The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0283  Tuesday, 10 April 2007

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Subject: 	Shakespeare and Dr. Who

Doctor Who 3.2: The Shakespeare Code
8 April 2007
By Scott Matthewman

It's somehow appropriate that it's David Tennant's Tenth Doctor who 
becomes the first to meet William Shakespeare (at least on screen). More 
than any other, this incarnation of Doctor Who revels in wordplay, and 
in Gareth Thomas' rollocking script he certainly meets his match.

In a story that is all about the power of words, the dialogue must 
surely come under some scrutiny. And while on first hearing it may sound 
light and frothy - simplistic, even - there is much going on from the 
very first scene, with one of several Shakespearean quotes ("O brave new 
world") that are dotted liberally throughout, and not always signposted 
for the casual viewer. Not least there is the continued bedding-in of 
Freema Agyeman as the Doctor's new companion, Martha. We begin to see 
that, no matter how well she does or what clever leaps of logic she can 
make, the Doctor clearly misses the empathic nature of previous 
companion, Rose - appropriately given the nature of the episode, she's 
described as being able to say exactly the right words.

And lack of empathy is visible in Agyeman's performance, too, when it's 
needed.  For most of the episode, she shows she's more than capable of 
handling Martha's inquisitive, intelligent nature. But as she escorts 
the Doctor and Shakespeare into Bedlam, there seems an uncharacteristic 
glitch in character. As Shakespeare talks about the loss of his son, 
Hamnet, to plague, Agyeman's delivery of Martha's apology is an off-note 
in an otherwise good performance - compounded by a hysterical outburst 
later in Peter Streete's cell that may bode ill for future episodes.

But it seems churlish to dwell on brief dissonances when there is so 
much else to revel in. Dean Lennox Kelly plays Shakespeare as a smooth, 
lascivious genius.  It's a performance that's buoyed by Roberts' script, 
which makes the wise decision to give the off-duty Shakespeare a 
down-to-earth, common touch rather than making him someone who speaks in 
iambic pentameter at the drop of a hat.  As usual there is an alien 
threat - in this case, three Carrionites, whose use of DNA control and 
psychic energy are a thinly-veiled excuse to create three archetypal 
witch-crones. Under heavy prosthetics, Amanda Lawrence and Linda Clark 
(who you can also catch on The Stage Podcast talking about that make-up 
work) ham it up deliciously. But it's Christina Cole's Lilith who has to 
bear the majority of work here, and she does it with aplomb. Indeed, 
it's a shame that the triumvirate are let down by the other Carrionites, 
realised as bizarre CGI creatures to whom they bear little resemblance.

The theme of the power of words has been dealt with before in Doctor 
Who. In 2005's The Long Game, for example, humanity was being subdued by 
journalists working under the control of a malevolent proprietor. "The 
right word, in the right broadcast, repeated often enough," says that 
episode, "can destabilise an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote..." 
That's a theme worth repeating, and the power of theatre if anything 
makes the point both more firmly and more effectively here, two years on.

TV Review: Doctor Who - "The Shakespeare Code"
Written by Matthew Milam
Published April 09, 2007

After last week's "Smith and Jones" I was left with the impression that 
things not only appeared to be better in the third series of Doctor Who, 
but that they were better. There seemed to be more fun, more confidence 
and more stability in the stories so far told. This tradition continues 
with Gareth Roberts' contribution with "The Shakespeare Code", which not 
only revisits a time long past but raises new questions not often 
answered in science fiction.

The story is easy enough to follow. The Doctor (David Tennant) and his 
new companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) land the TARDIS in 1599 
London somewhere near the Globe Theater. At this time, this was the home 
of many performances by the legendary scribe William Shakespeare (Dean 
Lennox Kelly). Unfortunately, his behavior and manners are very unlike 
the deep and thoughtful plays he produced as they witness after the 
performance of Love's Labour's Lost.

Just then, a mysterious inn-maid named Lilith (Christina Cole) fiddles 
with a doll which suddenly makes William spurt out that he would produce 
a sequel - Love's Labour's Won. In addition, he would have it set to be 
performed the very next night. This does not please Lynley (Chris 
Larkin), who approves or disapproves all plays presented at the theater. 
He promises to put a ban on him for not consulting him on his sequel 
script. Strangely enough, the same woman decides to put the same touch 
on Lynley and kills him with the same doll.

Something is amiss in ye old England.

As it turns out the woman is part of a group of witches who are 
searching for a new home for their kind. The only way to do that is 
through the power of two forces - the Globe Theater itself and the words 
of William Shakespeare himself. If and when he puts on his Love Labour's 
Won play, it would be a conduit to open a gateway allowing the rest of 
the witches to invade earth.

After putting together the pieces of the puzzle of the witches' plan, 
The Doctor and Martha managed to seal the gateway the witches come 
through using simply the power of words which saves London and the world 
once again. Thanks to their heroics the Love's Labour's Won play caught 
the attention of Queen Elizabeth the First, who in seeing the Doctor 
orders his death for an incident unknown.

You could accuse Gareth Roberts of doing a plot copy from Mark Gatiss' 
"The Unquiet Dead", but this isn't quite so grim. The world of 
Shakespeare is a wonderful, exciting and yet honest place. Rather than 
embrace the supposedly dark-side of being famous as Gatiss did with his 
take on Charles Dickens, Roberts makes Shakey to be a politically 
incorrect heathen who loves who he is. He's also a very aggressive 
ladies man who constantly takes every moment to hit on Martha Jones. 
Even to the point of complementing her dark skinned features.

Earlier in the episode she makes light of the fact that she could 
possibly be mistaken (or treated) as a slave. This is a question that 
often plagues writers who write science fiction. How do you write 
characters who aren't white in times that didn't always put them in the 
highest regard? Roberts gives an easy answer to the rather complex question:

"It's easy, just walk around like you own the place. Works for me."

If Gareth Roberts had been around in the 1970s during the era of Tom 
Baker, the line (perhaps even the episode) would be very fitting to his 
take on the Doctor. I'd even say this is a modern-day version of Douglas 
Adams' "City Of Death", an episode that took place mostly in Paris and 
involved the Mona Lisa painting and an American with a punch that would 
save the world. Rent the episode from Netflix or purchase it from the 
Amazon link below to see what I mean.

Kudos should be extended to the three actresses who played the witches, 
with Christina Cole deserving the most praise. She managed to scare me 
in the pre-title sequence when she turned to the camera declaring that 
her race would take over our planet. I wasn't peeing in my pants scared 
of the performance, but was silently cursing and causing my heart to 
race by watching it. Of course it would have helped if I hadn't had the 
monitor so close to my face.

Praise also is well deserved for Freema Agyeman, who has impressed the 
hell out of me with her performance as Martha Jones. We haven't explored 
her complete character being only on episode two, but she comes off as 
being a bright and shining beacon of excitement. Sure, Rose (Billie 
Piper) did that, but I can see it in Martha more. It's a pity, but I'll 
leave those Rose Tyler fan boys behind and move forward to the new era 
of Martha Jones.

Of course there are those hardcore Doctor Who fans who have quietly 
voiced concerns that the casting Agyeman was an act of political 
correctness. Some have even stated that the show has always had white 
leads for both The Doctor and companion - bollocks! If science fiction 
hopes to move beyond being a "white people" only genre, it has to learn 
how to diversify. All cultures don't want to always be in their 
respective boxes all the time. Some of us do look to the stars and may 
even journey to them through space programs designed to do just that.

Do we make visual media to escape the reality that there is more than 
one race on this planet? I hope not, because I grow to be tired of 
getting handed shows like this.

The sexual tension of the series might have overtaken the story as The 
Doctor did kiss Martha for practical purposes in "Smith and Jones". Like 
in the classic series, when the Doctor is forced to share a bed with 
Martha at the local inn, you would think that sexual chemistry would be 
ignited. I guess to remain safe with the kids, Roberts decided to still 
make him long for Rose Tyler - a relationship that even in "The 
Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" didn't work.

I'd like to declare at this point and time that we have found heroes in 
the writing team of Doctor Who. Paul Cornell, Steven Moffat and Gareth 
Roberts are The Official Bad Boys of The New Doctor Who. For this and 
other episodes, we salute you and the quality output you present.

Next week, four words will change The Doctor's (or someone he knows) 
life forever and they come from an old friend.

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

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