TV discussion

Robin of Sherwood 1×05 – ‘Alan a Dale’ – 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.

Another fun opener as we’re introduced to Meg of Wickham, a love interest for Little John. (Wickham? In Nottinghamshire? I guess Herne brought it with him when he moved..?) Though I am trying hard to not focus too much on the pre-credit scenes these days, this amorous moment sneaks in due to the off camera “why do they call you little John?”. I feel we’re less in need of Clannad’s synth chords than we are a Sid James laugh.

The episode itself introduces another figure of Robin Hood lore: Alan-a-Dale. A character wet enough to dunk a witch in, the Merries stop this poor, wandering minstrel on his way to Nottingham Castle to kill the Sheriff. It turns out that the Sheriff is set to marry Alan’s true love, Mildred, a baron’s daughter. Despite the obvious fact that a minstrel and a baron’s daughter should not be getting married, the gang decide to help him; though it is so they can get their hands on the dowry rather than out of any notion as sappy as true love.

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After failing to snatch her from the hands of Gisburne the first time – mostly because Mildred just sits around and waits for the bad guy’s reinforcements to turn up when she could have run off like she was told –  they come up with a rather convoluted plan that involves bees, feathers, and two men in dresses; Much as a girl and Alan as a priest. By the end, despite having rescued Mildred, the Sheriff tricks them and they don’t get the dowry. Fortunately Mildred has a necklace she had been given as a wedding present which she gives to the outlaws in thanks, and the young couple head off to what I can only assume is a short and brutal life of poverty, recriminations, and regret. I mean it. The Sheriff and Gisburne end up in a bath tub together and I give them more chance as a couple than Alan and Mildred. Still, as Alan says: amor vincit omnia.

This is the penultimate episode of the first series, and it has a light-hearted almost caper-like feel to it. Watching it as a child I remember being rather hopeful that this would see the entry of another Merry in Alan, but sadly, no. This episode is the only time we get to enjoy Peter Hutchinson’s songsmith with a flair for the dramatic. The same with Mildred, played by Stephanie Tague, but that’s okay as really she’s very annoying despite being responsible for one wonderful moment. As she talks to Gisburne just before her wedding about being loved for herself rather than as chattel, and the sadness she feels from being separated from the one man who made her feel special, we are treated to a rare moment from Robert Addie. As he listens, Gisburne appears to actually empathise. The whole scene is rather touching.

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Despite losing Mildred and Alan, we do get a semi-regular recurring character, and that is Claire Toeman, who is the diminutive Meg, a partner for Little John. A villager with an overly-romantic view of the outlaws’ life in the forest, Meg doesn’t have much to do in this episode other than get her fellow villagers in trouble when she’s seen with John, and occasionally make him uncomfortable as she gets a bit handsy in front of the other outlaws. But John does clearly feel for her, which is very sweet and adds another layer to his character which, let’s be honest, is why Meg is around.

I’ve not mentioned Nickolas Grace yet. As it may be becoming clear, I’m something of a fanboy of his Sheriff, and here he once again steals the episode with, perhaps, my favourite line of his: “Never assume anything Gisburne. Except the occasional air of intelligence.”. Awwwwwwwwwww snap! Let us not forget that the Sheriff shows us that he really is a cunning opponent. He keeps the dowry and doesn’t have to marry Mildred – something he was clearly solidly against.

Another gem in this episode is the fight between Robin and Gisburne. I’ve spoken previously about the ingenuity of the fight scenes throughout this series; making something out of nothing. Here we see the two fighting in a particularly boggy bit of riverbank. It’s vile, with the pair quickly becoming completely covered in mud. It sucks the strength from them, literally, and we end up with the pair wallowing and floundering, barely able to move yet trying to fight each other.

And now it’s time for a revelation that is something of a bombshell. First off, the poor Merries have to put up with Alan for most of the time, which is not a fun prospect. Secondly, the gang at Nottingham Castle get all of the highlights. From the amazing lines and moment – the Sheriff talking about his wedding guest list: “most of my relatives are either dead or living in Normandy, which amounts to the same thing” – to Gisburne drilling his men in cheering for the Sheriff’s wedding, to outwitting the outlaws and keeping the ten thousand mark dowry not once but twice. Finally, and as previously noted, Gisburne and the Sheriff finish the episode in a bathtub that is the very epitome of middle-aged decadence. The only conclusion I can come to is that the bad guys win this episode.

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But what did Luna think? Honestly, not much. She struggled to pay attention throughout the episode. A lot of the comedy – which this episode relies on – was lost on her and she ended up wandering off a few times. Even the boggy fight scene which earlier I praised didn’t hold her attention, though she did laugh a bit at how muddy they got. However, she did have one very important note: “I really like the music. Like a princess at a dance show.”. Now that is a simile you can take to the bank.

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