Upon first meeting, it’s safe to say that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Robin Hood didn’t exactly hit it off. Throughout tonight’s Robot of Sherwood, the older, ruder, more curmudgeonly twelfth Doctor made clear his feelings on the hero’s habits of hearty laughs, “bantering” and having a jawline far too sharp to be true.
It was, as Robin Hood himself – Tom Riley – says, a greater sign than any of just who Capaldi’s Doctor is – and how different he is to Matt Smith’s eleventh incarnation.
“Matt Smith’s Doctor would’ve loved Robin Hood,” he tells RadioTimes.com. “They would’ve been gleeful together, and been all, ‘You’re amazing!’, ‘No you are!’ But that wouldn’t have been perhaps as interesting a dynamic, whereas now the Doctor is near disgusted by him. As such, it’s got the feel of classic Who but it’s a very new Doctor.”
One of the reasons that the Doctor was so “disgusted” by Hood is that he is, essentially, a jolly caricature of the legend – one that writer Mark Gatiss consciously based on Errol Flynn, who played a swashbuckling prince of thieves in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.
“I’m not sure what [Gatiss] was thinking when he cast me for it, but he certainly made a very clear Robin Hood on the page. It’s very much a throwback to Errol Flynn. He suggested that I watch the original movie and get a feel for his stance and the way he was: this impossible hero, which of course is the whole idea of the story.”
The obvious danger with playing such a character, though, is going too over the top. It was something Riley, who filmed Robot of Sherwood inbetween series two and three of Starz’s Da Vinci’s Demons, was all too aware of.
“[Going over the top] was a massive fear, if I’m honest! It’s such a fine line to walk. Committing to it being a romp, and him being a caricature, it’s not easy. Fortunately the script was hilarious, and then you’ve got the twelfth Doctor being there the entire time being cynical of him. When there’s someone there going, ‘You’re ridiculous,’ it gives you a good excuse to be ridiculous! If I hadn’t had that, it would’ve been harder to see the size of that performance.”
When it came to actual filming, though, one of the biggest challenges for Riley was the early sequence in which he, with a sword, goes up against Capaldi’s mighty spoon.
“The fight with a spoon was actually incredibly difficult,” he says. “Because it’s tiny. It’s a spoon! So my aim had to be bang on, and Peter’s blocking had to be bang on. It’s not like a sword where you’ve got a foot length to clash into – you have to be so precise, but make it look like you’re struggling. We spent ages on that rehearsal.”
“Also,” he adds, “Capaldi was adamant that he’d fall in the water, so he got properly wet suited up and I was like, ‘Am I going in too..?’ So right at the end of the day, freezing cold river, Peter’s got this suit on, and then it was decided, ‘You know what, actually? Tom, you should go in too.’ But I didn’t have a wet suit on… That laughing is very forced at the end! You can’t see how cold it is…”
From that fight onwards, the Doctor and Robin Hood develop into one of the funniest double acts ever seen in Doctor Who, and the Doctor even starts to like him a little towards the end. Would Riley ever be up for a return to Sherwood forest?
“I’d love to! I had an absolutely brilliant time on it. It’s the great thing about the show. Because it constantly reinvents itself every week, there’s a whole new cast, whole new setting, whole new time period – all the creative people on it never get bored. . I would completely go back.”
How about as a companion? Robin Hood travelling through time and space, annoying the Doctor wherever he goes. We’d certainly watch it.
“I don’t know! I don’t think the Doctor would suffer it! It’s a nice idea, and I’d love to go on a little adventure with Robin Hood dealing with the rest of the universe, but I’m not sure the twelfth Doctor would let me anywhere near the TARDIS. But, it would be interesting… Alright, I’ll pitch it!”
Doctor Who returns next week with episode four Listen, airing on BBC1 on 13th September.