Throwing the Doctor and some well-known figure from history or legend together for an episode is hardly a new trick for Doctor Who, although it is somewhat unusual to see our hero so nonplussed by the whole thing.
As the title suggests, this episode finds the Doctor on an adventure in Sherwood Forest, learning that Robin Hood might be more real than his legendary status suggests. The choice of time and place is made by Clara, who is revealed to have a strong affection for the heroic tale. Written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Paul Murphy, "The Robot of Sherwood" is a clear departure from the dark tone of the opening two episodes. It's much more of a traditional throwaway fun romp, and it's a really satisfying example of what Doctor Who can achieve when it's not taking things seriously.
Save for a few slightly too strained gags, this is a reliably amusing instalment. Peter Capaldi remains terrific, but it's Jenna Coleman who's really getting her chance to shine in this series. Clara's having a lot of fun with Robin Hood and his Merry Men, but she's learned enough from the Doctor to hold her own in a confrontation and is able to confidently get the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller) to reveal his connection to mysterious robots disguised as soldiers. Hood himself is played by Tom Riley (of Da Vinci's Demons). His costuming feels a little too much like somebody dressing up as Robin Hood, but Riley plays the part charismatically and has an entertaining dynamic with Capaldi.
Indeed, it's unlikely an episode like this could've been delivered by either of the previous two Doctors. While, as I said above, there are many great episodes where the Doctor helps somebody from history or legend ("Vincent and the Doctor" is a particular favourite of mine), there are few like this. It's the curmudgeonly attitude of Capaldi's Doctor that makes this work so well, as his impatience with Hood stems as much from his frustration over the man's inexplicable chirpiness as it does from his belief that he can't possibly be a real person.
That's not to say the Doctor doesn't get his fun moments, as he duels the potentially fictitious archer with a spoon and later battles robots with metal plates. His ingenuity is constantly on display, and he's clearly got a knack for defeating enemies using his wits rather than any weapon. The script is tight in this regard, as the climactic piece of action shows what Robin's learned from the Doctor and the eventual message is one that highlights the strength of teamwork.
Thematically, the episode starts off subtly drawing parallels between these two legendary heroes as men driven by their egos, their fun-loving spirits and their desire to do the right thing. By the end, though, all that subtlety has disappeared and the show lays all its themes out in a manner that is just a bit too heavy-handed.
In the end, the Doctor seems a bit like a side character in his own show here. I'm sure some will have been disappointed by the focus on Clara, but she's having a great series so far and her energy is a crucial part of what keeps things fun and lively. This is a strong but uneventful episode that priorities lighthearted whimsy over almost everything else. It feels cheaper and less consequential than the previous two episodes, but it's no less of an engaging watch. When these smaller episodes are able to be this pleasingly enjoyable, it's usually a good sign about the overall quality of the series.