Robin Hood. Series 3, episode 5: “Let the Games Commence”.
As her attackers flee, the girl gives her name as Isabella, and explains that she is simply a servant girl wearing her Lady’s gown, and helping this same Lady escape from Squire Thornton. Robin Hood is clearly more than impressed at what he sees (love at first sight?), but all social niceties are interrupted when they have to take to the bushes as Guy of Gisborne and his new band of soldiers pass. Yes, “He’s back!”
Stationed in the forest, Guy is training his troops hard. These are the crème de la crème, provided by Prince John, with the express intent of killing Robin Hood. Whilst training they receive a visit from the Sheriff of Nottingham, curious and concerned about Guy’s new status with the Prince, and where it might leave him. Obviously Guy is not intimidated by the Sheriff anymore, and goes on to say he not only has these soldiers at his disposal but also “a weapon”.
There then follows a rather clumsy cut (did I miss a bit?) to a scene in which Guy and his men are already in hot pursuit of Robin and the Outlaws (Isabella amongst them). They escape down a sharp embankment, and attempt to avoid capture by splitting up into smaller groups. Gisborne is cool and measured in his response, simply giving the order to “fetch the weapon”.
Meanwhile, back in Nottingham, the Sheriff of Nottingham has sent for all the City’s merchants in order to collect their taxes. However, the Merchants seem a little less afraid of the Sheriff, believing his links with Prince John are not as strong as in the past. In response to this the Sheriff goes personally to the Market Place to get his money.
In Sherwood Forest, John comes across a woman apparently fighting off two assailants, and runs to her aid. However, he is wrong. This is Big Bertha, owner of Circus Maximus, and bound for Nottingham. The men seen fighting her are part of her circus troop, whilst the many children she takes with her are said to be orphans she has rescued and cares for. When Guy’s men come close she disguises John as a leper to keep him from discovery. In return, John agrees to fight in the circus ring that very night.
Whilst John and the circus head for Nottingham, the rest of the Outlaws have been cleverly “herded together like sheep” by these expert troops, approaching them from different sides. But, as the Outlaws get ready for a last stand, the troops part to reveal a large box. “What’s he got in there?” stutters a wide eyed Much.
He doesn’t have to wait too long before a huge lion is released and starts prowling towards them. However, all is not lost when Batgirl, err, sorry, Isabella, steps forth and takes from her utility belt (sorry, couldn’t resist!), a bag of mustard! She throws the bags into the air so Robin Hood can shoot holes in them, thereby inventing mustard gas, and escape whilst the troops and the lion (poor thing) are rubbing their eyes. (See First World War for details). Okay, back to the plot: After they escape, the Outlaws once more decide to split up. Robin, Much and Isabella go to investigate Guy’s camp, whilst the others go back to camp. But when Robin Hood reaches Guy’s camp he is waiting for him. In the ensuing fight Guy holds Robin at sword point, but Isabella saves him, even though it means her true identity is revealed. Yes, Isabella is Guy’s sister, sold into a loveless marriage to Squire Thornton at the age of just thirteen. Robin Hood gets away, but Isabella is forced to stay with Guy, and promises she’ll help in the fight against the Outlaws as long as she isn’t sent back to Squire Thornton. Meanwhile, when Robin returns to the Outlaw’s camp, there is the usual to-and-fro business of “let’s go back where we’ve only just come from” as they hatch yet another plan to enter Guy’s camp. This plan will involve Robin Hood’s apparent surrender.
In Nottingham, Bertha pays the Sheriff a visit. She calls him Vasey, having known him in the past, but he has no use for friendship and is only after money from her profits at that night’s performance. She says she can’t raise 200 crowns, but can promise him 100 crowns, and that a dead Outlaw will be a part of her show if the Sheriff will excuse her the rest of the money. However, as they are plotting, John himself has saved a small boy’s life during training for the show, and the boy is going to prove very grateful when later that day he hears Bertha telling one of her fighters to kill John in the ring.
As the circus gets underway, John is told to lose his fight, on the basis that if he won they would make more money and the Sheriff would only take more tax. But of course the true reason is that John is to be killed as part of Bertha’s deal with the Sheriff. So, whilst John fights in the ring, back at Guy’s camp, Robin Hood has walked straight in with arms held high, thereby distracting the soldiers from the Outlaws’ nets which are about to fall from the trees and the lion be released.
Cut to John fighting in a scary mask whilst the small boy attempts to tell him he is about to be killed; cut back to the forest where everyone but Guy, Robin Hood and his still merry men, are groaning on the floor in defeat. (Okay, this bit made no sense to me. How come these guys are so amazing for the whole episode, only to get trashed off-screen by a few fishing nets??)
Guy calmly rides away from his defeated men, saying “They failed me”. Isabella pleads to go with him, and he agrees. Robin and the Outlaws of course quick foot it to Nottingham and John. It transpires that Bertha is not the charitable person she pretends to be, but is rather selling the children into slavery. So, as a now freed John faces too many soldiers for even he to deal with, Robin and his gang make a well filmed, exciting entrance.
End bit: Seemingly with nowhere else to go, Guy (and Isabella) return to the Sheriff. Guy’s not quite cowering, but he’s not as arrogant as I’d like him to be. Later on, Isabella returns to the spot where she hid her small package. But Robin Hood has gotten there first to retrieve the purse. Isabella and Robin then argue. She tries to explain how she was “sold like a piece of meat” to her husband, but an angry Robin takes the money anyway.
Comment: As I said at the start, it was a well pitched episode. Perfectly suited for that time of evening. However, and maybe I become more and more aware of it due to writing these summaries, the “to-and-fro” style really does become a little too farcical at times. No doubt a way of making it seem far more is happening than actually is.
I love Kate’s new forest green outfit. It was great to see Gordon Kennedy (John), get more to say and do (he’s a big character in this one), and Sam Troughton (Much) was well on form with those little one liners as he pontificated over exactly what “the weapon” in that box could be. All good.
Negatives? Apart from the “to-and-fro” running about stuff: Surely Isabella would have simply knocked seven shades of stuffing out of Squire Thornton rather than have to resort to running away. And the Lion? Don’t get me started on the lion. Suffice to say I visit Sherwood Forest regularly, and will have a bottle of Coleman’s at the ready when I go next.