The Shakespeare Code
The temptation to write historical figures into Doctor Who is understandably irresistible to the average scriptwriter. Moored down on Earth by budgetary constraints and needing an instant hook into a given historical period, it makes easy shorthand for viewers.
When it works, it buys into the gallivanting rompy ethos of the ‘Who, like Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw. When it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t. And that’s what happened this week.
Getting the eternally awesome Dean Lennox Kelly (him out of Shameless) to play Shakespeare was a great idea. Turning him into a decontextualised quotation-spouting service was hideous. You do have to admire the ways the episode was built up around trying to avoid this shabby starting point. Yeah, the Globe Theatre played home a cross-section of society! Gosh, even the Doctor thinks Will’s a genius, and he thinks all humans are unbelievably stupid (or all incredibly amazing, depending on the circumstance)! My, isn’t he quite the dashing gad about town!
Maybe it’s something about literary figures, seeing as Dickens was similarly reduced to a mess. Here’s an idea – perhaps trying to shoehorn intellectual figures from cultural history into bit players in a TV series isn’t going to work.
After all, the best Who Redux historical episodes have been icon-free – The Empty Child/ Doctor Dances double didn’t have Churchill battling gas-mask zombies, The Girl in the Fireplace didn’t enlist Marie Antoinette as a throwaway heroine.
Plus, I know it was only a throwaway comment, but must every episode include some ambiguous sexuality in a lame attempt to hit Middle England’s outrage buttons? This week, the Willster hits on the Doc. Next week it’s carbound elderly lesbians. Captain Jack will soon be back leering at everything with, or quite possibly without, a pulse. By mid-series we’ll be up to our elbows in bestiality, so to speak.
The good points: the witches were actually quite good. Plenty of people have slagged them off as not being big and scary enough. Well, we did have some cracking SS rhino police last week, and the Daleks are back in a fortnight. Not every nemesis can live up to the ‘it makes children want to hide behind the sofa’ legend of clip show yore. A bit of pacing was much needed.
The witches did, however, commit the new Doctor Who compulsory rule of mentioning Rose. You’d never know she had left as the Doctor can’t go five minutes without his eyes misting over because someone mentions roses, or old travelling partners, or that he must have lost some ‘thing’ recently. For goodness sake, he can save the world on a weekly basis, but the man wouldn’t last a full episode of Star Psychic with Sally Morgan.
The Shakespeare Code did also help to put the creakingly awful CGI of earlier series in the past, providing full-on wowtasms every time we got a shot of Elizabethan London. Plus this episode quite gloriously had Super Hans from Peep Show in it. But in the end, these were really just the frilly ruffs to a centrally daft Shakespeare. Let’s hope someone hides the writers’ Penguin Guide to Literature before the series continues.