When I heard the title of this episode, my mind automatically went to, "Robin Hood...as a robot!"
Happily, my mind was not correct.
Instead of going with an obvious concept, writer Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock and Game of Thrones fame) goes with a different concept, and it works out brilliantly for this episode - my current favorite of the season.
As I was explaining to my father today, Doctor Who is full of genres. I have a hard time calling it sci-fi, because sometimes the sci-fi concept is used very loosely in an episode. (If you have time to look back at other episodes, try out "Midnight," which is a psychological horror episode at its finest.) The genre here was definitely action adventure, and all but guaranteed that I would enjoy it.
My favorite Doctor Who episodes are usually the ones that don't take themselves incredibly seriously. There is a lot of fun involved, with entertaining banter and a clever plot. My favorite episode 2-parter of all time, "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead," is fantasy and sci-fi with a fantastic enemy, a twist in the plot, and fleshed-out characters (RIP, Other Dave).
"Robot of Sherwood" introduced a great character right away in Robin Hood, played wonderfully by Tom Riley. He portrays the man as a swashbuckler, but also brings around the fact that he and his Merry Men laugh at everything - even things that aren't really that funny. I couldn't help but laugh myself when Robin would whip out a "Ha-HA!" in odd situations. Of course, the fact that they're laughing is explained to Clara - the situation is not funny, and they know it.
The Doctor likely shared our skepticism of the bandits' humanity, which made it all the more enjoyable to see him try to deduce what they were. He examined hair, drew blood, and even asked them to pee in a goblet. He also guesses that they are not exactly in England - perhaps a hologram, or a miniscope?
Fun Fact for Newbies (FFFN): The idea of a "miniscope" was introduced with the Third Doctor, when he and his assistant Jo get trapped in a miniaturized group of habitats that is actually a sideshow attraction. The episode arc was "Carnival of Monsters," and it's pretty great!
Our initial thoughts of the men are incorrect, and it's revealed that the Sheriff of Nottingham and his knights are actually the robots, stealing gold and people to help repair their "skyship" and get to their destination of "The Promised Land" (a repeat from "Deep Breath").
As I heard in one podcast, this episode was a romp. The Doctor and Robin have some fantastic conversations - especially in the dungeon - trying to one-up each other. Clara shows that she knows what she's doing and is actually the one in charge of things. The scene with the archery contest was the turning point - taking a playful episode and finally revealing who were the robots of the title.
I am always looking for good single-episode "introductions" to Doctor Who, for those who just want to see what it is about before really starting at the beginning. This would be a great episode to use to whet one's appetite - especially if they love adventure stories, like me!