Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brief but Brilliant—Another Shakespeare Reference in Doctor Who

“The Unquiet Dead.” By Mark Gatiss.   Perf. Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, and Simon Callow.  Dir. Euros Lyn. Doctor Who.  Season 1, episode 3 (New Series).   BBC Wales. 9 April 2005.   DVD.  BBC Warner, 2007.

Early in the first season of the new series of Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companion travel to Dickensian London, where they mean the man himself. Charles Dickens, I mean.

The show presents us with a wonderful moment where Dickens, confused and bewildered, asks, "What the Shakespeare is going on?"

It's lovely for many reasons. One of them is that it does what the show itself does. It twists the basic chronology of Earth history. It presumes that confused and bewildered people will always say "What the [best writer prior to that time]?" when faced with difficulty. People in the future might be saying "What the Vonnegut is going on?"

Actually, the phrase "What the dickens?" has been around for a long time. In fact, that's another reason it's lovely. Shakespeare himself uses the phrase in Merry Wives of Windsor:
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is . . . . (III.ii)
Perhaps, in a future Doctor Who, we'll meet Shakespeare again—only to hear him say, "What the Chaucer is happening here?"


  1. I was paying the bills this morning with the show on more-or-less in the background.  I wasn't wasting time.  I can do two things at once.
  2. I chose Vonnegut over your favorite author because of the flow of the phrase rather than belief in his genius.  "What the Woolf" (for Virginia Woolf) or "What the Berry?" (for Wendell Berry) or  just didn't have the right ring.  "What the Russell T. Davies?" sounds nice (and has the woodnotes wild of Whales warbling right with it), but it's a bit too lengthy.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest