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Apr 07, 2007

O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag...

The Shakespeare Code 

At last! It’s about time that we finally got to see the Doctor meet Shakespeare after years of only the occasional reference or brief glimpse on the Time-Space Visualiser. Apart from anything else fandom and Shakespeare scholars have an awful lot in common, even if the Shakespeare crowd have been at it a lot longer, so it's about time that they got together. For every argument about the correct name of The Edge of Destruction there’s an equivalent debate about the two distinct versions of King Lear or the authorship of Henry VIII, and for each new radical work of research by Howe/Walker/Stammers or Wood/Miles there’s the scholarly bombshell like the Oxford Complete Works edited by Wells and Taylor. Critical movements rise and fall in the blinking of an eye. One minute the New Adventure crowd are riding high like the New Historicists, and then suddenly it can all fall away and you’re about as relevant as A C Bradley.   

Francis Mere (a sort of Jeremy Bentham/Andrew Pixley in tights and a ruff)

Even while he was still alive Shakespeare had people writing about him and starting to document his output, and Francis Mere (a sort of Jeremy Bentham/Andrew Pixley in tights and a ruff) made a list of Shakespeare’s plays in his commonplace book Palladis Tamis. This has had scholars scratching their heads for years as it refers to Love Labours Wonne, which is probably another name for a known play (candidates include Much Ado About Nothing or The Taming of the Shrew) but more interestingly could be a missing play. Gareth Roberts seems to have had a whale of a time using it as the basis for The Shakespeare Code, and I’m glad to say that I had a whale of a time watching it. 

There was more than a sniff of Shakespeare in Love about it but I don’t mean that as an insult. Tom Stoppard is a hard act to follow (“I had that Christopher Marlowe in my boat once”), but there were some absolutely cracking lines in this, particularly Shakespeare’s own description of the end of Love Labours Wonne “It was as funny and as thought-provoking as usual” and the Doctor’s “57 academics just punched the air”. In fact there were so many references, in-jokes and slightly laboured (excuse the pun but it’s catching) badinage about Shakespeare’s future plays, that I got the feeling that Roberts was overindulging himself a little. But just when I thought the script got a bit bogged down, it won me over again with the crazy lines the witches inserted into the play. I loved the idea that the actors and indeed the audience were used to finding chunks of Shakespeare difficult to follow, and so accepted the incomprehensible instructions as par for the course. There are whole generations of schoolchildren who could sympathise with that. 

The Doctor and Martha seem more light-hearted than the Doctor and Rose – just having fun rather than Just 17

I was more impressed by the wordplay than the story though, and the older witches reminded me of Statler and Waldorf sitting in their box seat jeering at the performance. But in the scheme of things that hardly seemed a big deal – the whole thing looked great, Lilith the young witch was heart stopping in more ways than one, and David Tennant uttered nary a shriek nor a titter but got on with the job in his new toned-down style. I’m also keen on the fact that the Doctor isn’t giving Martha the goo-goo eyes despite her best efforts to encourage him, and even Shakespeare (an acute man) told her that “the Doctor will never kiss you.” I wasn’t averse to the Doctor/Rose love interest, but it would have been a mistake to do the same thing again, and this new dynamic has given the series a lift. The Doctor and Martha seem more light-hearted than the Doctor and Rose – just having fun rather than Just 17.

for the second week running Murray didn’t give me a headache

All in all I thought this was another very enjoyable episode. OK, it was a bit thin on story, but full of fun, good performances, and for the second week running Murray didn’t give me a headache. The director Charles Palmer deserves credit for his great work on two consecutive episodes, and as a Shakespeare nut I like the fact that Gareth Roberts took his chance to “do” Shakespeare in Doctor Who and really went for it. He might even have encouraged me to resume my Shakespeare studies again, after having all my post-degree enthusiasm knocked out of me by years of shit RSC productions.

Tron. With added cats

This is all getting a bit too positive isn’t it? What’s on next week? Oh yes. Tron. With added cats. That’s more like it.


"It's so elegant
So intelligent"

Francis Mere as Andrew Pixley: nice one.

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