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14 July 2007 @ 12:09 pm
a second round of thoughts on "The Shakespeare Code"  
I watched the episode again on the SciFi Channel last night, and while I still loved it, I was also slightly disappointed by it at the same time.

I loved all the jokes the second time around. The preacher who's so excited about the destruction of the Globe, the Shakespeare allusions, all of that. I guess that while I loved the jokes about Shakespeare, I just... didn't like Shakespeare. And part of that is perhaps because I'm picky about fictional Shakespeares, but a lot of it was that I felt that they'd spent so much time trying to make him sexy and not stodgy, so "not your grandfather's Shakespeare!" that he could have been any guy who liked to flirt with any passing stranger. The constant mentions of his genius--the psychic paper, the fact that he could deduce when/where the Doctor and Martha were from--just felt tacked on, like they'd given us Bardolatry after trying to take Shakespeare down a peg the whole episode ("You should never meet your heroes"). And, um, "expelliarmus"? I don't have a problem with the Rowling mention per se, but if you're going to set your whole plot up around the idea that Shakespeare is "the one true genius" and the man who chooses perfect words, then the word that banishes the Carrionites should probably not be a word that Shakespeare couldn't possibly have known.

But I think some of my dissatisfaction also comes from having recently re-watched "The Unquiet Dead" (the one with Dickens) and "Tooth and Claw" (the one with Queen Victoria). In both of those episodes, the famous historical figure gets taken seriously. They're still funny *episodes*, to varying degrees, but you get the sense that the show is also making some attempt to represent Dickens or Victoria as real individuals. The great thing about the Doctor Who historical episodes, for me, is the idea that the Doctor and his companion can actually go back in time and witness something that no one else gets a chance to see. And to that end, the past should feel like a real place, especially given that this is the new companion's first foray into the past--her first trip altogether, in fact. So I was expecting something more in the vein of "The Unquiet Dead" and "Tooth and Claw," but in "The Shakespeare Code" they chose to depart from that model and make the past really jokey and unrealistic--and instead of giving us a character, like Dickens or Victoria, who could be believable and even touching (especially Victoria's grief over Albert), we got a Shakespeare who was a "modern" celebrity in spite of the historical record, whose grief for Hamnet felt tacked on as a plot point instead of a real emotion. (Maybe a different actor would have changed that last. I liked the actor a lot, but not as Shakespeare.) So as much as I'd love to see what on earth the Doctor could have done to make Queen Elizabeth his enemy, I'm also worried that they'd do it in the same fashion, which would be disappointing. (I figure that if past seasons are anything to go by, they'll need a big historical figure to go back and visit in S4, so why not Elizabeth?) This would probably bother me less if the Elizabethan period weren't my favorite historical era, but it would still bother me--especially because the historical episodes have been some of my favorites. (Also, is it horribly geeky that I'm *disappointed* that Elizabeth doesn't like the Doctor? They're both so singular that I would have expected her to *respect* him, at least.)

This all sounds very negative, but that's only because I'm not squeeing about all the stuff I squeed about in my first post on this episode, all of which was still very much in effect. It's still at least 85 to 90% enjoyment, but I wanted to elaborate on some of the little niggling things that detracted.

Anyway. One thing that I liked *more* this time around was Martha's reaction to Bedlam, how horrified she is, as a doctor in training, that this place could be considered a hospital. The first time I saw the episode, I focused on her reaction to *Shakespeare* ("But you're clever!") and what that said about what we want Shakespeare to be like, and I still noticed that, but I focused on Martha a bit more. I'm also oddly fond of the way she calls the Doctor "mister" in this episode, which stuck out after seeing the season in full. And I was much more interested in the Doctor's state of mind during this viewing, though I haven't at all figured out what I think is going on behind his eyes. A big contrast, though, to the happy-go-lucky, manic Doctor in "Smith and Jones."
 
 
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the cold genius: bard loveangevin2 on July 14th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
About Shakespeare, I can see your point, but I wonder if it doesn't get back to the idea that Shakespeare as a "real individual" is, in a lot of ways, someone really inaccessible to us -- I mean, we don't really get a sense of him as a person or a personality from his plays, at least, not very clearly like we do with, say, Milton. It's one reason fictional Shakespeares rarely work for me unless they're comic. (It's also the premise of Borges' Everything and Nothing, actually, which takes the idea to extremes.) And I felt like to some degree the construction of Shakespeare in this episode played with that a bit...

Agreed about Martha and Bedlam, though -- I liked that a lot too.
tempestsarekind: all the world's a stagetempestsarekind on July 14th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
No, I absolutely agree with all of that. Shakespeare is far more inaccessible than Milton--or Dickens and Queen Victoria from other Who episodes. And intellectually, that totally worked for me. But on a second viewing, I felt as though that interpretation is at odds with the premise of the show, since if you're going back in time, you're going to meet a "real individual." So Shakespeare *shouldn't* exist in the fictional past in the same way that we see him (or don't see him) as modern readers/viewers of his plays.
the cold genius: ten looking shakespearey by cheesygirlangevin2 on July 15th, 2007 12:02 am (UTC)
Okay, that's fair, yeah. The other thing, though, is that I think it's just really hard to write Shakespeare without the portrayal seeming slightly off (because he's sort of all things to all men). So I guess the writers didn't try to do it, and maybe you're right and they ought to have.

I am sort of ridiculously easy to please in some ways, though. ;)

Also I sort of have a plotbunny about the thing with Elizabeth and this is bad because I don't know nearly enough to write it.
tempestsarekind: princess elizabethtempestsarekind on July 15th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
I can't *imagine* trying to write Shakespeare, really. (Or rather, I have tried to imagine it, and come up blank each time.) So I get why they may have shied away from that a bit. It's just because I had so much squee for the episode in most other respects that it stood out as the one thing I might have changed. The basic message is still "Shakespeare + Doctor Who = massive amounts of awesome." (I had a student who wrote about this episode for her final paper last term. It was really hard to read without just geeking out all over the margins.)

As for Elizabeth plotbunnies, I say you should go for it. Because I'd want to read it! :)