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Apr 09, 2007

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

I’m a bit miffed today.  I was rather hoping that this episode would be worse than it was.  See I’d already got the title sorted out in my head if was going to be a total clanger.  "Never was a story of more woe, than this of Martha and her second show".  See, it would have been brilliant!  But they had to go and make it really quite good.  I’m not saying it was perfect, but still a lot better than it could have been.

But nobody every asks me, do they?

It did start off a little dodgy, though.  The minstrel/suitor chap who was lured into the witches loft and killed/eaten/dismembered and then a piece to camera from one of the witches.  Time has passed since I saw this initially and I have given some thought to this and I suppose the idea of the witches looking like that had to come from somewhere and why not from alien invaders?  Also the addressing of the fourth wall was an interesting take on Shakespeare’s plays.  Quite often a herald or chorus would stand at the front of the stage and inform the hard of thinking (or just impatient) in the audience what was going to happen over the next couple of hours.  As it’s Easter and I’m still in a good mood about the show being back on, I decided to let them off on this occasion.  My only concern was that there was no further mention made of the young man.  At all.  Why did they feel the need to kill him?  They didn’t kill anybody else just for fun (The Master of the Revels and the barmaid just got in the way) so why him?  It just wasn’t explained and he was a throw away death for a cheap shock.  I’d have much preferred the three witches looking into a cauldron, stirring things up and then of them looks up and addresses the camera.  It would have made more sense.  But nobody every asks me, do they?

Anyway.  Young Martha is shaping up to be the perfect foil for the Doctor, don’t you think?  I liked the way that her concerns about the perils of time travel were handled.  Everybody has these issues about changing the future and ending their own line before they’re born, but I don’t remember hearing them addressed before.  It really is quite simple – Don’t step on any butterflies and as you weren’t planning on killing your grandfather (I think it needed a few greats in there) then it shouldn’t be a problem.


Despite the fact that this must all be a bit weird for her, she doesn’t let it phase her too much, either. When the Doctor suggests that she could tell everybody “back home” that she’s seen Shakespeare, she excitedly and with no small degree of scorn responds with “Then I could get sectioned!”.  I really do like the way that she won’t just kow-tow to him and accept what he says.  I far prefer this paring to that of the Doctor and um…thingy.  She could never have carried off that line – It just wouldn’t have sounded right.  Too many syllables for one thing.

My one concern over Martha is this continued infatuation that she seems to have for the Doctor.  She’s known him for a couple of days at the most and is going all doe eyed all the time.  Sharing a bed with the man and being upset that he doesn’t put any kind of moves on her.  That just seems a bit too keen to me.  Although, the Doctor really doesn’t know much about women, does he?  There he is sharing a bed with a new lady friend and he’s banging on about how wonderful his last companion was.  Even if he’s not interested, it does lack a certain degree of tact.  I hope that she soon gets over this crush, so she can get on with being tough and independent.

the Robbie Williams of his time

Mr Shakespeare.  Rather a  contemporary take on the great man.  I realise that it wasn’t all iambic pentameter back then, but it just seemed like he was a  little too “modern”.  Although, I did like Martha’s attempt at speaking in ye olde English when she first met though.  It was a clever and amusing nod to last year when the Doctor’s old assistant tried to talk in a Scots dialect.

I suppose the idea was to make Shakespeare the Robbie Williams of his time.  He seemed very weary and resigned to his public visiting him but I don’t know if anybody ever would have troubled him for an autograph.  Wasn’t most the population illiterate back then?  They wouldn’t know a scribble on a bit of paper from any other scribble on a bit of paper.  I just don’t see that being an issue.


One thing did bother me.  Well obviously more than one, but you know what I mean.  Why was it so important that Shakespeare wrote the words?  I know that it was his madness and genius with words that brought the Carrier Knights (or whatever they called themselves – I kept missing it.  The music was a bit loud) through but as they had to tell him what to write, why did it have to be him?  Once the architect (the only man in the time period with bad teeth) had built the place, the witches could have influenced anybody to write the actual words.  As the actors proved, it didn’t have to be Will that spoke the “spell”, so in theory it didn’t need to he him that wrote it.  Did it?

Anyway, if Shakespeare was meant to be such a great wordsmith and genius, why did he get so many of his most famous quotes from the Doctor over the space of a day?

the only man in the time period with bad teeth

I did think that after all this excitement, that Shakespeare’s next play would be about witches and the like, but he didn’t write the Scottish play for another five years.  Was he perhaps too traumatised before, or something?

And who knew about his family?  I must admit that when he started talking about his son Hamnet having died young, I thought that the script writer was making a little joke about Hamlet (Which was the next play).  But a quick look on Wiki and it appears that our William had three children, one of whom was a boy called Hamnet that did indeed die at an early age.  It would also appear that a number of his sonnets were addressed to “His Dark Lady” which is how he addressed Martha at the end.  And people say that Doctor Who isn’t educational!

We did see a little touch of the old smugness about the Uvs070409002Doctor this week.  I’ve replayed the scene where the Doctor and Martha and looking for the witches and he’s explaining the consequences of time travel by referencing Back to the Future.  I just can’t work out if he says Marty or Martin McFly.  I’m sure it’s the former.  Anyway, my point is that he was just being pedantic when Martha asked if he meant the film of Back to the Future and he rather condescendingly snapped “No, the novelisation!”.  Well, I happen to have a copy of that book and I’ve checked.  Sure enough (and unsurprisingly) the plot follows exactly the same story as the film, so it could easily have been either.  He was just being a bit of a prat, there.  I hope it this doesn’t foreshadow a return to his old ways.

Another little look into the Doctor’s backstory again this week.  He no longer has a ‘proper’ name.  Or at least it’s been so long since he used it, the he doesn’t seem to remember it anymore.  Is this all leading somewhere or is it just more depth?  Will we ever find out?

And finally, what exactly does the Doctor do to reigning monarchs that make them dislike him so much?


'Doctor and um…thingy' Who fans taking bitchiness to the next level. Poor Billie Piper.

You know, the minstrel bothered me - it made little sense like you say but, more importantly, I wasn't sure why he seemed to have really, really good hair. Straight out of the salon, that was.

And as for the Back to the Future joke (like anyone under 15 is going to get that!), surely 'no the musical' would have been funnier, given that everything seems to be being turned in to a musical now (even Doctor Who! Or did no one tell Murray otherwise?)

I really enjoyed this episode, more than any other so far - mainly because I could smugly say 'dark lady!' to, er, my cat (but she was impressed). But three things bothered me:

It seemed really studio-bound, especially the location shots (I reckon it's the lights they used to turn night in to day - that last sequence where they're being chased to the TARDIS, though funny, seemed a bit Television Centre circa 1985 to me); the witches' masks were a bit rubbery (why did the sexy one stop changing?); and the Carrier Bags, sorry Carionites, looked rubbish.
Still, given last week's effort (why not keep the Plasmavore's identity a secret to the end? Where did the electricity come from, especially to power the MRI? Blah blah) this was good. Another 25 minutes would have helped, but even so it proves to RTD that 'pace' does not mean everyone talking really really fast and running around all the time.

"why did the sexy one stop changing?" you ask; the clue's in the question.

Q - What exactly does the Doctor do to reigning monarchs that make them dislike him so much?

Well this is probably the start of it all as IIRC he throws a chicken leg at Henry VIII in order to get him & Susan locked in the Tower of London (where the TARDIS has materialised), mentioned in The Sensorites.

Predating that somewhat, only later he gets falsely accused of leaking Richard the Lionheart's plan's to marry his sister as a peace offering to Saladin.

Didn't TD throw in the novelisation of The Curse of Peladon mention of learning to bow at the court of Queen Bess (Elizabeth I) which would predate his falling out of favor somewhat with that monarch.

So there must be a note passed down through the years to the reigning monarch.

"If a guy turns up unexpectedly & only known as The Doctor, for gods sake keep him away from the buffet."

No wonder The Fourth Doctor scarpered off promptly when the Brig wanted him to lunch at the Palace at the conclusion of Robot.

I really enjoyed this. As a 'Lit Chick' (studied Shakespeare for my degree), I was thrilled by the many references and found a lot of them particularly funny knowing that they were based on actual historic reports...especially the 'Dark Lady', as Jon mentions above. Much like watching 'Shakespeare in Love'; I think the writer used a great deal of the historical material available to him. Can't really comment about asking for autographs, however, it wouldn't surprise me as Shakespeare was also an actor.

I enjoyed this episode more so than last week, I too, was confused about the electricity supply for the MRI machine. The Shakespeare Code = excellent entertainment! :)

Best bit - the doom prophet near the end turning up again and gleefully shouting 'I told thee! I told thee!' as the Carrionites spill out of the Globe Theatre. This is perhaps the wittiest and most quotable non-Moffat script yet seen in the new series, in line with Graham Williams yarns like Androids of Tara and even City of Death (and given Gareth Roberts' high regard for that era, perhaps that's not surprising.

Then again, one could argue that since the Carrionites were able to enter reality partly due to Shakespeare's mind and his temporary weakness, it required a concentrated and definite effort of will from him to close the opening. Having him do it via extempore sonnet was just a formalisation/focusing of his will.

Or then again, words are good. We like words.

You fiend, that was to be my title! I suspect you know the song, as it has influenced your later line referencing "kow-tow"...

The reason Shakespeare needed to write it was because it needed thousands to come prepared to watch it and engage with it, to let their excitement overflow, so the emotions would charge the gateway that was opened. Any other playwright, it was far less likely.


I apologise for stealing your title. You're quite right about "Kow-tow" too. If I'd hadn't been signing the song, I probably wouldn't have used that particualr phrase.

I do like your explanation as to why Will had to be there. I can believe that.

Jon, you say: "Another little look into the Doctor’s backstory again this week. He no longer has a ‘proper’ name. Or at least it’s been so long since he used it, ... he doesn’t seem to remember it anymore. Is this all leading somewhere or is it just more depth?"

The way I read the scene was that Lilith tried to find his name, but as she got through Tenth's cheery "performance" (as noted by Shakespeare) there was too much darkness to find it.

As Lilith said in the scene "Why would a man hide his title in such despair?"

Grandfather, The Doctor, nickname Theta Sigma, Professor, John Smith: who is he really?

Gotta say: I've loved these first two episodes - almost enough to forget the Torchwood and Xmas special debacles.

You guys have covered all the main points. I'm not bothered if it looks a bit studio bound - what kind of Doctor Who fan are you, Jonathan? :)

Looking forward to New New Earth again.

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