TV Show Review: BBC’s Robin Hood Episode 1.06 “The Tax Man Cometh”

Series Title: Robin Hood (IMDb)
Episode: 1.06 “The Tax Man Cometh”
Original Air Date: November 11, 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Director: Dwight O’Dwyer
Writer: Dominic Minghella
Lead Actors: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisborne), Keith Allen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Lucy Griffiths (Marian), Anjali Jay (Djaq)
Synopsis: “Robin captures a tax inspector and plots to heist the year’s taxes, but a surprise is in store for both him and the sheriff; Marian makes her own preparations after a row with her father, and Gisborne makes his intentions clear.”
Recommendation: Another fun episode with lots of tricking going on. Probably a good entry point for someone new to the show, I think.

Key Thoughts

Allan A Dale

Aside from the entertaining villains, I really am liking Robin himself and the outlaws. They’re all appealing personalities, especially Allan A Dale. In fact, Much is the one who is becoming increasingly annoying. Not horribly so, but so far he has been stuck in the mode of “wimpy complainer.” He’s the butt of jokes, eternally frightened and over-earnest either about silly things, or about serious things in a silly way, and lacks any discernable toughness or sense of humor. I feel that any serious outlaw group would long ago have left him behind or found a way to keep him out of their important outlaw endeavors. In the first episode, he somewhat functioned as an extra conscience for Robin (despite Robin himself being generally the most upright character), but since then that role has been usurped by Allan. This may account partially for Allan being my favorite outlaw, but much also has to be said for his good sense, good humor, warm-hearted honesty, and considerable competence. On the whole, they are a proper band of capable young men out to fight injustice and have some fun along the way.

The outlaw with the least development thus far is the new girl Djaq, the “Saracen” with an anti-Christian anti-English chip on her shoulder (courtesy of the nasty Crusades). Considering she was just introduced last episode, it’s surprising that she should get no more than two or three lines this time. She’s not given any personality traits beyond “feisty” and “angry,” and so appears to be a pointless novelty.

Sir Guy of Gisborne is quite sympathetic in this episode. His concern for the (apparently wounded near death) “Abbess of Rufford” is genuine, even earning him scorn from the Sheriff. And he is consistently nice towards Marian, and almost romantic as he declares that he will continue to be kind to her and pursue her affections in spite of her rejections. He does not force himself on her; in fact, he almost seems a tad bit tongue-tied in her presence. In his wooing there is a certain gentleness and vulnerability. It’s no wonder he’s popular with fangirls. Of course he would make a terrible husband for Marian, being hard and intolerant of her outspokenness, and he has earned his villain-hood already (you’ll pardon the pun). Yet he is a character with layers and believability, and I like that.

Obligatory Marian rant

Of Marian herself, she continues to be selfish and arrogant while inexplicably retaining the show’s support. I suppose we are expected to cheer for her as some sort of feminist paradigm, and yet all I see is a spoiled brat who disrespects her father and her friends and gets away with it because of her pretty face. She manipulates everyone around her into thinking she is a brave little victim, when truthfully most of her troubles are her own fault. She is perfectly placed to be Robin’s help inside Nottingham and its castle, but she performs that role reluctantly, and almost with disgust. One thinks she would not be satisfied unless she were the leader of a band of outlaws herself, gaining her own fame by rubbing in the mud the faces of all those who annoy her.

Oh alright, she has her nice moments. Her concern for the oppressed peasants feels genuine, and the revelation of how deep is her father’s love for her brings out a nice tearful hug. But these moments almost feel like exceptions to the rule. At the very least, they do not excuse her poor behavior elsewhere.

TV Review: BBC’s Robin Hood Episode 1.05 “Turk Flu”

Series Title: Robin Hood (IMDb)
Episode: 1.05 “Turk Flu”
Original Air Date: March 31, 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Director: Dwight O’Dwyer
Writer: Dominic Minghella
Lead Actors: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Sam Troughton (Much), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisborne), Keith Allen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Gordon Kennedy (Little John)
Synopsis: “The Sheriff is importing slaves to work in a dangerous mine. In the meantime there is an archery competition at Nottingham Fair.” (Wikipedia)
Recommendation: While the story has some interesting aspects, including a different take on the classic archery competition, it also introduces the ridiculous character of Djaq, a “Saracen” girl, who so far has greatly annoyed me.

Key Thoughts

This episode includes many references to modern-day issues, such as the suspicion of Middle-Easterners in the West, Britain’s 2006 bird flu, and Muslim resentment towards “Christian” nations (yet interestingly, nothing about the dangers of radical Islam). The vehicle for these “themes” is the arrival in Nottingham of a batch of “Saracen” slaves that the Sheriff has bought to work his deadly iron mines, represented by the spunky girl-poorly-disguised-as-a-boy Djaq. Unfortunately, both the character and the references are basically ham-handed liberal rants against the West that threaten to interfere with the more fun aspects of this episode’s story. Djaq is less a character than a mouthpiece, and despite being apparently a teenager, she seems to be this wise (yet fiery) receptacle of all Arab science and knowledge. Her lines are few, but annoying. Her actions and reactions are mostly illogical, especially her ill-explained decision to join Robin’s group at the episode’s end (or was there even an explanation? Everyone seemed to take it for granted).

Apparently all English believe that "Turks" have a contagious and deadly flu. Or at least, that's what Robin hopes they believe...

Robin’s men intercept the slaves as they are being conspicuously transported in a wagon, and once our boy Hood realizes the situation, he resolves to strike at the Sheriff twice with one stroke; firstly, by using the slaves to help him infiltrate and destroy the mine, and secondly, to free the slaves. Ah, but that’s not all he has to worry about! For the Sheriff is holding an archery contest—for the express purpose of trapping him, naturally—and even though Robin knows it is a trap, it pains him that the job destroying the mine is keeping him from attending. But of course, you know things will work out so that Robin gets to win the contest and accomplish his other noble goals. Of course!

I think my favorite moment is the look on the Sheriff’s face when—reclining happily at the archery contest, waiting for Robin to arrive—he is told that his precious iron mine has been destroyed and all the slaves set free. It’s a look of absolute horror and panic, followed by he and Guy galloping desperately to the mine in time to see Robin mock them and escape.

Would I watch it again? Probably not, unless I was bored. All of the Robin Hood episodes seem pretty interchangeable. The fun comes from the fast-paced adventure and abundant roguish quips, making the increasingly-frequent “political commentary” quite annoying and out-of-place.

TV Show Review: BBC’s Robin Hood Episode 1.04 “Parent Hood”

Series Title: Robin Hood (IMDb)
Episode: 1.04 “Parent Hood”
Original Air Date: October 28, 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Director: Richard Standeven
Writer: Paul Cornell
Lead Actors: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), William Beck (Royston White), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisborne), Keith Allen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Gordon Kennedy (Little John)
Synopsis: “Roy is captured and the results may be dire for Locksley; at Nottingham, Marian pays a price for her outspokenness.” (IMDb)
Recommendation: Another strong episode.

Key Thoughts (with a big SPOILER this time)

Marian: [Robin is sending food over walls attached to arrows] That is a waste of arrows!
Robin Hood: No!
Marian: You could simply throw the food.
Robin Hood: We could. But where would be the fun in that?

Royston White

This episode focuses on Royston White, the more aggressive and bullying of the outlaws, who gets captured by the Sheriff’s men. He was the de facto leader of the group before Robin came and has an especially strong relationship with Little John. Much disliked him because of his boisterous, mocking nature, but this episode does a lot to make him more likable. Right before killing him off.

Oh, the outlaws do mount a rescue attempt, certainly. But as they fight their way through the courtyard, Roy ends up having to sacrifice himself to buy the others’ time to escape. We see half a dozen soldiers back Roy against a wall and hack him down—it’s a bit intense for a family show, even though it is filmed from behind the soldiers and you never see the weapons actually hit him.

"What're we gonna do? Give 'im a little dagger and quiver of arrows?"

Another plot thread involves the outlaws finding an abandoned infant in the forest. After some moral prodding from Robin, they agree to find a way to return it to its mother. This leads to some amusing dialogue, like Will Scarlet wondering if they should just give the baby boy a little bow and quiver if he’s going to pal around with them.

The third plot thread involves Marian getting into trouble for not being subtle enough in her opposition of the Sheriff. Seemingly disregarding the privileges of nobles, the Sheriff decides that for the rule of law to be preserved, he must make a public example of her. Her punishment is to have her beautiful long hair cut to a conveniently modern-looking shoulder length.

The Sheriff and Sir Guy pretty much have run of the whole county.

A few aspects about this part struck me as odd. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think a sheriff of that time would have had the authority to punish someone of noble blood without direct authorization from the king (or in this case, the as-yet unseen Prince John). Also, I can’t believe that the other nobles in the area (whom we rarely see, but were present in Episode 1) would allow one of their own to be so humiliated like that. Nobles tended to stick up for their own rights and privileges, and to not show proper respect for one could be a serious offense. Additionally, Marian’s father makes no protest at all, despite being very wide-eyed and fearful all through the proceedings. As a respected noble and former sheriff himself, I’d think he would have at least some influence in such a serious matter.

As another side note, I don’t like how Robin quotes from the Qur’an instead of the Bible. Presumably this is to show his cultural sensitivity (and to set up Episode 5). However, it comes across as the show going out of its way to de-Christianize the medieval Christian setting as much as possible to make it palatable for a modern liberal audience.

Now for my…

Obligatory Marian rant

When Robin saves Marian from some harassing guards, he asks roguishly “Having some trouble?” And she replies arrogantly and disdainfully with “Nothing I couldn’t handle myself, thank you.” Really mature, Marian. Not only are you lying in a desperate attempt to preserve the illusion of your own superiority, but you are incapable of showing gratitude when someone does you a good turn.

Biggest shot we've got yet.

Later, Robin asks Marian if she can take the abandoned baby to Knighton, where its mother is supposed to be, and her instant retort is “Because I’m a woman?” all defensive-like. YES, Marian, because you are a woman. Women give birth and are generally better at nurturing babies than men are. Yes, you, Marian, because Robin and his men are hunted outlaws in the greenwood and can’t take care of an infant, whereas you, respectable woman that you are, can easily make sure the baby stays safe and well-fed and gets returned to his parents. If you want the moral high ground, do not act as though your anachronistic and inappropriate faux-feminism is more important to you than a baby’s life.

Then when Robin says he has to leave, for his safety (they are in a village), she wryly calls it “the call of the wild.” Robin immediately calls her out on this, asking why everything she says is a criticism. Her excuse? “I do not know. I suppose these are the lives we have chosen. Always different directions.” She thinks that she is being “careful” and therefore stands a better chance of fighting the Sheriff; that is, without ever directly confronting him. Robin is quick to point out her hypocrisy (and a few times where she has acted more boldly like him, in contradiction to her own stated views). The show does acknowledge her rudeness, but not its inappropriateness.

Final

Overall, though, it’s another strong episode. Roy’s death has enough gravity to work, and the episode still manages to end on an upbeat, even funny, note. Solid entertainment.

TV Review: BBC’s Robin Hood Episode 1.03 “Who Shot the Sheriff?”

Find my other reviews of this show at my Review List.

Series Title: Robin Hood (IMDb)
Episode: 1.03 “Who Shot the Sheriff?”
Original Air Date: October 21, 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Director: Richard Standeven
Writer: Paul Cornell
Lead Actors: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Sam Troughton (Much), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisborne), Keith Allen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Gordon Kennedy (Little John)
Synopsis: “With the people of Nottingham being attacked by a mysterious archer, Robin finds himself blamed.”
Recommendation: At last we have Robin leading a band of outlaws, fighting the Sheriff from the (sometimes elusive) safety of the greenwood and being a pretty decent chap to all the poor oppressed townsfolk even when they turn against him. Exactly what I signed up for. Overall it’s another fun episode with a good bit of roguish action. Much like the others.

Key Thoughts

As usual, the story is fast-paced and entertaining, if not always brilliant, and I’m pleased that Robin’s defining character traits are his dual senses of honor and justice, and his unwillingness to sacrifice either. The show likes to throw tough moral decisions his way, which is as it should be, and while they don’t elicit quite the gravitas that a show like Doctor Who, or even Highlander, does, they still help to give the proceedings a bit of depth and redeeming value. The action remains just this side of cartoony, and is a good deal of fun.

Also, I note with interest the presence of a black British character in a high-ranking position, whose anachronistic presence (like the anachronistic clothing, weapons, and just about everything else) goes uncommented on. This should be a clear indication of the kind of show Robin Hood is.

Also noteworthy: while this is a family show, moreso even than Doctor Who is, by my reckoning, it’s not afraid to kill off side characters. This episode in particular involves a number of innocent people getting shot with arrows, and Robin himself blamed for their deaths. Nothing is bloody or dwelt on, but some parents might consider it too intense for their children.

And now for my…

Obligatory Marian Rant

While this episode does end with Marian being slightly less hateful than previously, it precedes this with a particularly irritating example not only of her hypocrisy, but of her determination to disrespect Robin at every turn. Part of this is the writers’ fault, and part the actress’. The scene involves a night where Robin has snuck into the castle to deal with the Sheriff and hides in Marian’s bedroom to escape from searching guards. While Marian doesn’t hesitate to hide him, she has the gall to castigate him for never showing his feelings and acting as if he can’t be hurt. Apparently, this is how she interprets his righteous anger at the Sheriff’s violent oppression, his anguish at the tragedies that befall his serfs, and his unhesitating self-sacrifice for others. She’s seen it all herself—in fact, I complained about a similar scene in the previous episode where her illogic is even worse. Rather, it is Marian who comes across as arrogantly untouched by Robin’s selfless sacrifices. While it is revealed that she does have her own ways of combating the injustice of the Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne, she doesn’t emote it at all, and lack of emoting is her very accusation against Robin! Marian is presented as cold and immature, whereas Robin—though he’s not my favorite interpretation of the character—does appear to have considerable self-control.

Like we can't tell you're a girl when you pose like that, really.

[SPOILER] The end of the episode reveals that Marian herself is the mysterious Nightwatchman, who is also handy with weapons and was doing some minor fight-the-oppression-and-help-the-poor work before Robin returned from the Crusades. Since I knew this show wanted to make Marian a “tough action girl,” I wasn’t surprised or unduly annoyed by this. I mean, it is annoying because the show doesn’t need it and her character doesn’t deserve it, but to be honest, when she finally had to confess it to Robin, and he was amused but kind of pleased, she actually became less annoying. Who’d have thought?

TV Show Review: BBC’s Robin Hood Episode 1.02 “Sheriff Got Your Tongue?”

Series Title: Robin Hood (IMDb)
Episode: 1.02 “Sheriff Got Your Tongue?”
Original Air Date: October 14, 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Director: John McKay
Writer: Dominic Minghella
Lead Actors: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Sam Troughton (Much), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisborne), Keith Allen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Gordon Kennedy (Little John)
Content Advisory: Light PG-13 violence of the swashbuckling sort, the threat of someone’s tongue being cut.
Synopsis: “While the Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne take control of Locksley, Robin, Much, Allan and Will encounter Little John and his gang of outlaws in the forest.”
Reason for Watching: Had a spare hour and decided to continue on from Episode 1.

Recommendation and Key Thoughts

There’s more fun swashbuckling in this episode, and I quite enjoyed it. You can’t take it seriously, of course – it’s pure camp, winking at the audience the whole way and just generally trying to have a good time. That’s why I’m finding it easy to accept the offenses against history, logic, and physics, so far.

It’s also why I’m getting increasingly annoyed by the character of Marian. All the other characters seem half aware that they are in a swashbuckling comedy (Robin more than half), but Marian takes herself far too seriously. Consider this: near the climax of this episode, Robin has turned himself in to the sheriff in order to save the peasants of Locksley from the Sheriff’s violence. Robin is sentenced to hang the following morning, but naturally Marian visits him in prison with the intention of helping him escape. Before she does this, however, she tries to chew Robin out for being a selfish “fool.” Her reasoning is this: Robin gave himself in, which means he’ll die, which means he won’t be around to protect the people of Locksley, which means he did the wrong thing. Robin laughs at this nonsense, but likes her too much to point out just how illogical she is. Because, following her reasoning, Robin should be protecting his people by doing something which leads directly to their gruesome mutilation. She won’t even admit to his honor and integrity in doing this. Now, to be fair, much of her frustration with Robin comes from her own hurt feelings regarding him leaving for the Crusades while they were still engaged—but then who is being selfish? At any rate, Marian is the only character who is a complete bore when onscreen. She doesn’t seem to realize that in a Robin Hood show, you’re supposed to have fun!

The Sheriff of Nottingham

Fortunately, the other actors get this very well indeed. Special mentions here go to Keith Allen as the entertainingly despicable Sheriff and Gordon Kennedy as Little John. The former is quite a cunning fellow, as he quickly deduces that Robin values the lives and freedom of others far above his own life, and will not kill unless it is the last resort to save lives. And the latter gives this episode its emotional weight, as we learn he has a son in Locksley that he’s never seen, on account of his being an outlaw for so long. Kennedy is older and appears far more mature than the other young men onscreen, and that works greatly in his favor. This isn’t a buffoonish Little John, or a simple one—he may express himself forthrightly, but there’s lots of thought behind his eyes. I like this portrayal—he’s easily my favorite of the band so far.

John Little

And it’s nice to see Robin effectively at the head of the outlaws by the end of this episode. Every Robin Hood movie or show wants to start with an origin story, so it takes an episode or two for him to make friends with the outlaws and become their leader. It makes sense to do this, but the part I really came for is all the robbing from the rich, giving to the poor. Hopefully, that may now commence with gusto!

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.00 “The Runaway Bride”

Series: Doctor Who (TVTropes Recap)
Season.Episode: 3.00 “The Runaway Bride” (Christmas special between Series 2 and 3)
Original Air Date: Christmas Day 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Writer: Russell T. Davies
Lead Actors: David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Sarah Parish (Empress of the Racnoss)
Synopsis: “A bride suddenly materialises in the Tardis. The Doctor must get her to the church on time, but the Empress of Racnoss, an alien spider, has other ideas… “ (from Wikipedia)
Reason for Watching: This category on the rubric is no longer relevant for Doctor Who.
Episode Re-watchability: I’ve already rewatched it once, and it was nearly as fun as the first time.
Final Verdict: A tremendously fun episode and a good move forward from the emotional weight of the Series 2 finale.

Key Thoughts

“The Runaway Bride” hearkens back to the previous Christmas episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” but fortunately avoids treading exactly the same ground. The robot Santa-musicians with their killer Christmas trees are back, but now they are being remotely controlled by a giant alien spider queen (The Empress of the Racnoss, played incredibly over-the-top by Sarah Parish) who is trying to awake her thousands (or more?) of “children” who  are hibernating at the center of the earth.

That last sentence was exceedingly fun to write.

The plot’s back story feels too bold and illogical to be the subject of only a single episode, and if you think too hard about it (or much at all), it begins to fall apart. For instance, why are these ancient Huon particles supposedly so rare if they can be extracted from the hydrogen in water? But nevermind; the story is immaterial here. This episode is really about preventing the Doctor from wallowing in his grief over Rose and forcing him to move forward with his extraordinary life.

She often needs the obvious pointed out to her.

And he really has to move, too. Mere seconds after the portal to Rose’s dimension closes, wedding-dress-clad Donna Noble is standing bewildered on the TARDIS and screeching at him to take her back RIGHT NOW. This character is really an amazing balancing act. On paper she should be the most annoying thing ever, and yet somehow Catherine Tate gives her just enough intelligence (beneath her ditzy, oblivious surface), just enough kindness (despite her temper tantrums), and a reasonable amount of unlikely bravery that—in addition to being funny—she is actually a likeable character.

And regarding the strange man who is the Doctor, Donna can be remarkably perceptive. The real thrust of the episode comes after the adventure is over. The Racnoss, despite their horrible threat, have been defeated pretty easily by the Doctor, yet the victory was rendered unpleasant by the anguished screams of the Empress and her drowning children, and also by the unemotional grimness with which the Doctor listened to their pain far longer than he needed to. So it is that, at the end, when the Doctor offers Donna the position of full Companion—as I knew he would—she turns him down, citing the crazy danger of his life and how uncomfortable she is with how he deals with it (or the lack thereof).

I doubt many people have ever turned down such an offer in the Doctor’s history! Yet I think it’s good for him to experience rejection every now and again. Not everyone can, or should, be like Rose, dropping their loved ones and responsibilities in an instant to run off with him. For all her silliness and problems, Donna is an older and more mature woman than Rose, and her life experience causes her to see something about the Doctor that Rose never quite did. The Doctor needs Companions. If for no other reason than to stop him when he begins to forget mercy and justice, and instead indulges his anger at his enemies. The Doctor is not a god; he is limited, flawed, troubled, and often enough wrong. Donna realizes that being a Companion is more than just being a helper on a series of wild adventures—it means being the Doctor’s moral leash. At this time, that is too much a responsibility for her, she says, but the Doctor needs to seek out those who can do it. It is this piece of information we must keep in mind when examining Martha Jones’ role in the rest of Series 3.

As an ending note, this episode is not very Christmassy. It looks as if it was filmed in the summer (and it probably was) and has even fewer Christmas trappings than “The Christmas Invasion.” Not much of a holiday theme, either. I don’t think Russell T. Davies likes Christmas very much, the way he treats it.

The Doctor: You’ve seen it out there. It’s beautiful.
Donna: And it’s terrible. That place was flooding and burning and they were dying and you stood there like… I don’t know, a stranger. And then you made it snow. I mean, you scare me to death!

And we get to see the TARDIS actually fly! As in move through space instead of time! It's a pretty fun chase scene.
Don't we have big telescopes and satellites that would see this massive spider-web-comet-space-station-thing flying towards us?

Screencaps from…
Sonicbiro
Killcolor
TVShowsOnDVD.com

100th Post! Also, what’s coming up

Ta-da! This is my 100th post since The Warden’s Walk went online in November of 2010. It has been visited 15,214 times since then, has 23 active subscribers, and, I hope, has been of good use and interest to all of you.

[EDIT: Also, I am trying out a new theme — that is, appearance — for the site. What do you guys think of it? I want to know how easy it is to read and navigate compared to the previous theme. Which do you prefer? I’d appreciate your input!]

July has been upon us for over a week now, and it is time I let you know what I’ve been up to. These are the reviews I expect to have done this month.

Highlander Season 2 has been finished some time ago, and the review is in progress. One of my favorite characters leaves only a few episodes in, but the writing is noticeably getting better. Happily, the writers are showing a greater interest in history, and I hope they continue down that path.

I am now re-watching parts of Doctor Who Series 3, taking notes for review this time. Some fantastic stories get told, the best of them (“Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” and “Blink”) back-to-back.  While Martha Jones isn’t as interesting as Rose was, she is competent and fairly likable.

Additionally, I have finished Myst: The Book of Atrus, and hopefully shall not wait too long before reviewing it. The book directly engages questions relating to the art and nature of writing itself, and I’d like to examine how the book’s discussion relates to similar ideas proposed by the likes of Lewis, Tolkien, and MacDonald.

Other possibilities include further reviews of the BBC’s Robin Hood Season 1 episodes and the occasional movie review.

I am currently reading The Dragonheroes by Blake Garrett Anderson and Lilith by George MacDonald.