The Shakespeare Code
The Shakespeare Code was the second episode of the third series of Doctor Who. It included the first televised appearance of William Shakespeare since a cameo in 1965’s The Chase.
Gareth Roberts was well known as a fan of Shakespeare; he had included him as a character in A Groatsworth of Wit, a Ninth Doctor comic strip. The Carrionites were also derived from the Bard’s work, specifically the witches in Macbeth.
Code was one of the most costly stories ever produced, with large expenditures on costumes and sets. Some of the expense was quickly rationalized by BBC Wales, however. The interior of the witches’ house was almost immediately reused as Sarah Jane’s attic at 13 Bannerman Road, where its expense was amortized over the five-year run of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
A nymph, Lilith, is serenaded from her balcony by a lute-playing swain, Wiggins. She bids him enter, much to his delight. However, upon entering her home, he is shocked to find it full of horrifying witching artifacts — not what he would expect a beautiful girl to have in her home. Lilith kisses Wiggins, but on pulling away, he finds her transformed into a wrinkled hag. She decides to introduce her suitor to her two “mothers”, Mother Doomfinger and Mother Bloodtide. Much to Wiggins’ horror, the two mothers cackle and pounce on him, apparently devouring him. Lilith cackles and states that at the hour of spoken words, they will be freed and the Earth will perish.
Meanwhile, the TARDIS has just landed nearby. Martha Jones steps outside and is amazed by the fact they’ve gone back in time. Martha questions when they are, but the Doctor quickly pulls Martha back, keeping her from being struck by the contents of a chamber pot. The Doctor tells her it’s “before the invention of the toilet”, apologizing. However, Martha takes the event in stride as she has seen worse things in hospital. She then questions whether it is safe to walk around in the past, citing familiar time travel paradoxes such as the grandfather paradox and the so-called “butterfly effect”. She frets over her reception as a black woman in a time when slavery still exists. The Doctor points out that he’s not even human and to walk around like “you own the place”, just as he does.
They walk around the town and the Doctor says Elizabethan England is far more like the 21st century than she might think. He points out there are things similar to the future. The Doctor deduces both their location and the year: near the Globe Theatre in 1599. The Doctor tells Martha when she gets home, she can tell everyone she’s seen Shakespeare. However, Martha gleefully and sarcastically retorts that she would get sectioned.
At the Globe, Love’s Labor’s Lost is on. Martha tells the Doctor how much she loved the play before pointing out that the male actors are dressed as women. The Doctor jokes, “London never changes”. Wanting to see the author himself, Martha starts what the Doctor thinks might be the first crowd chant for Shakespeare. The author himself comes on stage with the crowd cheering; he’s quite a bit different from his portraits. The Doctor goes on about how much he admires Shakespeare’s genius. However, the Doctor turns out to be wrong about the consistency of the Bard’s genius when he asks the audience to shut their “big fat mouths”. Martha tells the Doctor he shouldn’t meet his heroes.
Shakespeare then announces there will soon be a sequel, Love’s Labor’s Won. Lilith, using the influence of a poppet, influences the great writer to rashly promise that the yet unfinished play will premiere tomorrow evening. Martha asks why she has never heard of Love’s Labor’s Won. The Doctor knows of the lost play as it appears in the listing of Shakespeare’s works, but the play itself is non-existent. He decides to find out more about why it was never published.
At the inn where William Shakespeare is staying, the writer is discussing the announcement of his play with the actors, who are curious as to why he announced the play for tomorrow instead of next week as they planned. He states that he will have the last scene finished by the morning. The Doctor enters and Shakespeare tells him to leave. He says he won’t give him an autograph or a portrait done with him. He adds that the Doctor not ask him where he gets his ideas. Upon seeing Martha enter, he stops dead. Recognizing the signs, the actors excuse themselves; to them, it looks like Shakespeare has found a new muse. Shakespeare is confused by Martha’s clothing and the Doctor explains she’s from “Freedonia”.
Upon trying to pass himself off as “Sir Doctor of TARDIS” via the psychic paper, the Doctor is shocked to find that Shakespeare sees it as blank. Martha is confused by this as she sees the Doctor’s title on the paper. Shakespeare remains adamant about what he sees and the Doctor explains the psychic paper, noting that Shakespeare’s immunity to the paper proves the writer is an “absolute genius”. The writer takes interest in the word and wonders who the Doctor is. However, his attention shifts to Martha, whom he tries wooing, describing her as “a queen of Afric” or a “blackamoor lady”, which she finds slightly offensive. The Doctor says it’s “political correctness gone mad”.
At that moment, Lynley, Master of the Revels, barges in, demanding to see the script before he allows the play to proceed. When Shakespeare offers to show him the finished script in the morning, the official leaves, proclaiming that this slight means he will ensure the play will never be performed, even if it’s the last thing he does. The Doctor assumes that this explains why Love’s Labor’s Won was never shown.
Lilith, who works at the inn, overhears this and secretly takes some of Lynley’s hair which she adds to a doll. She contacts her mothers, who chant with her, using the doll to control Lynley. Lilith plunges it into a bucket of water. The Doctor, Martha and Shakespeare hear a commotion in the street and run out, where Lynley vomits water. Lilith stabs the doll in the chest, and Lynley collapses, dead.
Martha and the Doctor try helping him, but are shocked to find his lungs full of water. The Doctor calmly announces to the crowd that Lynley died a natural death, of an sudden imbalance of the humors. Confused, Martha asks the Doctor why he told the crowd a lie. The Doctor whispers that they’ve got “one foot in the Dark Ages”, and any seemingly unnatural answer would lead them to think that it was witchcraft. When Martha asks what actually killed Lynley, the Doctor responds, “witchcraft”, confusing her further.
Inside, they wonder about Lynley’s murder, but Shakespeare is equally confused by Martha’s training as a doctor, wondering what kind of land Freedonia is. Martha defends herself by saying in Freedonia, women can have any profession they want. He then asks the Doctor how he can have eyes so old for someone young. The Doctor says it because he reads a lot. Shakespeare sees it’s a trite reply, something he’d do himself. He then notes Martha looks at the Doctor like she’s surprised he even exists.
The Doctor and Martha have been informed by the landlady that she’s prepared a room for them. Shakespeare explains he still has to finish writing the end of the play and bids the Doctor good-night, saying he will solve why the constant performance from him tomorrow. The Doctor then gives Shakespeare his “All the world’s a stage” line before retiring for the night.
Martha is less than impressed with the room, complaining she doesn’t even have a toothbrush. The Doctor gives her one from one of his pockets, explaining it contains Venusian spearmint. Martha begins to wonder if magic exists as well before the Doctor of course it doesn’t — this looks like magic but is not. She complains that she just started believing in time travel and he should give her a break. The Doctor gives a disgruntled Martha mixed signals by casually sharing the bed with her only to show no interest, then dismissing the idea that a mere human could be channeling the psychic energy and bemoaning the lack of Rose’s insight. However, without seeming to notice Martha’s reaction, he attributes this to Martha being a novice to time travel. He says he’ll take her back home tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Lilith entrances Shakespeare and, using a marionette, compels him to write a strange concluding paragraph to Love’s Labor’s Won. She is discovered by the landlady, whom she frightens to death with her true form. Upon hearing another scream, the Doctor and Martha run in to find her body as Shakespeare wakes. Through the window, Martha sees Lilith flying away on a broomstick. When asked by the Doctor what she saw, Martha answers, “A witch”.
In the morning the Doctor, Martha and Shakespeare are confused by what has happened. Correctly guessing that Shakespeare is central to the witch’s plot, Martha accidentally tells Shakespeare he will write about witches. Shakespeare then remembers Peter Streete spoke of witches; he was the architect for the Globe Theatre. This leads the Doctor to investigate the Globe next. There, he wonders why the theatre is tetradecagal. The Doctor thinks he’s heard of something before that involves the number 14, but can’t seem to remember it.
Upon his companions’ opinions of what has the number 14 in it, the Doctor asks why the Globe was designed like this. Shakespeare explains the architect thought it allowed the sound to carry well. When questioned as to the whereabouts of Peter Streete, Shakespeare says that he was admitted to Bedlam. The Doctor decides that is their next stop. Shakespeare follows after him after giving his actors the final draft of his play.
Once at Bedlam, Martha and the Doctor are disgusted to learn that the patients are whipped to entertain the gentry. Shakespeare defends it, saying that fear of the place helped “set him right”. The Doctor explains that Shakespeare fell into depression after his son’s death. Shakespeare then speaks, “To be or not to be”, from his future play when explaining what he felt then, but wonders if the line is a bit pretentious; the Doctor is indifferent about it. They are led into Streete’s cell, where the Doctor finds he is suffering from catatonia.
Lilith senses this and, along with her mothers, sees the Doctor in their cauldron. She remembers him from the previous night and wonders why he now visits the madhouse with Shakespeare. The Doctor smells of something new to them. Fearing that they be revealed, Lilith has Doomfinger transport herself.
In the cell, the Doctor uses his telepathy to help Peter overcome his condition long enough to help explain what he went through. On the Doctor’s order, Streete reveals that witches spoke to him and made him design the Globe to their design, not his own. He also tells the Doctor that the witches were based in All Hallows Street.
Immediately, Mother Doomfinger appears in the cell and kills Peter with a touch. She threatens the others and the Doctor steps forward to confront her. He then begins rambling about the facts: humanoid females that channel energy into power through words. The Doctor figures out that the 14 walls of the Globe are based on the 14 stars of the Rexel configuration. He then names Doomfinger a Carrionite, which causes her to disappear. The Doctor explains the Carrionites produce their “magic” through an ancient science based on the power of words.
Back at the Elephant, the Doctor explains that Carrionites vanished at the dawn of the universe. However, its seems some of them are back. How they managed to get back is quickly figured out by Martha and the Doctor. They planned on using Shakespeare and his brilliant words to bring the rest of their species back; “Love’s Labour’s Won is a weapon!” The Doctor tells Shakespeare to stop the show whilst he and Martha go to All Hallows Street to thwart the witches.
Shakespeare bursts on to the Globe’s stage to make the announcement, but two of the Carrionites are already there and use one of their dolls to render him unconscious. The actors — thinking Shakespeare has passed out drunk — carry the playwright offstage and the performance proceeds after they apologize to the crowd.
The Doctor and Martha reach All Hallows Street and pause for the Doctor to explain the reality of the danger. They confront Lilith, who is expecting them. She confirms the Doctor’s suspicions: the three Carrionites hope to gain entry for the rest of their species, eliminate the humans, begin a new empire on Earth and spread out from there. Martha, mimicking the Doctor’s actions at Bedlam, tries to neutralize her by speaking the name Carrionite, but Lilith mocks her, since naming only works once. Instead, she names Martha Jones, rendering her unconscious, muttering that she was unable to harm her more, as she must be out of her own time. Lilith tries to do the same to the Doctor, but fails, as her psychic power is unable to uncover his real name. She senses a name that could hurt him and tries to weaken him by naming “Rose”, but he assures her that that name keeps him fighting and demands to know how the Carrionites came to be on Earth.
Lilith explains the Eternals found the correct word to banish the Carrionites into darkness, but the three were able to escape using the power of Shakespeare’s grief over his son — the grief of a genius — and intend to free the others. She approaches seductively, which the Doctor says definitely won’t work on him, and then quickly cuts a lock of his hair. Taking flight through the window, she attaches the hair to a doll — which the Doctor says is basically a DNA replication module — and stabs it in the heart. The Doctor collapses, making Lilith think he’s dead. She flies to the Globe, leaving them behind. Martha awakens, thinking the Doctor is dead as well, but finds he’s still alive — two hearts. With her help, the Doctor manages to re-start his other heart. They proceed to the Globe to stop the Carrionites.
However, at the Globe, the actors have already spoken the last lines of the play. Much to the horror of the audience, Carrionites emerge from a crystal held by the three and swarm outside. The Doctor and Martha arrive to find Shakespeare regaining consciousness and rubbing his head in pain. After making a joke about his eventual balding, the Doctor goes on stage to try undoing the damage, but finds only William can.
Joining the Doctor, Shakespeare is told to improvise a verse to get rid of the Carrionites. The Carrionites in the theatre wither in fear of his words, but William gets stuck on the last one, unable to think of a rhyme. Martha comes up with “Expelliarmus” (a magic word coined by author J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter books) and the Carrionites — together with all the extant copies of Love’s Labor’s Won — are sucked through the portal. Martha, Shakespeare and the actors are left to take the applause of the audience who thought it was special effects. The Doctor finds the three “witches” trapped, screaming in their own crystal ball, and decides to keep it in a “dark attic” of the TARDIS.
In the morning, Shakespeare flirts once more with Martha…and with the Doctor. He reveals his deduction that the Doctor is not of the Earth and that Martha is from the future. For his “Dark Lady”, he produces the sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” in her honor, but is interrupted when two of his actors burst in, heralding the arrival of the Queen, who wants to see the play from last night. Queen Elizabeth enters, much to the Doctor’s amusement. However, it seems they have met before in her past; he is deemed her “sworn enemy”. The Queen declares, “Off with his head!”
This shocks the Doctor as he has yet to meet her, but comments that he is looking forward to finding out what he will do to offend her. He is then forced to run by Martha to keep himself alive. They run through the streets back to the TARDIS as the guards run after them. They enter the TARDIS, slamming the door just as an arrow embeds itself in the TARDIS’ exterior before de-materialization.