London, 1599. William Shakespeare. Witches. Although I saw this in 2007, I don’t remember a great deal about it. Having now watched it again, it’s probably because it’s extremely forgettable, or at least similar enough to earlier episodes to get them mixed up in my head. Aliens posing as monsters in Earth’s past, trying to open a rift to let the rest of them through during a theatre performance, while the Doctor meets a famous historical figure… didn’t we do this two seasons ago?
Once again, “magic” is simply “advanced science that you can’t understand”, and although words being used as a power is kind of cool conceptually, it’s awfully wishy-washy about how that could possibly work. It’s not like mathematics is magical; it merely represents how we measure the aspects of nature around us. But, I digress; The Shakespeare Code is more concerned with being a bit of fun, and despite some of the gruesome imagery, it does manage to be, with funny winks and nods throughout, although the Doctor and ‘Bill’ exchanging famous quotes does start to grate and the Harry Potter references border on the silly. Still, it’s clearly been written with a reverence of the works of Shakespeare, who ultimately turns out to be the hero that saves the day with the power of words.
As for Martha, this is her first trip in the Tardis and the Doctor doesn’t treat her as well as he ought to, harshly comparing her to a worse version of Rose at one point. For such a clever man, he often has no tact. As the first non-white companion to feature in the show, one might expect Martha’s presence in Elizabethan England raise more eyebrows than it does, but Doctor Who has a tendency to make the past a mirror of the present, and this London is a progressive metropolis where everyone is welcome. It’s nice, but I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. Then again, previous companions were very rarely called out for being obviously English in foreign countries, unless the plot specifically called for it.
Playing with history some more, the Doctor encounters Queen Elizabeth the 1st, who not only recognises the Doctor’s face, but would rather like to have it removed from his body. A baffling mystery at the time, but now we know that he gets engaged to her at some point and presumably disappears, so that’s why she’s not very happy with him. From this we can deduce that ‘The Day of the Doctor’ takes place after this episode, most likely during one of the many periods that the Tenth Doctor roams time and space alone. He just doesn’t know it yet. That’s time travel for you.
The Shakespeare Code gets by on its playful use of history, its humour, charm and its infectious love of words, but falls down with some forgettable villains and a meaninglessly flashy finale. It’s okay, but it’s nothing to write home about (ho, ho!).