Tag Archives: Doctor Who


I hadn’t realized last night/this morning that today, 22 November, is Terry Gilliam’s birthday, so please join me in wishing him many happy returns–and a couple (“many” is too much to hope for) projects that actually get completed.

22 November 1963 is the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, an event that has receded into ancient history even though for years its memory was as traumatic as that of Sepember 11. It is also the day before the premiere of Doctor Who, so I’ll mark that anniversary here. Yes, I am already waiting for the Christmas special.

Welcome Bardfilm to the Blogroll

I guess I’m late to discover Bardfilm, which as its name implies is about all aspects of Shakespeare and film, but it’s well worth calling to your attention. I found it because of this post–three clips (perhaps the only three clips) of the legendary 1970 Peter Brook production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And in case that weren’t enough, it had me ( you knew this was coming) with an equally rare attraction, a clip from Doctor Who in which the First Doctor and his first companions (Barbara and Ian–and Susan!) eavesdrop on the conversation in which Elizabeth I suggests that Shakespeare write just a little more about Falstaff (with a guest appearance by Francis Bacon).

This excellent site bears watching as we draw closer to the release date of a certain extravaganza calculated, as James Shapiro says, to give us all headaches. . . .

Matt Smith Hath Murdered Sleep?

You can hardly ask me to forbear passing this item on; yet more evidence of the intimate connection between Shakespeare and Doctor Who, although I’m pretty sure somebody is taking the piss, as the Brits say—a lochful of it. Of course Karen Gillan wants to play Lady Macbeth—she’s Scottish! Matt Smith I’m not so sure about. He has done serious stage work, but unlike his predecessor he’s not a Shakespearean and he and Gillan have a powerful, mutually teasing chemistry in interviews, so I suspect he’s talking with his tongue so far in his cheek he can barely get the words out.

But consider the possibilities raised here! Macbeth in the TARDIS is simply a nonstarter, for obvious reasons; if there’s one thing the Doctor would never do, it’s murder somebody for his own advantage. But one of the comedies, that’s another matter. The Doctor is duplicated surprisingly often—as recently as two episodes ago—so there’s plenty of room for mistaken identity. I don’t recall him ever cross-dressing, unless you count the Sixth Doctor’s costume, but there’s a first time for everything.

Which of the plays do you think is most adaptable to the Whoniverse?

O to be in England, with Two Productions of Much Ado

[The other day I noted that someone had come here by searching on “Kate Maltby Much Ado.” They must have known I’d already decided to write this post . . . .]

I’d always thought that when Evelyn Waugh died, the species “intelligent conservative” (or “Conservative”) died with him. The Spectator’s Kate Maltby seems bent on changing my mind. She also inspires passionate envy by having seen the two productions of Much Ado About Nothing going on simultaneously in London that she reviews here. If I could get over to see them, rest assured I would.

I doubt that Sir Jonathan Miller shares my enthusiasm. Once upon a time he not only had a sense of humor, he was the cause of laughter in others, as a member of the seminal comedy troupe Beyond the Fringe (whom we will encounter when we discuss the Henry VI plays, of all things). Despite substantial cultural accomplishments since, particularly as an opera director (his staging of Janácek’s Kát’a Kabanová remains one of the greatest opera productions I’ve ever seen; he also directed the 1980s BBC Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew with John Cleese as Petruchio, which we will encounter by and by), he is probably best known these days for bemoaning the casting of “that man from Doctor Who” as Hamlet, overlooking the fact that David Tennant has long been a card-carrying member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, having first appeared in an RSC production in 1996. (While researching this post I discovered that Tennant had responded to Miller; the only thing to say is Touché! I only wish that he had taken the opportunity to deny altogether the distinction between “high” and “low” art rather than just the specific characterization of Doctor Who as “low” and Hamlet as “high.”) Now the TARDIS has landed on Miller’s lawn again, disgorging not only Tennant again but Catherine Tate.

That said, one could argue that Miller has a better case here. Tennant’s Shakespearean chops are well established by now, but I doubt that even Tate would suggest that she was cast for any reason other than her stint on Doctor Who. So to a degree this is the kind of stunt casting I’ve questioned before, and I know perfectly well how much lots of people in the UK are bovvered by her; but she did show talent and, more important for casting purposes, real chemistry with Tennant on Doctor Who. There are worse places for Shakespeare than the TARDIS, and we’ll see far, far worse instances of stunt casting (Alicia Silverstone as the Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost? What was Kenneth Branagh thinking?)

Without having seen either staging, I suspect Maltby’s judgment is pretty much right. Given all I’ve said, the Tennant-Tate Much Ado could scarcely help but be lighter, more pleasing to a summer crowd, and less emotionally intense—“a highly polished comedy expertly designed for box office success,” and it makes perfect sense that that would be at least partly down to Tate’s casting (“Catherine Tate has a great time with the slapstick physical comedy, but she lacks the emotional vulnerability that Eve Best reveals in the same role at the Globe.”) I do think, though, that Much Ado, as the lightest of the major comedies, is far from necessarily ill served by a lighter touch. Featuring Shakespeare’s least competent and least characterized villain in Don John, the play never really makes us believe that Hero’s happiness is endangered, or that Beatrice and Benedick will fail to get together. Maltby is talking about nuances in the relations between Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio that unquestionably deepen the play and its emotional impact but whose absence wouldn’t vitiate it, as she makes clear.

I wonder whether Maltby would accept a comparison between Tennant-Tate and Bringing Up Baby, one of the funniest movies ever made but one that comes up a little short on emotional depth, largely because of Katharine Hepburn’s performance. Similarly, I wonder whether the Globe production is comparable to The Lady Eve, an even greater screwball comedy precisely because the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck makes us believe that Eve really did fall in love with old Hopsy, dammit, and that all her actions follow from her emotional state. In any case, I’d still like to see for myself. Who wants to fly me over to London for the upcoming long Canada Day weekend?

The Big Countdown

With Shakespeare’s birthday and the premiere of Season 6 of Doctor Who just a day away, it’s time to show these two worlds converging yet again! Note that Graham Norton (of whom a little goes a long, long way for me, and there’s more than a little of him here) is using an Arden.