The Shakespeare Code

Roots: The witches are inspired by Macbeth. There are references to lines from a variety of Shakespeare plays. These include "All the world's a stage" (As You Like It), "To be or not to be" and "The play's the thing" (Hamlet), "Once more unto the breach" (Henry V), the word Sycorax (a character mentioned in (The Tempest). The Elephant Inn is a reference to Twelfth Night. The line "fifty seven academics just punched the air" is a reference to the belief that some of the sonnets (including number 57) indicate that Shakespeare was gay or bisexual. Loves Labours Won is an actual lost Shakespeare play. And, of course, the story is probably inspired by the movie Shakespeare in Love.

Mother Bloodtide may or may not be named after the Big Finish audio of the same name. Martha refers to the butterfly effect and the grandfather paradox. The Doctor mentions the seventh Harry Potter book, claiming that Martha will love it, and Martha later uses the word "expelliarmus", to which the Doctor says "good old JK". The Doctor explains temporal mechanics by reference to Back to the Future. The Doctor cites Dylan Thomas: "Rage, rage, against the dying of the night." The carrionites echo Cacophony from Christmas on a Rational Planet.

Goofs: Both the Doctor and a caption state that it is 1599. However, Love's Labours Won was listed as a Shakespeare play in 1598.

Plays at the globe would not have been performed during the night.

Technobabble: The Doctor refers to the mechanics of the interim temporal flux.

Dialogue Triumphs: The Doctor: "When you get home, you can tell everybody you've seen Shakespeare."
Martha: "Then I could get sectioned."

Martha: "And those are men dressed as women, yeah?"
The Doctor: "London never changes."

The Doctor: "This lot are a step away from the Dark Ages. If I tell them that, they'll panic and think it was witchcraft."
Martha: "What was it then?"
The Doctor: "Witchcraft."

Shakespeare: "How can a man so young have eyes so old?"
The Doctor: "I do a lot of reading."

"I don't even know what it means."
"That goes for most of his stuff."

The Doctor; "Once more unto the breach."
Shakespeare: "I like that. Wait a minute, that's one of mine."

Continuity: The Doctor says that he failed the test needed to fly a TARDIS (c.f. his banter with Romana about a time travel proficiency test in Festival of Death). He has never seen a death like Lynley's. He has a toothbrush in his inside pocket, and claims that it contains Venusian spearmint. The Carrionites are unable to find his name from his mind.

Martha is familiar with time travel films. The Doctor claims that she is from the far-off land of Freedonia. Shakespeare comments that she looks at the Doctor as if she's surprised he exists. She is unaware of Bedlam.

Shakespeare is staying at a lodgings house called The Elephant. He dislikes people asking for autographs, asking to be sketched with him, or asking him where he gets his ideas from. He is immune to the effects of psychic paper, which the Doctor claims makes him a genius.

Humans cannot channel psychic energy without a generator the size of Taunton.

The Carrionites can use language, puppets, and [biodata collected from] things like hairs to control people - making them drown, stopping their hearts, or writing something. They are able to read minds, plucking names from them. They also ride broomsticks. They use words as their science, in a way like magic. They disappeared back at the dawn of the universe. They were banished by the Eternals (Enlightenment). Their "voodoo dolls" are DNA replication modules.

There are 14 stars of the Rexel planetary system, which has some relationship to the Carrionites and their science/magic.

Shakespeare's Timeline

Despite appearances, this story is not the first time Shakespeare has been in Doctor Who. Whilst his timeline is a lot less complicated than UNIT dating, it does pose a few problems, which we hope to address.

From Shakespeare's point of view, his first appearance is in the audio The Time of the Daleks. In this story, Shakespeare encounters the eighth Doctor, Charley, and the Daleks whilst he is a child. He is also taken out of his own time. En route back to his own time, we have the short story Apocrypha Bipedium, from Short Trips: Companions. In these two stories, the young Shakespeare reads a copy of his collected works - although the chances of him remembering more than the basic plots and a few choice quotes is pretty minuscule (and, in any case, few - if any - of his plots were original in real life). The Doctor also asks Shakespeare not to mention that he's met him before the next time they meet.

Shakespeare also met the ninth Doctor and Rose in the comic strip A Groatsworth of Wit, co-incidentally written by Gareth Roberts. and set in 1592. He spent most of this time with Rose, barely even meeting the Doctor, and had to confront some aliens possessing one of his rivals.

Shakespeare's next encounter with the (fifth) Doctor would appear to be in the audio The Kingmaker. In this story, Shakespeare and Richard III swap places - Shakespeare dies at the battle of Bosworth Field, and Richard III takes Shakespeare's place in history, from about 1597. This causes a minor continuity problem for The Shakespeare Code - Richard/Shakespeare shouldn't remember Shakespeare's son Hamnet, but it's plausible that the Doctor used either the TARDIS or his own telepathic abilities to give Richard some of Shakespeare's memories to enable him to better replace the bard.

Shakespeare next appears during The Chase, where the Doctor uses the time-space visualiser to watch him discussing his initial idea for Hamlet in Elizabeth's court. The Doctor subsequently helped Shakespeare write down the final draft of the same play, after he sprained his wrist writing sonnets, as mentioned in City of Death. There are a number of other stories which suggest that the Doctor had a hand in helping Shakespeare with parts of his plays.

Shakespeare then met the first Doctor in 1609, in the novel The Empire of Glass - this being the first time they have met from the Doctor's point of view. In this story, Shakespeare was working as a spy for James I (or James VI if you're Scottish) in Venice, when he encountered the first Doctor. Shakespeare's memories of these events were mostly wiped. However, he does wonder whether this Doctor is connected to a Doctor whose description matches Tom Baker, which suggests that some of his previous meetings with the Doctor involved the fourth Doctor. This story also features the Doctor being involved in the first ever performance of Hamlet.

Although there are no more recorded meetings between the Doctor and Shakespeare after this, there is one last scene featuring the bard. On his deathbed, Shakespeare turns over unpublished manuscripts of three of his plays - including Love's Labours Won - to Irving Braxiatel - the owner of the famous Braxiatel collection, and - according to at least one source - the Doctor's brother. In return, Braxiatel allows Shakespeare to remember the events he had forgotten from The Empire of Glass. Presumably the copy of Love's Labours Won that Braxiatel collected was left in Shakespeare's lodgings during this story, rather than taken to the Globe.

Of course, none of this fully explains why Shakespeare looks and sounds different in every single one of his TV and audio appearances...

Links: This story follows straight on from Smith and Jones. The Doctor tells Martha not to talk in "ye olde English" using the same words he used to stop Rose doing a bad Scottish accent in Tooth and Claw. He claims to be Sir Doctor of Tardis, as also seen in Tooth and Claw. The Doctor mentions Rose. The line about Dravidian Shores may be a reference to the Dravidian ship mentioned in The Brain of Morbius. The Doctor's thought processes in working out who the Carrionites are is similar to his identification of the Raxacoricofallapatorians in World War Three. The Doctor finds a prop skull that reminds him of a Sycorax (The Christmas Invasion).

Extras: This story has an episode of Doctor Who Confidential. The BBC website had anonline commentary, which is no longer up. It also has a behind the scenes video podcast.

Location: London, 1599. The Globe has recently opened, probably making it May.

Unrecorded Adventures: At some point in his future, the tenth Doctor will become Elizabeth I's sworn enemy.

The Bottom Line: "Everyone's a critic." This has everything you'd expect from a Gareth Roberts script. There's plenty of humour and sparkling dialogue. The plot is pretty solid, and all the characters are very well-drawn. The Doctor and Martha continue to impress, and the ongoing joke about Shakespeare being fed his lines is consistently amusing (in contrast to last year's "we are not amused" joke). The final scene is a fantastic coda, although I suspect that this promise of a future adventure will never actually be told, or which won't live up to its promise.

Discontinuity Guide by Stephen Gray

Other Guides to this Story

Feel free to Contact Us if you have any questions about the site, or any technical problems with it. You may also want to check out our Privacy Policy. There is also an About Us page, if you really want to read one.

Add new comment


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.