Thoughts on: The Shakespeare Code

The new series is leaving me with the sense that the show is embarking on a brave new era, now that the two original leads, Eccleston and Piper, have departed and the new kids are in charge. Smith and Jones felt like a bold fresh beginning, while The Shakespeare Code, which lets the audience see everything about Doctor Who for the first time again through the eyes of Martha, gives the sense of a new chapter, for the Doctor and for the show itself. The Doctor hasn’t got over Rose, and won’t any time soon, but he’s clearly fond of Martha, and, privately, although he won’t admit it, he knows he’s going to keep her. And quite right—I think they make a good partnership. They don’t have the natural chemistry that the Doctor had with Donna, or the bond he had with Rose, but they make an effective and endearing team that are great fun to watch. Martha’s obvious unrequited attraction to the Doctor sets up a promising and interesting Doctor-Companion dynamic for the series ahead, and, in this episode, gave us an insight into the Doctor’s character: he’s completely oblivious to Martha’s advances, and if he were human, the way he treated her (i.e. mentioning Rose as he’s lying in bed intimately with Martha, *cringe*) would be shocking. It’s times like these that we remember that the Doctor is an alien.

This story was a bit unconventional. To be clear, we were actually dealing with magic here. The Doctor called it a different kind of science, but I don’t know how to interpret the use of words as channels of power other than in the sense of magical incantations. I’m not necessarily bothered by that—for one thing, it facilitated an opportunity to celebrate the lyrical genius of Shakespeare. The whole “power in words” theme was a fitting tribute to Shakespeare, whose words, of anyone’s, still carry profound power and magic, notwithstanding the complaints of ungrateful secondary school students. It’s good that they were able to playfully throw in so many Shakespeare quotations—it wouldn’t be a tribute to Shakespeare without at least a dozen awkwardly-deployed extracts from the corpus. Shakespeare himself was played well by Dean Lennox Kelly, and Doctor Who’s Shakespeare was a cheeky twist on the figure, a womanising rockstar of a bard.

The witches were extremely silly, but yet delightful to watch, in a “we-know-and-you-know-and-we-know-you-know-this-is-ridiculous” sort of way. It was entertaining because it was so self-consciously camp (I know I’m using that word a lot, but Doctor Who is an exceedingly camp show). Christina Cole delivered a luscious performance as the heinous seductress Carrionite, Lilith, making wonderful use of those gorgeous heavily-lidded eyes of hers. This episode featured probably the best special effects we’ve seen yet in the revival: the makeup on those Carrionites was impressive for starters, but the stormy swarm of Carrionites at the end was quite a feat—I mean, for its time (Doctor Who has done much better since).

Rating: 7/10.

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