Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shakespeare's way with words

Forsooth. The second story of the new series of Dr Who, “The Shakespeare Code” has now passed. Our revels have ended. And, verily, I enjoyed it greatly, good sires and damsels.

My fellow blogger Timewarden has recently talked about a tendency in the new Dr Who for recycling and how he felt the story wasn’t desperately original. I hadn't really noticed this to be honest, but thinking about it now I can see what he means. In Seasons One, Two and now Three of the new show, the first three stories have followed a similar pattern - albeit in slightly different running order: one story set on modern day Earth, another during some period of Earth's past, and another in Earth’s future...true enough! There's nothing wrong with having stories set in these time periods but for variety's sake thy should be spread out better throughout the season. And next series they should go for something totally different. I also feel that we’ve had way too many Earth-bound stories now and we really need to see the Dr journeying further into outer space and visiting other planets. Russell T Davies however does not seem to share the same view.

Anyway, getting back to “The Shakespeare Code”, well, I loved it!!

The period recreation was excellent – brilliant sets with lots of Tudor timber frame buildings (a style I adore) that reminded me of “The Visitation”- not to mention my own home town of York. The whole thing looked like it cost an arm and a leg to make and hoorah to the Beeb for investing proper money and resources into the show. Then again, having a genuine reconstruction of the Globe on hand must have helped with conserving funds a little. The Globe itself was well utilised and was of course integral to the action of the episode. Some other scenes in the story were obviously CGI / matte shots (the panoramic views of Elizabethan London for example) but still looked impressive.

BUT! One thing that bothers me…Why and how did the Dr and Martha blend in so seamlessly? In particular Martha? Surely with their modern day attire and demeanour they stuck out like a sore thumb, but no-one seemed to notice or comment on this, which I found pretty hard to believe. As a young, fashionably dressed young black women, Martha was surely something of an anachronism. Now I’m no historical expert (in spite of having done “A” Level Early Modern History and half a History degree many moons ago, ahem) but exactly how many black people were there in 16th-17thEngland? Very few, I’d hazard. As if to anticipate the audience’s thoughts, we actually had Martha comment on the fact that she didn’t really “fit in” and then – hey presto! – a couple of black women servants suddenly appeared in front of her walking down the street, to counter this. Mmmm. Perchance this was rather contrived, my liege?

And did no-one think a 20th Century Police box looked slightly out of place in Elizabethan England? Surely the stuff of witches?

Getting back to the story, it was well-paced (whilst having room for a fair number of slower, "contemplative" bits) and there were lots of good scenes. There was some great dialogue and I loved the use of rhyming couplets, very contemporary:

Witch: Upon this night the work is done,
A muse to pen Love’s Labours Won.

There was some excellent witty banter and knowing Shakespearean in-jokes:

Dr: All the world’s a stage.
Shakespeare: Mmmm, I might use that.

Shakespeare: To be or not to be…oh, that’s quite good. Maybe not…a bit pretentious.

As for Dean Lennox Kelly’s portrayal of Shakespeare, I wasn’t completely sold on it - there was something about his accent which didn't quite work for me. However he definitely looked the part and gave it his best shot, investing the character with appropriate gravitas. I also liked the strategy of making him more down to earth and normal, rather than some kind of snooty RSC luvvie (the popular and inaccurate public image of Shakey), exemplified best when the Dr and Martha hear him yell at the Globe audience “ Shut your big, fat mouths!” – not quite the words of genius they were expecting from the so-called Bard.

Christina Cole as the lead witch was a great villainess and attractive with it – she had a real presence and menace without slipping into pantomime theatrics. The witches themselves were well-realised, even if their make-up did look a little fake and stagey (was the budget being held back for other monsters/effects later in the season?) I also liked the revelation that the words of Shakespeare’s play would act as a code to free the Witches’ power, although the idea of a portal through which aliens could invade wasn’t very original e.g. the Gelth in “The Unquiet Dead”.

The relationship between the Dr and Martha continued to entertain, with some good dialogue between them:

Dr: When you get home you can tell everyone you’ve seen Shakespeare.
Martha: Then I could get sectioned.

Martha’s flirty moments with Shakespeare were also amusing and well-played. Shakey’s “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day” sonnet to Martha was touching and then nicely shot to pieces when Martha informed him that he had bad breath.

It was also nice to see Martha looking genuinely excited and awe-struck at being transported to another time – she really did seem to be enjoying herself and relishing every moment, just as Rose did in the early days. I’m just slightly wary that like Rose she’ll get blasé about it all a later point. One hopes not.

And the Doc's comment about 57 academics punching the air when Shakey revealed his potential bisexuality was very funny and knowing...

The Queen Elizabeth I cameo at the end came as a bit of a surprise and like the Dr, I'll be interested to find out what her problem is! The final shot of the arrow firing into the TARDIS door was a great closing moment.

For me this story was the equivalent of what “Black Orchid” was to old Dr Who – a lovely little historical gem. I found the whole thing a positive delight. So far, so good!

PS Thanks to Timewarden, some of whose photos I have pilfered. Regards, sire...


  • At 8:38 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Thanks for the plug, Simon! It’s not just the first three episodes that follow the same pattern either. The middle two-parter is always the one with the most depth and consequently the story which often appeals to die-hard fans and this year looks like no exception with “The Family of Blood”. I really hope RTD resists the use of Daleks in the season finale and think it sensible to have brought them forward.

    Interesting you should mention the misconception by the general public about the nature of Shakespeare. It’s this way with “classical” music too. The general consensus is that it’s for snobs which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s partly because it’s taught in schools, or was, and partly because people don’t want to make an effort with anything longer than 3 minutes 45 seconds! The Classic FM perception, that it’s the World’s most beautiful music, is complete cobblers. Beethoven wrote some terrifically rhythmic dance music in his “Seventh Symphony”, for example, and, because of his hearing impediment, was bloody angry! I often call him the original Sex Pistol!! Outwardly, and superficially, it may seem the other way round but pop music is the real conformity, classical the true rebellion!!!

    I agree with you about the beauty and grace of Christina Cole’s performance. I’d prefer to see her return rather than Queen Elizabeth, to be honest, despite enjoying earlier roles by Angela Pleasence. This may have been the first episode to feature both a famous writer and a monarch in the same story but I could be wrong? Now, how about an historical featuring a famous composer! Anyway, Cole’s Lilith is more deserving of a return match than Cassandra, in which instance the witch will probably turn out to be the Rani! Kate O’Mara was initially disguised as an old crone so it’s possible. Just joshing, but you never know!!!

  • At 9:23 am , Blogger Steve said...

    Parts of the episode were also filmed at The Lord Leycester in Warwick - not far from where (up to a few years ago) I used to live!

    I enjoyed the episode but have to say that plot-wise it left me a bit flat. Fine performances, a fun script... but nothing amazing in the story; no great revelations or unseen twists. The denouement could be seen from a hundred miles away...

  • At 2:16 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    Fabulous, but the plot left a bit to be desired. I think the televisual ideas came before the idea for a story and a story was created to fit around the imagery they'd dreamed up. I still enjoyed it, though. Very much. Much better than last week.

  • At 11:30 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Thanks for your comments, gents!

    Timewarden - you're right, the middle two parter has tended to be the "deepest" story of each season. So let's hope "Family of Blood" will be the same. I seriously doubt that the Daleks will be back for the season finale (yet again), that really would be overkill.

    I think you're totally right about the classical music thing - yes, people who listen to classical can only be the true rebels by today's standards! Of course when pop didn't exist, classical must have been what everyone was listening to. Good point. Perhaps the Dr could meet Beethoven or someone like that?

    Perhaps the crystal globe that's holding the witches will shatter one day and they'll all break loose. I did think that was a bit ill-thought of the Dr to suggest putting it in the TARDIS attic - what if the ship goes through a few too many lurches and the thing goes and breaks? Given the TARDIS' propensity for being "bumpy" (to quote Martha) it could happen fairly soon! I think the Dr should have dumped the thing in a supernova or something, like he did with the Fendahl skull.

    Steve - interesting to know that some of the episode was filmed near you! I guess I agree with you and Minge - plot-wise it was no great shakes (boom boom). The joy of the episode for me came from the characterisation, dialogue and period recreation - all very well done. I'm sure there's even better episodes still to come.


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