Doctor Who: The Doctor and William Shakespeare

Doctor Who: The Doctor and William Shakespeare
"The Shakespeare Code"

If there are historical figures that The Doctor has interacted with more than the famous playwright William Shakespeare, I've been unable to find them. No fewer than six different incarnations of The Doctor have either met or had adventures with the Bard, including at least two trips in the Tardis. That's starting to edge into full-on companion territory. Today we're going to look at the history between our favorite time traveler and one of the greatest writers of all time.

From Shakespeare's point of view, the first time he met The Doctor must have happened in childhood, sometime between 1564 and 1572. In "City of Death," the Fourth Doctor remarks to a man who is holding a gun on him that "I once knew a boy like you, never said a word, very taciturn, there's no point in talking if you've got nothing to say..." Later in the episode, The Doctor reveals that he helped Shakespeare write Hamlet both physically and creatively. Countess Scarlioni obtains a manuscript of the folio in The Doctor's own handwriting, which he says exists because Shakespeare sprained his wrist. The Doctor also chided the writer about mixed metaphors.

Now, it should be pointed out that it's perhaps unlikely the Fourth Doctor was the incarnation that did the actual writing with Shakespeare, though it's very likely he did visit Shakespeare as a child. The Doctor almost certainly didn't identify himself, though, because the young boy Shakespeare doesn't recognize him in their next meeting.

Doctor Who: The Doctor and William Shakespeare
"The Time of the Daleks" promotional art by Martin Geraghty in Doctor Who Magazine #317

In 1572, a young Shakespeare is pulled into a 21st century where an insane British prime minister is using a mirror-powered device to experiment with time travel. In the course of her experiments, she makes contact with a Dalek fleet trapped in a time vortex. The Daleks, needing rescue, offer to help the prime minister with her experiments. They pose as fans of Shakespeare's and entice the prime minister with plans to make her the sole repository of his plays by otherwise erasing him from time. Their real plan is to upset the web of time so much that they can rewrite Earth's history as a place where the Daleks have always ruled.

The young Will meets The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard when they become embroiled in the plot. At first The Doctor is unaware of his identity (easily explained by the Eighth Doctor's terrible memory), but eventually works out who he is. After stopping the Daleks in the audio play "The Time of The Daleks," The Doctor returns the lad to his proper timeline.

The Doctor managed to stay out of Shakespeare's life for about twenty years Shakepeare's time and two incarnations his time. The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler encounter the playwright in 1592 in the comic story "A Groatsworth of Wit." Once again he has to save the bard from a megalomaniac filled with alien energy.

In this adventure, Shakespeare once again doesn't recognize The Doctor, with The Doctor even remarking to Rose he's "known him for ages, just not yet." "The Time of the Daleks" was released three years before "Groatsworth of Wit," but the Big Finish audio stories had not yet been canonized by the television show. It's also possible that the way time and memory were being rewritten by the Daleks in Shakespeare's encounter with Eight and Charley, the timeline where Shakespeare was abducted as a boy no longer exists. In any case, The Doctor doesn't ever specifically introduce himself to Shakespeare despite being drafted as Richard III for a performance.

Sadly, the last line of the comic story is Rose ironically remarking that forgetting The Doctor was impossible.

This story continues on the next page. 

Doctor Who: The Doctor and William Shakespeare
"The Kingmaker" promotional art by Martin Geraghty in Doctor Who Magazine #368

In audio play "The Kingmaker," set in 1597, the Fifth Doctor, Peri Brown and Erimem would attend a performance of Richard III and The Doctor becomes obsessed with what he calls glaring historical inaccuracy in the play. Consequently he travels back and forth in time gathering evidence on the king's life and ends up getting drunk with Shakespeare in order to give the playwright a piece of his mind. Shakespeare agrees to take The Doctor's advice to better research his subject, but actually uses the drinking as a ruse to sneak aboard the Tardis while The Doctor is passed out.

Shakespeare then begins a plot to change history to better match his play instead of the other way around, leading to an intricate maze of different timelines that leaves Shakespeare stuck pretending to be Richard III and the king vice versa in the other's respective timeline. Though it's not stated outright in the story, it's heavily implied that the Celestial Intervention Agency, the Time Lord organization responsible for covert maintenance of the web of time, switched them back and erased all knowledge of the incident. They'd be aware of the previous mess history had been in the last time The Doctor had messed with time travel and Shakespeare (the fallout from "Time of the Daleks" specifically attracts the attention of the CIA in the stories that follow), and the fact that The Doctor hadn't done it yet in his personal timeline is probably why he got in trouble in the first place.

Two years later by Shakespeare's count the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones would meet him in "The Shakespeare Code." Once again, he has no idea who The Doctor is, which is indicative of CIA tampering. However, the playwright's ability to see through psychic paper implies that on some level, he maintained an awareness of his interactions with The Doctor similar to the way Jamie McCrimmon overcame the CIA mindwipe. The two worked together to stop Carrionites from invading our dimension through spells masked as a new Shakespeare play. The Doctor and Shakespeare depart this adventure as friends and with Shakespeare's memory intact for the first time.

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Near the turn of the 17th century, The Doctor would meet Shakespeare again. His first incarnation mentions in the novel Byzantium! that he aided Shakespeare with the first draft of Hamlet, with this likely being the incident that the Fourth Doctor alluded to on television. It should be noted that the Fourth Doctor doing the writing happens explicitly in the short story "The Stranger, The Writer, His Wife and the Mixed Metaphor," but this is contradicted by the fact that the First Doctor could not remember something the Fourth Doctor hadn't yet done.

Another possible explanation is that the First Doctor already knows that he will one day do it in the future. His final adventure with Shakespeare occurs in 1609 in the novel Empire of Glass. Following the events of "The Three Doctors," the Doctor returns to Steven Taylor and Vicki Pallister with no memory of the adventure and a mysterious invitation that causes the Tardis to materialize in Venice. There, Shakespeare is working as a spy for the crown and Galileo discovers aliens on the moon.

During their first meeting in the story, Shakespeare explicitly mentions the aid he received in writing Hamlet from The Doctor and asks him if he has a tall younger brother with curly hair. As both these encounters have happened after the Tenth Doctor's visit, it's unclear whether Shakespeare knows that all the incarnations of The Doctor are the same man, and since this is the First Doctor's first time meeting him, it probably only added to the confusion.

Eventually Shakespeare witnesses the vast technologies of the future through The Doctor's meddling and vows to acquire them in the name of English supremacy. This culminates with The Doctor and Shakespeare performing Macbeth for King James and The Doctor using his role to force an amnesia pill down Shakespeare's throat so that he would forget the past 24 hours.

And there so far ends the life of Shakespeare, which The Doctor has guided and influenced since at least the age of eight. It's one of the strangest chapters in The Doctor's long history of adventures on Earth.

Doctor Who returns later this year with "The Magician's Apprentice".

Jef has a new story, a tale of mad robot nurses and a man of miracles called "Sleepers, Wake!" available now. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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