Robots and Robin Hood in 'Doctor Who'

"Doctor Who" takes on the legend and reality of Robin Hood. Peter Capaldi as The Doctor (BBC Worldwide)
"Doctor Who" takes on the legend and reality of Robin Hood. Peter Capaldi as The Doctor (BBC Worldwide) BBC Worldwide

Writer Mark Gatiss says he’s a “firm believer that you can’t have too much fun,” and it shows in the light-hearted “Doctor Who” episode he wrote called “Robot of Sherwood.”

After two darker installments, the third episode of Season 8 was “designed to be great fun,” says Gatiss, who is known for his acting skills on the stage, and for playing Mycroft Holmes on the popular “Sherlock” series, also on BBC. This is his seventh episode penned for “Doctor Who.”

The Doctor is an alien traveling through time and space in a spaceship disguised as a ‘60’s British police box. He’s usually accompanied by a companion or two; for the moment, that’s Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman.)

Set in 1190 A.D., “Robot of Sherwood” is a rousing romp through the Robin Hood legends, including a mish-mash of various film versions of the dashing hero, such as Errol Flynn’s 1938 Technicolor classic. According to Gatiss, one BBC still shows Patrick Troughton, who “Who” fans know played the second Doctor in the late 1960’s.

The dialogue loots from William Shakespeare to Karl Marx to Wat Tyler’s Peasant Revolt (1381) to an adaption of Henry II of England’s (1133-1189) famous comment regarding Archbishop Thomas Becket.

As Gatiss explains, “Everything medieval goes into the pot. Nobody knows the difference between the 12th and the 14th century.” Or the 20th, either.

The Doctor character “regenerates” into a new actor every few seasons, the latest being Peter Capaldi, who took over from the popular Matt Smith this year.

Matt popularized the show in America, says Gatiss. “Everyone is going through the change, as we are much more used to in this country as it’s happened 11 times before. It’s very exciting about what the new person is going to bring.” He adds, “Everyone has their doctor and for the new audience, Peter will be their new Doctor.”

Capaldi is a longtime fan of the show himself, and has gone out of his way to meet his fans. “Peter is a very, very old-school fan,” Gatiss says. “He always loved him (the Doctor) since he was a little boy. Also with his costume he wanted it to be very easy to imitate. Essentially all you need is a dark jacket and a white shirt and a pair of shiny shoes.”

Gatiss is a longtime fan of “Doctor Who” also, who has gone on to write novelizations and scripts. His first memories of the show at age 4 or 5 had Jon Pertwee playing the part in the 1970’s.

He does hope that someone will look up the “Robot” quotes and references. He says that in 2005, after his “Who” episode, “The Unquiet Dead,” aired, he got an email from an actor friend who said that his kids had been on the Internet for three hours following the show, looking up Charles Dickens, who they’d never heard of before.

“It’s wonderful if even in some tangential way it sparks the interest in children,” says Gatiss. “It’s really what television and entertainment should be doing best. If it just sparks off an idea, it’s doing its job.”

As Robin Hood (Tom Riley) says to the Doctor, “History is a burden; stories can make us fly.”