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.

Thoughts on: Smith and Jones

I really enjoyed that. It was a fun romp of a series opener, introducing us to a promising new companion, showing us how the Doctor is faring without Rose, portraying an impressive new alien species, at the same time as telling a ripping yarn to usher in the third series of the revival. Martha, I thought, made a very positive start to her time as the Doctor’s companion. I liked her: she was intelligent, intuitive, resourceful and brave, not to mention pretty—all the traits that make for an ideal Doctor Who companion. Like Rose in Rose, she emphatically proved what an extraordinary person she was in her opening episode, particularly in the way she gave her last breaths to save the Doctor’s life, and, indirectly, the lives of everyone in the hospital. I always liked Martha best of the Tenth Doctor’s companions. She seemed to me the most agreeable and the companion I’d most like to be friends with, which is perhaps why I warm to her, even from this one opening episode, more than I do to Rose and Donna. I don’t even mind the family baggage she’s portrayed as carrying—she wants to travel with the Doctor to escape the complications and frustrations of her ordinary life, which is as it should be.

The Doctor put in an entertaining performance. He seemed a lot more manic and, in Martha’s words, “completely mad”, than he was in Series 2, bouncing around the place and generally giving the impression that he’d escaped from a mental institute before he’d completed his treatment. Perhaps being separated from Rose and travelling around on his own has made him a bit stir-crazy? Nevertheless, I’m not criticising—it was an amusing and enjoyable performance by Tennant, who brought out the eccentric side of the Doctor’s character, a trait I feel doesn’t come out enough in the Tenth Doctor. He even seemed to be consciously channelling Tom Baker at times, for example:

Martha: “You’re completely mad.”
Doctor: “You’re right. I look daft with one shoe.”
*The Doctor throws his other shoe away*
Doctor: “Barefoot on the moon!”

The plot was nothing necessarily special, but it was played out onscreen well. Anne Reid made for a menacing, camp villain in the form of a dear old lady who sucked people’s blood out with a plastic straw. I can’t say that was the best villain Doctor Who has ever come up with, and, to be sure, she didn’t seem that intimidating a threat in this episode, but she was enjoyable to watch nonetheless. The Judoon were an interesting new alien species, a rough band of intergalactic police-rhinos who employed questionable methods in carrying out their duties but who insisted on compensating Martha for her full body scan. They’re a lot more like our police than we realise at first.

In sum, a fun, promising start to Series 3, with a great new companion and a Doctor on form.

Rating: 7/10.