Sunday, April 26, 2009

Robin Hood 3.0 - Smackdown!

(aka Let The Games Commence)

What does it say about me that I find the return of Guisborne more thrilling than the return of the Master (with John Simm's cunning bleached-blond hoodie disguise surely to trigger a new rise of chav hate for fear people who look a bit "council" might be alien war criminals)? Well, for a start it says this gap year business has dropped Doctor Who in my affections. I genuinely could not enjoy the first series episode about Little John and his son, having just seen The Sound of the Drums and finding everything in Nottingham so bloody petty. Who cares if some non-speaking peasants are tortured for money they don't have? Who cares if Vasey gets his rocks off on torture? Once you see six billion Toclafane decimate humanity, you get a bit of perspective.

But not now. The truly-superlative Mr Armitage is back (gosh, remember when he might have been an Eleventh Doctor? Pity fandom immediately committed this atrocity and put me off the idea for life), and when the mere return of a regular character makes things look "epic" it goes to show that Robin Hood really does have the edge over certain new series episodes. Featuring Sontarans. And Martha Jones. And UNIT. Which I didn't really hate, but are nowhere near this sort of quality. For a start, Guisborne doesn't make any quips solely for the purpose of making Next Time... trailers look good.

When Robin saves a damsel in distress - admittedly a cunning, high-kicking kung fu babe with a chip on her shoulder about the establishment - he sets eyes on Guisborne and a horde of extras in Prince John-patented doom armour. The only thing more disturbing than this turn of events is that Gizzy has delt with his issues... and his hair... and seems worryingly sane, even having his own secret camoflagued base deep in the forest. Amazing to think in the previous series he was a comic relief stooge as far as Robin was concerned, but is now the living embodiment of This Is Serious, huh?

Similar thoughts occur to Vasey as he tries to barge in and act like he owns the place - slightly undermined, of course, by the fact he is the only inhabitant of Nottingham Castle, and he's confronting the guy who he metaphorically stabbed in the back and now has a huge freaking army and the full authority of the big boss. I'm surprised Vasey didn't simply leg it, but, of course, he doesn't have anywhere to leg it to. And the Sheriff's unease grows when he realizes his normal insults and campery have no effect on Gizzy, who is here to finish off Robin Hood once and for all. Vasey points out that Gizzy has never managed it before... ever... and via some very crude psychology tries to get Gizzy to appoint him as tactical advisor.

"This time it will be different," Gizzy explains calmly when reminded of the last time he failed to get Hood in a reference so generic I honestly can't guess which episode it refers to. "This time I will command the mission without incompetent, ill-concieved interference from others. I will not have need of you. Ever again."

For that alliterative abuse, Gizzy, you recieve Man of Fist!

Meanwhile, the Merry Men are arguing about dinner as Much wonders if maybe Kate could take over the cooking for a change (she's clearly been with them a while, enough to get a patented outlaw hairdo) but this leads to Alan's side-splitting "Much is a girl!" jokes, which as Much points out suggest some kind of alpha male insecurity on Alan's part. I wonder where this is leading, apart from the obvious duel over blondie's affections. One thing is for sure, Kate's slightly reminiscent of a certain Powell Estate resident when Robin turns up with a new brunette and warns them Gizzy's back on the manor and there's a new poison in their forest!!

Delighted that the authorities are finally sending in the big gunsTuck leads them on an Eric-Olthwaite-style chase through the forest, none of them bar Robin suspecting that Guisborne has been planning this longer than JMS and suggests they split up. Kate and new girl Isabella of course team up for maximum catfight potential (especially as Izzy's shown a better-depicted character in two scenes than Kate managed in her first three episodes). Little John meanwhile falls foul of Big Bertha, lovable granny and pro-wrestler, who at first glance seems to be being attacked by thugs, but is actually training her fellow combatants. However, John as always has a knack with aging females and is almost immediately signed up as a wrestler (albeit one with leprosy who wears a giant animal head) and saved by Bertha from Prince John's soldiers. He's doing a lot better than the others who are herded back into each other.

Trapped, Gizzy doesn't mince words, but sets a man-eating lion on them. you do.

Now, just to pause here. The male lion, generally speaking, is only dangerous if threatened or hungry. Even if it's some kind of attack lion, it's still not necessarily going to be able to defeat six sword-wielding outlaws, especially when Robin has one arrow left to shoot between the animal's eyes. Pretty much the only way this "ultimate weapon" can work is if the RSPCA are going to magically prevent the outlaws from defending themselves. Or, you know, if the lion is just a distraction before the soldiers open fire with arrows and kill them all. On the plus side, it's a genuine lion and not either CGI or a castoff from The Chronicles of Narnia. On the downside, it's clearly tame and arthritic and more interested in sniffing the grass than killing its hapless victims. On the even MORE downside, everyone acts like it's death on wheels when it would be funnier, and arguably truer to life, if they admitted the lion was completely useless. Clearly the script editor decided to go with it as a deliberately bad effect (like last week's arrow or the 'panthers' in Team America: World Police), and so Isabella uses some handy gas bombs to let them escape.

Vasey meanwhile, is definitely cracking up. Using all his mighty powers of bullying and persuasion, he's managed to get him two guards and a straight man, but his patter is not what it was - the merchants aren't interested in his threats any more, don't believe he's Prince John's bosom buddy, and Vasey's brilliant plan of taxing them at the start of the month means there's always going to be less cash, even if he could be sure that none of them were short-changing him. The fact he's killed, betrayed and driven away anyone and everyone who could possibly get out of this mess, Vasey decides to... spend every last penny he has buying farm animals! Of course! You hear that, Obama? Buy up agriculture shares and the credit crisis will be over in no time! When Big Bertha turns up, however, things become slightly more credible - Bertha's an old enemy of Vasey, and only came to Nottingham in the belief he was no longer Sheriff. Vasey is willing to let her live in return for 200 crowns, but settles for 100 crowns (made off bets on the wrestlers) and the death of Robin Hood's outlaws. Little John, suffice to say, is in for a shock...

Another spectacular episode, let down over the Sheriff's baffling "buy cows" plan which is never explained or even referred to ever again. The episode's depiction of Guisborne sans Vasey and Marion is a highlight, but it's quite clear the guy's just too damn good and the introduction of Marion's replacement as cute noble lady who causes him to have miniature nervous breakdowns smacks even more of plot device than ever. About five seconds after meeting her, our calm villain is freaking out, shouting, knocking over things and also (as Vasey notes) 'snatching defeat from the jaws of victory' as Robin once again triumphs and wipes out Guisborne's army. Just goes to show what the Merry Men can achieve without a traitor in their ranks and their leader's hormones out of controls - though it's nice that, in a reversal of Marion, it's Robin Isabella is messing with rather than Gizzy, and thus gets shouted at for her lies and deciet. The sight of Guisborne and his girl returning to Nottingham is only saved from the groaning reset switch it seems to be by the fact Gizzy still isn't impressed with Vasey, and, of course, the next episode suggesting the status quo has far from returned.

It's also worth remembering that the Merry Men were planning to meet up at Nottingham, cause I forgot that and boggled as to how Robin and the gang sudden appeared to save John, even though they had no way of knowing he was in any danger... or even if he was there at all. Some good asskicking from the gentle giant this week, but everyone else is pretty much sidelined. Much and Alan in particular only have their 'you're a girl' argument to stand out of the crowd, but this is a pretty action-packed episode.

Maybe in the future the RH Restoration Team might provide a half decent lion...

"Long live me."
Prince John finally visits Nottingham to find out what all the fuss is about. Needless to say things escalate as Kate and Vasey find themselves facing certain death in very different circumstances...

Oh, and Mad Larry still can't come up with anything to say about Robin Hood.

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