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17 January 2015 @ 04:30 pm
The Shakespeare Code  
The Shakespeare Code is where the awkwardness of the Doctor and Martha's relationship begins in earnest which is a shame because it is otherwise a fun episode with lots to like about it.

I'm not sure I want to discuss the Doctor and Martha in a lot of detail, in part because the dynamic was discussed a great deal at the time generating a mixture of heat and light. I'll say here that I think it was a mistake to extend the metaphor of the Doctor and Companion as boyfriend and girlfriend into "rebound companion". However, if you have decided to do this it is then disingenuous to make the first black companion the one who is treated as second rate by the Doctor, expected to justify her presence in the Tardis, and only grudgingly allowed to stay on board and not expect some viewers to read that as racist. I also think Freema Agyeman struggled to present that side of Martha which follows the Doctor around like a puppy, dropping hints about romantic relationships and then looking sad when rebuffed, in a way that fitted in with the rest of Martha's character as a confident young woman in her twenties. I'm going to try to leave the subject there. I think the whole thing casts a bit of a shadow over this season and over Martha's time as a companion but it has been discussed so often, in such detail, in so many places, that I'm not sure I've much to add to what has gone before.

The best thing about the episode is Dean Lennox Kelly's Shakespeare who is very much like the popular image of the man; brilliant, flamboyant and irrepressible. NLSS Child, despite only just having been introduced to Midsummer Night's Dream followed most of the jokes quite happily though she was mystified by the 57 academics reference - as was I, first time around. In fact I heard an explanation at the time that suggested it was some Who in-joke but, when I googled it just now, it turns out to be a reference to sonnet 57 which makes much more sense.

Making the carrionites a race that could create power from words, is a clever, if perhaps somewhat obvious, idea for an episode about Shakespeare. It gives Gareth Roberts lots of opportunities to pepper the script with jokes. A comparison between this and The Unquiet Dead is obvious - both episodes in which the Doctor meets a famous wordsmith of whom the episode's author is a fan and both episodes which introduce a companion to travelling in time. I think this is the more successful of the two. It's more self-assured and is having a lot more fun. I also really like the way the Doctor chooses to insist that Martha will be fine in Elizabethan England - even if she is a black woman wearing 21st century clothing - just if she acts like she belongs. It is a central conceit that has nearly always worked for the Doctor throughout the show and it is nice that this episode is not trying to reserve it as some special power of the Doctor alone.

In short, this is a fun episode with lots to like. Taken together with The Unquiet Dead and Tooth and Claw it's making me re-evaluate my previous impression that NuWho seasons tended to mark time a bit in the first few weeks, waiting for the arc plot to really get going. Instead we have some really nice episodes that benefit from not being too weighed down by portentious foreshadowing.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/137582.html.
 
 
 
Susanlil_shepherd on January 17th, 2015 07:25 pm (UTC)
I liked this episode. But then I liked Martha so much more than I like Rose. Ten's attitude to her was one more mark against him as far as I was concerned. That he should prefer Rose meant his judgement was questionable.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 19th, 2015 10:06 am (UTC)
The whole Ten/Rose romance has, I think, proved to be something of a burden to the show because you immediately set companions up as rivals and impose a hierarchy upon the Doctor's affection for his companions. Of course, I imagine when they started out, they weren't necessarily expecting the thing would get a second season, let alone 9-10-however many we eventually get. A romance is a good hook for a new show.

While I have quite a lot of issues with the River Song romance, I think, if you must give the Doctor a love-interest, it works much better if they are not also a companion.
Susanlil_shepherd on January 19th, 2015 03:36 pm (UTC)
The determination to drag in romance started with the abortive TV movie (Eight) which was an American co-production, while New Who always also had overseas sales in mind. It seems to me that both American and UK execs believe that you cannot expect US audiences to believe in an alien who doesn't have heterosexual feelings towards a human female. Hence the attempt to make the Doctor half human in one and establishing Rose as a love interest in the very first adventure of t'other.

Before then the Doctor had travelled with a female member of his own species without there being an overt romance (and even with there being a romance between Baker and Ward) between them, except in the minds of ficcers.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 20th, 2015 09:57 am (UTC)
I don't suppose RTD tried to introduce romance because the TV movie did though - especially since many people agree that the TV movie is a primer in how not to introduce Doctor Who to a new audience. But I think there is a widespread belief in the TV industry that audiences like romance, and not just that, but UST. Even in shows where a romance makes more sense than between a 900 year-old alien and a teenage human, characters can take an unconscionable time to get to the point (if they ever do) because TPTB seem to think we want the promise of romance but not the actuality.

But even classic Who had very occasionally flirted with the idea of a romance, mostly notably the First Doctor and Cameca (though it covered itself with the idea that the Doctor was unaware of the implications of his actions) and the production team definitely were aware of the possibility between the Doctor and Romana (hence some of the extra scenes in the Christmas blooper reels). I think, mostly, they thought the show didn't need the romance and were aware of all the extraneous issues one inevitably raises. But those were days when the direction was less driven by ideas about marketing.
Susanlil_shepherd on January 20th, 2015 12:12 pm (UTC)
I agree that the decision to introduce 'romance' or UST was made independently, but I submit it was for much the same reasons.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 17th, 2015 07:28 pm (UTC)
I think Martha, and Freema Agyeman, both deserved a lot better than the series ever gave them. Martha is about the only Davies era companion (in fact, virtually the only new Who companion) I actually like.

I thought I was well-read, but I assumed fifty-seven was a number picked out of thin air, or possibly a Heinz reference (I did get the rest of the joke).

This was about the only episode in the first half of the third season that I thought was any good, although fortunately things would improve in the second half.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 19th, 2015 10:11 am (UTC)
The basic thrust of the 57 academics joke is obvious - it's not difficult to figure out that there must be academics that argue Shakespeare was gay or bi-sexual. However the actual reference itself is pretty obscure, I think.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 19th, 2015 06:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, I knew it was deeper than that; it's based on some of the love sonnets apparently being addressed to a young man. I didn't realise that sonnet 57 was one of them.