Building up a loyal following in its mid-1980s Saturday teatime slot, Robin of Sherwood, Richard Carpenter’s bold reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, could do no wrong. That is until Robin himself, Michael Praed, decided to abandon Sherwood for Hollywood, leaving the Merrie Men without a leader and the fans without a hero.
Carpenter returned once again to the legends that had originally inspired him, deciding that if they told of more than one origin for the Robin Hood character, so would he. Series three saw the introduction of Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery), a wealthy member of the gentry chosen by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) to take on the mantle of Herne’s son and lead the fight against injustice.
Just as Robert’s background was the polar opposite of Robin of Loxley, so Connery was very different to Praed, both in hair colour and personality. While Robin had the classic brooding hero character down pat, Robert seemed to be more of a spoiled rich kid rebelling from his parents, at least in the opening episodes.
The two-part Herne’s Son sets things in motion once again, reminding viewers of the tragic events that closed season two before introducing Robert properly. With the old gang of outlaws now scattered far and wide, only Tuck (Phil Rose) left living in Sherwood, Robert must gather them together when Lord Owen of Clun (Oliver Cotton) takes up residence near Nottingham and sets his sights on the Lady Marion (Judi Trott).
Also back on the scene is the scene chewing Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his dimwitted assistant, Gisburne (Robert Addy), while Clun gains something of a right-hand man in Gulnar (Richard O’Brien), a sorcerer with an evil streak.
With much to pack in to these episodes, Connery isn’t given a lot of space to prove himself other than in the action stakes, where he does a good job of showing the character’s physicality.
Luckily the young actor is surrounded by performers such as Ray Winstone and Clive Mantle; while Connery reads his lines well, Winstone and Mantle ensure you believe they’ve lived wild and killed out of necessity.
This 13 episode run takes the characters into new territory, introducing them to a once and future king, a village that spells danger for Robin and his men, an increasingly desperate Sheriff whose methods get more inventive every time.
This year saw Carpenter divide writing duties with Anthony Horowitz, episodes such as Cromm Cruac, The Betrayal, Adam Bell and Rutterkin pushing the characters and giving guest stars, including Phil Davis, Bryan Marshall and Ian Ogilvy, something to get their teeth into.
The downside to this need to try new things, not dwelling too much on the Sheriff’s failure each week to kill any of the outlaws, does mean that plot points are introduced and forgotten about with haste, more so than in the first two seasons. The Sheriff gains a nephew one week while Little John suddenly plans to get married another, while characters who aid Robin are seemingly forgiven as soon as they escape from the Sheriff’s clutches.
While it may sound churlish to complain about the writers’ trying something new, one wonders how the proposed fourth season would have played out had it followed the same pattern. Sadly we’ll never know.
We’re left with a season that proved Robin of Sherwood could evolve and still remain as exciting, well written and enjoyable as ever, providing action scenes one moment and smart dialogue the next. Clannad are also back to provide the atmospheric score to the series, as much a character as any of the Merries.
As with the Michael Praed Blu-ray release last year, episodes look even more like mini feature films, the 16mm prints given a scrub and polish that bring out the greens of the forest and give new life to the ageing series. For owners of the previous DVD sets this is an invaluable purchase; Robin of Sherwood has almost certainly never looked this good before.
Extras are ported over from the DVDs, with a multitude of commentaries, documentaries, outtakes, photos and scripts offered up to enhance enjoyment of the series. With hours of material at hand, the Robin of Sherwood fan shouldn’t have to look anywhere else for background on one of Britain’s most unique and important TV series.