Monday, 4 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.2: The Shakespeare Code

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The ruff suits you. I'd be wary of hair loss, though.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episode Two - The Shakespeare Code
Written 9/2/13

It's NuWho standard (well, RTD standard) to begin a season with three adventures, one in the present, one in the past, and one in the future. This pattern was only really broken in Series Six, which went down swimmingly (cough cough). Series Three takes us first to the past, with a fun, pop-culture filled look at Shakespearean Culture from the pen of Gareth Roberts, later writer of the Craig episodes of Moffat's tenure and the odd Unicorn and the Wasp (which we'll get to in about four months, on my calendar.) Enough stalling, let's get on with it.
     The Doctor takes Martha to the time of Queen Elizabeth, where William Shakespeare is in the process of writing his famous lost play Love's Labour's Won. The Doctor shrugs off Martha's concerns about being a black woman in the time of the Slave Trade, and she's further surprised when Shakespeare (Dean Lennox Kelly, Being Human, Shameless) is distinctly more outspoken (and, perhaps, Northern,) than she expected. This soon becomes a distraction when someone objecting to the new play is found killed by impossible means, and Shakespeare is brainwashed into writing odd words. Investigating, The Doctor discovers the culprits to be the Carrionites - evil witch-like aliens able to harness the power of words. While they temporarily incapacitate him, The Doctor is able to help Shakespeare to foil the Carrionite plot.
     The use of magic is not new in Doctor Who, as I've shown when I reviewed Battlefield and several other Classic Stories. Roberts throws so many wonderful sci-fi references into the story that the presence of magic isn't really that much of an issue, especially as it's handwaved rather efficiently. This rather niftily allows the show to use Witches as a concept for what is strangely the first time. And they're pretty cool - lead witch Lillith (Christina Cole) is delightfully hammy, and the witches' reliance on words makes every scene they're in pretty verbose.
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     The treatment of Shakespeare himself is rather interesting, with Kelly's performance highlighting the relatiely populist nature of the words of a man who is now regarded as the height of class. After Dickins' depression and Queen Victoria's bewilderment, Shakespeare is a relatively subtle portayl here that mixes all of the historical and popular interpretations into one, from the spontaneous verbosity to the mild bisexual flirtation. ("And 57 academics just punched the air.")
     The Shakespeare Code, while not the most memorable script in the world, is one whose script is subtley balanced between pleasing sci-fi references and interactions as well as a nuanced historical examination of the history of theatre and of Shakespeare's life. And, as you can probably tell from the brevity of this review, I don't have much else to say about it. Don't worry, I've got a ton more to say about next week.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The power of faith singing, Thermoman as a housecat and a head in a jar that saves the World - it could only be Gridlock.

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