Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Shakespeare Code - "Tell you what then, don't step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you? "

The Shakespeare Code (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 3, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #184)

Is the Doctor more familiar with Harry Potter than with Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"?

This story takes a beating in certain circles for what it does to idea of visiting the past; 1599 might as well be 1999 without indoor plumbing according to this version of history and, the argument goes, that all but sucks the life out of the adventure of time travelling. What's the point if it's all the same anyways? Sure, they had Shakespeare, but we've got J.K. Rowling and it's all just entertainment for the masses, isn't it?

The Doctor glibly pointing out that you can find doomsayers then as now, people chatting while getting a drink of water likewise, doesn't mean it's really all the same, it just means you find ways to relate to what's going on around you. I don't have a problem with doing a historical story this way, I mean, we're already mixing alien witches into the thing, so it's not like we're going after the sort of accuracy that'd make this documentary material. The thing that gets me a bit riled is the Doctor, a white male, telling Martha, a woman of color, that she needn't worry about getting nabbed off the street and sold into slavery or anything, all she has to do is walk around like she owns the place. There's a full-sized, low-hanging fruit essay's worth of material in that line about the invisibility white privilege, not to mention male privilege, to its beneficiaries.

Despite that, and despite my reservations about the implication J.K. Rowling is the Shakespeare of our time (not that I have a problem with Rowling, I wouldn't rule out the possibility the Harry Potter books will be read and loved for generations to come), and despite the fact I loathe way we're forced to watch Martha pine for the Doctor while nurses his grief over having lost Rose, and despite the fact I'm not impressed at all with this portrayal of Shakespeare, nor with how he's fetishized as a character, I still rather like this story.

For one thing, at a purely superficial level, which I'm not above delighting in, it looks lovely. They spent some money on this one and it shows. Always on the lookout for humanist themes and undermining authority based on religious credentials, I found the mockery of the street preacher snarkily amusing. Plus, witches (Carrionites, here) riding broomsticks in front of the moon, cackling over a bubbling cauldron, and casting spells (it's science, it just looks like magic because we don't understand it) is fun when it's pulled off. This story pulls it off.

Moreover, I like that Martha knows some Ray Bradbury (geek cred!) and about the time travel paradoxes. I've lamented already, so won't dwell on it except to point out again, how shabbily Martha is treated by the show; constructed to be an object of pity and therefore disliked, when she's got so much charm potential as a character that can run with the Doctor as well any companion ever could.

Martha pining for Ten is uncomfortable but Ten not pining for Martha is implausible (yes, I know he just lost Rose, but we've had "Smith and Jones" already. How much time might've passed between "Doomsday" and when Ten turns up in the hospital bed? Even if it's not much, it could still be enough that he doesn't have to carry on being a whiny git about having lost Rose.

Stray Thought:

In light of "The End of Time" and "The Day of the Doctor", the bit at the end where Queen Elizabeth turns up feels a bit more like the series has started weaving a timey-wimey thread through itself. We don't need to obsessively revisit every reference and close the loop on every bit of the Doctor's travels, it's OK to namedrop a bit and refer to unseen adventures ... but, it does give the whole enterprise a more unified feel when a years old lark is given additional context. And, back to reveling in the lightweight, when we watch this now, or even better when we meet younger Bess later and can recall this, being able to link the the two feels a bit like unlocking a fan achievement.

QEI Spotter Badge Achievement Unlocked!

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