I was expecting more from The Shakespeare Code. Dean Lennox Kelly’s Shakespeare is rather wanting. The characterization of it all seems more Knight’s Tale than anything historical or original. There are numerous quotations throughout, usually David Tennant making a quip and Kelly saying he’s going to keep it and Tennant (or Freema Agyeman) worrying they gave Kelly the idea. There are more time travel timeline conundrum conversations in this episode than there have been in the previous twenty episodes. “Doctor Who,” we find out, operates on something akin to the Back to the Future model.
It’s one of the numerous shrugs in the episode, along with Kelly’s womanizing Shakespeare setting his sights on Agyeman, excited by her being a Black woman. We’ve also already had the “is it safe for me to be a Black woman here” conversation, which the show blows off awkwardly, especially given it’s about to be an issue with Kelly. Had “Doctor Who” really not had to think about race on the show until 2007? It’s striking since “Star Trek: The Animated Series” dealt with almost the exact same fetishization thing in the seventies.
The story involves witches trying to use Shakespeare’s words to unlock the end times. It’s a “magic is just science you don’t understand” bit of melodrama, with some occasionally rather scary witch sequences.
If Kelly were better and Gareth Roberts’s script were better, director Charlie Palmer might’ve had a winning little horror episode but it doesn’t really work out. It goes too big for the finale—they’re a tad too comfortable with their CGI—but, otherwise, the witch stuff is good. Christina Cole’d be a great villain if the episode didn’t waste so much time with Kelly.
What’s particularly funny about it is painfully the show wants to make Shakespeare cool and he’s really just a bro.
It makes Tennant fawning over him a little odd.
Speaking of fawning… the show name-drops J.K. Rowling quite painfully.
Agyeman and Tennant are fun on her one trip in the TARDIS—she’s not a companion yet—but it’s more of a fail than not.