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Doctor Who 3.2: The Shakespeare Code - brief notes

April 7th, 2007 (11:04 pm)

I'm away from my PC this weekend so can't update properly, but thought tonight's episode ultimately unsatisfactory. It was visually impressive, and probably introduced the young and general audience to some general ideas about Shakespeare which they didn't know, but the whole idea of a scientific realm based on words didn't even try to make sense philosophically.

The murder of 'Wiggins' in the pre-credits scene (if I've attributed the character names correctly) was both an in-joke and a request that those of scholarly bent don't take the episode seriously. Unfortunately the episode demands to be taken seriously because it has a serious job to do; and while the playing often blazed with energy, it was a blaze that exposed the weakness of the foundations. Oh, for 'The Unquiet Dead' of yesteryear (the same plot, almost).

Edit: Further problems for discussion include:
1. Who is Doctor Who for, and what are the programme's expectations of its audience? It appears that both are narrower now than in 2005.
2. Shakespeare was given a line stating that the Doctor's manic personality is a performance, masking the person underneath; but the note at which the series is played now leaves no room for subtlety, so there is barely any evidence beyond lines like this that the Doctor is anything other than a joke-cracking funsmith who happens to be incredibly clever and travels in time.
3. The effect of watching this episode with my parents and sister probably accounts for the more negative tone this review has adopted, compared to my earlier posts.

Comments

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 12:57 am (UTC)

This review has the sad hallmarks of a fan whose love has been unnaturally exposed to his family. You should have watched it with me, I was squeaking with delight. I decided I love Martha after the "and then be sectioned" comment. And I thought the Carrionites had a good selective policy and should have got away with murdering many more annoying men.

But then I'm not asking Who to do much more than entertain me, I suppose. And I was biased towards an episode that went on about how great words are. But there just seemed to be so much great *stuff* crammed into the script; I didn't even mind the Doctor being a pillock (which I can see would be harder to shake off for a Whovian). When they played tired old riffs like the Doctor-gives-Shakespeare-ideas conceit, they ate them alive and vomited them out revitalised with twists like the Dylan Thomas reference.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:43 am (UTC)

I liked the Dylan Thomas reference too; but I thought it could all have been just a little better. The Shakespeare in Love-like appearance of the queen at the end was good, though, and I wonder if a prequel is being set up now The Mill have done all the work on CGI-ing Tudor London.

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:59 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)

Dylan Thomas reference?

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 07:35 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 11:08 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 08:45 am (UTC)
Jack the Hero

I'm obviously lucky in my family, in that while they are not fans as such, they seem to enjoy watching the show with me. (In fact, I caught Dad rewatching last week's episode a couple of days ago. :-D)

I enjoyed it a lot, though I agree that it was pitched at a fairly manic, "children's programme" level. I'm really liking Martha, more even than Rose I think. She's an obviously intelligent young woman, in an unfamiliar situation but she's still coping. I also liked the way they handled the race thing - not ignoring it, but not making it the only issue for the character either.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:45 am (UTC)

The Daily Telegraph thought that it was appropriate that Martha's first trip in the TARDIS should be to see Shakespeare, as she is a Rose by any other name.

I appreciated the handling of the race issue too - there was legislation expelling 'blackamoors' from England around this time, and though it wasn't mentioned I thought the script was silently aware of it.

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:19 am (UTC)

I thought that it was rather fun. I don't expect every episode to be serious, although I got the jokes whilst they went over the children's heads. It didn't spoil their enjoyment, although I thnik they prefer episodes with rather more spectacular monsters.

I liked the constant dropping of quotations from plays not yet written, leading to the "Hey that's one of mine!" and the little reference to the 57 academics, whilst dropped in amongst the middle of the action was priceless.

Also- he doesn't seem to get on well with English queens does he?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:49 am (UTC)
Devil's Crown

I wonder what my reaction would have been if I'd been watching it with my small kinspeople? I ended up with a far more enthusiastic view of 'New Earth' than most grown-up fans had as a result, I think.

I'm going to be reviewing this episode for a fanzine (This Way Up, whose website is called Fringeworld) so will be watching it again a couple of times.

Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:34 am (UTC)
Doing stuff

You wouldn't care to cut that for the busy/slow of watching would you?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:39 am (UTC)
Styre

'tis done.

Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:41 am (UTC)

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:38 am (UTC)

Gosh, I thought it was full of great stuff. And edgy emotional content. :p

Have to dash off to church now (it being Easter and all), but - goodness, do you REALLY think the name of the bloke at the start was a tribute to the Famous Fan?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:39 am (UTC)

Considering how involved he is with the DVDs, and has been in the past with fanzine writing and Doctor Who Magazine, just like Gareth Roberts, yes.

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 09:58 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 08:56 am (UTC)

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 09:24 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 10th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 10th, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 10th, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 10th, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC)

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 05:07 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
Outsider

Some interesting points here, which I look forward to you expanding on when you get the chance.

I didn't notice the name of the character at the beginning, and I'm not sure if I would have made the connection with Martin Wiggins (I presume that's who you are referring to). I think you might be reading too much into that. Remember Roberts served his Who apprenticeship on the New Adventures, where pointless in-jokes about Famous Fans and/or the author's friends were the order of the day. Paul Cornell must have named scores of characters after real people.

I actually felt the episode was more intelligent in some ways than The Unquiet Dead. It had less thematic and emotional depth, but I felt the treatment of the historical period was better. Aside from Gwyneth criticising Rose's prejudices about her, the Victorian story seemed rather sneering in its portrayal of Victorian attitudes, while the Elizabethan one seemed a little less judgmental.

Dickens, as the nineteenth century audience identification figure, was made a mouthpiece for very modern views on the importance of empiricism, somewhat unconvincingly (Dickens was a man who arranged his bed on a north-south axis in the belief that one could only get a good night's sleep by being parallel to the lines of the Earth's magnetic field). Shakespeare, the Elizabethan character the audience was supposed to identitify with the most, was nevertheless made to voice support of Bedlam. Note also that the Doctor effectively tells Martha she's over-reacting after Shakespeare calls her a "blackamoor"; there's a similar incident in Human Nature (which I doubt will end up on screen in the same way later this year), where Benny's reaction is very different.

As for your further points, I'd like to see you expand on the first before I respond, but I fully agree with the second. In many ways, it feels as if Roberts was thinking of earlier Doctors, especially McCoy, Troughton and, most of all, Tom. Roberts said recently that the new series is like his beloved Williams era, but without the actors sending the show up. While I'd disagree with the extent the actors did that in the seventies, I feel it's now the writers who are sending things up.

As I commented on a discussion on doctorwho recently, the new series writers seem to be operating on a misunderstanding as to how the original series, and especially the Williams era, worked. In the nineties, a handful of knowing lines from the seventies were blown out of proportion by pseudey fans (like me) who, in a quest for respectability, argued that the series was inherently postmodern. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a new series that frequently feels like a comedy, or at least a pastiche of SF cliches, rather than an SF series in its own right which happens to have a lot of comedy arising naturally from the situation.

In particular, for all Tennant expresses his admiration for Tom, his performance is distinctly inferior. Tom's late seventies portrayal is much derided these days as that of an eccentric, libidinous drunk, but it really is much more subtle than that. Anyone who can forget all the anecdotes and just watch Tom in action will see the way he manages to suggest a shrewd, calculating intelligence and a world-weariness beneath the comedy. Troughton and, perhaps less successfully, McCoy did the same. With Tennant the 'tragedy' isn't beneath the comedy. He occasionally and briefly discards the mask of comedy for that of tragedy, but there isn't any subtlety there, no hidden depths. Of course, it's a moot point whether this is the fault of the actor and the writers, but my own views about Davies' lack of subtlety in his writing have been voiced enough lately.

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
fraggles

Hmm. The whole words thing didn't make sense philosophically? - and yet we've got scientists saying Hallelujah (given it's Easter) and believing in all sorts of unscientific stuff all over LJ today, which perhaps doesn't make a lot of sense either?

No, it doesn't make any sense to me given my human understanding of the universe and my human sciences, but I thought it was well-devised-enough a plot not to shout "complete implausibility". I thought the whole point of Doctor Who was that there is a lot more to the way the universe works than the humans understand or know about? (And our science and maths hasn't managed to yet explain everything, anyhow...it's having a tough job with "the mind" for starters, which is what I am currently studying).

This is Doctor Who, I don't expect it to be incredibly cerebral and logical in the way I would expect an adult's sci-fi novel to be. (And many of those aren't either). If it's got a sufficiently well-plotted story without major glaring plot-holes, good dialogue, different levels of interest and wit for the juveniles through to the cynics (grown-ups), good visuals and the kids and us enjoy it, that's a "good" episode as far as I am concerned. This one came out "very good" in this household.

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 10th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2007 09:58 am (UTC)
QueenBat4

I think you might be reading too much into that.

Possibly, but some of the in-joking namechecks in the NAs were illustrating a point - the villagers of Cheldon Boniface in Timewyrm: Revelation having the names of fanzine writers was Paul Cornell's way of acknowledging the sense of community he derived from fandom and (for those in the know) flagging up how the Timewyrm's actions have attacked the Hutchins's sense of identity and humanity.

I didn't know that about Dickens - I've not immersed myself in the nineteenth century or, for that matter, the sixteenth, to any great extent, so I'd missed how anachronistic Mark Gatiss's Dickens might have been.

I was impressed by the Bedlam scene too, aside from the realisation of the exterior which was out of period and seemed at odds with the realisation of London elsewhere in the episode. (There's a small image of the hospital as it was depicted on a map of 1559 here, which would have been more appropriate than the Albion Hospital-like building (complete with gateway) we saw instead.

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: April 8th, 2007 06:00 pm (UTC)
fraggles

I think the reason he might be being even more manic than before is because he's carrying on in the face of great loss. People get like this. It's an act indeed. It doesn't seem all that unreasonable a way to write him this season anyhow.