(aka Total Eclipse)
The last time we saw Robin Hood, he and his much diminished band of outlaws were on their way home with Robin taking a Zen-like approach and quoting his favorite bit of the Koran. Now, I'm no expert, I have no idea how long it would take for twelfth century refugees to travel from Portsmouth to Acre then back again, even with the help of Spike Thompson (assuming they stopped via Germany, which might be possible - I suck at geography), but it seems it's been months. And over said months Robin's shakras have slipped entirely out of synch. Having got his pre-series vicious haircut and post-series beard, not to mention a heavy leather sleeveless jerkin, he looks oddly like Blake in the final episode, and he's acting like Avon in the last scene.
"Robin Hood is dead!" he rages, "He died in the Holy Land - with Marian!"
Alan, John and Much are united in their attempts to stop Robin from taking a suicide mission to (as I so accurately predicted) slaughter Guy of Guisborne (wouldn't it be funny if he found Guy'd hanged himself in shame?). Unfortunately, Alan, John and Much are united in being completely ineffective as Robin wipes the floor with them and lets loose a torrent of such hurtful abuse it makes his slagging off of Much two series ago feel like a friendly punch on the shoulder. Yet the fact all three aren't fussed by this cruelty suggests they've been putting up with this shit for most of the voyage.
(By the way, has anyone noticed that - give or take Treasure of the Nation - Little John is not the superhuman giant we expect? Not only is he regularly shown to be weaker than Will Scarlet, here he takes a punch like the Cat from Red Dwarf!)
After the new title sequence featuring such terrifying montages of Vasey torturing Much and Guy's truly-awful new haircut - he looks like Alan Rickman in a certain children's film franchise about wizards - events kick off in earnest...
ROBIN TAKES OFFENSE TO MUCH'S SUGGESTION THAT, WITHOUT A GIRLFRIEND, HE'S LET HIS PERSONAL HYGIENE STANDARDS SLIP EVER-SO-SLIGHTLY...
The trigger-happy (or whatever the bow/arrow equivalent is) Robin storms in Locksley in a sequence that is touching (Robin nearly kills a little girl in his anger), depressing (Robin kept the engagement ring!), silly (arrowcam!) and out-loud-hilarious (Guy's expression of "WTF?! ZOMG! YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING THIS IS JUST NOT FAIR!" in a cutaway would challenge most Looney Tunes characters). Robin's back in town and Guy is leaving in a hearse. Mind you, Locksley's rather quiet and peaceful so presumably that mercenary uprising either didn't happen or simply didn't happen in Locksley.
Realizing that he is in more danger than he's ever been in his entire life, Guy comes up with an admirably underhand and assholeish way to fend off the ex-Lord of the Manor long enough for him to calm down. This is a superb plan which, however, doesn't factor in the fact that Guy's not exactly in command on his OWN emotions, so a potential ceasefire just turns out nastier than ever. His insistance that Marion's death was entirely down to Robin stands as the least convincing statement since RTD defended Cyberwoman.
Running on empty, Guy nevertheless manages to defeat Robin and Much (both of whom are in rabid bloodlust fever, it should be noted so Guy earns Man of Fist a mere seven minutes into the series) and with the Merry Men reduced to two, Alan steps up as the new leader when John succumbs to despair. As an aside: fuck, why can't other TV series be this kickass?! Aparently Ashes 2 Ashes has undergone a massive "toning down" but I'm still struggling to think of a show in the last few years to get my adrenaline going this quickly. It's sad that the closest thing was the season finale of Doctor Who, The Fanwank Implosion...
Meanwhile our old favorite Vasey is meeting up with Kenny Phillips/Lord Jasper ("He so melodramatic," Vasey sneers in a redefinition of chutzpah). However, their relationship has clearly matured from the one in Walkabout as we find ourselves, perhaps for the first time, seeing Sheriff of Nottingham at the bottom of the food chain. Prince John has not been impressed by the Sheriff's tough-on-absolutely-fucking-everything policy which has, after all, lost them nearly all the money they have, the chance of indestructible warriors, several alliances and ended with King Richard finding out about them chapter and verse. Luckily, Prince John can be very forgiving. For the right price. Which Vasey couldn't pay if he trademarked the name "Dalek" eight hundred years before Terry Nation.
Guy of course arrives looking like Alice Cooper after a night on the town, and effectively saves Vasey's derriere with the tag of Robin Hood - not only is their ultimate enemy dee-ee-dee-dead, but his stash is their's for the taking once they find the secret camp. But Jasper finds Vasey's "let's party" attitude as convincing as his claim to come from 1194, and doubts that the matter is over till Robin's corpse is setting a trend for Stalin and on open display. Plus the fact that Guy now seems to be completely and utterly insane (it's the shouting at the empty air, really) doesn't make him a reliable testimonial.
Indeed, Robin has been rescued by a funk soul brother and taken to the cave where Marian "died" (ooh, that's gotta hurt). Thus we meet "Brother Tuck" (which just sounds ripe for spoonerising and being offensive), a bloke who is more likely to be a Carnell-style manipulator than the friendly religious alcoholic who'd get a cameo in Father Ted (which is pretty much every other portrayal of him I've ever seen). Nevertheless, he's also the most violent version I've encountered as Robin finds out. His personal crisis doesn't matter to the Brutha, and it's gonna stay that way, beeyotch! "Tough Love" might be a better title for the ep...
Meantime, Much needs saving and Alan and John (rapidly metamorphosing into a Robert Holmes double act) come up with a slapstick rescue to save him from the Sheriff. Much, for his part, shows that backbone he's been hiding, from his disgusted "You just don't get it, do you?" to Vasey to running rings around his men. A far cry from the understandable terror he had having dinner with the bloke, eh? Course it's not all comedy as Tuck shows Robin that, in order to save Vasey, it's been decided to screw all pretence at normality and send in the troops to pillage everything not nailed down and offer it to Prince John. Trouble is, this is just the payment for the first month. Robin might be ready to chuck it all in but - as you've probably guessed - it's the worst possible time for him to do that. Just at the halfway mark too...
With Robin at his lowest ebb, Tuck sets up the most intricated plot outside of Kaldor City or Steven Moffat (well... when either are actually any GOOD at any rate...), an intervention with Robin, Guy and his merry men. Sarcastic Alan, of course, continues to prove himself as a new leader, quickly working out that Tuck's not on the level with his oh-so-delightful "here's everything you want for nothing" shtick. You can't bullshit a bullshitter, Tuck, even if you are the master of unarmed whupass. And, as ever, Much can forgive everything except betrayal as the gang find themselves bushwacked by the now-so-insane-he's-threatening-to-out-camp-Kieth Allan Guy of Guisborne.
And he's busy going off with lines like, "This is a great day for Nottingham, its people and homeland security!" which shows you how far Mr. Armitage is hurtling over the top. Mind you, Kenny is doing his absolute best to keep up with the both of them and... well, if you've ever listened to Death Comes To Time, you'll know the horrors on offer here.
By making the 'escape from Nottingham' the cornerstone of the whole plot (considering it was considered as trivial as a sneeze in Lardner's Ring or A Thing Or Two About Loyalty) helps keep Season 2's continued escalation. This time, no Marian, no nice Guy, no Will, no Djaq and barely Robin. In fact, I think it's fair to say that this episode's plot could only be resolved by an act of God. Perhaps even connected to the title. Nevertheless, considering all the anachronisms on offer, it's good that the series remembers how bleeding pig ignorant everyone was back then and how the one thing that really scares Vasey is the supernatural...
The culmination of the episode smacks more than ever-so-slightly of Babylon 5, and unlike Sisterhood, ends with the baddies in the weakest they have ever been rather than all but victorious. It's little spoiler to say that Robin doesn't kill Guy, but as in Blake's 7, it's not because he's feeling merciful. It's the end of the line that started with Childhood and Robin looking for an excuse to spare his life. Now he's got the best one of all.
But without doubt the best thing is that my half-assed prediction of a Season 3 episode (waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when I was fugitoid and telling Spara how NOT to do a BC/RH crossover, rewriting his first chapter) is absolutely correct. Guy is not taking any crap from his employer ever again. "You know," he murmurs, "I've finally come to conclusion I don't like you."
This is not a memo Vasey would be advised to ignore.
All in all, a brilliant episode, kicking the whole format up the arse YET AGAIN, introducing a new/rebooted character (thinking twice, I'm not exactly weeping that the Fool didn't make a return). It's a pity that Will and Djaq don't get a mention, and apart from anything else, they don't have a new supply of tags any more, but laying Marion to rest in more ways than the youtube montage from last year probably had priority. The only goofs are some rather dodgy stuff with the moon and I'm sure that Marian's ring was green, not purple...
NEXT TIME: CAUSE & EFFECT
"Here's to the next king of Ireland!"
Tom Paulin's insistance that the Troubles get a mention goes completely out of control, and Kate Tollinger finally appears on British television. Typically, Much fancies her.
LAWRENCE MILES' INSIGHTFUL REVIEW OF ROBIN HOOD
New series. 1/13. Deliberately scheduled to overlap with ITV's Primeval. But which is best, dark-age outlaws or prehistoric monsters? There's only one way to find out… read books, use your imagination, and stay away from jizz-awful filmlook serials on Saturday nights.
Yet here, in this bleak and joyless televisual space which can best be thought of as "Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Doctor Who", we can see the simplest expression of what CGI has done to TV. Thirty years ago, a bowling alley was the best possible place to hide a terrorist nuclear device (The Professionals), but it's now the most likely location in which to be attacked by velociraptors (Primeval, again). Wouldn't it be great if it turned out to be the same bowling alley? I imagine an old and wheezing janitor who was there when Bodie and Doyle had to defuse an atom bomb in the 1970s, and who can't believe that he has to go through the same kind of life-threatening experience all over again, but this time with dinosaurs.
That said, there is something profoundly prehistoric about a bowling alley: for years, bowling was the male-bonding experience of choice for working-class America, an environment in which men could get away from the womenfolk while still not facing up to the fact that they didn't have anything to say to each other. 'Ug throw shiny rock at sticks! All sticks fall over. Ug the best.' It's apt, then, that many Britishers of my age only learned of the existence of bowling from The Flintstones. The Primeval team faced the velociraptor menace with newfangled armaments that CI5 might have given their perms for, but if the authorities had been thinking clearly, then they could've trained these carnivorous reptiles to perform useful bowling-related or domestic tasks that would normally be done by machines in the modern world.
(For fuck's sake...)