Promising her a single trip through time, the Doctor takes Martha to London in 1599, the TARDIS landing within walking distance of the Globe Theatre and William Shakespeare himself. But the Bard behaves oddly at the end of a performance of “Love’s Labours Lost”, making a sudden promise to his audience that the sequel, “Love’s Labours Won”, will debut the following night…despite this being the first that any of his loyal troupe of actors have heard of it. The Doctor introduces Martha to Shakespeare, and then the sudden deaths begin, always near Shakespeare. The Doctor gradually learns that the play isn’t the only thing at the Globe – the unusually designed venue may have a more sinister purpose underlying its design. With a little bit of toil, the Doctor uncovers a lot of trouble – three alien “witches” are planning to wipe out humanity to claim Earth for their own exiled race…and the key to their plan will come from Shakespeare’s own pen.
written by Gareth Roberts
directed by Charles Palmer
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Dean Lennox Kelly (Shakespeare), Christina Cole (Lilith), Sam Marks (Wiggins), Amanda Lawrence (Doomfinger), Linda Clark (Bloodtide), Jalaal Hartley (Dick), David Westhead (Kempe), Andree Bernard (Dolly Bailey), Chris Larkin (Lynley), Stephen Marcus (Jailer), Matt King (Peter Streete), Robert Demeger (Preacher), Angela Pleasence (Queen Elizabeth)
Notes: In City Of Death, the fourth Doctor claimed that the handwriting on the original manuscript of “Hamlet” was his, not Shakespeare’s, so presumably – earlier in the Doctor’s life, but later in the Bard’s – the two met up again. The first Doctor and friends observed Shakespeare at another pivotal point in his history via the Time-Space Visualizer in The Chase. Depending on whether or not you include the novels in your personal Doctor Who canon, this may not the first time that the Doctor has had only one heart beating in his chest; Sabbath, an agent of the “time traveling voodoo cult” Faction Paradox, left the eighth Doctor with only one heart for a time in the BBC novels.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Very much in the mold of the previous season’s Tooth And Claw, The
Shakespeare Code – written by longtime Doctor Who novelist Gareth Roberts, whose printed travels in the TARDIS date back to the early days of the New Adventures novels – takes an established and well-known historical character, finds some odd nook or cranny in that person’s known activities, and finds an off-the-wall SF explanation for it. In this case, the mystery is what happened to Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Won”. The resulting explanation isn’t quite as engrossing as Tooth And Claw, however, and the whole thing would get a bit messy if not for Dean Lennox Kelly’s engaging portrayal of Shakespeare in his youthful prime and Christina Cole’s OTT-when-appropriate guest turn as the lead witch.
Beginning a trend that bothered me all season long, this episode tacks on reminiscences of Rose that are not only extraneous to the story, but are just unfair to Freema Agyeman’s Martha from a character development standpoint. The Doctor has seldom, if ever, been this moribund after the non-fatal loss of a companion, and while the ’80s saw a trend of a recently-departed companion getting a single token mention in the following story (i.e. mentioning Adric in Time-Flight, mentioning Romana and K-9 in The Keeper Of Traken or mentioning Tegan in Planet Of Fire), that’s small potatoes compared to the Rose-o-rama that is season 3. I don’t think that a companion who’s no longer with the Doctor has ever gotten this much lip service in the history of the series, and in my mind it stole time that could’ve been spent on the story or on the development of Martha.
The period atmosphere – including filming on location in the actual Globe Theatre – almost makes up for it, as do numerous comedic moments throughout the script (from the Doctor quoting Dylan Thomas and then having to explain to Shakespeare that he can’t appropriate that line, to a slightly tacked-on gag touching on whether or not the Bard might’ve been bisexual). Almost the most promising thing about The Shakespeare Code is its ending, where the Doctor winds up nearly paying the piper for some apparent misdeed that he has yet to commit by his own timeline – I’d really like to see what’s up there.
The Shakespeare Code is really a fine, fun little romp whose weakest points are by no means the fault of its author (whose work I’ve almost always enjoyed), but are imposed on it as part of the season’s overall arc.