Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Robin Hood Series One Review (Part I)

Wearing Green? Check. Bow and Arrow? Check. Hood? Check.  Robin Hood at your service! I first heard about the BBC Robin Hood series from the trailers that run at the beginning of Doctor Who DVD boxed sets.  Being a fan of Robin Hood in various forms, I was very intrigued.  Once I looked into it though, I was a bit concerned by the mixed reviews I read.  So it was with some trepidation I added it to my Netflix queue.

I was pretty lukewarm on the series at first, but I have to admit it grew on me.  It probably isn’t for everyone.  The writers seem fairly unconcerned with anachronisms, using modern dialogue liberally and playing a bit fast and loose with history.  I can understand why this would bug people. 

For me, these problems pale when compared to the sheer fun of the series.  Robin Hood delivers plenty of derring-do leavened with a healthy dose of humor.  However, it isn’t afraid to get serious when it needs to, and rash actions often have serious consequences.

So what did I think of the individual episodes?  I look at the first half of the Series One below:


Will You Tolerate This?

Robin of Locksley has returned from the crusades along with his servant Much.  On the road home, they save a man named Allan-a-Dale who is being threatened by soldiers.  Robin and Much save Allan, even though he is obviously a thief and a liar.

Robin and Much continue home, but are shocked by what he finds there.  Among other things, Robin is horrified to find out an old family friend, the carpenter Dan Scarlet, had his hand cut off as punishment for his two sons stealing.

Robin rides out to speak with former Sheriff of Nottingham, hoping he has some influence over the new one.  However, Edward want little to do with Robin as he is just trying to keep himself and his daughter Marian safe.  During this time Robin reconnects with Marian

Things come to a head when Will and Luke Scarlett are caught for thievery again.  Vaisey, the new Sheriff of Nottingham, demands Robin give the order to hang Will and Luke Scarlett. The recently jailed Allan-a-Dale, who made the mistake of tying his fate in with the two boys, is also going to hang.

Although they get as far as the gallows, Robin ultimately refuses to order the hangings.  Robin and Much free the group and they all flee into to the forest.  Unfortunately, rather than safety in the forest, Robin and his men encounter a group of ruthless outlaws led by a man named Little John.

This episode did a good job of setting the stage for future episodes.  Robin is shown as being war-weary and unwilling to kill, which explains why he just doesn’t shoot the sheriff in later episodes. 

3 out of 5 bull's-eyes

Sheriff Got Your Tongue?

The episode begins with the sheriff riding into Locksley.  The sheriff believes in a carrot and stick approach.  His carrot is offering a substantial reward for anyone willing to tell them where to find Robin.  His stick is that he will cut out the tongue of one villager per hour until he gets the answer he wants.

Well, at least the title of the episode makes sense.

In Sherwood Robin and his men match wits with Little John and his outlaws. After a comedy of errors involving each side getting tied up, they hear about the atrocities going on at the village.  The group rides out to see what they can do.

When they arrive at Locksley, John’s wife Alice is the next in line to have her tongue cut out.  Robin Hood shoots the clippers right out of the hands of the sheriff’s man.  Unfortunately, he is not quite good enough to keep from getting captured. 

Eventually, the (future) merry men band together and rescue Robin.  He does take the opportunity to threaten the sheriff on the way out, letting the sheriff know that he will shoot him dead if continues to torture people to get to Robin.

This episode sets up the dynamic between Robin Hood and the sheriff which would carry them through the remainder of series one.  It also cements what a vile person the sheriff is, and that he is really only holding back at all to keep Robin Hood from killing him.

4 out of 5 bull's-eyes

Who Shot the Sheriff?

A surprisingly kindly tax collector is killed by an arrow.  Robin Hood obviously gets the blame.  Robin believes the culprit is the Night Watchmen, a mysterious masked figure who delivers food to the poor.

The bodies begin to pile up and Robin finds the people are turning on him.  The sheriff and Robin make a deal to catch the killer.  It turns out to be a castle guard with a grudge, although along the way Robin discovers that the Night Watchman is Maid Marian.

I really feel that the twist of having the Night Watchman being Maid Marian was a poor choice.  In my opinion, she is much better when acting as a spy for Robin than as an action heroine.

2 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

Parent Hood

Robin during a skirmish with Guy of Gisborne in the forest, Robin discovers an infant who has been left to die.  During the same skirmish, Roy, one of little John’s men, is captured and brought back to Nottingham Castle.

While in the castle, Roy befriends a young scullery maid named Annie.  He finds out that she has secretly given birth to Guy of Gisborne’s illegitimate child.  Guy took the child away to be “raised by a kind family in the country.”  Roy puts two and two together and realizes this must be the abandoned child they found.

Things get worse for Roy when the sheriff gives him an ultimatum: “Kill Robin Hood or your mother will hang”.  Roy “escapes” and returns to the gang.  Back at the camp he attempts to kill Robin but fails.

Once the gang hears the whole story, they decide to attempt to rescue both Roy’s mother and the scullery maid Anne.  Their plan almost works, but Roy ends up sacrificing his life so that everyone else can escape.

At the start of this episode I was expecting a bit of sitcom fluff with Robin and the Merry Men trying to take care of the baby.  What I got was an extremely enjoyable story about betrayal and redemption.

5 out of 5 bull's-eyes

Turk Flu

The sheriff holds an archery competition in an attempt to lure Robin Hood out into the open.  Robin obviously wants to go, but knows it is a trap and decides it would be the perfect time to rob the sheriffs silver mine.

On the way they encounter a slave trader who is bringing a new batch of Saracen slaves to work in the death trap of a mine the sheriff is running.  Robin concocts a plan to infiltrate the mine with his men disguised as slaves.

The plan is going smoothly when Robin lets the slave trader go.  Much realizes this is because Robin wants to go to the tournament while the sheriff and his men are rushing to the mine.  It might work, but Little John falls down a covered shaft.

With a little derring-do, Robin and his men manage to save Little John, win the archery competition, help a young man whose family was killed in the mine, and gain a new member of the gang when the Saracen woman Djaq joins them.  Not bad for a days work.

I generally felt this episode was a weak one.  However, I did like Robin Hood’s arrogance, especially how he was determined to go to the archery competition for ego’s sake.

2 out of 5 bull's-eyes

The Taxman Cometh

Robin and his men stop the taxman on his way to collect the taxes from Nottingham castle.  They force the taxman to lead them to the supposed riches, only to find out it is a trap.  The sheriff is pleased by the taxman’s initiative and promises to reward him greatly.

However, the taxman turns out to be a con man.  With the help of a woman posing as the Abbess of Rufford, they double-cross the sheriff and make off with his tax money. 

During the confusion, Robin and his Merry Men escape.  Later, in the forest, Robin and his Merry Men relieve “the tax man” of his money.

I felt this episode was entirely forgettable.

1 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

Brothers in Arms

Allan-a-Dale’s brother Tom arrives on the scene.  He and his gang team up with Robin Hood, but have trouble following orders and repeatedly endanger the lives of the Merry Men.  Eventually Tom and his men get captured by the sheriff.  The Merry Men set up a rescue attempt, but find the sheriff hung them an hour ahead of schedule.

In the Marian sub-plot in this episode, Guy finally comes to suspect she may be acting as a spy for Robin Hood.  To prove her loyalty, she agrees to marry him as soon as King Richard returns.

I enjoyed the sheriff pulling one over on Robin Hood by hanging Tom and his men ahead of schedule.  Even though you never really care about Tom, you do care about his brother Allan, so the failure to save them still has an impact.  The rest of the episode was mediocre.

2 out of 5 bull’s-eyes


To be continued in Robin Hood Series One Review (Part II)