It’s rather ironic that Robin “rescued” Marion from Gisburne’s clutches, only to learn that he was actually taking her to where she wanted to go – Kirklees Abbey. Robin’s visibly shaken about this. “You don’t look like a nun” he tells her. Both Praed and Trott are lovely in these scenes – Robin is rather earnest and gauche, whilst Marion sees no future for her in Sherwood. As she tells him, it’s fine to be his May Queen, but what happens when winter comes?
So he drops her at the Abbey and they exchange long, lingering looks – although this is obviously far from the end of the story. That’s reinforced when Robin pays another visit to Herne and has a vision of the future (which includes Marion as a sacrificial victim). Herne then utters cryptic messages which Robin doesn’t fully understand.
The silver arrow, which the Sheriff obtained after murdering Robin’s father, comes back into play. It’s interesting that Robin never seems to be aware that his father was killed by the Sheriff,(if he knew this it would give him a strong reason to seek revenge). But possibly that would have been too obvious, instead Carpenter seems content for the audience to know more than the leading man.
The Sheriff explains to Hugo that the arrow is an ancient artefact – a symbol of England (i.e. pre-Norman England). Whilst de Rainault is aware that others claim it has mystical properties, he personally doesn’t seem to believe this. For him it’s simply an object that was used to rally a rebellion and – if it falls into the wrong hands – could do so again.
But it’s the perfect bait to draw Robin out of Sherwood, so he offers it as first prize in an Archery contest. The Archery contest is one of the staples of the Robin Hood legend, but by making the prize a mystical artefact Carpenter is able to add his own stamp on the familiar tale. And it’s an intriguing story-beat that the Baron is also keen to acquire the arrow. Although it’s a symbol of good for Herne and Robin, the Baron would no doubt be able to put it to a different use (which brings to mind the oft-repeated phrase that Robin’s sword contains “the powers of light and darkness”. The arrow, like the sword, can be used for eiher purpose – it’s up to the nature of the user).
Robin’s old-age make up (a white beard, a padded chest) is quite impressive. Which member of the Merry Men goes in for amateur dramatics then!? But if he’s going to win the arrow he’ll have to defeat the finest shot in the land, Flambard (Thomas Henty) as well as the Baron’s man, Nasir (Mark Ryan). As we’ll learn, Nasir is a man of few words (I think he speaks more in the recent audio play The Knights of the Apocalypse than he did in the whole three years of the television series!) Unlike Little John, Nasir doesn’t seem to be under the Baron’s spell – he’s simply content (at the moment) to work for him.
With Flambard and Nasir such good shots, how can Robin compete? Very well, as it happens. This begs the question as to whether he genuinely was that good or if his performance was being subtlety guided by Herne. The Sheriff smells a rat. Robin’s dead centre shot would be impossible for most people, “but not for Herne’s son.” So does the Sheriff believe in magic after all?
This latest debacle infuriates the Sheriff. How will they be able to entice Robin out of Sherwood now? The Baron has a solution – if they give him Marion then Robin will attempt to rescue her and the Baron (with a little help from the devil) will destroy him. Hugo isn’t happy (although he’s mollified when he learns that the Baron doesn’t want her lands, he only wants her). The Sheriff considers one Saxon virgin a small price to pay for vanquishing a dangerous outlaw, although Friar Tuck (earwigging) isn’t at all happy.
Tuck has been a background figure so far, but it’s Marion’s betrayal by both the Sheriff and the Abbot which forces him to finally take sides. When Marion is later captured, he tells the Hooded Man, who sets out to face the Baron alone. As he tells the others, this isn’t a fight with bows and arrows – it’s a fight between the powers of light and darkness.
Marion continues not to play the victim, telling the Baron that he’s a victim of his devil, not a servant. She’s tied to a pentacle and readied for sacrifice, but first Robin has to face the Baron. This isn’t a fair fight, as Robin sees his bow burst into flames. Like the rest of the story it’s a stylishly directed sequence, dripping with atmosphere. Perhaps the most effective part is when the incidental music suddenly stops and the Baron inflicts a number of long-range cuts on Robin. Mind you, the Baron’s (apparent) death scene is pretty memorable as well, with Anthony Valentine giving it his all.
It might have been deliberate that after a great deal of build-up, the Baron de Belleme was fairly easily defeated. He may have had the power of darkness to call on, bur it’s a non-believer like de Rainault who’s able to strike a bigger blow – as his men manage to kill both Dickon and Tom. Carpenter was aware that once the series was up and running it would have been difficult to kill off one of the main characters (although events conspired to make this happen in The Greatest Enemy) so instead he created a couple of Merries who looked as if they were going to be regulars, only to cut them done in their prime.
This also enables Robin to make a stirring speech which acts as the mission statement for the series. With the sunlight beating down, making the forest seem even more idyllic than usual, he tells the Merries and Marion that “our friends who were killed, they’ll never starve, or be tortured, or chained in the dark. They’re here with us in Sherwood and they always will be, because they’re free”.
Robin Hood and the Sorcerer covers a great deal of ground in 100 minutes. It manages to shine new light on old stories, sharply introduce the large cast of regulars as well as pointing the way ahead to the way the series will develop. With Robin and Marion now married by Herne and Nasir a member of the Merry Men, all the pieces are in place.