Sunday, July 15, 2007

Captain's Log: Harry, The Doctor, and Will

Beyond the announcement of a date for the latest New Voyages episodes, "World Enough and Time" (August 23), there's been little news on the Trek front--though lots of rumors, leading up to the expected cast announcement for Trek XI. In fact, anticipation is probably the key word this week: with the 7th Harry Potter book coming on Saturday, and ComicCon (where announcements are likely) the following Thursday or so. (And by the way, I regard the "news" that Leonard Nimoy will appear in XI but not William Shatner as rumor, even if Shatner is the source. It still doesn't pass the smell test.)

But there were actual happenings, if not in the Trek universe per se. The latest Harry Potter movie opened hugely. I haven't seen it yet--probably will this coming week--and since the new book is the last (at least for awhile) I will probably check out the party at a local bookstore for the official unveiling late Friday night. This past Friday, the SciFi Channel showed the second episode of the third season of Doctor Who, called "The Shakespeare Code." Though it was seen in England last winter, it turned out to be very well timed for the U.S. Not only is this the prime Shakespeare season here, but the story relates to the premiere of the Potter movie and the Potter book.

There were other nice little references in Gareth Roberts' script, such as where the Doctor told Shakespeare his new companion, Martha is from: "Freedonia," which is the fictional country in the classic Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup. There was probably some Star Trek reference, too, because there almost always is, but one line that seemed to be a throwaway reference was to Harry Potter, and the Doctor's cheeky comment that he's read the seventh book, and "I cried."

But for Potter fans there turns out to be a marvellous payoff at the end. First of all, the story concerns witches and spells, which of course are explained as beings from another planet using some kind of esoteric technology. They use words to make things happen (the Doctor explains this by citing the math symbols that result in nuclear bombs--so they use words instead of numbers), and it is because Shakespeare is the premier wordsmith of all time, that they are using him to invade the Earth and stamp out humanity.

When the Doctor unexpectedly doesn't stop them from opening the gates to their fellow evildoers, it's up to Shakespeare to find the words to send them back and close them off. He declaims verses, looks to the Doctor for the proper number sequence, then stops when it's time to shout the final command. He's flummoxed, he turns to the Doctor, the Doctor doesn't know, they look at Martha, and she shouts, "Expellaramus!"

Well, Shakespeare could be expected to know the word, as Latin was the substance of his early education (according to Stephen Greenblatt's bestseller, Will in the World, in the first chapter which is about how even as a boy Shakespeare was "obsessed with the magic of words." Not too much of a stretch to imagine this book's influence on this episode.)

Shakespeare, yes--but Martha Jones, 21st century Londoner? There's but one source for her knowledge--the Harry Potter books, where it is a well known spell. No one in the story says a word about this, which is part of what makes it so delicious. Harry Potter rescues Doctor Who! And Shakespeare! And saves the world!

There's an inevitable running gag through the story of the Doctor feeding Shakespeare quotable lines--some of which turn up in his plays, some are by other people, and at least one he's already written by 1599, when the story takes place (and when indeed Shakespeare was famous.)

But this is not the first time the Doctor has helped Shakespeare out--or rather, not the last time he does. This story ends with Shakespeare talking of writing about "fathers and sons" in view of his own son Hamnet's death--the play of course being Hamlet. And in writing that, it will shortly be the Fourth Doctor who gives him a hand, almost literally.

It's one of my favorite exchanges of dialogue in the classic series. It was in "City of Death," written by Douglas Adams and Graham Williams, with Tom Baker as the Doctor. In a contemporary villa, a supposed Countess (but of course an alien) [update: as several Whovian readers have pointed out, the Countess is not an alien--her husband is; see the comments] shows off a collection of rare art objects, including the long-lost original manuscript of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The Doctor concurs that it is authentic, because he recognizes the handwriting. "Shakespeare's," the woman says. "No," the Doctor says, "mine." He had to lend a hand because Shakespeare "sprained his wrist writing sonnets." Then the Doctor reads aloud: "'... to take arms against a sea of troubles'--and stops, put out. "Take arms against a sea of troubles--that's a mixed metaphor. But he would insist!" "Oh, Doctor," the woman says. "I'm quite convinced that you're perfectly mad." The Doctor demurs. "Nobody's perfect."

Further update: There's another book--A Year in the Life of Shakespeare: 1599 (the year of the episode) by James Shapiro that might be an even closer source--don't know really, especially since I haven't read it...Other "accurate" Shakespeare mythology: "Love's Labours Won" (the play done in the episode) was a title that appeared in one list of Shakespeare's plays, possibly written between 1598 and 1601, though no script was ever found and no further evidence that it ever existed...Also there's the joke in the ep when Shakespeare calls Martha his "dark lady," referring to the Dark Lady to whom he addressed many of his sonnets. It does seem true that the identity of that Dark Lady has never been discovered.

And as for the Harry Potter references, they do seem a bit like the Doctor had read the seventh book, for Harry's cry of "Expelliarmus" figures in the plot several times, including the final battle. Great book, by the way, but by now you knew that...

1 comment:

Davidkevin said...

> ...a supposed Countess (but
> of course an alien)....

Point of Information -- the Countess Scarlioni was quite human, it was her husband the Count, who (to her horror) was the Alien of the piece.