Saturday, September 08, 2007

Captain's Log: The Captain and the Doctor

Update: Welcome to those of you wandering over from the Trek Movie Report, and my review there of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Those of you who got here on your own may enjoy checking it out, although it is based on the essay on this site.

Before I move on to the title sequence, let me say how impressed I am with how principals of the Trek past--actors, directors, writers, etc.--are lining up in support of the J. J. Abrams production of the next Star Trek movie. I don't even want to speculate on the reason--it could be everything from skillful public relations, secret contracts and money changing hands, to the usual kissing-up to a hot writer/producer/director and what's rumored to be a big budget production, or it could even be sincere. Or all of the above. I suspect much of it is sincere, even if it is all of the above. But clearly it takes away a major threat to the movie's acceptance--the risk that the new folks are seen as usurpers, dividing the fans.

Now on to the subject at hand: The Captain (Picard: Patrick Stewart) and the Doctor (Who: David Tennant) will be appearing together next summer and fall in the Royal Shakespeare Company season in London. They're doing Hamlet, with Tennant in the title role, and Stewart is playing Hamlet's stepfather, Claudius. The play is in repertory from July through early November with Love's Labour's Lost--Tennant's also in that one, playing the character of Berowne.

You can see why Tennant would make this move now. He's established himself as Doctor Who, he's going to be a draw, and he's still young enough to play Hamlet--he's referred to himself as "an ageing Scott" so age must be on his mind, even though he looks even younger than he is. He's got the range for the role, and it's the traditional test for a hot young actor in England. So now is the time. I'd love to see it.

Tickets go on sale in a few weeks to RSC members and next month to the general public. Tennant's web site has already had "hundreds of enquiries," so it seems like a lot of Whovians as well as Trekkies are in for some classic theatre---if they can get tickets.

The Doctor

Tennant has been called the hottest actor in England, able to get projects started with just his name. He recently won the TV Quick/TV Choice Best Actor award for the second straight year, as Doctor Who got the award for best drama series.

Tennant's Shakespeare season is going to create a little havoc with the Doctor Who schedule, however. The fourth season, currently being made, will go on as usual (in England, the Christmas special, then episodes in the spring, with the U.S. run starting late summer.) But in 2009, there will be just three specials--all with David Tennant as the Doctor, and still with Russell T. Davis as exec producer and writer (he's been rumored--or "rumoured" as leaving). And now the BBC has announced that Doctor Who will be back for a full fifth season in 2010. But the announcement carefully avoided saying that Tennant (or Davis) will return. Still, why would they replace him in 2010 if they're not going to in 2009?

A year off from Doctor Who episodes might not be a bad thing. Now that the third season is nearing its end on U.S. (and Canadian) TV, there's a fairly predictable pattern (the Doctor returns to the English past and interacts with an historical figure, a couple of episodes in the English present interacting with the family of his companion, a spacey two-parter, a scary two-parter, the return of old villains to end the season, etc.) and range (based on budget--shows on a city street or a small town, to balance the bigger special effects episodes.) Now maybe they'll have time to re-think some of this.

So here's a question for Whovians--or at least those who know the Dr. Who history better than I. Star Trek used to have what were called "bottle shows" (apparently because they "bottle up" the action in one location), which in Trek's case were ship-in-the-bottle shows, totally on the Enterprise. Classic Dr. Who did bottle shows, on an alien space station, for instance, as has the new series (on a space station, in a New New Earth hospital, etc.) But I'm wondering if there has ever been a Dr. Who story entirely in the Tardis?

As for the current series, the episodes--the actual stories, and the writing and production-- still stand up well on their own, and the differences one to the next are interesting if incremental. I've detected a movement towards the supernatural and Harry Potter territory, beginning quietly in season 2 but more boldly in the coda to the most recent ep shown here, "Family of Blood," in which the Doctor acts more like a wizard in consigning the evil villains to their various fates. Perhaps even more, this suggests a godlike power hinted at before but not really shown, but a power to punish. It's a bit disturbing, and I wonder how far they will push this. Especially since it seems his power for good is mostly indirect.

This scary two-parter in a small town in the past was also interesting for some riffs on time, possibility and fate, and it reinforced and extended this season's emphases on aspects of the Doctor's nature and character--once again he is seen as cold and terrible, with death following him--and also wonderful. (That goes back to season 2 as well.) And the Doctor's loneliness has never been more poignant and striking--even the Doctor in his human form finds it daunting, even repellant.

Sorcery and science fiction came together in the early 3rd season ep, "The Shakespeare Code," which I wrote about here. In it, Shakespeare's sequel to Love's Labour's Lost (the rumoured but never found Love's Labour's Won) is scotched by three witches not even from Macbeth, but in the end he decides to chuck the comedies and write Hamlet. Apparently, the Doctor immediately got his Tardis back to the present and signed himself up.

The Captain

As for the Captain, Patrick Stewart is just about to play the title role in Macbeth in London's West End--a production set in modern times that played in the Chichester Festival this summer. It'll be at the Gielgud Theatre through December. Stewart will also return as Professor Xavier in the X-Men prequel, Magneto.

Being in an isolated corner of far-off America, I've never seen Stewart on stage, though I've tried--on a trip to Minneapolis, there was only one seat left at the Guthrie for the time I'd be in town, and it was for the evening I arrived. But the plane was late, and I couldnt' get to the theatre in time. I'd love to be able to see him in the RSC Shakespeare productions, as they are staging all the plays. He's gotten high praise for his starring role in Antony and Cleopatra, and in The Tempest, as well as in this current Macbeth, which is apparently set in Stalinist Russia.

Speaking of Stewart in classic roles, if you haven't seen the DVD of The Lion in Winter, in which Stewart costars with Glenn Close, then you should. I know I was skeptical--the Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn version is still so powerful--but the Stewart version is very good in different ways. (for one thing, it's a little more forthright about some aspects of the play softpeddled in the earlier movie) and Stewart is excellent. His scenes with Glenn Close are breathtaking. It's Stewart's best performance I've seen...outside of Captain Picard, of course.

As Star Trek: the Next Generation celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, there's a blog essay by Marty Beckerman promoting Captain Picard for President, contrasting him with the current one. ("Picard is a superior leader to Bush in every conceivable way aside from being imaginary.") There are specific references to episodes and movies--the writing is a bit arch for my tastes, but it's worth checking out. It reminds me that someplace on the web--probably the official Star selling Picard/Riker '08 mugs and t-shirts awhile back. Probably should have gotten some.

As for this site, my plan is to honor the 20th anniversary with an essay on the first episodes: Encounter at Farpoint. When I'll get to do that is a problem, but I hope soon.

Where Are They Now?

While we're tracking old friends... It's been a year since Billie Piper left Dr. Who--we're actually watching the DVD of those final episodes this weekend--and she's moved onto other things, like an upcoming Brit miniseries called "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl," but she's admitted she misses Dr. Who and would like to go back "for a visit" and play Rose again. "I find it a bit sad watching it now I'm not in it. I really miss it. I didn't realise how much I would. I'd love to pop back." She mentioned returning for David Tennant's final episode, whenever that might be.

And what of the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, who contracted to do the series for one year only? He's been splitting his residency between Los Angeles and England, doing some TV (a character in the U.S. series, Heroes, who may or may not return) and several films, including two not yet released---a post-Katrina independent drama set in New Orleans (New Orleans, Mon Amour) and another kids' oriented fantasy/ sci-fi, a movie version of the childrens' classic, The Dark is Rising, which opens in October. He plays the bad guy.

And, no kidding, he's also going to star in yet another non-RSC West End indie version of Macbeth.

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