Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Charles Palmer
Broadcast 7 April 2007
Reviewed by DJ Forrest
It’s 1599 and the Doctor takes Martha for her first trip in the TARDIS, by way of saying thank you. Martha is taken to see the greatest man that ever lived, ‘the genius – the most human human there’s ever been.’ William Shakespeare.
However, despite the big build up by the Doctor, Shakespeare’s first words are not quite how he was portrayed in English literature.
Shakespeare thrills the crowd at the Globe Theatre with the announcement that he will perform the sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost, the very next night, a play entitled ‘Love’s Labour’s Won’ (one of the lost plays). This is news to the actors and news to the Master of the Revels, Lynley. Lynley instantly puts his foot down about the play and as the play had not as yet been written, refused to have it performed on the stage the very next night. Yet on his departure, Lilith, a house maid performed an act of witchcraft upon him, and Lynley drowned to death.
Later in the evening Shakespeare had finished the play but the final touches were yet to be added. From the window behind Shakespeare, Lilith enters the room, crafting her wooden doll with a strand or two of William’s hair. Shakespeare has been under the influence of Lilith and the Carrionites for some time, while they prepare to bring their sisters through the portal from the Deep Darkness into the present world.
As the finishing touches are added and Shakespeare returns to his sleep state from his trance like state, Lilith is disturbed by the tavern keeper Dolly Bailey. In order to silence the woman Lilith turns back to her witch like form and scares poor Dolly to death.
The Doctor hears Dolly’s scream and rushes in only to find Lilith has already left the building. Martha spies her on a broomstick, cackling away in the distance.
In the Globe theatre, the Doctor questions the significance of the 14 sides of the building. When he’s told about Peter Streete the architect, he insists he has to see the man, even though he’s in Bedlam hospital. The Doctor learns from Peter that he had met the witches in All Hallows Street. They had insisted that he built the Globe theatre as a tetradecagon (14 sides) as this would help to carry the sound in the theatre. Lilith felt a disturbance in her mind, Peter Streete had visitors. Lilith saw in the magical waters before her, the Doctor, and fearing that Peter would give away their plans, sent Mother Doomfinger to ‘doom the Doctor’s hide.’
Despite poor Peter being silenced forever by the witch, the Doctor used the power of words to prevent the same happening to him, Martha and Shakespeare. He identified the witch as a Carrionite from the Rexel Planetary Configuration. Carrionites themselves had been banished to the Deep Darkness by the Eternals when the Earth was very young. Since then they had been trying to find a way through to this world. Lilith and her mothers had made it through during Shakespeare’s dip into depression after his son Hamnet died at the age of 11. By locating Shakespeare they had been manipulating him for years through his plays, preparing him and them for the return of the Carrionites.
The Doctor realised that the play was the key and informed Shakespeare to STOP the play. But William Shakespeare had already given the play to his actor’s who had rehearsed the play all the way through. Reaching the part that gave the co-ordinates for the Carrionites safe passage through, they saw an image trying to break through into their world, although the words were not strong enough to penetrate, it was enough for the actors to stop rehearsing and not talk of what they’d witnessed.
The Doctor and Martha, through Peter’s final words, located the witches abode, here he found Lilith who through the power of the poetic word, put Martha into a temporary sleep. Using a DNA replicator, (taking a strand of hair from the Doctor and wrapping it around her wooden doll), Lilith stabbed the doll through the heart and ‘killed’ the Doctor. However, underestimating the Doctor with his two hearts, he wasn’t down for long and soon it was a race against time to cancel the play and stop the Carrionites in their tracks.
But as the crowds gathered, and Shakespeare entered the stage to cancel the play, Lilith and her mother’s put paid to his words and knocked him out, by using the doll again.
The Doctor and Martha are too late to stop the Carrionites from travelling through the portal, as the players act out the scene giving the exact co-ordinates loudly and clearly, and all hell breaks loose. It’s down to William Shakespeare, the wordsmith to return them whence they came. But words that had once released them are hard to think up, but with a little help from JK’s Harry Potter, the words work and the Carrionites, including Lilith and her mothers are sent back into the Deep Darkness held within the crystal ball that Lilith had brought into the Globe Theatre during the play. The Doctor for safe keeping takes it back to his TARDIS and stores it in a trunk beneath the console.
The Queen comes to see the play but on eyeballing the Doctor threatens to lop off his head. Unsure why she would want to kill him, he can only guess it has something to do with another event he has yet to discover.
That’s the thing about time travel!
Not being a fan of Shakespeare I wasn’t sure this was going to be an enjoyable episode for me, but with the 10th Doctor throwing in a few memorable quotes from the stage from other writers, and some facts involving Shakespeare and the link for Hamlet, I found it an enjoyable episode, with just enough crazy witchcraft and sorcery to keep it within the world of Who.
In one particular part of the episode, after the Doctor returns from the props store with a neck brace for Shakespeare, he also brings through a skull of a strange creature. The Doctor is unsure of the skull and announces that it reminds him of a Sycorax. Shakespeare, the man of words tells the Doctor that he’ll have that word off him also. As through the episode, the Doctor would drop quotes right left and centre and Shakespeare, would consider or attempt to take them for his own. What I hadn’t realised however was that the word Sycorax has been used in a Shakespeare play before.
PROSPERO (Act 1, Scene 2, Page 12)
Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forgot her?
The Tempest (1611)
That’s one of the things I like about Who, the way a word, a name can appear as if it were conjured up but was in fact mentioned in a play from hundreds of years ago, a word that you associate with a Who creature, that even in your wildest dreams would never expect it to come from the pen of William Shakespeare!
©BBC Doctor Who 1963
The Shakespeare Code
BBC BOOKS Doctor Who The Time Traveller’s Almanac by Steve Tribe