For her first trip in time and space, the Doctor takes Martha back in time to 1599 where they meet the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
The thing about “Doctor Who” is they’re so good at pulling off these hybrids of costume period dramas and monster stories that we can often overlook these stories for being as good as they are. Certainly when I think of series one, my mind quickly goes to such instant classics like “Dalek” or “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and I will completely overlook the beauty and charm of the third installment of the series, “The Unquiet Dead.”
Hopefully, the same thing won’t happen this year with “The Shakespeare Code” which is one of the more enjoyable stories we’ve seen since David Tennant took on the mantle of our favorite Time Lord.
One interesting fact–the digitial recreations of the Globe theater and the effects for this one made it the most expensive “Doctor Who” story produced to date. And, for the most part, it shows.
The story itself does a lot of things really well. It’s a perfect blend of historical accuracy with science-fiction technobabble thrown in. I’ not as well versed in my Shakespearean background as I should be so I have no idea of the concept of the “Love’s Labors Won” play is based on actual historical fact or fanciful speculation by script-writer Gareth Roberts. Either way, it doesn’t really matter and it shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the story (unless you’re a huge Shakespeare buff and even then, just go with it).
Shakespeare himself is well played by Dean Lennox Kelly. It’s nice to see the historical character seen on-screen in integral to defeating the monsters rather than just included in for good measure. It’s Shakespeare’s mastery of the English language that is pivotal to defeating the three witches in the final moments of the show. In this story, Shakespeare is even enough of a genius that he sees through the Doctor’s pyschic paper and we’re treated to a running gag of the Doctor quoting from famous Shakespeare plays and the Bard saying “I need to use that.”
On the sci-fi side, we have a trio of alien witches who are using Shakespeare’s mastery of language to free their ancient race and take over the world. The witches are fairly well played and over the top, but then again, they’re supposed to be. The make-up isn’t some of the BBC’s best, but that may be the point–to make them look like players from a theater troop of that era. It’s interesting to see an alien race that uses words like we do mathamatics as building blocks for all other science. The discussion between the witches and the Doctor about his lack of a name is chilling and once again shows off the dark side of the Doctor that Tennant seems to do so well. (It echoes back to the conversation by the pool with the Headmaster in “School Reunion.”)
I have a feeling we’re being set up for this season’s arc a bit here (or maybe the overall arc of the 10th Doctor) with these scenes. I do like the air of mystery about the Doctor that has been infused into the show, harkening back to the glory days of Troughton and McCoy.
I found myself enjoying “The Shakespeare Code” more than I thought I might based on the preview. It’s a solid, entertaining and fun story. Tennant and Freema Agyeman both do great work and the chemistry between these two is superb. The banter and playing off each other is a lot of fun to watch and hearing the Doctor bring in references to “The Back to the Future” trilogy and talk about the seventh Harry Potter novel are nice touches (a bit of an homage to author J.K. Rowling, who was rumored to be writing an epiosde for the show back in series one).
About the only down side is the digital effects in the Globe when the witches are freeing their alien race are a bit obvious and disappointing.
However, besides that, It’s a fun, entertaining and enjoyable “Doctor Who” adventure. It’s not re-inventing the wheel or doing something drastically new. What it is doing is delivering the goods and playing up to the strengths of the show.
Next up: A journey to New New York and a meeting with the Face of Boe.