Robin Hood Spotlight of the Month

February 2010

And Guest-Starring ... Robin Hood

Four Robin Hood-themed Television Episodes

Peabody's Improbable HistoryThe Time Tunnel logo
Voyagers! logoStar Trek - The Next Generation logo

Spotlight Article by Allen W. Wright

Introduction

Acclaimed science fiction author Harlan Ellison included Robin Hood in a list of five fictional characters known by "every man, woman and child on the planet." (The others being Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and - the point of that article - Superman.) Because Robin is such an instantly recognizable semi-historical figure, it's not surprising that time travellers in comic books, novels, films and television have made Sherwood Forest a destination of choice. For stories set in another time, the presence of Robin Hood feels reassuringly familiar and offers the promise of adventure as well as education. This special spotlight looks at four such Robin Hood-themed television episodes.

As Robin appears in only a supporting role in these shows, a narrative short-hand is needed. The idiosyncratic variations of full-length Robin Hood stories are eliminated and an iconic version of the character is presented. The most familiar tropes are used and in the case of parodies, subverted. So, looking at these shows gives us insight into what late 20th century audiences expected to find in a Robin Hood story. But also, this article looks at what we don't find. After all, it is curious that audiences would find an outlaw reassuring.

Peabody's Improbable History

Segment of Rocky and His Friends
aka The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show

Original Airdate: October 16, 1960*
(Based on the airdate of the episode's main segments on the DVD release)

Starring Bill Scott and Walter Tetley
Created by Ted Key - A Jay Ward Production
Peabody: Hello there, Peabody here and that's my boy Sherman over by the WABAC machine.
Sherman: The WABAC's all warmed up, Mr. Peabody.
Peabody: Excellent, Sherman. Then set the indicator for the year 1180.
Sherman: 1180, it is.
Peabody: Our target for today will be Nottinghamshire, England and in particular Sherwood Forest where we'll come face-to-face with the legendary rogue -- Robin Hood.

For those not familiar with classic TV animation, Mr. Peabody is a bi-spectacled talking dog whose madcap adventures in history were a small part of the programme best known as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. At only five minutes, this is the shortest of the Robin Hood guest appearances but it touches on nearly as many Robin Hood tropes as the others. And this segment plays with those tropes in a transgressive, comic way. What else would you expect from the adventures of a time-travelling, super genius dog and his human boy sidekick?

Brain-addled Robin Hood from Peabody's Improbable HistoryMr. Peabody and Sherman arrive to find Little John and Friar Tuck hiding in the bushes. But the outlaws aren't wearing Lincoln or Kendal green - instead they're wearing barrels. Their clothes and cash have been robbed -- by Robin Hood. A conk on the head has changed the outlaw's personality. Robin now repeatedly robs his own men and plans to go play chess with Prince John.

Maid Marian shows up to tell Robin that Prince John has challenged him to an archery contest - and if he loses Prince John will cut off England's supply of kippers. The Sheriff of Nottingham has a plan typical of Jay Ward animated lunacy. Prince John is hidden inside the archery target and runs wildly into the path of sheriff's arrows - making sure the sheriff scores a bullseye.

From Peabody, Prince John hidden insisde archery targetBut this scheme doesn't trouble Robin much who declares "I don't want to win. I want to rob the poor and give to the rich." Fortunately, Peabody is brighter than the 12th century crowd. The canine super-genius spots that the archery target has legs and crown on top. He drops a beehive onto the target, and the tournament is called off as Prince John runs off frantically as bees sting him. Another bump on the noggin restores Robin's personality. And all's well that ends well - at least until Peabody cracks the painful "bee-headed" pun.

The segment features what would be the best remembered Robin Hood characters - Robin, Little John, Tuck, Marian, the sheriff and Prince John (albeit with the 1180 setting, the historical Prince John would have been just shy of his 14th birthday). There's also a demented version of the archery contest and the segment inverts Robin's usual saying about robbing from the rich.

Tuck, Peabody and Sherman study the monthly business reportsThe funniest moment comes from mixing modern concerns with the legend as Tuck explains the ill effects of Robin's personality change. "This is our monthly business chart. Robin had the accident on the 8th, and you can see how our robberies have fallen off since then. And the holidays are coming up too." Rather than brave heroes - these outlaws sound like neurotic office workers. As for Robin, brain-addled or no, he comes across more like an upper-class twit of the year -- complete with receding chin. Some of that is just using British stereotypes like Robin saying "Tally ho!" or the Merry Men fretting over kippers. But Robin's also an upper-class twit when John Cleese plays him like the Duke of Kent in Time Bandits. Short parodies look at the absurdity of an aristocrat as a supposed "man of the people" more than longer, serious treatments ever do.

The Robin Hood episode of Peabody's Improbable History can be found on:
Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Second Season
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.ca

The Time Tunnel

"The Revenge of Robin Hood"

Original Airdate: December 30, 1966

Written by Leonard Stadd; Directed by William Hale
Starring James Darren and Robert Colbert
Series Created by Irwin Allen

Guest-starring:
Donald Harron as Huntingdon, John Alderson as Little John and Ronald Long as Friar Tuck

Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project ... the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly towards a new, fantastic adventure somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.

Many years ago, while channel-surfing I caught the end of a episode of Time Tunnel – the 1960s sci-fi series by “master of disaster” Irwin Allen. The two heroes had just vanished from 1940s Germany and appeared in the court of King John – who at the moment was arguing with the Earl of Huntingdon. We were advised to tune in next week, and I did … knowing a green-clad outlaw was likely to appear.

When the episode opens, King John demands that his guards seize the traitorous Earl of Huntingdon (or Huntington as both Elizabethan playwright Anthony Munday and the DVD subtitles spell it). The earl almost fights his way to freedom, but bumps into newly-arrived time traveller Doug Phillips. Both are captured. The earl presents his demands as reasonable rather than treasonous.

Huntingdon: All we want is a charter guaranteeing the just rights of all our free men.
King John: Just a charter. A great charter – or as you call it a Magna Carta – stripping your king of all his powers.

Time Tunnel - King John confronts Robin Hood and Doug [Technically speaking, it wasn’t called the Magna Carta until its re-issue a decade later, and it was more concerned with the rights of barons than average Joes and Janes. But then, a series which featured Merlin and the “Ghost of Nero” wasn’t likely to be concerned with such trifles.]

Huntingdon and Doug are led off to the dungeon – where the other time traveller Tony Newman had appeared. Tony overpowers the torturer, and the prisoners use hot coals to bend the bars in order to escape. Huntingdon is re-captured, but Doug and Tony make it safely to the nearby forest.

There, they encounter Little John and Friar Tuck. As is wont to happen in Sherwood, Tony gets into a quarterstaff duel with Little John. The 20th century scientist / teen idol loses but impresses the outlaws with his skill. “Aye,” Tuck says. “He’ll make a welcome addition to Robin Hood’s band.” The time travellers are surprised.

Doug: You know, I always thought Robin Hood was a legend.
Little John: Aye, a living legend. Why everyone in England tells of the deeds of the earl of Huntingdon when he was an outlaw.

Little John, Tuck, Tony and Doug Doug and Tony let the others know what happened to Huntingdon, and Tuck leads them back to the camp to plot Robin Hood’s rescue. Tuck, curiously concerned with fashion, tells his visitors “we’ll get some proper green for you both.” The odd thing is that Doug and Tony’s new medieval costumes aren’t predominately green (unlike Tony’s 20th century turtleneck), but both are wearing classic Robin Hood caps. Something Robin himself never wears in this episode.

Throughout the episode, there are cutaways to Project Tick Tock and their efforts to retrieve Doug and Tony. No one on the project seems to notice or care that the time travellers are hanging out with the Merry Men. There are also frequent cutaways to great masses of king’s troops and outlaws riding on horseback – using stock footage recycled from the 1946 film The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (also reused in the 1950 Rogues of Sherwood Forest).

The heroes are attacked by a small party of the king’s men. Tuck uses morbid obesity as a weapon as he knocks a guard out with his stomach. They fight off the soldiers, but Little John is wounded. They plan to take the wounded outlaw to Kirkley Hall where an old ally, the Baroness Elmont, will give them sanctuary. Fans of the Robin Hood legend will know that’s not the wisest destination they could have picked. King John’s lackey Dubois convinces his lord to give him a purse of gold, in order to bribe some help against the Merry Men. And when the heroes enter Kirkley Hall, the baroness is counting money from the same purse.

Baroness, Doug and Tony in Time Tunnel Doug teaches Tuck how to sterilize a knife and looks over the medicine available at Kirkley Hall. He also rejects the baroness’s suggestion to bleed Little John with leeches (an echo of how her ballad counterpart killed Robin Hood) . “You know,” Doug says to Tony, “some of these so-called remedies could be highly explosive if mixed in the right proportions.” You don’t need a space-time visualizer to guess what’s ahead.

When the baroness learns the barons are meeting at Runnymede, she convinces Tony and Tuck, disguised as monks, to escort her to the castle. The baroness spills what she knows to King John and Dubois, but Tuck and Tony still spring Huntingdon from the dungeon and get away.

Betrayed by the baroness, Little John and Doug are attacked at Kirkley Hall by the king's soldiers. Doug uses the baroness's herbs to create some "homemade nerve gas" to save the day. Meanwhile, King John sends out couriers to inform his garrisons to attack Runnymede. Huntingdon and the others kill one group of couriers and realize that the king knows their plans.

After regrouping at Kirkley Hall, Huntingdon and the others plan to attack the castle and kidnap the king. Doug says "what we need is a smoke attack" and fetches those ever-helpful medicines.

Then Robin's outlaws swing down from the trees to attack the king's garrison, evoking 1938 film starring Errol Flynn, but as before, this footage is taken from the later Rogues of Sherwood Forest.

The king rants "When the history of my reign is written, this will be considered my greatest achievement - how I crushed those who tried to force me to grant the Magna Carta, and how for all time, I made the power of the king absolute!" But outside, Huntingdon and the others surround the castle and shoot deadly arrows (and one largely ineffective smoke arrow). They successfully capture King John and take him to Runnymede. As the king puts his seal to the charter, he can't resist adding "But remember, it is the king who grants you these rights."

The adventure over, Tony and Doug vanish, once again tumbling through time. They reappear (medieval garb replaced by their normal clothes) in stock-footage-friendly World War II again, this time in the South Pacific. But that's a tale for another website.

This episode owes a greater debt to Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe than to the real history surrounding the Magna Carta. The forest ambush, the archery raid on the castle, sneaking around disguised as monks are all moments from Ivanhoe, although they've become classic Robin Hood elements since 1819. The talk of the Magna Carta - which at the time benefited the barons far more than any commoner - is just a gloss on a typical 20th century Robin Hood adventure. (Although what history - or pseudo-history - was featured would also remind American audiences of the American Revolution.) The episode also features the quarterstaff duel with Little John and a secularized version of the Prioress of Kirklees in the Baroness of Kirkley Hall. The anti-clerical elements of the ballads were often eliminated or toned down in 20th century versions of the legend. Uniquely among these guest appearances, Maid Marian is wholly absent. Even Howard Pyle name-checked her a few times in his no-girls-allowed children's book.

Much like the movies that "The Revenge of Robin Hood" uses stock footage from, Robin is older and past his outlaw years. And his robberies - even on behalf of the poor - are not mentioned. With Robin so righteous, it's surprising that the Merry Men use deadly force. Apparently notions of redistributing wealth troubled producers and networks more than lethal archery and swordplay.

Don Harron as Robin HoodActor Don Harron is best known for his comedic roles, particularly his Canadian classic character Charlie Farquharson, but his turn as the Earl of Huntingdon features little of Robin's natural humour. Harron's Robin isn't a trickster figure, but instead conveys authority. Backed up by a council of barons and a well-armed band, this Robin is far from an underdog. He may declare rebellion against King John, but this Robin is too well-established to be genuinely rebellious. The word "Revenge" in the title suggests a far more passionate outlaw than we get.

"The Revenge of Robin Hood" can be found on:
The Time Tunnel: Volume Two
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.ca

Voyagers!

"An Arrow Pointing East"

Original Airdate: December 12, 1982

Written by Jill Sherman and Nick Thiel; Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Starring Jon-Erik Hexum and Meeno Peluce
Series Created by James D. Parriott

Guest-starring:
Dan Hamilton as Robin Hood, Mills Watson as Friar Tuck
Wendy Fulton as Maid Marian, Denny Miller as Little John
Alex Rebar as the Sheriff and Jon Slade as Prince John

We travel through time to help history along. Give it a push when it's needed. When the Omni's red, it means history's wrong. Our job is to get everything back on track. Green light, kid! We did it!

The time-travelling Voyagers, roguish Phineas Bogg and his kid sidekick Jeffrey Jones, drop from the sky into a forest. The Omni, their pocket watch time-travelling device, informs them they're in England, 1194. Suddenly, their conversation is interrupted as an arrow whizzes past. The mysterious archer is a clearly ill man who is dressed in pink and black medieval garb with his face shrouded. The Voyagers offer to help the cloaked stranger, but he chases them off. After Jeffrey and Bogg leave, he collapses on his bed. The camera zooms in on his cherry wood bow -- the letters R H are etched on it.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey and Bogg wander through the forest, lamenting that they don't know what their mission in medieval England is. They come across a stream with a log bridge -- only to encounter Little John and Friar Tuck. Little John tells Bogg to step back or he'll tan his hide "as many colours as a beggar's cloak". (A near direct quote from Howard Pyle's 1883 novel.) The outlaws are too hungry to wait the five seconds it would take the Voyagers to cross the bridge, and the Voyagers are too proud to back down. (Neither party considers just leaping across the stream or wading in its ankle-deep waters.) As in the ballad, Pyle's novel and the Time Tunnel episode above, Little John easily wins the contest but gains respect for his opponent's poorly choreographed fighting skills. The characters introduce themselves.

JEFFREY: You're really Little John and Friar Tuck?
TUCK: That's right.
JEFFREY: And this is Sherwood Forest?
LITTLE JOHN: Of course.
JEFFREY: And there really is a Robin Hood?
LITTLE JOHN: There used to be.
JEFFREY: Bogg, my dad told me that Robin Hood was just a myth. He said that if the legends were true at all, they were based on some guy called Robert Hood.
TUCK: Right. Robin's real name was Robert. He changed it when he became an outlaw.
BOGG: Wasn't he the guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor?
LITTLE JOHN: Before he ran out on us.

Tuck and John explain that Robin fled during an attack by Prince John. People lost the heart to continue fighting Prince John and the sheriff. "Now they have a free and evil hand." The former outlaws are planning to abandon England for France.

Robin declares Phineas Bogg When Tuck fondly remembers Robin as an "archer without peer", Bogg mentions the archery of the ill stranger they met. Bogg leads the outlaws to the stranger -- who turns out to be Robin Hood.

Robin is sick with a fever. He explains that he was wounded, and didn't want the men to see him as weak and so left to die alone. Tuck tells him that the band has broken up, and that Marian was too weak to resist Prince John's demand that she marry the Sheriff of Nottingham - a wedding that's only four days off. Robin rallies at this news. "Even if I had to crawl, I wouldn't allow Marian to be forced into marriage."

Robin says he was bled with leeches already -- a healing technique that Jeffrey calls "the stupidest thing [he] ever heard of". Jeffrey tells the others to make some soup for Robin. And then the kid proceeds to clean Robin's infected wound with Tuck's alcohol, and orders them to boil bandages in water to kill the germs. Tuck remarks "These germ things must be nasty creatures." Little John vows that if he ever sees a germ, he'll put an arrow through its heart.

Robin seems on the mend, but he's still weak and the other Merry Men won't rally to his cause unless they see Robin's back fighting. Bogg volunteers to dress as Robin, use his bow and convince the people that Robin Hood is back.

Robin places his feathered cap on Bogg and declares "To the new Robin of Sherwood Forest."

Phineas Bogg and Jeffrey Jones, Voyagers in Robin Hood garbThe sheriff and Marian are riding through the forest. He tries to woo Marian with talk of his greedy villainy, declaring "of all my duties as Sheriff of Nottingham, I think I enjoy collecting taxes the best." Bogg and the others ambush the sheriff, but he escapes with Marian. Bogg and Jeffrey mount a horse and give chase. But the horse throws the Voyagers, and they are surrounded by the sheriff's guards.

Bogg and Jeffrey use their time travel device, the Omni, to escape the enemy's crossbow bolts. They are whisked off through time to help Charles Lindbergh (played by Jonathan Frakes -- Commander Riker/Little John in the Star Trek Robin Hood episode) make the first transatlantic flight.

Once the Spirit of St. Louis is safely in the air, the Voyagers return to "Merrie Olde England". They encounter Robin, Little John and Tuck on the way to Nottingham. Apparently, tales of the faux-Robin's largely unsuccessful ambush was enough to rally Robin's troops, but they haven't yet arrived and the outlaws can't wait. It's the day of Marian's wedding to the sheriff -- which is to be celebrated by an archery contest. Bogg joins Robin and the others while Jeffrey is to stay behind and wait for the Merry Men.

Bogg uses Robin's bow, pretending to be Robin in disguise. The sheriff, Prince John and an unwilling Marian look on as Bogg's arrows miss the practice targets. "All this talk of his great archery skill was much exaggerated."

Then the real Robin jumps onto the balcony with the sheriff and others. A Nottingham guard aims his bow at Robin, but Bogg proves himself an archer by loosing an arrow that snaps the guard's bowstring. Marian in hand, Robin swordfights his way downstairs, while Bogg uses a quarterstaff to deal the sheriff's goons on the ground.

The heroes' escape route is cut off by guards blocking the castle gate. The sheriff and Prince John think they've won, but just then Jeffrey and the rest of Robin's men appear on the castle battlements -- with bows drawn towards Prince John. "You wouldn't kill me," the prince shouts, "that would be treason!" "Treason to you; loyalty to King Richard," Robin responds. Prince John watches them leave and calls the sheriff an "imbecile".

The episode ends in 20th century France with Bogg and Jeffrey watching Lindbergh's arrival.

Dan Hamilton's Robin Hood has a large feather in his capDan Hamilton's Robin is more jovial and adventurous than the lordly earl of Huntingdon featured in The Time Tunnel. although he lacks the swashbuckling charisma of Errol Flynn. Wendy Fulton's Maid Marian only verbally spars with the sheriff and Prince John, but that still puts her ahead of Diane Keen's shrinking violet Maid Marian in the 1975 TV series The Legend of Robin Hood. Mills Watson gave his Friar Tuck a slightly snooty air.

It is bizarre when Bogg's impersonation of Robin Hood is such an important part of the plot that they didn't cast an actor who resembled Jon-Erik Hexum at least a little or gave Robin and Bogg a face-covering hood to wear.

Also, the episode didn't play upon the supposed resemblances in character between Bogg and Robin. Bogg is supposed to be a roguish and anti-authoritarian ne'er-do-well. Admittedly, that's in the most kid-friendly way. (His strongest curse being "Bat's breath.") But it would have been fun to see Bogg enjoying his Robin Hood activities. Instead it's in the Lindbergh portion where Bogg steals - in comically inept fashion - some airplane fuel. Of course, steal isn't quite the right word. As he attempts to convince the guard dog, Bogg isn't a thief -- he has a receipt. Such children's TV show scruples might be why the Robin Hoods in these episodes never quite feel like Robin Hood. In Bogg's ambush of the sheriff, no money was taken. Instead Robin and Bogg are like superheroes -- supporting the true law and thwarting a usurper king.

While the episode didn't feature Robin (or Bogg) actually taking money from a rich fat cat, it did incorporate many elements of the 20th century legend. There was the quarterstaff duel with Little John, the archery contest, Prince John's schemes for the throne, and a threat to marry Marian. These elements turn up in the Errol Flynn film and later versions such as Robin of Sherwood and Prince of Thieves.

I wouldn't make much about the limitations of the costumes or set, except to note that in the final scenes, Robin Hood's hat has the most absurdly large feather I've ever seen. Perhaps Robin was compensating for his earlier weakness.

"An Arrow Pointing East" can be found on:
Voyagers!: The Complete Series
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Qpid"

Original Airdate: April 22, 1991

Written by Randee Russell and Ira Steven Behr; Directed by Cliff Bole
Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn
Series Created by Gene Roddenberry

Guest-starring:
John de Lancie as Q/Sheriff of Nottingham, Jennifer Hetrick as Vash/Marian and Clive Revill as Guy of Gisborne

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

As the episode begins, the Starship Enterprise is orbiting Tagus III, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard is hosting to an archaeological conference about the ancient ruins on the planet below. As an amateur archaeologist, Picard frets about the keynote address he's been asked to give. He is also fretting about the arrival of Vash, roguish archaeologist and a love interest from a previous episode. And then, Q appears. Q is an omnipotent trickster who bedevilled the Enterprise crew in the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and many episodes since. In Q's last appearance, Picard saved his life and now Q seeks to repay his debt. "He wants to do something nice for me," Picard explains to his first officer Commander Riker. "I'll alert the crew," his first officer responds.

Picard and Vash as Robin Hood and Maid MarianMeanwhile Picard and Vash argue. Vash is annoyed that the prim and private Picard didn't tell anyone about her. He's annoyed that Vash intends to steal artefacts from the planet below. When Q witnesses this spat, he knows how to repay Picard. Q says women are Picard's Achilles' heel and plans to teach him the folly of being in love.

The next day as Picard delivers his speech, Robin Hood hats magically appear on the heads of Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi. A quarterstaff appears in Riker's hand and Data is suddenly dressed in monk's robes. Finally, Picard's Starfleet uniform is replaced by an Errol Flynnesque Robin Hood costume, and he vanishes and reappears in Sherwood Forest.

Picard quickly realizes that they are in Q's recreation of Sherwood Forest, that Riker is Little John and he's Robin Hood. This turn of events does not sit well with Worf as the stern Klingon warrior utters the episode's most memorable line.

WORF: Sir, I protest! I am not a Merry Man!
DATA: On the contrary, Lt. Worf. Your clothing identifies you with the character of Will Scarlett. Just as Geordi's mandolin identifies him as Alan-a-Dale.
RIKER: And you, Mr. Data, bear a striking resemblance to Friar Tuck.

The episode does not bother to assign legendary names to the female crewmembers Troi and Crusher. Perhaps Much the Miller's Son doesn't have as easily identifiable visual characteristic to name-check, but it does relegate the women to "... and the rest" status.

Then, Sir Guy of Gisbourne and his troops arrive. Showing the bold leadership worthy of Robin Hood and James T. Kirk, Picard orders a retreat into the forest. Q, dressed in black medieval finery and riding a horse, pops out of thin air to taunt the crew.

PICARD: Q. It's about time you showed up.
Q: I would prefer if you addressed me as his honour, the High Sheriff of Nottingham.
PICARD: We will no longer share in this pointless fantasy of yours.
Q: Fine, stay here and do nothing. By midday tomorrow, your crew will be safely aboard their ship. Of course, you will have to accept the consequences of your inaction.
PICARD: Consequences?
Q: What is the one thing that Robin Hood is most famous for?
GEORDI: He robs from the rich to give to the poor.
Q: Besides that.
DATA: Perhaps you are referring to the rescue of Maid Marian from Nottingham Castle?
Q: Yes, Data. And it just so happens that Sir Guy of Gisbourne has decreed that Marian's head shall come off tomorrow at noon.
PICARD: Vash.
Q: It's your choice, Robin. You can either take your ease in this sylvan glade or risk your life to save the woman you care nothing about.

John de Lancie's Q as the Sheriff of NottinghamMeanwhile, at Nottingham Castle, Vash, who has no idea what's going on, is pestered by an annoying nurse. The nurse suggests that leeches would help Vash/Marian. Sir Guy comes in, taunts Vash but then proposes marriage. She violently rebuffs his advances. That is, until Sir Guy mentions her impeding execution. Then she says "Maybe, we've both been a bit ... hasty?" and allows Guy to kiss her hand. The sheriff/Q is surprised and amused on hearing of Guy and Marian/Vash's engagement. But he doesn't trust her.

Because he doesn't want to jeopardize his crew (or possibly because he's seen one too many Robin Hood movies), Picard declares he's going to the castle alone. Picard climbs through Vash's window -- comically struggling more than Errol Flynn did. Vash refuses to be rescued calling Picard's one man against a castle strategy "insane". When Sir Guy bursts in on them, Vash betrays Picard/Robin and steals his sword.

Later Vash reverts to Olivia de Havilland mode and begs her nurse to take a letter to the Merry Men. The nurse objects, thinking Sir Guy is a better romantic match than Robin Hood. They are interrupted by Q, who was impressed by Vash's ruthlessness, but then spots the letter. "What marvellous duplicity!" Q declares -- even more impressed. Still he still has Vash arrested.

On the day of the execution, Vash and Picard bicker about who is to blame for their predicament. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew are milling about the courtyard disguised as monks. Data throws part of his circuitry into a brazier which explodes to create a distraction allowing Picard to break free. But the guards drag Vash into the castle.

Captain Picard re-enacts Errol Flynn's swordfightAs the Merry crew of the Enterprise battle with the soldiers, Picard and Sir Guy swordfight on a staircase. The duel and Sir Guy's death plunge deliberately echo Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone's classic battle.

Finally the lovers are reunited. Q congratulates Picard, but again says how Picard's crew could have been killed "all for the love of a maid". Q declares his debt has been paid in full for showing how love brings out the worst in Picard. Vash disagrees saying it brought out Picard's best qualities.

Q sends everyone back to the Enterprise. But the epilogue subverts the usual happily-ever-after ending and reveals that Q and Vash are going to explore the galaxy together for a time. In sense, the sheriff got the girl.

The episode is less earnest than either the Voyagers! or Time Tunnel episodes and is the stronger for it. Worf's deadpan humour - such as smashing Geordi's mandolin and then saying sorry gruffly - and Q's quips are among the better moments. This episode serves as a gentle parody of the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood and of heroic tropes in general. Examples include Vash pointing out the insanity of Picard's plan to break into the castle alone or her willingness to marry Sir Guy -- although the Marian of the 2006 BBC TV series was also willing to marry Guy. However, the episode only mocks the surface elements of the Robin Hood legend. That Robin Hood is a thief - and redistributes wealth - barely rates a dismissive mention even though that has been a ripe element for parody elsewhere, including in Peabody.

Worf as Will Scarlet smashes Alan-a-Dale's mandolinPerhaps the episode avoids the deeper elements of the Robin Hood legend because the original plan was to send Picard and co. to Camelot. Q's destination of choice was changed to tie in with the upcoming Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves. Q's central message that women would lead Picard to a bad end seems better suited to the Arthurian legend. Here, it just feels sexist. In a later episode, Tapestry, Q reminds Picard how rebellious the captain was in his youth, and how his youthful almost Q-like defiance is what allowed Picard to progress. Surely, that would have been a more appropriate lesson for a Robin Hood story where the hero was often (although not so much these days) portrayed as a trickster.

Despite that the co-writer of the episode is a woman, there were a few bizarrely sexist elements. Unlike all their other comrades, it's the two female crewmembers who aren't identified with legendary characters. Why couldn't Dr. Beverly Crusher have been designated Alan-a-Dale and Geordi reduced to nameless outlaw #1? Further, the only use of a bow by a hero is when Deanna Troi is practicing her aim and manages to hit Data ... several feet away from her target. In the final battle, the other Enterprise crew members fight with swords and quarterstaves. Crusher and Troi just crack pots on the guards' heads. On the other hand, Vash's Marian is far stronger than the other Marians in their guest-appearances.

The costumes resemble the Errol Flynn film. And the episode features homages to Flynn's high-window assignation and the classic swordfight between Rathbone and Flynn. Clive Revil's Gisbourne appears to be the boss of the sheriff, as in the Flynn film, although Revill's Guy is less suave than Rathbone's - having traces of Ivanhoe's evil knight Front de Boeuf. Also, Q's sheriff isn't the buffoon Melville Cooper's sheriff was in the 1938 film.

"Qpid" can be found on:
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca
And also on:
Star Trek: Fan Collective - Q
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca

Conclusions

As Robin Hood -- with the exception of Star Trek -- is merely a guest star in these episodes, the regular series heroes have to prove their worth by rescuing the outlaw hero. Peabody foils the sheriff at the archery contest, Doug and Tony free Huntingdon from prison and Phineas Bogg takes an injured Robin's place. One way the series regulars save the day is with futuristic know-how. It's yet another literary debt these characters owe to one of the original time travellers -- Hank Morgan of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The time travellers use modern medicine in two episodes, and all three live action episodes include a condemnation of leeches.

Friar Tuck, Little John and Marian from Peabody's Improbable HistoryThese guest appearances show which characters and incidents the audiences most expected to see. Little John and Friar Tuck appear prominently in all episodes. Maid Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince/King John appear in three out of the four. Aside from a token credit to Will as a background extra, only Star Trek fills out the Merry Men with Will Scarlett and Alan-a-Dale (and also features Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Marian's nurse). Despite appearing everywhere from the earliest ballads to the Errol Flynn film and beyond, Much (or Midge) the Miller's Son doesn't seem to have made a lasting impression with American audiences. He's completely absent.

Disguises play a role in all four Robin Hood themed episodes -- an element which carried over from the earliest ballads to today. (The Ivanhoe-inspired monk disguise appears in both Time Tunnel and Star Trek.) The archery contest is another element which first appeared in early ballads which has lasted through the years and features in Peabody and Voyagers!. Two sets of time travellers prove their mettle in a quarterstaff duel with Little John, another ballad element which appears in most films. And the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood movie starring Errol Flynn casts a large shadow on later films and TV shows including these guest appearances, with the Trek episode as the most direct parody although there's also a staircase swordfight in the Voyagers! episode. As befits a show where the ending credits encourage audiences to read books, Voyagers! also shows its literary roots by quoting Howard Pyle's classic novel.

Brain-addled Robin from PeabodyBut there is one thing missing in all these episodes. Robin Hood does not rob from the rich to give to the poor. There are forest ambushes - like in Ivanhoe and Flynn's film -- but not once is a rich baron, sheriff or king actually robbed. Not once is money given to a peasant. The closest they ever get is when the brain-addled Robin in the Peabody cartoon robs his own men. It's in keeping with Robin Hood's appearances in other media of the 20th century, the comic books of the 1950s had Robin announce they should be outlaws, but not thieves. And yet, all but the Magna Carta episode of Time Tunnel include a reference to the famous "rob from the rich and give to the poor" phrase. It is important enough to be mentioned, but perhaps a little too important to actually show. For the most part, the Robin Hood of these episodes is completely safe and inoffensive -- less an outlaw than even Arthur Fonzarelli was.

Also, no episode features a genuine religious character other than the heroic Friar Tuck who is secular in all but dress. The evil abbots and bishops of the ballads, novels, films and TV shows (although the 1938 movie and 1950s television series treated the matter gingerly) are nowhere to be found, although the Prioress of Kirklees has been secularized as a baroness in The Time Tunnel. Also in The Time Tunnel and Star Trek: The Next Generation, the heroes disguise themselves as monks when sneaking into the castle. While Little John impersonates a monk to help rescue Robin in an early ballad, this disguise probably stems from its use in Ivanhoe. That novel has shaped much of the 20th century version of the legend.

Marian, Prince John (seated) and the Sheriff in Voyagers!The time period in all these guest appearances is the reigns of King Richard and King John. (Mr. Peabody mistakenly identifies the year of 1180 as being in the reign of King Richard, a mistake repeated by later versions such as the TV movie Princess of Thieves.) The earliest chroniclers and modern novelists might vary the setting, but film versions almost never do. Prince or King John, well known as a usurper in popular culture, is the perfect evil overlord for these episodes. In resisting a usurper like John, Robin seems positively law-abiding (even in the Time Tunnel episode where John is the legitimate king but Robin's barons are depicted as having the force of law on their side.) The only one of this bunch not to feature John is Star Trek, and there Q is only pretending to be the sheriff, with no more authority than when he would dress up in Starfleet uniforms to annoy Picard.

However, while minimizing Robin's outlawry, the heroes still kill in both The Time Tunnel and Star Trek, although presumably Picard and his crew were fighting unreal creations. Maybe it's just a morally acceptable for an action hero to do. And without his trademark redistribution of wealth, the Robin Hood of these shows was largely just an action hero.

Oh, there's one final ingredient that people expect in their Robin Hoods -- the hat. By the last couple of these appearances, the standard look in actual Robin Hood TV shows and movies no longer included tights and a feathered cap. For example, Robin avoids the hat and tights look in 1969's Wolfshead, 1975's The Legend of Robin Hood, 1976's Robin and Marian, 1984's Robin of Sherwood and both 1991 Robin Hood films. But aside from perhaps his bow, nothing says Robin Hood like a feathered cap. (Publicity for both the 2006 TV series and the 2010 film have made mention that their Robin doesn't wear tights as if that's shockingly new.) So, the Errol Flynn-style garb appears in these guest appearances. When the essential narrative element of Robin's story is ignored, perhaps all that's left to distinguish Robin from other heroes is funky fashion.


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Text copyright, © Allen W. Wright, 2009 - 2010.

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