This story in a nutshell: The Doctor, Martha and Shakespeare...investigating witches?
'Whoa Nelly! I know for a fact that you have a wife in the country' 'But Martha, this is town...' 'Come along we can flirt later' 'Is that a promise, Doctor?' '57 academics just punched the air...' - great banter between them all.
'I never think much of sequels. They've never as good as the originals.'
'Let us out!' 'That's not gonna work...the whole building's shouting that.'
* Has London ever been captured quite this beautifully in a Doctor Who story before? Certainly not to my mind. The luxurious, cinematic CGI rendering of the city in Elizabethan times is one of the places where the new series reveals that it can knock spots off the original, under funded, run. How gorgeous is that opening shot? The moon dazzling off the lapping river Thames, ships sailing past and inviting lights glowing in windows. Whilst it is perhaps too sumptuously lit, Bedlam hospital is unpleasantly brought to life with prisoners scratching at the bars, screams echoing through the halls and a menacing CGI shot of the asylum dominating the sky. Check out the moments when the physical location work is combined with the romantic CGI backdrops - it is pure cinema. Huge crowds of people are added to the Globe in order to give it the riotous feel of the time when this was the most popular form of entertainment.
* Doctor Who has tended to avoid the rather obvious nasties of fairy tale mythology in the classic series, offering up science fiction versions of classic bedtime chillers. Primords rather than werewolves, that sort of thing. It has never touched upon the notion of evil witches before, probably fearing that the idea would be taken too far and played for laughs. Whilst all the trappings are there (the bubbling cauldron, the flying, the cackling), the Carrionites and played for real. The first thing we see them do is tear a man to shreds whilst laughing their heads of...a man lured who was lured to his death by his libido (there is a message there, I'm sure...). Forcing a man to choke to death on water in dry land, vomiting up great mouthfuls of seawater is quite unpleasant to witness and the Doctor is stabbed through the heart via a stuffed doll. Their quite a vicious bunch on their own, imagine the carnage their entire race would cause if let loose upon the Earth?
* Political correctness gone mad, indeed. I've read academic examinations of this episode that seem to have missed the point that it is supposed to be entertaining and gone straight for the race card claiming that it makes some very ugly assertions about minorities. Tommy rot. The truth of the matter is that racism has always existed and people have always made judgements. It's a sad truth but an undeniable one and pretending as though it never happened hardly paints a realistic view of history. Shakespeare's comments might be near the knuckle but he's so intoxicated by Martha that his poetic talent is spun into overdrive. I see very little to object to here and the arguments that have sprung up strike me as critics who are trying to delve a little too deeply into something that is essentially supposed to be a bit of fun. Sometimes you can examine these things too deeply and forget the original motive for watching.
* I find the climax of this adventure quite stirring. The rules have been laid down about words and their power, we've been informed of how the shape of the Globe can be applied to harness that power and the Carrionites have been said to have been tied away by the Eternals. Which means the use of certain words in a play can unlock their prison and release hell on Earth. Narratively speaking, it makes absolute sense. Then you have the astonishing visuals of the Globe on fire with spectres which genuinely looks as if chaos has been unleashed. The shots of the Carrionites spreading their wings and flying out into Elizabethan England are extraordinary. I'm not always keen on how practically every episode tries to pull off an ambitious, cinematic climax but in The Shakespeare Code it feels very right. Add in a dash of Harry Potter to keep the kids happy, allow Shakespeare to prove his worth with words, trap the monsters in a crystal ball and explain away where Loves Labours Won vanished to and you have a hugely enjoyable, satisfying resolution.
The Shallow Bit: Freema Agyeman is so delectably gorgeous you could almost believe that she was hired for her visual sumptuousness rather than her acting talent. Her smile is so bright it could light up any room. Dean Lennox Kelly isn't traditionally handsome but he attacks the part with such charisma it was impossible for me to resist.