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Recap / Doctor Who S29 E2 "The Shakespeare Code"

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Shakespeare's trademark ruff is actually a neck brace. We're just as surprised as you are.

The Doctor: When you get home you can tell everyone you've seen Shakespeare.
Martha: Then I could get sectioned!

The one where the Queen wants the Doctor's head.

Written by Gareth Roberts.

This episode contains a lot of very silly Shakespeare jokes, almost all of which are also very clever, very obscure Shakespeare jokes in disguise. We open in extremely Elizabethan London, where a young man courts a damsel via period song. The damsel (unlike Juliet) rejects the idea of waiting until marriage and invites the man up. She then pulls a Darla and toys with him a bit before putting on her witchy game face, inviting in her equally witchy mothers, and devouring her ardent swain. This is not about premarital sex or gay marriage being evil, though. It's just campy.

Post-credits, enter the Doctor and Martha, off to the Globe Theatre to see Love's Labour's Lost. Martha is concerned about stepping on a butterfly or encountering old-timey racism, but the Doctor shrugs these off. The Doctor riffs on the parallels between London then and now, including realizing a crazy doomsayer to "Global Warming". This isn't an attack on climate theory, though. It's just silly.


At Martha's instigation, Shakespeare comes out after the play to address the audience. The witches magic him into promising to perform the sequel, Love's Labour's Won, tomorrow night. The Doctor, knowing that this play is a Missing Episode, realizes something is afoot. The pair decides to stay the night at Shakespeare's inn and get to meet the dude. Shakespeare is a genius-level but bawdy empath, clever enough to be immune to psychic paper (although he does love the word "psychic"). He hits on Martha but blows it by constantly referencing her race. "It's political correctness gone mad", mutters the Doctor.

There Is Only One Bed. They both crawl in, their faces very close... and the Doctor tells her that there's something he's... missing. Something... staring right into his eyes. Something... close, but just out of reach. "Rose would know what to do", he sighs moodily, oblivious to the sexual tension. Martha looks extremely annoyed. Meanwhile, the witch has crept in at night in order to plant some words in Shakespeare's script, just in time for the landlady to walk in on her. So the witch kills her. Martha sees the witch flying off on her broomstick, and bemusedly IDs her.


This clue, along with the murder of the Master of the Revels, leads the Doctor and Martha to Bedlam, the insane asylum, note  with Shakespeare tagging along. They interview the architect who designed the Globe — fourteen sides, like fourteen lines in a sonnet — and realise the plan: the performance of Love's Labour's Won will be a spell to allow the witches to take over Earth. A witch shows up and kills off the architect... way too late, as the Doctor has worked out the witches' True Name... Carrionite. The mere word banishes her, and the trio split up: Shakespeare to stop the performance of the play, and the Doctor and Martha to find Witch Headquarters.

They don't succeed. Shakespeare bursts onto the stage and announces that the show must not go on, but is KO'd by witch magic. Will Kemp improvises an excellent triple-meaning couplet: if "Will" refers to Shakespeare, it's him dismissing the warning as drunken ramblings. If "Will" refers to Kemp, it's a mock-apology for his own silliness (emphasized with a goofy caper). If "Will" is the Elizabethan-era slang for penis, it's a joke about alcohol-induced sexual impotence. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Martha find the youngest witch and try the naming again, but it turns out It Only Works Once. The witch tries it on Martha, but Martha's anachronism saves her from permanent harm. The Doctor, of course, has no discernible name. So the witch vamps him instead, gets a lock of his hair and stops his heart; one of them, anyway. Martha wakes up, improvises some first aid to get the afflicted heart going, and they're off to back up Shakespeare.

But they're too late! At the play's end, two noblemen recite an odd invocation that allows the whole Carrionite race, sealed off long ago, to show up in the Globe. Shakespeare, the Doctor and Martha form an impromptu Power Trio: Shakespeare improvises a counter-spell, flanked by the Doctor providing the right numbers and Martha providing "Expelliarmus!" The spell imprisons the witches in their own crystal ball and also destroys all copies of the play.

In the end, Martha is revealed to be the Dark Lady, the unknown (and speculated to be imaginary) African woman to whom Shakespeare wrote several sonnets (not including, however, the Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? one, which he starts to recite to her). Oh, and he casually figures out that the Doctor is otherworldly and Martha is from the future. They are interrupted, though, by Queen Elizabeth I, who showed up to congratulate Shakespeare on his excellent special effects. A Whole Lot of Running ensues when it turns out that Elizabeth considers the Doctor her "sworn enemy" for something he hasn't done yet.


  • All Part of the Show: The Carrionites and the "Expelliarmus!" are mistaken as practical effects.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Because of poor lighting, among other things, in this time period, plays were performed during the day. That was why theatres like the Globe had no roofs, so that the sun could light up the stage. It wasn't until much later that performances became a night-time affair.
    • The architecture of Bedlam Asylum is about 100 years out of date.
  • And I Must Scream: The Doctor's prison for the Carrionites is to be trapped not just in their mystic globe that looks into where the Eternals banished them, but under the Doctor's care.
    "I've got a nice attic in the TARDIS where this lot can scream for all eternity, and I've got to take Martha back to Freedonia."
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The Doctor scoffs at the existence of witchcraft, but Martha reminds him that she just discovered that time travel is real.
  • Arc Number: This episode only, 14. It turns out to be because the witches' home is in a cluster with 14 stars.
  • Badass Bookworm: William Shakespeare, the Word-Smith. He doesn't plan on fighting witches, but was quick to adapt to the changes brought forth by the Carrionites and the Doctor.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: When the Master of the Revels is killed, the Doctor quickly informs everyone that it's the result of "an imbalance of the humours", and asks for someone to remove the body. This is because he knows the actual answer would start a riot.
  • Bedlam House: Featuring the Trope Namer itself, Bethlem Royal Hospital.
  • Bi the Way: William Shakespeare.
    The Doctor: We can all have a good flirt later—
    Shakespeare: Is that a promise, Doctor?
    The Doctor: Ooh, 57 academics just punched the air.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Carrionite witch Lilith creates a voodoo doll and stabs one of the Doctor's hearts. He gets by well enough on the other one until Martha gets it going again.
  • Brick Joke: Notable in that one of these bricks falls in reverse.
    • As the Doctor shows Martha around turn- of-the-17th-century London, they pass by a doomsday preacher shouting "And the Earth will be consumed by flames!". At the end, when the void opens and the Carrionites are being released, the same preacher is seen screaming with almost glee-like tones, "I TOLD THEE SO! I TOLD THEE!"
    • When handing out the scripts for Love's Labours Won, Shakespeare tells the performers to give it their all, "Y'never know, the Queen might show up", before muttering that she never does. Cue the end of the episode...
    • We finally discover what the Doctor did to anger Queen Elizabeth I in "The Day of the Doctor", making this a rather prolonged Brick Joke, as there was over six years between the two episodes.
  • Broken Pedestal: Played for laughs. The Doctor goes into full-on fanboy mode at the prospect of hearing Shakespeare speak, and visibly deflates when what he gets is "SHUT YOUR BIG FAT MOUTHS!" Martha quips, "You should never meet your heroes."
  • Celebrity Paradox: The Harry Potter books and films exist in the Doctor Who universe. We must assume that someone other than David Tennant played Barty Crouch Jr. in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire since otherwise Martha would probably tell the Doctor he resembles him.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The Doctor cheerfully tells Martha she could tell everyone she knows that she's met Shakespeare. Martha points out in Sarcasm Mode that if she did, she'd be institutionalized.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: When Lilith knocks him out, Martha starts trying to resuscitate the Doctor... and then she remembers he's got two hearts.
  • Death by Sex: The young man at the beginning is lured into the witch's house thinking he's seduced the beautiful young woman. He gets torn to shreds instead.
  • Description Cut: The Doctor saying that Shakespeare is a wordsmith and bound to say something wonderful, only for the man himself to just rudely tell everyone to shut up.
  • Dirty Old Man: The Master of the Revels is accosted by Lilith looking to get a hair sample from him to use her magic on. He assumes she's trying to get a feel and whispers that he'll come back later.
  • Doing In the Wizard:
    • Once again, the Doctor versus magic. He tries to rationalize Lilith's voodoo doll. She just brushes him off.
    • At the beginning of the episode, the Doctor himself accuses Martha of this when she asks how the TARDIS can fly.
  • Doomsayer: He's quite delighted that the end of the world is happening, crying: "I told ye so! I told ye so!"
  • Drives Like Crazy: Martha is a little alarmed at her first TARDIS trip and asks if you have to pass a test to fly it. The Doctor replies that you do, and he failed it.
  • The Exit Is That Way: When the Doctor and Martha stumble out of All Hallow's Way to get to the theatre, Martha tells the Doctor he's going the wrong way. He claims he isn't... cue a quick shot of him running in the opposite direction, yelling "we're going the wrong way".
  • Fate Worse than Death: Bedlam Hospital, where the mentally ill of Elizabethan London are sent. As Shakespeare explains, fear of being sent there after his son died cured him of his grief pretty damn quick (he takes this as proof it works, rather than it being horrific).
  • Flying Broomstick: Lilith takes Dolly Bailey's broom as an escape vehicle before killing her. Martha sees her flying away on it.
    "I'll take that to aid my flight, and you shall speak no more this night."
  • Foreshadowing:
  • Game Face: Lilith reveals her true Carrionite face after her unfortunate swain kisses her.
  • Grandfather Paradox: The concept is discussed. Along with the Butterfly concept.
    Martha: What if I kill my grandfather?
    The Doctor: Are you planning to?
  • Greater-Scope Paragon: The absent Eternals were the ones who sealed the Carrionittes away long ago. They don't show up in the revived series (since according to the Manual, they left reality after the Time War, never to return).
  • Have We Met Yet?: Inverted — the Queen immediately recognizes the Doctor from a meeting that hasn't happened to him yet.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Played with, having a trio of witch-like aliens, two Evil Witch Mothers, and the Maiden would appear to be calling the shots.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • Love's Labour's Won is a lost play today because it was commandeered into a spell to release the Carrionite race. When the spell is reversed, the play vanishes along with the Carrionites.
    • The Doctor feeding Shakespeare his own lines. Specifically, it resolves the Brick Joke of the Sycorax set up in "The Christmas Invasion"; Sycorax is a witch mentioned in The Tempest, and where Shakespeare got the name is a bit of an academic mystery — as far as anyone can find she's not a figure from mythology, and if it's a Meaningful Name it's far from obvious what the meaning is. "The Christmas Invasion" used it as the name of an alien species, with no explanation/comment, and in this episode Shakespeare hears the Doctor talking about them and likes the sound of it.
    • Shakespeare wrote many sonnets about a "Dark Lady" that scholars have puzzled over for ages. It turns out to be Martha Jones.
      • One of these (Sonnet 130, a satire of the flowery love sonnets prevalent in his era) has Shakespeare complaining of his Dark Lady's bad breath. Turns out his own breath is nothing to boast about!
    • When Shakespeare flirts with him, the Doctor's line about "57 academics" (see Bi the Way above) doesn't refer to a number of people, but to the Bard's Sonnet 57, which several Shakespeare scholars have interpreted as homoerotic.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Queen Elizabeth I in the end. While she really did have her faults, ordering her soldiers to murder a man on sight in her presence without a trial was not among them.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Carrionites are defeated by Shakespeare using language, their own source of power, against them.
  • It Only Works Once: The power of a True Name only works once. That's why Carrionites can only be banished once with their Name. It takes new words by Shakespeare to banish them once more.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The Doctor's comment about academics punching the air works for his own revelation, but also lampshading that academics watching the show who advocate that view are likely having that reaction.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: The two performers who cause a Carrionite to appear while rehearsing.
  • Magic by Any Other Name: The Carrionites can fly on broomsticks, kill people by sticking pins in dolls and use chanting to work the effects of their "word-based science". This is basically magic.
  • Magic from Technology: Sort of. The Doctor points out that the Carrionites' powers only seem like magic because Earth's science is maths-derived while the Carrionites instead learned how to manipulate words.
  • Magical Incantation: The Doctor instructs Shakespeare to create a counter-spell that will re-seal the Carrionites. He comes up with the following.
    ''Close up this din of hateful dire decay.
    Decomposition of your witches' plot.
    You thieve my brains, consider me your toy
    My doted Doctor tells me I am not!
    Foul Carrionites fester, cease your show.
    Between the points — Seven six one three nine 0.
    Banished like a tinker's cuss,
    I sing to thee EXPELLIARMUS!
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Shakespeare's landlady walks in on Lilith controlling Will, and assumes that they're up to something. She's annoyed, since it's all but outright stated she and Shakespeare are having an affair already.
  • Moment Killer: For once it's not the Doctor who does this.
    Shakespeare: The Doctor may never kiss you; why not entertain a man who will?
    Martha: I don't know how to tell you this, oh great genius, but... your breath doesn't half stink.
    • Except earlier when he's sharing the same bed with Martha, who doesn't look like she'd mind the Doctor making a romantic pass. He starts rambling on about Rose instead.
  • Motive Decay: Bedlam House is a horrifying, Truth in Television example. The administration is so focused on getting the money to keep the place running that they use means that thwart the asylum's purpose!
  • Mr. Fanservice: Will Shakespeare himself. It helps that this story happens before he lost his hair. It's lampshaded immediately when Martha notes how different he looks from the portraits, and the Doctor telling him not to rub his hair too much, or he'll go bald.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Mother Doomfinger and Mother Bloodtide. The species name Carrionite as well.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever got the Doctor to be named as Elizabeth's mortal enemy.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Despite all their cackling and gloating, the Carrionites are ruthless in pursuit of their goal. They kill the master of the revels when he threatens the play, kill the maid when she walks in on them bewitching Shakespeare, send Doomfinger to kill Peter Street and the others when he reveals their plan, and don't hesitate to kill both Martha and the Doctor when they interfere (with only the Doctor's biology and Martha's time displacement saving them.) The only mistake they make is not killing Shakespeare once he's finished writing the play, allowing him to banish them with a spell of his own.
  • No-Sell: Shakespeare is too brilliant for the Doctor's psychic paper.
  • Oblivious to Love: The Doctor doesn't realise how There Is Only One Bed can be interpreted; even more what it means when a young attractive woman accepts.
    The Doctor: There's something I'm missing, Martha. [she turns to lie face-to-face with him, their eyes inches apart] Something really close, staring me right in the face and I can't see it. [pause] Rose would know. That friend of mine, Rose. Right now, she'd say exactly the right thing. [flops back over on his back] Still, can't be helped. You're a novice, never mind. I'll take you back home tomorrow.
    Martha: [hurt and angry] Great! [she turns her back on him and blows out the candle]
  • Playing Possum: The Doctor does this to convince Lilith to leave after the first stab.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: Shakespeare's attempts to flirt offend Martha because he keeps bringing up her skin color as exotic (albeit using what, for the time, are very polite terms). The Doctor invokes the trope by name.
  • The Power of Acting: The right word in the right time in the right place stirring the proper emotion can draw on a power as old as the Eternals themselves.
  • Rebuilt Pedestal: By the end of the episode, the Doctor is again admiring Shakespeare because personality flaws aside, he really is that brilliant.
  • Reality Ensues: A pretty companion meets a handsome, intelligent, and famous historical figure... and won't snog him because oral hygiene was somewhat lacking in those days.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The witches, whether they're incanting or not, do so in couplets.
  • Running Gag:
    • "No... no, don't do that." makes another appearance. In this case, Martha's attempt to speak ye olde English with ye shitey accent.
    • Within the episode, "I might use that!" when the Doctor gives William an idea or two.
    • Subverted with "Rage, rage against the dying of the light", which the Doctor says Shakespeare can't use because it's another author's — or will be in a few hundred years.
  • Sanity Slippage: The man who designed the Globe Theatre was driven mad by the Carrionites, after they were done using him.
  • Saving the World with Art: The world is saved by iambic pentameter and a Harry Potter quote.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Carrionites on two occasions. The three in this episode are trying to release the others and then the Doctor, with help from Shakespeare, pulls all of them back into their can.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: He helps the Doctor save the world from (sort of) witches.
  • Sherlock Scan: Shakespeare is very good at picking out the unusual details of the Doctor and his companion, and by the end of the episode has worked out who they are.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Harry Potter:
      • The Doctor tells Martha, "Wait until you read book 7. Oh, I cried." It's called book 7 simply because the book's title of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hadn't been announced. The fact the book ended up being an emotional read in real life was lucky guess on the part of the writer. It's also a bit of Writers Cannot Do Math; the previous story was set in 2009, so for Martha the book would already be out.
      • The witches are finally destroyed with a shout of "Expelliarmus!" The Doctor reacts to the destruction by shouting, "Good old J. K.!"
    • There's one towards Back to the Future.
      Martha: The film?
      The Doctor: No, the novelisation. Yes, the film!
    • The Doctor says that Martha is from Freedonia.
    • The Doctor does the Vulcan mind meld to get Peter the architect to tell him about the witches.
    • Martha worries about stepping on a butterfly.
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare:
    • The Sycorax from "The Christmas Invasion" were in fact named for a character from The Tempest. Here, the Doctor mentions the Sycorax, giving Shakespeare the idea.
    • The Doctor quotes, "Once more unto the breach!" Shakespeare likes it, and quickly realises it is his own work.
    • The episode contained a veiled reference to Sonnet 57 (among many, many less subtle references, natch).
      The Doctor: Come on! We can have a good flirt later.
      Shakespeare: Is that a promise, Doctor?
      The Doctor: Oh, fifty-seven academics just punched the air.
  • Spare Body Parts: The Doctor has no idea how humans cope with just one heart.
  • Stable Time Loop: Several lines from Shakespeare's future works are uttered by the Doctor and Martha, prompting Shakespeare to say he'll borrow them.
  • There Is Only One Bed: There's just one double bed in the room the Doctor and Martha share. The Doctor doesn't find this situation uncomfortable at all.
  • True Name: The bane of the Carrionites. It can banish them, but only once.
  • Voodoo Doll: The Carrionites have two. The first one can be used on anyone so long as some of the intended victim's hair is attached, and is used by Lilith to drown Linley and attempt to kill the Doctor. Bloodtide later uses it to knock Shakespeare unconscious. The other one is a much more detailed puppet of Shakespeare, used when Lilith is making him write the last scene of the play the way they want it.
  • Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: The witches are finally destroyed with a shout of "Expelliarmus!" The Doctor reacts to the destruction by shouting, "Good old J. K.!"
  • The Weird Sisters: There is a trio of witches consisting of one maiden and two crones. They are a Shout-Out to Macbeth.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: A Carrionite's strength and weakness is the power of words.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Martha tries this with "Verily! Forsooth! Egads!" The Doctor replies "No... no, don't do that."
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Faced with the burden of crafting words powerful enough to bind the Carrionites back into their prison, Shakespeare has a brief moment of crisis when the Doctor boosts him back up by telling him he is the one true genius capable of stopping them.

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 3 E 2 The Shakespeare Code