Here in America, if called upon to ponder the phenomenon of the science fiction fan subculture, with its wacky conventions jam-packed with “cosplaying” True Believers, most of us would probably think first of Star Trek and Star Wars. But as anyone could tell you who has a member or two within his or her circle of family and friends, there’s no fandom quite so rabid as the Doctor Who fandom.
An institution in the UK since 1963, it took a while for the time-traveling Doctor to get under the skin of the North American viewing public. A few episodes of the BBC show began to appear on US television circa 1972, but only in limited markets. They were often shown out of sequence, or bizarrely edited into “omnibus” viewing marathons in a misguided effort to bring audiences unfamiliar with the basic premise up to speed.
So it isn’t all that surprising that, until the show was revived in Britain in 2005 after a 15-year hiatus, coinciding with the rise of cable and the decline of network TV in the US, Doctor Who fandom was just sort of a cult thing on these shores. Boy, has that changed! Nowadays it seems like half the people one meets are ardent Whovians, whether closeted or out. And the show’s trademark gadgets, characters and catchphrases have become widely recognized cultural memes even in America. A phone box is never just a phone box anymore (and I’m not talking about it being Superman’s on-the-road dressing room).
One member of the generation who grew up on Doctor Who in the UK was a Scottish boy named David McDonald who, according to his parents, informed them at the age of three that he was going to become an actor just so he could embody the Time Lord someday. He went on to play his first role with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1996, and borrowed a new last name from a member of the Pet Shop Boys when he discovered that there was already another member with his name in Actors’ Equity. But for all the classical theatre training that he was getting, David Tennant never stopped being a devout Whovian, grabbing whatever roles he could in Doctor Who spinoff productions for radio.
Then, in 2005, he became an internationally recognized star – first for his role as the villain Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; then his lifetime dream was realized as he was selected to succeed Christopher Eccleston as the Tenth Doctor. His tenure as the Time Lord lasted five years and was immensely popular, with Doctor Who Magazine readers voting Tennant the “Best Doctor” ever. He even married one of his co-stars.
So whatever happened to that serious acting career, that Shakespeare stuff? Well, Tennant rejoined the RSC and has remained actively involved with the troupe since 2008; he even became a member of its Board of Directors in 2012. His latest role was Richard II, the beleaguered York monarch whose overthrow by his upstart Lancaster cousin Henry Bolingbroke sets off what are now remembered as the Wars of the Roses.
A performance of this recent RSC production of Richard II, directed by Gregory Doran and originally broadcast live on the BBC on November 13, 2013, is the first in a new series called Live from Stratford-upon-Avon that will receive encore screenings in selected cinemas across the US. The Rosendale Theatre will serve as one of these hosts, showing William Shakespeare’s Richard II starring David Tennant at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 27 and again at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29. Tickets cost $12 general admission, $10 for members.
Who will show up: Shakespeareans, Whovians? Some of both, most likely. Sounds like an interestingly mixed crowd – but then, that’s what one can always expect at the Rosendale. As the Tenth Doctor is wont to exclaim, “Allons-y!”
Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II starring David Tennant, Sunday, April 27, 2 p.m., Tuesday, April 29, 7:15 p.m., $12/$10, Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-8989, https://rosendaletheatre.org.