Abracadabra! (We just destroyed capitalism)

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Carey
    January 24, 2014 @ 12:35 am

    Hmm, an interesting entry and, I have to say, a very American view of a British phenomenon. I don't know what the theatre scene is like in the US, but in Britain it is a thriving entity and the visible home of many that would be called stars. And the important thing is that British actors essay big screen roles (whether television or film) to support their theatre work. Hence you have Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart and now David Tennant essaying their names to essentially pay for a theatre career, where the money is lower. And for all that Tennant's fan base is from Doctor Who, he was an up and coming actor before being cast in that role who had appeared in a secondary role in a critically well received tv series (Blackpool) and headlined a role on one of the BBC's minority channels (Casanova). The big two channels had their eyes on him and would have given him a lead role in something that would have made him a household name anyway. It was fortuitous that Christopher Ecclestone left Doctor Who at the same time that Tennant was finishing off his Casanova work and had a direct link with Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner. But had that not occurred, he would have appeared in something, whether it was a police procedural or [spooks].

    Of course, whether that series would have catapulted him into the fame he received with Doctor Who is questionable: but several years later he repeated the trick with Broadchurch.

    (As a side note, and jumping ahead a few years in the narrative, but after Day of the Doctor does anyone else really want the BBC to commission a sitcom starring John Hurt, David Tennant and Matt Smith? Probably a flatshare comedy with Tennant and Smith as brothers and Hurt as their irascible but loveable father?)

    "Sure, it’s very good, but it’s tough to argue that it’s head and shoulders above King Lear or Othello."

    Very true, although in my opinion the most interesting Shakespeare play is The Tempest, primarily because it is the one play that isn't, to anyone's knowledge, based upon any pre-existing text.


  2. Alex Antonijevic
    January 24, 2014 @ 1:56 am

    "a sitcom starring John Hurt, David Tennant and Matt Smith? Probably a flatshare comedy with Tennant and Smith as brothers and Hurt as their irascible but loveable father?"

    I would watch that show. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy should also be recurring guest stars. Their triple act is brilliant.


  3. John Binns
    January 24, 2014 @ 2:54 am

    The thought that occurred to me watching the film version was that, crudely put, Tennant plays both the Doctor and Hamlet as super-bipolar, alternating between manic and depressive phases several times a day.


  4. Prandeamus
    January 24, 2014 @ 2:59 am

    "Love's Labours Lost " or am I just being That Guy?


  5. Prandeamus
    January 24, 2014 @ 3:06 am

    Regarding the "is Hamlet the greatest play" question, although it's artistically meaningless without context, a lot depends on the age of the lead actor. Hamlet is a young man's leading role, Lear very much the older man's role. Othello, following modern sensibilities, is for aspiring Black actors proving themselves. You can no doubt find counterexamples but that's the general perception.


  6. David Anderson
    January 24, 2014 @ 3:34 am

    I saw this in London without David Tennant, on a return ticket. It was an amazing production even without Tennant. I've sat through Shakespeare done much more stodgily that Patrick Stewart's Claudius. (The only part of the production that didn't work was Ophelia's mad scene – I think the current UK tradition is to make mad scenes too fey and zany.)
    But the news that Tennant was doing Hamlet did immediately strike me as fitting.


  7. Nick Smale
    January 24, 2014 @ 3:41 am

    Not only is Stratford a hundred miles and a two-hour train ride outside of London, it’s simply not a very big town

    The RSC is one of the very few "national" arts organisations in the UK based outside of London. In a nation where arts spending in the capital is vastly greater than elsewhere, I think that's something to be valued.


  8. Katherine Sas
    January 24, 2014 @ 3:48 am

    That is a fascinating reading. I will keep this in mind in future viewings – it really does make a heck of a lot of sense.


  9. Spacewarp
    January 24, 2014 @ 5:13 am

    With a postmodernist wink the title almost writes itself: "Doctors in the House". Future series could see them taking a cruise ("Doctors at Sea"), coping with the fairer sex ("Doctors in Love") and of course the one with Colin attempting to lose weight at that old sitcom staple the Health Farm ("Doctors in Distress"). High jinks ensue.


  10. Abigail Brady
    January 24, 2014 @ 6:17 am

    And I know we quite like pretending that market towns in slightly more rural counties are in the middle of nowhere, but you know, it's 20 miles from Coventry and less than an hour from Birmingham by train. People will happily go there of an evening and drive home afterwards – it's no worse than getting home from the wrong side of central London to zone 3 or 4.


  11. Anton B
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:03 am

    Hamlet abridged –
    "I don't want to go…The rest is silence"


  12. Kit
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:11 am

    For one, it’s not like Tennant was a major star prior to Doctor Who. He didn’t have a built-in fanbase,

    Not major, and presumably not any kind of organised fanbase, but I knew several adult women who started watching Who because Tennant was in it.


  13. Anton B
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:12 am

    It's an actor's truism that when one is young enough to play Hamlet one hasn't the experience or understanding to do it justice and when one is old enough to play Lear one hasn't the energy or strength to do it well. As to Othello…hmmm problematic. Should it be, as you say, a role for 'aspiring Black actors proving themselves.' or should it be as open to 'blind casting' as any other role?


  14. Bennett
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:19 am

    "Hamlet dies. He does not regenerate."

    True. But if he did, how awesome would that be?


  15. Anton B
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:19 am

    If it turns out as bad as the recent sitcom starring Jacobi and McKellan I'll pass.

    Anyway surely the humour in those scenes in DotD comes from the fact that they are all the same person with, in fact, the youngest version appearing to be the elder. I don't see how that would work if it was transposed to simply a father and sons relationship. Sorry if I'm just being a humourless pedant.


  16. Daibhid C
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:44 am

    There are some roles where the appearance of the actor is relevant. You wouldn't cast Jeff Goldblum as Tyrion Lannister, for example. A white Othello strikes me as much the same – and obviously blackface is unthinkable these days.

    There are ways to do it; I believe Stewart starred in a version set in an African country, where he was the only white actor.


  17. Daibhid C
    January 24, 2014 @ 7:50 am

    I can vouch for it being less than an hour from Birmingham by train – when we were in Brum for the Discworld Convention last year, Mum said "We've a spare day, do you want to see Shakespeare's house?" So we did. I highly recommend it, by the way, it was fascinating.


  18. Anton B
    January 24, 2014 @ 8:15 am

    Yes I've also seen a 'negative print' version of Othello which worked reasonably well. I take your point about Tyrion however the character of Othello is merely described in the text as a 'Moor' which I believe gives a little leeway in the casting.


  19. David Anderson
    January 24, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

    Iago shouts several insults based on the size of Othello's lips.


  20. encyclops
    January 24, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

    Tennant also adds an energy to Hamlet that is useful for the character. “I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth,” he says, but in far too many productions it becomes impossible to see where any such mirth might have come from in the first place.

    This is a nice observation. I liked this production, but would have appreciated it even more if I'd been looking at Tennant's choices from that angle. I thought Patrick Stewart was pretty tremendous in it as well (that interrogation scene sticks in my mind) and I think you're right that the contrast helps both of them.


  21. Iain Coleman
    January 24, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

    Racial prejudice, and Othello's racial isolation, are so important to the play that it's one occasion where colour-blind casting is a bad idea. That doesn't mean you have to cast it conventionally – the "negative" version is an interesting variation – but you do have to make deliberate racial choices in the casting.


  22. Ed Azad
    January 24, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

    An alternate "End of Time", with Sir Pat Stu as Rassilon, eh?

    Well, you could do worse.


  23. storiteller
    January 24, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

    Until recently, I had only seen Tennant in Doctor Who and a bit of the movie version of Hamlet, which as you point out, he plays in a similar style. Which is why it was so striking and out-of-the-blue to see his performance in Broadchurch, where he's very subdued.


  24. BerserkRL
    January 24, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    Tennant plays both the Doctor and Hamlet as super-bipolar, alternating between manic and depressive phases several times a day

    To be fair, that is pretty much the way Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.


  25. BerserkRL
    January 24, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    What's the best Shakespeare play to showcase a female actor?


  26. AndyRobot800
    January 24, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

    Probably Much Ado About Nothing (Beatrice) or Macbeth (Lady MacB). And, no, I refuse to refer to it as "the Scottish play", because I'm not typing this in a theater, I'm typing it in my apartment, and anyway superstitions are silly.

    I'm gonna have to turn around three times and spit now, aren't I? #ihaveaperformingartsdegreecanyoutell


  27. David Anderson
    January 24, 2014 @ 11:20 pm

    I'd have said As You Like It or Anthony and Cleopatra – Rosalind and Cleopatra are a bit more dominant in their respective plays than Beatrice and Lady Macbeth. But because women weren't allowed on the public stage Shakespeare was working with boy actors. At least one of the boys must have been a brilliant actor but still none of the woman parts get the number of lines of some of the male parts.


  28. Matthew Celestis
    January 25, 2014 @ 1:43 am

    Does colour-blind casting actually occur that much?


  29. Lo-Fi Explosion
    January 25, 2014 @ 4:11 am

    I saw Tennant in Richard II last night (the day the post went up) and his performance was radically different from anything I'd seen him in before. It wasn't his manic charisma performance or his subdued-boy-is-this-teleplay-really-boring-why-does-he-keep-making-these performance, it was, well, neither of those. It was a strange, fairie like performance completely out of step with the rest of the play, emphasising how out of touch his Richard was.


  30. peeeeeeet
    January 25, 2014 @ 7:21 am

    What's the best Shakespeare play to showcase a female actor?

    I'd go with Measure for Measure.


  31. Matthew Blanchette
    January 25, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

    Matthew Celestis, it is apparently a very common thing on the British stage.


  32. Matthew Blanchette
    January 25, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

    …"and flights of angels sing thee to thy–"
    FWOOOSH "Horatio! I still have legs, that's good…"


  33. jkorvin
    January 26, 2014 @ 2:30 am

    Funnily enough I've always had a theory that Stewart was offered Rassilon in the End of Time. I'm sure around the time of the Hamlet production Stewart was dropping hints that he might turn up in Who opposite Tennant. Rassilon would have been the only obvious role for him in '09, but he turned it down for some reason, and they just gave it to the nearest anglo-hollywood actor who was out of work that week.

    Dalton has always struck me as miscast. He would have made a great Omega, but for Rassilon you need an evil wizard, not a posh bruiser.


  34. Matthew Blanchette
    January 26, 2014 @ 7:40 am

    …please don't tell me you only see Dalton as "a posh bruiser" just because he played James Bond. That's just stupid. (And, obviously, you've never seen Hot Fuzz…) 🙁


  35. Alan
    January 26, 2014 @ 10:30 am

    That doesn't mean you have to cast it conventionally – the "negative" version is an interesting variation – but you do have to make deliberate racial choices in the casting.

    Has that been done (Othello with a white lead and the rest of the cast black)? I was about to suggest that and thought I was being clever. I've said for years that I would pay good money to see a stage production of Huckleberry Finn with all the races flipped (young black Huck has to save a white slave named Jim from racist blacks).


  36. Alan
    January 26, 2014 @ 10:32 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  37. Alan
    January 26, 2014 @ 10:34 am

    If you're old enough, you see Dalton as "a posh bruiser" because he played Prince Barin of the Forest People in Flash Gordon.:)

    "Freeze! Bloody Bastards!" as Barin blasts his way into the control room is, to me, still hilarious and wonderful after almost 30 years.


  38. Alan
    January 26, 2014 @ 10:38 am

    And even then, Tom Baker left decidedly after the peak popularity of his Doctor.

    I thought that was an interesting comment given that your entries on Baker's last season discussed at lengths the extent to which Baker's bosses tried to actively undermine his popularity as a way of easing him out the door. Saying that he was "decidedly past his peak in popularity" kind of ignores the fact that his peak in popularity (in terms of ratings) probably came just a year earlier with City of Death, as well as the fact that JNT spent most of Season 18 depriving Baker of opportunities to be charming and likeable, the very source of his popularity.


  39. Iain Coleman
    January 26, 2014 @ 11:53 am


    Yes, with Patrick Stewart as Othello. (And perhaps on other occasions, but that's the best known one.)


  40. jkorvin
    January 26, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

    I wouldn't say I saw him as a 'posh bruiser' just because he played Commander Bond, it just seems to me how he plays the part of the President/Rassilon.

    The Bond connection is interesting because of that scene in which Rassilon executes the one dissenter on the High Council: like a Bond villain.

    Regardless of baggage though, Dalton seems to me to have little idea how to play the legendary President of the Time Lords other than as a public school thug with ideas above his station, which I don't feel's apt. Not his fault: I would say it's tough to get a purchase on the character, as the back-story between him and the Doctor isn't substantial as written. It's not at all clear for me what the personal, emotional stakes are between them. Patrick Stewart might have had more to go on given his then recent experience sparring with Tennant, dramatically. Dalton feels interchangeable with any other Name actor that might have been available, whereas with Stewart the fact of the RSC Hamlet would have given his appearance, and his antagonism to the Doctor, and of course Tennants hesitation to kill him at the end, so much interesting resonance.


  41. Alan
    January 27, 2014 @ 5:20 am

    Canonically, I don't think we know enough about Rassilon to say what his latest regeneration should be like. Certainly, the Giant Floaty Head from The Five Doctors seems very different from Dalton's character (including a ridiculous mustache and what sounded like a German accent). Beyond that though, canon Rassilon is a figure of legend, simultaneously Arthur, Merlin and Mordred rolled into one.

    Anyway, I thought it was a foolish misstep for RTD to even include the single reference to Rassilon's name in End of Time. It was absolutely meaningless to people who weren't fans of Classic DW, but to those of us who recognized the name, the reaction to learning that Rassilon was (1) alive, (2) somehow president of Gallifrey during the Time War, and (3) interested in destroying the whole universe just like Davros the previous series was "Huh? What?!?"


  42. peeeeeeet
    January 27, 2014 @ 6:16 am

    What annoys me is that if you are going to use a name from canon that has resonance for fans but will be meaningless to everyone else, Borusa would have been a much better fit. I mean, Rassilon saw immortality as a curse rather than a blessing, that being the whole point of his previous appearance. Resurrecting him and making him a timewarmonger hugely undermines that.


  43. Ross
    January 27, 2014 @ 8:29 am

    You object to Rassilon turining out to have been woken from his eternal sleep (Arthur-like, to lead Gallifrey in its hour of greatest need) in a story which begins with the Master being resurrected from the well-n-truly-dead via magic?

    (There's a handful of people who maintain that Dalton is actually playing Just Some Time Lord President who's taken "Rassilon" as a sort of regnal name. They're wrong, of course.)

    This characterization of Rassilon seems 100% consistent with his depiction in, say, Zagreus, though I admit that this requires remembering that Zagreus is a thing that happened. But there's loads of references to Rassilon maybe having actually been a genocidal madman in the wilderness years stuff (The one that comes to my mind is Sky Pirates!, provided I am actually remembering this and not making it up.)


  44. jkorvin
    January 27, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

    Never mind the wilderness years, here's the Five Doctors!

    The second doc refers to rumours of the Time Lords rebelling against Rassilon's cruelty. Nothwithstanding the eventual, to fan discourse disappointing, appearance of Rassilon (Marc Platt summed up the mood in '83 calling him a 'Jimmy Edwards lookalike' IIRC), the note that Rassilon is aware of immortalities' curse is supposition by the 1st Doctor, possibly reflecting his ethics more that Rassilon's

    Rassilon wanted rivals for immortality 'out of the way' is more salient. Certainly the hints of rassilons darkness were said by Terrance to be his take on Holmes' vision of the Time Lords as of Deadly Assassin (you know the drill).

    In Assassin Rassilon is precisely ambiguously referenced. The first writer then to tackle the figure was Alan Moore in his back-up strips for Doctor Who Weekly. Here Rassilon appears as a still shadowy figure, physically resembling Moore as an old man, in simple robes, and the character seems wise, cunning, clever and with rather a ruthless streak.

    Alan mentions as a
    " foolish misstep for RTD to even include the single reference to Rassilon's name in End of Time".

    I think the misstep was in delaying the revelation of his identity till the very end – 'back into hell Rassilon' is the line, precisely because it's played as a revelation and for all the reasons Alan suggests it doesn't work. The name is meaningless for most non-fans, so it either feels oddly mispaced to suddenly give the President a funny sounding name, while to fans it is meaningless because the backstory remains totally hidden. It feels like RTD writing himself into a bit of a hole. the dangers of mission creep from council estates to Time Lords in funny hats is underplayed here to some extent, but seems to haunt the central mythic narrative precisely by being very ambiguous. Identifying with the final drama requires not only the abstract threats of the might have been king and his regiment of the couldn't-be-arsed and the ascension of the Time Lords beyond causality, Where's the emotional beef.

    A little mild Doctor-Master shipping provides some emotional content, but the only real acknowledgement Rassilon makes of the Doctor is along the lines of 'might have known you'd turn up too' and some generalised bad guy taunting. It's tricky to play and they do to be fair make a fine fist of suggesting worlds of unspoken backstory in a twitch of the eyebrow.

    It would have been better I think if the character had remained wither an unnamed President or named as Rassilon early on in PArt Two, again because the name for general viewers is incidental.

    I maintain Dalton didn't really work out. Anyone got any advance on Patrick Stewart?


  45. jkorvin
    January 27, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

    Apart from John Hurt, natch.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.