On paper it had loads going for it, a fantastic recreation of Tudor London, parts filmed in the Globe Theatre, and a writer in Gareth Roberts who had co-written the great pilot episode for The Sarah Jane Adventures, Invasion of the Bane.
However, in much the same way as sometimes an episode can rise above the sum of it’s parts, The Shakespeare Code seemed to just not add up. The Doctor takes Martha to London in 1599, and after Martha quizzes the Doctor on potential perils and paradoxes that could occur, off they go to the nearby Globe Theatre to see a performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost. At the end of the performance, Shakespeare himself comes onto the stage and announces that the next night will be the premier performance of the follow up, Love’s Labour’s Won – the apparently lost Shakespeare play that is listed but of which no copy apparently exists.
However, Shakespeare is being guided by what appears to be a coven of witches, but who are in fact creatures called Carrionites. The creatures had previously been trapped by the eternals, who had imprisoned the creatures with a word back in the distant past, but three of whom had been released by Shakespeare’s words, who they were now manipulating to speak the words to bring forth the remainder of their race.
The whole core of the plot is that the Carrionites have a science based on words, so by speaking a certain combination of words, it creates the gateway to the realm where the Carrionites were imprisoned, and equally, the words spoken at the climax of the episode send the creatures back again.
Ultimately, I think the whole episode floundered on gimmicks. The impression I got from the edition of Doctor Who Confidential that followed it was that the production team thought it would be great to use the Globe Theatre, and to include Shakespeare, and then wrote a plot to fit around it. What was probably most annoying though was the number of times they either did a variation of a Shakespeare line gag, so we had Shakespeare thinks up significant line, Doctor gives Shakespeare significant line, Doctor quotes from someone else and tells Shakespeare he can’t use it, and finally Doctor quotes Shakespeare which Shakespeare likes but then realises is one of his own. Alongside this you also get a couple of Harry Potter references including Expelliarmus being used to get rid of the Carrionites, and just to round it all off the Doctor uses Back to the Future to explain to Martha what will happen to her if the Carrionites are not defeated. Now I know that new Doctor Who has made somewhat a habit of these sorts of references, and having met other historical figures made equivalents of all the Shakespeare gags, but ultimately I think they were overdone this time around, and basically covered up a comparatively weak plot.
Anyway, the good thing about the Doctor Who concept is that if one plot and idea doesn’t quite work, next week there will be a new episode along, so hopefully next week will be an improvement. In Gridlock, the Doctor has his third meeting with the Face of Boe, the point when, as he promised in New Earth to reveal a great secret to â€œa wandering travellerâ€?, something that would happen on their third and final meeting. So will it be worth the wait? Only a week to go before we find out – then it’s onto Daleks in Manhattan…