Doctor Who Series 3.2: The Shakespeare Code

Martha meets the Bard
Doctor Who Series 3.2: The Shakespeare Code

AKA Attack of the Wicked Word Witches

Pre-credits sequence:

In the era of all things Shakespeare, a callow youth sings to his beloved below her balcony. After inviting him up to ‘consummate (I believe that’s what the kids are calling it these days), he gets a nasty shock when he sees her room is full of occult symbols and monstrous effigies (seems fairly typical of teenage girls to me). That’s when she turns into a version of Anya in her demon face from Buffy series 3 (see the Wish), and then two hideous crones – think Terrahawks – named Mother Dewfinger and Mother Bloodtide descend upon our hapless obligatory victim. They proceed to tear him apart in silhouette while young witch wench Lilith cackles to the camera that ‘the world will end’. Mwhahaha!

After the credits, the Doctor and fresh new assistant Martha Jones land the Tardis at the end of a street in the stinky end of the 16th Century. The music gets oddly reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. I guess it suits the jaunty mood present while the Doctor takes Martha on a stroll through the stinky street. After the Doc reassures Martha that no one’s about to enslave her for the colour of her skin, which is nice if not necessarily accurate, they aim for the Globe Theatre looming fakily in the distance.

Martha and the Doctor watch the play ‘Loves Labours Lost’, performed accurately by men dressed as women. Martha shouts ‘Author!’ and sets off a trend, which draws Shakespeare himself onto the stage. The Doctor is slightly disappointed by Shakespeare’s leery attitude to the crowd, as he’s been calling him a total genius and basically bigging-him-up as a hero until then. Ahem. Also watching is the pretty witch, Lilith, who’s dressed as a rich lady. She voodoos Shakespeare into announcing a new play, a sequel, named ‘Love Labours Won’. Martha points out that that’s never been one of Shakespeare’s plays, and the Doctor uses this as an excuse to sneak him and Martha into the after-play drinkathon at the Elephant pub nearby.

The first sign that Shakespeare’s a bit cannier than you’d think is when the Doctor’s handy ‘psychic paper’ totally fails to work on the Bard. Shakespeare is also very taken with Martha, even after calling her a few things that are less-than politically correct – though not actually hideously insulting. As they’re cosying-up, with the Doctor giving out lines for the plays (annoying!) a man named Linley stomps in declaring that the play hasn’t been passed by his officials yet, and claims that it will never be played under his watch. So, I give him about 2 minutes left to live. Oh, and look, Lilith is there posing as a maid. Maybe 1 minute, then.

Sure enough, as soon as luckless Linley marches from the pub, he’s afflicted with drowning, in the air. That’s hard to explain unless he looked up while someone was emptying their bed-pan…although the Doctor calls it witchcraft. The effect was similar to a death in the movie Constantine. Evil Lilith decides to finish Linley off with a stab to the heart, voodoo style, and he collapses. I wonder why Lilith didn’t just do that in the first place? Drowning in mid-air is pretty suspicious!

The Doc and Martha stay overnight in the pub to figure it out, ending up sharing a double bed. One mention of Rose pours cold water on, well, anything between them. Phew! HE MISSES ROSE remember, MARTHA CAN’T REPLACE ROSE! Got it? Good! Urgh. Harry Potter part 7 also gets a mention – target audiences are important.

While our heroes try and snooze, Shakespeare has a deadline. As he writes, evil Lilith reappears outside the window with a Shakespeare voodoo puppet, and proceeds to use it and some green gas (urgh again) to force Shakespeare into some automatic writing. Then the blonde buxom barmaid from an earlier scene turns up, hoping for some nooky. Instead she gets death by fright! Her scream brings the Doctor and Martha running, too late, and Martha sees the witch fly away on her broomstick. Well, it must be witches, then…probably with a soft sci-fi explanation.

More explanations come when the Doctor pulls the number 14 out of his arse and declares it linked to the whole thing, including the number of sides that the Globe theatre actually has. After reeling off some facts that sound like research from wikipedia, the Doctor declares that theatre is magic. What, more magic than the Telly? Despite the horrible murders and crazy witches, Shakespeare flirts with Marsha and promises to flirt with the Doctor later. Bring back Captain Jack! Not the sucky Torchwood version, either!

The Doctor’s Da Vinci revelations lead them to find the Globe’s architect who’s gone insane and been banged up in Bedlam. Martha’s understandably upset by the state they keep their ‘patients’ in. The Doctor uses his rarely-seen Vulcan mindmeld technique on the mad architect to find out what we already knew – witches forced the guy to create the Globe theatre and then snapped the poor sod’s mind. Clearly they hadn’t thought of death by drowning in air by then.

Angry at the Doctor’s meddling, one of the Terrahawks shows up to stop them. After the usual ‘Oh, Doctor, everyone you know dies, you’re followed by darkness, you’re so doomed’ speech, we find out that the ‘witches’ are actually aliens called ‘Carrionites’ and Shakespeare’s madness over his dead son let them in. Cos words are rilly powerful, k? The power of names is important here – words, names, birthdays…probably…This Carrionite uses the name ‘Rose’ to zap the Doctor – and it’s not voodoo, it’s a ‘DNA Replication Module’. It’s all so imaginative.

The zapped Doctor needs his hearts started yet again by Martha. No wonder he picked her up! But it’s too late – the play has already begun with Shakespeare’s words of mass destruction embedded in the end of the story. Shakespeare’s efforts to end the play just makes everybody think he’s drunk again, and they continue to the bitter end. The final speech contains magic words that unlock the portal to the witches from another dimension. Hey, last week it was space Rhinos, this week space-witches. I’ll stop putting ‘space’ in front of things when we’re actually somewhere that isn’t Earth, a Space Station or Earth-a-very-long-way-in-the-future. Okay?

Oh yeah, so, space witches are escaping in big purple swirly thing exploding above London. The Carrionites have won! The Doctor urges Shakespeare to shout some words that will, hopefully, undo the magic portal thingy. It works! They all turn to paper and vanish – although it took Martha yelling ‘Expelliamrus!’ to finish them off. Harry Potter’s still an important reference, then. The play is over and there aren’t even any copies of it left. The magic purple swirly thing destroyed them all.

These special effects have thoroughly impressed everyone from the 16th Century, and Queen Elizabeth 1 appears to see this new play for herself. Just as Shakespeare muses on writing something ‘about his late son, Hamnet’ (no, not Hamlet. Give it time), the Queen spots the Doctor and erupts into ‘Off with his head!’

Wisely, the Doctor and Martha leg it away from the Globe and back to the TARDIS, and the spaceship whirls away in the nick of time. Huzzah!


A fun story where the Doctor meets his hero and Martha experiences her first ever time travel adventure. The Doctor is a little annoying with his feeding Shakespeare’s quotes back to him, but it’s forgivable. The witches look okay, but it’s not clear why the rip apart the boy at the start. And Martha proves her usefulness thanks to her own doctor training and knowledge of Harry Potter. Everyone looked a little clean to be in this time period, and the SFX were typically waxy rather than realistic. It worked, I like the idea of words having power, and I hope that there are more like this in the rest of the series. Could New Who be finally finding its time-and-space-legs?

Next week: Traffic jams in Spaaaace! Gridlock.


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