...a blog by Richard Flowers

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Day 2190: ROBIN HOOD: Was this any good? A Clue: No


Oooh dear. This was a bit of a TRAIN WRECK.

I am still trying to get Daddy Alex to climb down from the ceiling.

He has just cut a DVD of the episode, together with a clip from Richard Greene’s “Robin Hood” from the 1950s followed by Cardinal Borusa saying:

“That’s MUCH better. I can BELIEVE that!”

Daddy Richard transcribes some of their rantings…
So, Sheriff Vasey commits (never mind a number of murders) High Treason in front of witnesses, including the former Sheriff, and Robin doesn’t shoot him full of arrows?

Central to the way that Russell T Davies has updated Doctor Who for the new millennium – and we can’t avoid talking about Doctor Who because this Robin Hood would not exist if Doctor Who hadn’t remade the television audience – central to Doctor Who is the idea that actions have consequences. Rose learns this as early as episode four when the Doctor’s casual relationship to time means that she’s been away for a year not a day, and we concentrate on the impact that this has had on her family: Jackie and Mickey in particular. “The Runaway Bride” from Christmas Day just passed is shot through with reminders and remembrances of the Doctor having just lost his best friend in the universe. From beginning to end, the Russell T Davies series never forgets that actions have knock on effects: things matter.

In contrast, Dominic Minghella has reinvented “The A Team”.

The structure is much better than the opening episodes, starting with a huge action sequence and then gathering pace and raising the tension as the various plots converge. The action is not only stylish but appropriate and arises naturally rather than feeling stuck in to pad the episode or show off “ooh, look what we can do”. And the acting, particularly from Robin, Marion and Guy, is on the money (so long as the money is “noble suffering” anyway).

All of which only makes it more of a shame that the ideas box is totally empty.

The episode begins badly anyway, committing one of my particular pet hates in fiction: the “oh… she lives” cliché. Having got us to invest emotionally in the tragic death of a character that we have come to know and care for, it is the worst kind of cheat to “un-kill” them. Last week’s cliff-hanger conclusion left Marion deceased. And this week she’s not.

Now, to be fair, “Robin of Sherwood” finished its first season by having Guy shoot Marion with a crossbow and she is miraculously saved. However, they have the fig-leaf of quasi-mystical Herne magic bollocks to hide behind, plus she was only ever at the “gravely wounded” stage.

“Robin Hood” (2006), though, has his Marion pronounced actually yer gods’ honest dead by the two physicians what would know. Oh, apparently it was hemlock poisoning. Now, maybe you can recover if you are young and strong… but not if you’ve just almost bled to death from a knife wound to the stomach! For that matter, who actually poisoned her? Double-crossing doctor Pitz doesn’t seem to have the opportunity, so was it poison on Guy’s dagger?

By mid-way through the episode she’s in her bed, passing it off as a fall in the forest and still intending to go through with her wedding to Guy – like he won’t notice the stitching across her tummy on their wedding night(!)

It completely wrecks the power of the opening scene. The opening with Marion dead, the Sheriff outside their hiding place and Robin about to go off the deep end is actually fantastic. Jonas Armstrong is good at giving Robin that mad-eyed “I’m killing people now” look, and is all the more dangerous here because we know – from “Tattoo, What Tattoo?” – that Robin is capable of going psycho on us.

The action sequence of Robin in full on killing frenzy attack is fantastic, complete with bullet-time arrows (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) and genuine adrenaline rush.

Unfortunately, you think afterwards: if Robin’s gone berserk, wouldn’t his first arrow have gone straight into Gisbourne? And in fact his next six as well. You could – just about – get away with the Sheriff ducking the first arrow to come his way if Gisbourne then grabbed the reins of the Sheriff’s horse and the two of them were away like the devil. But as it is, they sit around like a couple of lemons while the soldiers mill around getting shot.

It makes it seem like Robin wipes out a dozen innocent “red shirts” but allows the villains to escape.

Plus, everyone seems to forget that they’ve left all those corpses outside the second Marion stages her resurrection moment.

Before you know it, Marion is back to being all pouty and marrying Guy because she’s asked him if he tried to assassinate the king and – astonishingly – he’s said no. And Robin’s off to the fields for a pouty fit of his own, and is particularly unkind to poor undeserving Much. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, Marion’s father Sir Edward – who spent most of this week and last with the sign “deadmeat” hanging over him – has gathered a cabal of nobles loyal to the king and they intend to ride to Nottingham in order to protect his majesty’s person from the assassination attempt that they are sure the Sheriff is about to stage.

Sir Guy expresses his disappointment that Edward has not turned up at the wedding to give Marion away. And yet surely more surprising is the fact that Guy and Marion, two of the county’s more important nobles, have decided to schedule their wedding to clash with the king’s presence in the city. How did that work, then?

“We regret, your majesty, we have to decline your offer to attend the royal court due to a subsequent engagement.”

Hello! Feudal society! That’s a pretty short route to the headsman.

What Guy knows – although he didn’t when he scheduled it, and Marion doesn’t right up to the moment at the altar – is that this is in fact an insanely complicated ruse by Sheriff Vasey, and that the king arriving in Nottingham is in fact a fake.

In order to determine who is loyal to him and who is loyal to the real King Richard, the Sheriff has arranged for the impostor to throw him into his own dungeon and then order a trial by “French Law”. This has the nobles trot off one by one to give their evidence for or against the Sheriff. But, of course, it’s the Sheriff himself in a cowl taking the evidence.

The entire scheme, incidentally, hangs on the nobles not knowing what this “French Law” entails, so that they won’t realise that it’s a trap. That would be the nobles who are NORMANS!

You would think that the Sheriff could make up a nice list of those who testify against him, have his fake king pronounce him innocent and then arrange for some quiet assassinations later. Then, even if the imposture is discovered, the Sheriff can say: “oo, I was taken in with the rest of you!”

But no. Vasey just ups and stabs them there and then. That’s murder. And you can’t just bump off half-a-dozen of your own nobles without someone noticing.

The only chance he has to get away with this then is for his impostor to declare him innocent and then say that therefore those who testified against him have been executed for treason. So, the Sheriff ties himself into collusion with the impostor.

And really, how can he expect word of a fake king in Nottingham not to get back to his feudal superiors? No King – not even a weak one like John – could tolerate this happening because it totally undermines their authority. The king cannot allow someone to “borrow” his power or he has no power.

(The way round this would be for Prince John to be in on the plot, but the episode never says this, never mentions John at all, in fact.)

Because there are no consequences in this world, then the Sheriff can just ignore all of the rules, he can be bonkers and evil and kill anyone he wants because he’ll always be back next week. So, what’s the point of watching?

The Sheriff’s plot unravels thanks to one astonishingly handy coincidence plus Guy’s sudden inability to lie with a straight face.

Much, who with Robin, Guy and maybe the Sheriff is one of the few people in the county to know the king by sight, is running through the fields from Nottingham towards Loxley and that just happens to be the route that the fake king is taking. As opposed to, say, a road.

And then, when Much bursts in on the church and announces the king is not the real king, Marion asks Guy: “did you know this?”

“Um er” says the previously taciturn assassin. Well, gosh, he’s a good bloke to keep plots of treason secret then.

Yes, it is a great moment when Marion finally punches Guy’s lights out with her wedding ring, and it is a great moment when Robin rides in to save her and they gallop off to rescue Sir Edward… even if they are going to need a convenient time jump to get to Nottingham before he can walk the length of a corridor.

Sir Edward, against all odds, reason and dramatic convention actually survives the episode. In spite of the fact that Guy threatens to kill him if Marion doesn’t marry him while simultaneously the Sheriff is actively trying kill him for being too noble, Marion not marrying Guy actually results in him surviving. It is another example of there being no consequences, no cost to any of the choices the characters make.

Marion’s entire motivation for going with Guy – apart from the sexy black leathers – is that there will be consequences if she doesn’t. And nothing changes that.

Thus, we finish with the Sheriff obviously and provably guilty of a capital crime and holding Robin’s best friend at knifepoint. There’s no way to take him into custody and letting him go will surely invite terrible retribution. Robin has never had a better reason or greater need to just kill him!

(And just why is Much still alive at the end too? The Sheriff is on the point of slitting his throat and Robin fires his arrow – does Vasey just do one quick slice? No, he does the comedy follow the arrow as it ricochets around the room before – impossibly – ending up stuck in his sandal without even grazing his toes. Hilarious!)

In fact there’s some terrific drama there in that question: whether it is possible to be against the death penalty but still believe that the use of lethal force can be justified in time of war. Can Robin take the consequences one way or the other?

Suppose they had followed the daring, dramatic and yet entirely logical course and Robin did kill the Sheriff.

Sheriff: “You can’t kill me, can you?”

Robin: “A clue: yes.”

Woosh, kerthunk.

You could have had a season two where Marion has to reassess her opinion of Robin now she knows he’s a killer. Meanwhile Sir Guy and Sir Edward are both trying to secure the title of Sheriff thus keeping a dramatic tension – Edward can’t pardon Robin because Guy won’t let him; Guy can’t kill Marion (if she has to be alive) because Edward won’t let him – and at the end of the season the King turns up to decide who will be Sheriff… and it’s Prince John!

Instead, nobody in the cast list is dead and we’ve pressed the great big re-set switch of doom. Even “The Simpsons” has noticed that this isn’t credible week after week after week. In the age of new Doctor Who, it simply won’t do.

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