Summer is a pretty barren place when it comes to television. I guess network executives expect people to spend more time outdoors or ‘having lives’ but all but the busiest of people do still want to watch something or other. And the networks do provide just that, ‘something or other.’ Generally this means lots reality TV shows (which are cheaper to make so they can still be profitable with the reduced summer ratings) and unused, short-lived mid-season replacements. You can still find some good stuff here, but you’ll have to work for it.
Thankfully many of the cable channels take advantage of this lull to run some of their top shows. Sci-Fi, in particular, has a few first run shows for the bored summer viewer. In addition to some of their own content (like the quirky and entertaining Eureka), Sci-Fi has held off on airing season three of Doctor Who until this month. They actually started with the Christmas special, “Runaway Bride” and the first episode, “Smith and Jones” last week but for various, uninteresting reasons I ended up being way too late in covering those. So let’s go on with “The Shakespeare Code.”
Given how long Doctor Who has been on the air, it’s a bit surprising that the writers hadn’t already played the Shakespeare card. There have been a few references to the Bard over the years but never, to the best of my knowledge, has Shakespeare ever appeared as an actual character in Doctor Who.
The usage of Shakespeare was a bit of a mixed bag. While the Shakespeare stealing lines from the Doctor running joke went on a little too long and having Martha apparently become Shakespeare’s Dark Lady felt forced, using the lost play was clever. Since the play was used as a major plot point whereas the other stuff was meant as minor comedic relief, on a whole Shakespeare thing works.
I was much less a fan of the constant Harry Potter references though. When Martha used ‘Expelliarmus’ to defeat the Carrionites, I felt like throwing something out the TV. The feeling only intensified when the Doctor followed that up with “Good ol’ JK.” I am a fan of the HP franchise, but the repeated suggestions that J.K. Rowling is on par with Shakespeare in the genius department were laughable, at best.
While I’m complaining about things, I was not a fan of the Carrionites either. And when your villain doesn’t work, the entire episode suffers for it. The names having power thing just didn’t really mesh well with the Doctor Who universe. The power of a name is a long running theme in fantasy, and it usually works fine, but Doctor Who is science fiction, not fantasy. We’re often asked to accept all sorts of fantastical things but they generally have some sort of basis in the sciences. Sure the Doctor tried to tie names having power to science, but it just didn’t work.
On a related note, even if you accept that knowing someone’s name gives you power of them, it was executed rather poorly. When the Doctor identified one of the women as a ‘Carrionites’, it temporarily stunned her and her companions. Later on, Martha tried to use the name a second time but the Doctor said the name thing only works once. Since Martha wasn’t the one who used it the first time, that means that being named only effects the aliens once. The problem with this is the Doctor didn’t use the name of the woman, but rather the name of her race (which had an effect on all of them). So apparently, even though they were well known in the past, the Doctor is the only person to ever actually use their name against them.
Capping off the problems with the Carrionites was the acting of Christina Cole as Lilith. I’ve seen Christina Cole in Hex and so I know she can be at least semi-competent, but wow was she ever over the top here. Her acting reached record high levels of ham content when Lilith’s plan was thwarted; she may have even outdone Sarah Parish as Empress of the Racnoss. I know Doctor Who has never been known for its top-notch acting, but this season is off to a brutal start, at least in the villain department.
Thankfully Freema Agyeman’s acting has been much less painful. I think Martha’s working out pretty well as the new companion. Granted, when it comes to Doctor Who there hasn’t yet been a companion I didn’t like (hell, I even liked Mel and she’s widely regarded as the least popular companion of all time (though she has gained more respect during her audio show appearances). Still, I enjoy the interplay between Martha and the Doctor. In “Smith and Jones” the writers spent a bit too much time trying to convince us of how clever Martha was (which mainly consisted of the Doctor repeatedly complimenting her for noticing things).
Even though I spent most of this review complaining, “The Shakespeare Code” wasn’t really a bad episode. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great episode either, it’s actually pretty average. It’s just that the negatives in “The Shakespeare Code” were more far annoying than usual.
Next week on Doctor Who, the longest traffic jam in history.
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