Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 3x02: "The Shakespeare Code"

Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Charles Palmer

The Doctor: “What did you see?”
Martha: “A witch.”

After proving to be quite the helping hand when her entire place of employment was transported to the moon last week, Martha Jones was entitled to one trip in the TARDIS as a way of The Doctor expressing gratitude but at the same time, Martha wasn’t given the choice of where she could go.

Seeing as it’s taken quite a bit to wrap her head around the fact that the TARDIS does time as well as space, The Doctor decides to be a bit spontaneous and go where he hasn’t taken other companions before – 1599 London! Hey, more power to him as history lessons on this programme are rarely tedious.

Of course this episode opens in 1599 so we already knew where The Doctor and Martha were going even before they actually got there given that a foolish young man attempts to woo the very beautiful Lilith and when he’s suggestive about having his way with her, it’ll be the last thing he’ll ever do.

If a sweet old dear could prove to be a bloodsucking creature of menace in “Smith And Jones”, then Lilith retains the nastiness when her victim soon realises her home is decorated in witch paraphernalia and before the poor sap can get the hell out of there, he’s killed within second by Lilith (who can turn on the ugly when she wants to) and her witchy pals Mother Doomfinger and Mother Bloodtide.

It’s a brilliant way of opening up the episode as Martha and The Doctor step out of the TARDIS and are quick to marvel of the delights of being in such a creative era. Again, it takes Martha a bit to note that the TARDIS does go back in time and while it’s not a tedious thing, I do hope it’s not going to be an ongoing one as well.

When Rose got her first date with The Doctor, she was in a space station seeing the earth obliterated and almost got killed a glorified trampoline, so as much as I loved “The End Of The World”, Martha’s a lucky girl when her and The Doctor deduce that they are near the Globe Theatre which contains one Mr William Shakespeare and like moths to a flame, the two of them.

With a pretty so-so version of Love Labour’s Lost being shown, there’s some amusement with Martha worrying about her ethnicity being a problem for her, only for her delight in getting the crowd more excited by her use of the word “Author” than the actual performance itself. Well I found her more amusing than the performance but surely I’m not entirely alone with this.

Moments like this can ground the series into a sense of reality but overall they are fun and as a newbie Doctor Who fan, I get while it might be worrying writing a new companion’s reactions to certain things, there’s also that element of fun within it as well and a lot of the stuff we get with Martha in this episode is fun.

Spotting Lilith in more regal clothing, the main man himself, William Shakespeare finally makes his entrance and it’s certainly not the kind that we’ve long seen in countless movies, the most noteworthy being Shakespeare In Love (probably the best one as well). But is it me or does Lilith not seem the kind enthusiastic for night time humour?

The casting of Shakespeare is an inspired with former Shameless actor Dean Lennox Kelly getting the coveted role and just as Russell had promised, the Shakespeare we get here is a bit more spiky, jaded and flirtatious by terms. Not quite as the Gallagher brothers of Oasis as anticipated but not entirely PC either.

In fact the lack of political correctness is addressed with Shakespeare telling his audience to shut before announcing that there will be a sequel to Love Labour’s Lost that will be called Love Labour’s Won. Yeah, you heard me, a sequel to a play that in 21st Century culture does have a sequel.

As obviously suspected, Lilith was there casting her magic on Shakespeare and forcing him to announce the sequel as part of her own chain of events involving her and devious pals and when the Master of Revels refuses to actually permit Shakespeare’s sequel, Lilith pulls her first real impressive piece of witchcraft by having the poor man drown on dry land.

It’s a pretty creepy moment and totally inspired like the majority of this script but you have to wonder what Lilith and her pals are so desperate that they need the Bard himself to help them? With the stunts they’ve pulled so far, you’d think any nefarious scheme of them wouldn’t need any outside assistance.

When everyone is asleep and Shakespeare is clearly suffering from writer’s block, Lilith is quick to sneak into his room and use a puppet to help him get back on track but when a would conquest interrupts, Lilith literally frightens the poor girl to death and after joking about there being no such thing as witchcraft, even The Doctor has to admit the existence of witches, which is essentially what Lilith, Doomfinger and Bloodtide are. Vampires last week, witches this week, the show is ruddy well spoiling us and we’re not even halfway through proceedings yet.

With all these encounters, it didn’t take The Doctor long to figure out that Shakespeare is being targeted and also that there’s something a miss with the Globe theatre but in her second week of genius, it’s Martha who comes up with the answers in regards to connection of the number 14, who includes the numbers of sides in the Globe and the number of lines in a sonnet.

The story gets another speed up when The Doctor, Martha and Shakespeare visit the latter’s architect friend Peter Streed in Bedlam, a nut house of sorts, where Martha’s disgusts of the cruelty inflicted on the patients is a nice way of asserting her own doctor qualifications and humanity. Heck, even the usually detected Doctor is pretty appalled at the way some of the patients are whipped for random amusement.

Shakespeare’s reaction to his friend being institutionalised is very interesting because although he understood why his pal going on about witches pestering him got him sectioned, I never got the impression that Shakespeare disbelieved him. Actually thinking about it, not very much actually shocks Shakespeare in the way that the Gelth shocked Dickens, a werewolf shocked Queen Victoria and being pursued by Clockwork Droids shocked Madame Du Pompadour.

There’s a nice throwback to “The Girl In The Fireplace” when it looks like The Doctor is using psychic abilities to get Peter to explain his encounter only for Lilith to send Doomfinger into dispatching Peter in a spooky enough manner. A theme for this episode could be simple tings causing such damage. One of them is the power of words; another is a touch from these witches. You could ask Peter if he wasn’t dead.

However while Martha does a screaming session that worthy of past companions, The Doctor quickly figures out that these witch like creatures are called Carronites and just by saying their name can somewhat weaken them. It’s great that for creatures that can cause damage by getting Shakespeare to write certain words, damage can also be inflicted onto them with just the mention of their name.

It would be on the other hand, way too easy if one word could permanently grind these bints to a halt so it makes sense that The Doctor mentioning Carronite to Lilith wouldn’t have as much effect. Casting former Hex actress Christina Cole is another masterstroke as she proves that with the right role, she can deliver and as nasty determined Lilith, she rarely drops the ball so to speak.

Not only does Lilith revel in The Doctor’s failed attempt of slowing her down but she actually enjoys flirting with her newfound enemy while explaining her plan to get Shakespeare to recite the words to release the rest of her species from a crystal ball. Well like many creatures, the Carronites were a banished race due to their love of destruction so it makes sense that Lilith would go to all this trouble for a reason as major as this.

The banter between Cole and David Tennant is played to delicious perfection and isn’t great that Lilith trying to use The Doctor’s pain of losing Rose against him, only eggs him on into fighting. As for Martha, she spent this encounter mostly unconscious save for a good moment when The Doctor needs her starting his heart again, which more or less gets played for laughs and reminds Martha that while he may look human, The Doctor is still an alien.

As for the major plan of stopping the Carronites, well it’s mostly touch and go as Shakespeare’s pals put on his not so thrilling sequel and Shakespeare’s attempts of stopping are intervened by Doomfinger that just makes him woozy. Seeing as the Carronites knew that Shakespeare had been in cahoots with The Doctor and Martha, wouldn’t it just have made sense to snatch him and keep him away from proceedings? Historically they can’t kill him but they could keep him away as he didn’t stay knocked out long enough in order to not pose a threat.

Which at the end, Shakespeare did by reversing the Carronites spell as halfway through Lilith’s race being released from their crystal prison, Shakespeare found the words to ensnare them all including Lilith and her mates during one of the series most gorgeous pieces of special effects as well might I add. The ensnaring feels a bit simplistic but it doesn’t diminish the overall quality of the episode.

As for Martha, it’s been quite an intriguing second episode for her. Freema mostly got to play on her comic timing rather than her dramatics this week and still proves her consistency and overall worth as a companion. A part of me wonders if Martha really knows what she’s getting herself into and what her expectations of The Doctor are.

With Shakespeare, it was wall to wall flirting between the two of them. He acknowledged her colour, her clothing, intelligence and sense of authority and flirted with her to no end and if his breath wasn’t so stinky he might have gotten a snog from Martha too.

However with The Doctor, while there is one moment where her intelligence impresses him enough to vocally approve of her, it seems that Martha’s got a case of old fashioned unrequited love and she wasn’t particularly thrilled when upon sharing a bed with him, a certain Rose got brought up into the conversation. Also it seems that before Queen Elizabeth had guards chasing them, it might be down to Shakespeare’s words that Martha’s trip with The Doctor will transcend more than one date.

Also in “The Shakespeare Code”

I’ve noticed that this episode along with the other history ones – “The Unquiet Dead”, “Tooth And Claw” and “The Girl In The Fireplace” all have openers that don’t feature The Doctor. I wonder if it’s coincidental or deliberate.

Martha: “When are we?”
The Doctor: “Somewhere before the invention of toilets.”

Nice moment with Martha mentioning the butterfly effect in the way that she and The Doctor’s presence in 1599 could have future consequences. It’s something that The Doctor doesn’t always consider.

The Doctor: “When you go home you can tell everyone you’ve seen Shakespeare.”
Martha: “Then I could get sectioned.”

The Doctor (re Lindley): “Leave it to me, I’m a doctor.”
Martha: “So am I, near enough.”

Shakespeare called Martha an Ethiop girl, Queen Of Afric, a Suave, Black amour and Dark Lady. Yet Martha was able to cut him to size regarding his breath.

Shakespeare: “How can a man so young have eyes so old?”
The Doctor: “I do a lot of reading.”

The Doctor: “Come on, we can all have a good flirt later.”
Shakespeare: “Is that a promise Doctor?”

How come Lilith was able to glamour herself and Doomfinger and Bloodtide weren’t able to?

Lilith: “Doom The Doctor, doom his hide.”

Doomfinger (re The Doctor): “He knows us, he speaks our name.”
Lilith: “Then he will know death.”

The episode title is a clear spoof of The Da Vinci Code, which both Russell T Davies and episode writer Gareth Roberts have expressed a hatred for.

Shakespeare: “Wait a minute, that one’s mine.”
The Doctor: “Oh just shift.”

The Doctor: “I take it we’re expected?”
Lilith: “Oh I think death has been waiting for you a long time.”

This is the second episode into this season where humanity and death have been mentioned in quite a manner. The former looks sets to be an ongoing theme.

Shakespeare: “I hit my head.”
The Doctor: “Yeah don’t rub it, you’ll go bald.”

Shakespeare: “Your effect is very special indeed.”
Martha: “It’s not your best line.”

Chronology: Well aside from 1599 London, I would wager a few minutes passed between the end of “Smith And Jones” and the start of this episode.

Written by the same guy responsible for the TARDISODES, “Attack of The Graske” and The Sarah Jane Adventures pilot “Invasion Of The Bane”, Gareth Roberts provides a delicious script with all the right ingredients to make for a delirious episode. The slow establishing of The Doctor and Martha’s teaming up comes along nicely and the guest cast are superb.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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