TV Discussion

Robin of Sherwood 1×03 – ‘The Witch of Elsdon’ – TV Rewind

We’re rewatching eighties’ classic Robin of Sherwood. But what would a five-year old make of it today? Allow us to present Paul’s rewatch and Luna’s first watch of Robin of Sherwood.

After a series opener where writer Richard Carpenter took many familiar Robin Hood tropes and presented them in a fresh way, he’s now given us a wonderful story, and characters new to the mythos. But will it work for a five year old?

The story sees a woman recruited by the Sheriff to help him capture the gang. She and her husband have been falsely accused of witchcraft by a spiteful Gisburne, and so to save both their lives she is to find Robin and the rest, get close, and then use her knowledge of herbs to subdue them, allowing for their capture and the triumph of the bad guys. (Spoiler alert: the plan fails)

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After the bloody, no score draw of last episode’s final battle, we’re down to a core gang of seven members. (Fans of Robin of Sherwood will know that two new members of the gang, Martin and James, are added during this episode. However, they are so utterly pointless and underused that I’ll only mention them in future when they play a very specific role, and at all other times ignore them. Much like the writer and characters do throughout the series.) This culling allows the strong ensemble cast to shine. This band is why I loved this series as a child and continue to do so. It’s like Friends, except they wear lincoln green instead of designer labels and no one is as annoying as Ross. The scenes where they’re together feel spontaneous, natural, and warm. You want to be part of their gang.

One of the reasons that this series works so well is that the stories are so simple, yet the intricacies woven into them allow for some fantastic character and world development. Take the pre-title sequence: haunting music and a series of confusing images; grain and coins, a man driving a cart, the sheriff, a woman putting down a large bottle of something, the gang rolling around and, unsettling, finishing with Gisburne holding a sword to Robin’s throat saying “Remember me Loxley”. Robin wakes up, and the story begins. With that Richard Carpenter has re-introduced us to his world of mysticism and magic, where prophecy is real. He’s also shown us the defeat of Robin and the Merries. With this mix of foreboding and wonder, we’re launched into the story.

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Another reason this children’s series is adult friendly is that actions have motivation. Until about halfway through this episode, despite the objections of Gisburne and the title of the series, it seems that the Sheriff really doesn’t care that much about Robin or the outlaws, despite the deaths of many soldiers and a rather powerful noble. Even if he was a devil worshipper this is the kind of thing the aristocracy traditionally frowned upon, and yet – “He can paint himself bright blue for all I care”. As far as the Sheriff is concerned, six men and one woman living together in the woods can only end in disaster, so why should he bother himself with a bunch of outlaws? Nickolas Grace’s Sheriff is a pragmatist, a man out of time. In the previous episode we’ve already seen him scoff at Satanism, call out the greed of the church, and generally thumb his nose at folklore in general. He is a man of logic. During the witch trial he quickly sees through Gisburne, calling him out as a liar who only accused Jennet of witchcraft because she wouldn’t sleep with him, perceiving the whole thing as a sham, though he does nothing to help people he knows are innocent because the status quo is necessary for his quiet life.

Yet this laissez faire attitude to the Merries soon changes. The vision from earlier has led Robin to find and rob 680 silver marks hidden by a tax collector posing as a farmer. I have no idea what that is in new money, but considering the beating the Sheriff gives to his unfortunate money-gathering lackey I can only assume it’s a lot. This is why he sends in the ‘witch’, Jennet, as well as spending the next three seasons trying to capture them all.

But why does the plan fail? Marion. Constantly frustrated throughout the episode by Robin treating her differently from the rest of the gang due to her being a woman, yet it is she who receives a vision from Herne the Hunter to save the rest from the poison that Jennet has given them. I’m as much of a fan of 80’s dry ice mysticism as the next man, but there is something of the whiff of deus ex machina in its use here. Still, it’s nice to see Marion saving the day, even if it does have to be with the help of yet another man, albeit one possessed by a forest god. Still, the final scene does hint that there will now be more equality in the greenwood.

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I’ve already spoken about the world building, but to touch on another glorious example, the scene where it’s revealed that the bad guys’ plans all seem to be going very well opens with the Sheriff mid-sentence: “I will not have Jews in Nottingham. Whip them to the gates.” Two cowed men are then taken off. This moment adds nothing to the story, and yet it adds colour to the character of the Sheriff and the Nottingham we’re visiting. Again, it’s important to remember that this is a children’s show. Hopefully the question ‘Why not?’ was asked, and at least a few queries raised about the history of the treatment of Jewish people in this country. In fact, this is a subject revisited in season two’s ‘The Children of Israel’.

And so, what did my half-pint viewing companion think? If I’m honest, her attention did wander if there wasn’t fighting happening. In her defence, the fighting really is excellent throughout. The first one with the soldiers happening upon the tax collector robbery manages to do a lot with very little. Terry Walsh, the stunt coordinator, deserves heaps of praise. Luna agreed: “The best baddies were the soldiers when they were attacking. And the one in purple. He’s sooo cool!” After a lot of reflection about the story itself and her approach to the intricacies of planting a sleeper agent amongst the Merries she had this to say: “I wouldn’t poison the good people. That’s just rude.” She does have a point.

Join us in a fortnight’s time, when Robin, Luna, and myself meet battling monks in ‘Seven Poor Knights From Acre’.

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