems.

45 minutes is bit of a squash for a decent whodunnit, though, and I guessed the identity of the Night Watchman as soon as he was first mentioned and the murderer not long after we met him. It's a shame neither character was mentioned or seen in the first two episodes as that would have made the mystery a bit more open. We barely have time to hear about the Night Watchman before his identity is revealed.

Joe Otten said...

Why still reviewing ROBIN HOOD, Millennium? Did your Daddies not let you stay up to watch Torchwood?

Millennium Dome said...

"Did your Daddies not let you stay up to watch Torchwood?"


[in a sulk!]