Happy Tenth Birthday, Feeling Listless!

I’ve told you before that you should be reading The Hamlet Weblog, and even made it easy for you by putting it on my blogroll. I only recently learned that Stuart Ian Burns, the editor, is also the proprietor of a personal blog, Feeling Listless, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. It’s also well worth reading, not least for the delightful but unsurprising fact that he is a thoroughly committed fan of Doctor Who. Unsurprising to me, at least, though not to his interlocutor in this tenth anniversary interview:

Shakespeare and Doctor Who: Why do you think you’re a fan of both?

Both developed gradually. Here’s how I became a fan.

Like everyone else I first encountered Shakespeare at school and like everyone else, the process of having to be taught Othello and Measure for Measure almost killed it for me because we weren’t really given much background as to their relevance just a straight read through of the text and some literary criticism by some equally old dead guys. As someone from the RSC said on the radio recently, it’s a crime that these texts which have to acted in order to fully gain their worth and be comprehensible are often read through in a start/stop manner in the classroom with verbal annotations from a teacher, which is how I originally experienced Othello sat next to a girl who I was madly in teenage love with so my mind wasn’t on the text.

Yes, that was my introduction to Shakespeare, too. Really is sad how school takes all the excitement out of it.

But also, like the lucky people, I happened to see some amazing productions which demonstrated that these weren’t just blocks of incomprehensible text, but mini-investigations into the human soul filled with proper emotion. Measure for Measure’s been filmed only a few times, but luckily, the BBC Shakespeare version is amazing. When Tim Piggot-Smith as Angelo, which he’s mostly played in a cold logical manner in public, has a private moment in which he talks about all of these feelings for Isabella which are welling up inside of him for the first time, I understood those emotions. They were the same emotions I had been having for girl I was sitting next to for Othello. That along with visits to Tate Liverpool and whatnot were opened my eyes to the world.  I felt myself becoming a more complex person right there. Not sure if it has lasted.

But I wasn’t a fan yet. Over the years I saw loads of productions, from a street Henry IV at the Edinburgh Festival to the Branagh films and really began to pay attention until finally I bought and watched my way through the whole of the BBC Shakespeare, began reading around the topic, watching and listening to more productions, studying adaptations on my post-graduate course after beginning the Hamlet thing as a challenge to myself until somewhere along the line I realised I was a fan in the traditional description of a fan sense. As to why I still am? I’ve probably become an elitist. I can’t stand most reality television any more, even in an ironic way, and Shakespeare feels like a fixed point that will continue to fight against, just by existing, the rubbish which is otherwise subsuming culture. Plus some passages have the ability to make me cry. Proper tears. Every time I hear the closing speeches of Midsummer’s Night Dream or ….

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

… I’m blubbing, blubbing even as I copy/paste that from another website.

*handing you virtual tissue* Wow, that is amazing.

Here is the short version of Doctor Who. I watched the show as a child, of course, but once it ended, everything was Transformers then Star Trek, so much so I sold off my Doctor Who stuff, including a couple of annuals I still kick myself about, including a Troughton era for a pound to a man who walked a way with a slightly startled look on his face. I understand why now. Luckily it was included as an extra on a dvd later, but that’s not the same thing. Rosebud. Rosebud!

Then I visited the exhibition in Langollen not long after the broadcast of the TV movie both of which rekindled old memories. Whilst I was buying a copy of The Keeper of Traken (of all things)  on VHS, the clerk told me that the show was coming back. I didn’t know what he meant, and still don’t but I suspect he was talking about the Big Finish license which happened a couple of years later. I began buying Doctor Who Magazine (beginning with an issue that had a roundtable with the likes of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat about what they’d do with it if the show ever came back) and my Auntie recorded stories from UK Gold.

Then I bought some more videos for the stories she missed. Then I began listening to the Paul McGann audios which at the time felt like a proper continuation and began reading the novels and seeking out the spin-off material after reading about them in DWM and on Off The Telly. Which carried on for a couple of years, then the new series was announced and well, um where has the time got to?

Mostly I still enjoy Doctor Who because there is so much of it now, but unlike most franchises, none of it’s the same and individual writers or editors or producers can leave their stamp on it. There’s not a lot of similarities between the recent BBC audio Tom Baker shows by Paul Magrs and the Russell T Davies era on tv but they’re still the same ongoing story, with the same character, which is amazing. Plus, at its best it can jackdaw in bits of narrative and genre and mythology from everywhere else and be terribly clever and has a central character who thinks his way out of situations but who, despite essentially being a God within the universe, still remains vulnerable.

What Doctor Who and Shakespeare both also have in common is a production history. There are the anecdotes about actors and producers and artists, a sense of each imprinting their own ideas and developing various epochs and a genuine sense of something new to discover. I’m endlessly fascinated by this stuff, often even more so than watching the product itself. I’ve read dozens of books on both topics and there’s always something new to be said, even if it’s wrong, or at least I think is wrong. Plus both contain within them a sense of anticipation, what Russell T Davies calls “anticipointment”, that expectation that what you’re about to watch is going to be rubbish and the ensuing moments of elation when you realise some genius is at work.

Does that answer the question?

Yes, I especially like the comparison between the two. I just think it’s unusual for a person to be a fan of both things. Actually I don’t know if “fan” is really the correct term for someone who appreciates Shakespeare?

I’ve never been able to think of anything else and I think it fits my appreciation of Shakespeare at least because the way it manifests itself in much the same way as Doctor Who. I notice similar behaviours across both, like the collecting gene, making lists or developing an opinion about what is and isn’t in the “canon”. I’ve wondered lately what a Shakespeare Convention would be like. Old wags from the RSC turning up to offer anecdotes about their time with the company (“… and when I came out the entire cast of Pericles were wearing eye patches”), fans sitting around in tents watching tenth generation copies of some Old Vic performance recorded from the back of the stalls, tables filled with National Theatre programmes and other merchandising.

I apologize for the length of the quote, though I note that it is actually a relatively small part of the entire very extensive interview. I’ve thought from time to time about explaining why Doctor Who is serious adult entertainment—yes, you heard me right, all you jackanapes who call it a children’s show—through Shakespeare. This discussion encourages me to do so, although I’m not going to try until we’re close to the end of our traversal of Shakespeare. I hope we will ge there before Feeling Listless celebrates its fifteenth anniversary, but meanwhile let’s join in a shout of


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