More shennanigans with week 2 of the third season of Who- and this time, it’s wearing a ruff… (Fear the spoilers…)
DOCTOR WHO: S3-E02: “The Shakespeare Code”
Hmmm. It takes a braver man than I to tackle cod-Shakesperian dialogue, and while Gareth Roberts may certainly be brave, he wasn’t quite up to the task of stitching this sow’s ear into a silk purse. Oozing money from every CGI shot, this is the kind of production values that the old show would have comitted murder for– huge numbers of extras, digital crowd shots, big-scale effects, and all of it squandered on a rather daft runaround featuring some of the least convincing witches I’ve seen in my life (And I had the green-faced witch Grotbags from Emu and the Pink Windmill show inflicted on me when I was younger, so I know what I’m talking about). Dreadful prosthetics, camp cackling, and eye-watering dialogue (getting your villains to rhyme is rarely a good idea), while the plot had to tie itself in knots to work its way into Shakespeare’s life. With last year’s Girl in the Fireplace, it felt like an organic mix of sci-fi and historical, but here it felt like the usual New Who strategy of using nonsensical technobobbins as an excuse for basically telling a complete fantasy story. Better villains would have helped, but this was still weak stuff, formulaic at heart (feeling too close in execution and tone to Season 1’s The Unquiet Dead), and straying into camp a few too many times (One Potter in-joke was funny– the second was pushing it way too far…).
The frustrating thing was that there were certain elements that worked nicely. Dean Lennox Kelly wasn’t bad as Shakespeare, and actually carried off the more serious, dramatic moments well. The F/X work was mostly impressive, although the CG Carrionites did feel somewhat random and ghost-train-esque, doing little other than flying around and waving their arms (as with so many CG Who villains). Plus, the Doctor/Companion teaming is feeling much more interesting– they’ve gone for a setup where Martha fancies the Doctor, and the Doctor not only doesn’t reciprocate in that nonsensical goo-goo eyes way he did with Rose, but he hasn’t even noticed. It’s much more fun, much more Doctor-ry, and gives the relationship a much better dynamic. No doubt it’ll probably change for the worse at some point, but for the moment colour me impressed. Tennant toned down the “mad as a badger” levels this week, and he’s fantastic when calm and restrained– and Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeema Agyeman was improved from last week’s episode– no wooden moments, and giving the whole thing a nice sense of reality and enthusiasm which points towards some potential good things happening later down the line.
Unsatisfying, overplayed, and a little too camp. Two episodes in a row with cackling, wrinkled female villains– I hope we’re not setting a precedent. Next week, we’re back to New Earth (not that the show is getting repetitive in the slightest, oh no sir…) and it seems that RTD’s DVD of the week is THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Let’s see if he can continue last week’s feeling of mild surprise, or if we’re back in the realms of “Oh no, not again…”
Edit: A quick additional thought, and one aspect that wasn’t exactly a problem, but which bugged me by its abscence. Now, I’m resigned to the whole decision to keep the Doctor and companion in modern clothes no matter which time period they’re wandering around in– I think it’s part of RTD’s slightly narrow minded “Oh, we can’t do any of that sort of stuff anymore” attitude, but I can cope with it. Plus, they did actually show that Martha had her head screwed on relating to the possible problems for a black twentysomething to go wandering around in London circa 1599. The one thing which they missed- and which would have (a) helped the reality of the historical setup, and (b) generated some extra comedy, is the fact that she’s wearing trousers, and not once does anyone mistake her for a boy, or make any kind of comment. It’s the kind of thing which would have grabbed people’s attention even if she was doing it in the 1920s- 400 years ago, and I’m fairly sure a crossdresser on the streets of London would at least have attracted a bit of comment. Plus, it would have been a nice way of playing with differing attitudes between the present and the past– but nobody even mentioning it? Bizarre, especially considering it’s the kind of borderline camp humour the new version of the show would normally leap on in a shot. Still, it’s not the first niggle with Season 3- and I’m certain it won’t be the last…