Thursday, 1 April 2010

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code

“Do you have to pass a test to fly this thing?”

“Yes. And I failed.”

The first thing we notice is that the London of 1599 is brilliantly realised, managing to look both convincingly real and beautiful at the same time. The pre-titles sequence is great, introducing the witches immediately. It’s important to get the witches in early and often; the kids watching are not necessarily going to be as fascinated by the Shakespeare stuff as ex-English students like myself.

Oh, and there’s Christina Cole. Mmm…

Last episode Deadly Lampshade mentioned the mixed messages the Doctor is sending out to Martha, and this time round that’s basically the whole basis of their relationship. The Doctor is taking Martha out on the mother of all dates on the one hand and reminding her that she’s getting one trip only on the other. He even sighs at one point and says they might as well stay for a bit longer. All this comes to head in the bedroom scene, of course, which symbolises everything that’s going on between them very neatly, possibly too much so. It’s left ambiguous whether the Doctor’s apparent obliviousness to the one way sexual tension here is genuine or assumed. He certainly mentions Rose at the worst possible moment.

Martha’s sci-fi literate take on time travel is great, though, and so is the Doctor’s undercutting of such things as butterflies and killing one’s own grandfather. And I love the Back to the Future element to the story’s “The world didn’t end in 1980” moment. There’s good handling of the issues surrounding Martha’s ethnicity in the European past, too; it’s acknowledged, but not made too much of. The right balance, I think.

Martha’s fantastic on her first trip- enthusiastic, resourceful, not afraid to tell William Shakespeare that his breath stinks. She’s very different from Rose; more mature and confident and less prickly because of it. And Freema Agyeman’s still lovely.

Anyway, Shakespeare. He’s a fascinating character here- witty, a very perceptive judge of character, hiding emotional depths behind a glib, rock star exterior, and enough of a genius that psychic paper doesn’t work on him. He’s very Doctorish, in fact. No wonder the two of them get on so well. It’s a great moment when Shakespeare casually explains that he’s worked out that they’re time and space travellers.

I like the stuff about words and magic, too. It’s almost like reading an interview of Alan Moore. And then there’s the Shakespeare fanwank bits- Love’s Labour’s Won, Martha being the Dark Lady of the sonnets. I wonder if one day we’ll get a sequel where the Carrionites try again with Cardenio?

Best of all, though, the script is just so witty. Another 5/5.

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