Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 Blu-ray delivers great video and solid audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
Robin of Loxley is chosen by the mystical Herne the Hunter to become his 'son' and champion the oppressed. Gathering a band of comrades around him he fights a guerilla campaign against their Norman dictators, particularly the Sheriff of Nottingham and his deputy, Guy de Gisburne.
For more about Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 and the Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 Blu-ray release, see Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on February 16, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
For those unfamiliar with British creator Richard Carpenter's landmark TV series Robin of
Sherwood, I refer you to Casey Broadwater's sterling review of the Set 1 Blu-rays. Casey did
such a fine job of outlining the show's background and underlying mythology that I see no need
to retrace his steps. No one is likely to be interested in Set 2 unless they're already familiar with
Set 1 comprised the first two seasons (or "series", in Anglo-speak) of Robin of Sherwood,
first aired in the U.K. to great popular acclaim in 1984 and 1985. Set 2 includes all thirteen
episodes of the third and, as it turned out, final season, which aired in 1986. Switching reviewers
mid-series seems appropriate, since the show itself was forced to change Robin Hoods, a result of
the decision by star Michael Praed to leave the series to pursue what looked like a plum
opportunity on Broadway. (The theatrical production, a musical revival of The Three
closed almost immediately, after which Praed took a role on Dynasty.) Carpenter had already
introduced a mysterious hooded figure at the end of season 2, who'd rescued Will Scarlett, Little
John, Friar Tuck and Nasir the Saracen from certain death, then appeared briefly to Marion and
the rest of Robin's gang as they held a memorial service for their slain leader. But who was he?
And more importantly, who was going to play him?
The former question turned out to be easier to answer than the latter. Carpenter was already an
expert on Robin Hood when he chose Robin of Loxley, a peasant, as his original hero, and he
knew that there were alternate versions of the legend. When Loxley fell, the same pagan forest
spirit that had summoned him, Herne the Hunter, chose another to take his place. But this time
Herne's choice fell on a nobleman: Robert, the rebellious son of the Earl of Huntingdon, who,
according to folklore, turned against his own class in the pursuit of justice for all.
It took the producers longer to find the right actor than it took Carpenter's fertile imagination to
dream up the idea, but eventually they settled on Jason Connery (or "J.C." as the cast came to call
him), who was 22 years old when he was selected and whose famous lineage as the son of Sean
Connery didn't hurt with the press, especially in the American market. Blond, with a different
build and demeanor, Connery instantly conveyed that the show wasn't trying to replace Michael
Praed so much as attempt something new, and Carpenter began imagining original story
directions made possible by the introduction of an alternate Robin. As is often the case with a
genuinely creative mind, what at first appeared to be an obstacle became a source of inspiration,
as Carpenter devoted three entire episodes to introducing Robert of Huntingdon to the existing
world of Sherwood Forest, the Merry Men and Marion. Since ITV and the financial backers had
approved an expanded season of thirteen episodes, Carpenter hand-picked writers (notably
Anthony Horowitz) to assist him with the additional challenge.
The two-part season opener, "Herne's Son", replays some of the final scenes from season 2, but
now the mysterious hooded figure is revealed to be Robert of Huntingdon (Connery), who has
been summoned by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) to rescue Marion and the Merry Men. But
Robert is a reluctant recruit. This life isn't for him, he tells Herne, before returning to the castle
of his father, the Earl of Huntingdon (Michael Craig). A year will pass, but eventually Robert
returns to Sherwood to seek out Herne. The reason? Cherchez la femme.
The Lady Marion (Judi Trott) has resumed a semblance of respectability, courtesy of a pardon
from King John (Philip Davis) purchased by her father, Sir Richard of Leaford (George Baker),
whom we last saw sailing to Normandy to join Richard the Lion-Hearted. A grand formal
occasion brings Marion and her father to Huntingdon, along with her old adversaries, the Sheriff
of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace), his officious aide Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie) and the
Sheriff's brother, Abbott Hugo (Philip Jackson).
Young Robert sees Marion and is entranced, which appears to be the effect of Marion on every
man called to be Robin Hood. Unfortunately for both Robert and Marion, the guest of honor has
a similar reaction. He is Lord Owen of Clun (Oliver Cotton), a vaguely Scottish warrior with
whom the King has commanded Robert's father to negotiate a crucial treaty. When Marion
rebuffs Lord Owen's advances, Robert steps into the fray. His father is not pleased.
Lord Owen, the kind of savage whose idea of a good time is staging gladiatorial combat in his
throne room, kidnaps Marion and has his in-house sorcerer, Gulnar (Richard O'Brien), drug her
into submission. Now Robert of Huntingdon has a reason to become Robin Hood. He tracks
down Friar Tuck (Phil Rose) in Sherwood Forest and proceeds to reassemble the gang: Little
John and Much (Clive Mantle and Peter Llewellyn Williams); Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone); and
eventually Nasir the Saracen (Mark Ryan). (On the commentary, Connery compares the task to
assembling The Magnificent Seven.) Every member of the gang takes some persuading when
confronted by a stranger calling himself "Herne's son". And even after Marion is rescued, it takes
a whole separate episode, "The Power of Albion", before she too is willing to return to
As many viewers have recognized, there are only so many times that Robin can outwit the Sheriff
of Nottingham and Guy of Gisburne before the plot gets stale. As Casey's review of Set 1 noted,
the single best storyline in the first two seasons was "The Swords of Wayland", in which the
Sheriff and Gisburne didn't appear at all. The third season is notable for the inventiveness with
which Carpenter and his fellow writers created new adversaries for Robin and his gang, often
combining and criss-crossing them with the Sheriff and Gisburne in unexpected ways. Chief
among them is the sorcerer Gulnar, who, after the defeat of his master, Lord Owen, continues to
seek revenge against Robin Hood with an extravagantly demonic joy that would fit comfortably
into The Rocky Horror Show (which makes sense, since Gulnar is played by Rocky
author). In "Cromm Cruac", Gulnar traps our heroes in a kind of evil Brigadoon from which
Tuck and Marion must free them after a visit to Tuck's former abbot (John Horsley), who has
mixed feelings about seeing his former charge. In the two-part season conclusion, "The Time of
the Wolf", Gulnar raises an army of worshipers devoted to Fenris, an evil god who is bent on
destroying Herne the Hunter.
Secular threats also await. With the return of Robin Hood, the irascible King John has lost
confidence in the Sheriff's ability to control the outlaw problem, and he sends several of his own
appointees against the people's hero. In "The Sheriff of Nottingham", the King replaces the
Sheriff with one Philip Mark (Lewis Collins), a ruthlessly cruel individual with his own Saracen
warrior, Sarak (Valentine Pelka). In "The Betrayal", the King arrives with Roger de Carnac (Matt
Frewer, the original Max Headroom), who leads a group of impostors disguised as Robin and his
men in attacks on villages designed to destroy their inhabitants' trust in the real Robin. In "Rutterkin",
Robin/Richard's uncle, Lord Edgar (Ian Ogilvie), designs a plot to influence the King by
convincing him that he's been bewitched by a madwoman (Annabel Lee) who lives alone in the
country with her pigs. In "The Pretender", Robin becomes embroiled in a complicated plot
involving a suspicious new recruit (Reece Dinsdale), the former queen whose marriage to King
John has just been annulled (Patricia Hodge) and the new French bride the King has brought over
from Normandy (Cory Pulman). And in one of the season's most intriguing episodes, "Adam
Bell", Robin catches a glimpse of his possible future, as a formerly notorious outlaw (Bryan
Marshall) returns to Nottingham after twenty years to resume his old habits—and begins by
kidnapping the Sheriff's nephew (Charlie Condou) for ransom.
In the midst of all this, creator Carpenter also manages to find time for a touch of Arthurian
legend (but for those new to the series, I won't identify the episode) and the revelation of a
family connection between the new Robin Hood and Guy of Gisburne, which would have been
the subject of further development if the show had continued.
As for the budding romance between Lady Marion and Robert of Huntingdon, Carpenter
understood that this was a delicate matter not to be rushed. He allowed the entire season for
Marion to address the loss of her husband, the first Robin, and to explore what she might feel for
the new one, Robert of Huntingdon. Not until what turned out to be the show's final episode was
their relationship finally resolved.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-rays in Set 2 of Robin of Sherwood are of comparably fine quality
to those in Set 1,
reproducing the original 16mm photography in greater detail and depth of color
than has probably been seen since the episodes were first cut together and color-timed. Despite
budgetary constraints, the show's final season featured even more elaborate production design
and larger set pieces, such as the gladiatoral "pit" at Clun Castle in the two-part "Herne's Son" or
Grimstone Abbey and the Stonehenge-like Ring of the Nine Maidens in the two-part finale, "The
Time of the Wolf". (I could mention others, but I don't want to give away plot details for those
new to the series.) All of these are reproduced with fine detail intact, except in shots where the
original shooting format has softened the image, either because of the 16mm film or through the
use of gradient filters, intense white light or similar stylized techniques used to indicate the
presence of the spirit world. Grain is evident but not distracting, except for an occasional brief
shot, and there's no indication of any attempt to soften or filter it away. Color shifts occur from
time to time in exterior shots, but the participants in both the commentaries and the documentary
repeatedly note that the weather was constantly changing; it's a minor miracle that the shots
match up as well as they do.
Taken together, the two sets of Robin of Sherwood represent one of the best responses I have
yet encountered to the oft-posed question of whether older TV shows can benefit from being
mastered for Blu-ray. If they're handled like this, the answer is a resounding "yes".
Most of the episodes on Set 2 have the same English audio options as on Set 1, namely DD 2.0 (at 224
kbps) in a choice of either original mono or stereo surround. However, the first three episodes
(the two-part season opener, "Herne's Son" and "The Power of Albion"), which occupy disc 1,
have their audio presented as lossless PCM 2.0. No explanation is offered for this different
treatment, but it may have something to do with the fact that "The Power of Albion" and part 1 of
"Herne's Son" are two of the three episodes offered with a music-only option.
Regardless of format, I found the sound mix on Set 2 to be a marked improvement over that on
Set 1. While watching Set 1, I found myself routinely selecting the original mono track in
preference to the remixed stereo surround, which was so obviously artificial and unnatural that it
quickly became distracting. (Casey noted in his Set 1 review that he was unable to select the
mono track, but I did not encounter that problem.) On Set 2, however, the stereo surround has
been remixed with a much lighter touch, spreading only occasional sounds of nature (trees
rustling, birds calling, water running) into the surrounds, and otherwise leaving the bulk of the
effects in the front soundstage. Dialogue remains clear, and the Clannad soundtrack is
reproduced with sufficient fidelity, even on the DD track, to fill up the listening space and even
engage the subwoofer (though gently) at key moments. These aren't mixes for showing off a
contemporary home theater system, but they aren't dull either, and they're a vast improvement
over Set 1, at least to my ear.
Commentaries: Internal references indicate that these commentaries were recorded
in 2003, because several participants are anticipating an upcoming 20th anniversary
convention in Bristol the following year. However, it must have been early in 2003,
because Robert Addie, who played Guy of Gisburne, is referred to as still alive, and he
tragically died in late 2003, at the age of 43. Commentators are listed by episode:
Herne's Son, pt. 1: Jason Connery (Robert of Huntingdon) and Mark Ryan (Nasir)
Herne's Son, pt. 2: Connery, Ryan and Clive Mantle (Little John)
The Inheritance: Connery, Ryan and Mantle
The Sheriff of Nottingham: Connery and Ryan
Cromm Cruac: Connery and Ryan
Connery and Ryan
Nickolas Grace (Sheriff of Nottingham) and writer Anthony Horowitz
The Time of the Wolf, pts. 1 and 2: producer Esta Charkham and director Sid
The commentators represent an interesting array of perspectives. Grace, Ryan, Mantle and
Charkham were involved with the series from the beginning, but the three actors
experienced it on the set, whereas Charkham spent most of her time in offices, screening
rooms and editing bays. Connery, of course, joined for the third season, and his memories
are particularly vivid. Horowitz, too, joined the third season as a writer after watching the
series as a fan; it was his first job writing for TV. Director Roberson was the last to
arrive, joining the series to direct the two-part season finale, which turned out to be the
series finale. As a true outsider, his perspective was fresh and he claims to remember
Herne's Son, pt. 1 (LPCM 2.0)
The Power of Albion (LPCM 2.0)
The Sheriff of Nottingham (DD 2.0)
Series Three Stills Gallery (HD, 1080p; 22:33) (disc 1): Over 400 production
stills and behind-the-scenes photos.
Nothing's Forgotten: The Making of Robin of Sherwood, Series 3 (DVD;
1:15:08): This thorough documentary bears a 2011 copyright date, but the interviews are clearly
much older, judging from the appearance of the participants, who include series creator
Carpenter, producers Charkham and Paul Knight, additional screenwriter Horowitz and
all of the principal cast. They discuss the transition to season 3, the evolution of the
characters, the challenges of creating a season twice the length of the previous two, and
the abrupt ending of the series.
'Robin Hood 1-2-3': Screen Swordplay short (DVD) (8:12): Assisted by sparring
partner Bob Chapin, Mark Ryan describes the development of Nasir's distinctive fighting
'It's Showtime' Promotional short (DVD) (4:41): Narrated by Tom Bosley, this
short ran on Showtime in 1986, judging from the calendar display at the beginning.
Series 3 outtakes (DVD) (13:28): These are hilarious, but I was disappointed at
the omission of several items referenced in Connery's commentary on "Herne's Son".
U.S. Opening Titles (DVD) (0:43): Not dramatically different.
Esta Charkham's Photographic Retrospective (DVD) (9:28): A personal scrapbook
that includes snapshots from locations, the production office and charity events with the
Promotional Stills Gallery (DVD) (1:28): An additional 29 images, including
autographed stills and a Robin of Sherwood Christmas card.
The Hooded Man, Clannad and Robin of Sherwood (DVD) (12:24): The Irish
musical group's contribution to the series is discussed in alternating interviews from 2002 with
Maire Brennan of Clannad, producer Paul Knight and Mark Ryan.
TV-am Location Report (DVD) (4:07): A contemporary report from the set of series 3.
DVD-ROM: The DVD contains PDF files, readable in a computer DVD-ROM drive, of selected scripts and a season
Nothing about the third season of Robin of Sherwood suggests creative exhaustion, and there is
every reason to believe that the show could have continued at a level of quality equal to what we
see in the first three seasons. The cast, writers and production team were certainly game to
continue. The show ended for the oldest and most basic reason there is: loss of financial backing.
Still, as with many unique shows that ended too soon, it's better to enjoy what there is than
speculate about what might have been—and that's especially so when the presentation is as good
as on this Blu-ray set. Highly recommended.
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Acorn Media will bring Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 to Blu-ray next year. This adaptation of the Robin Hood legend stars Jason Connery (The Lords of Discipline) as Robert of Huntingdon, a nobleman who picks up the famed hero's mantle in order to help defend the oppressed. ...
Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 Blu-ray, Forum Discussions