Thursday, January 27, 2011

"The Shakespeare Code"

It's a shame, really, that I was pleasantly surprised by "Smith and Jones", because the very next episode is absolutely terrible. It's dull, the plot is incredibly forced and once again it relies far too heavily on the 'horror aliens in the past' (in this case witches) and 'celebrity historical' tropes. The latter issue is worse than ever. If you thought a bit of Eccly waffling at Dickens was bad in "The Unquiet Dead", this episode is far worse, with endless Shakespeare references and academic humour of the worst kind. Now I am an English Academic and I happen to have studied and even performed my fair share of Shakespeare in my time, but as people in the know may mention I sometimes purport to be "anti-Stratfordian", which is to say that at least for the purposes of context I believe we have to be very doubtful about whether Shakespeare actually wrote the plays he is credited for, or if taken to the extreme, if he ever even existed at all. This episode, however, takes all his alleged genius completely for granted, and while this in itself is an intriguing concept, having the Doctor constantly throwing his own lines at him and having them standing around gabbing in the slightly-too-modern looking rebuilt Globe Theatre comes across as smug and pretentious.
Then there are the Witches. Apart from arbitrary hotty du jour Lillith they look like puppets from a Terry Gilliam film and the 'true form' seen during the aborted incantation in the Love's Labours Won rehearsal looks stupid enough to put Ergon the giant chicken which fought the Fifth Doctor for the lightweight championship in Arc of Infinity to shame.
It's also useful because I've gone on and on about how much 'magical thinking' there is in this era of Doctor Who and this episode is notable for trying to do the 'magic as science' thing but the explanation makes no sense. The Doctor says the Carrionites use words instead of numbers. But language, unlike mathematics, has no relation to physics or the interaction of fundamental forces in a universal sense. It's something organic and life-based, and it's never explained how they're meant to have power over the real world. Apparently it's 'science', but with this era's usual courage it's never explained quite how science plays any role. Essentially it trips over its cleverness and falls flat on its face, which is an astonishing feat considering how it was already doing that with the moronic Shakespeare jokes.
How come there are always about three baddies that manage to get through and the rest of the race has to wait in the wings? I know there are real-world budgetary reasons but it's completely overdone and these stories use it all the time: "We could get here but others can't so we have to hold the door open for them through incredibly elaborate means." It's all very repetitive.
Then there's some awful stuff from the Tenth Doctor, and while it's quite funny when he mutters "Nighty night, Shakespeare," it's pretty atrocious when he pointlessly shouts "Good old JK!" after Martha quotes Harry Potter and the scenes where he goes on about how Rose would know what to say and stuff are incredibly forced and jarring and I daresay RTD crowbarred them in during the edit, much like the bit where he shouts "That name keeps me fighting!" It's time for the Doctor, and the show, to move on, but RTD can't let go and sadly we will be stuck with these elements until that oh-so-special but oh-so-distant moment when... well, we'll get to that.
Martha and Shakespeare are both okay but there's not much more to be said about it. Martha asks some interesting questions about black people in Elizabethan England and has some decent knowledge which continues to be refreshing but as usual the episode has nothing to say, the story is so bad and the villains, especially the non-hotty ones, are so hammy and cringe-inducing that it's not worth mentioning any further.

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