One of the advantages of being Generation X—which almost outweighs the fact that you have to call yourself Generation X—is that the people moving into writing and directing positions now are often our age, and are mining our childhoods for reference material.
That’s one of the reasons why Nick and I so enjoy Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and find it amusing when Unicef bombs the Smurf village.
So we’re already conditioned into looking for and delighting in intertextual references.
But that doesn’t quite explain the strange kind of madness that overtook us when we were watching Press Gang and realised that it uses an enormous number of actors who also appeared in Doctor Who.
This wouldn’t have concerned us, if it weren’t for the Steven Moffat connection.
Let’s face it: Nick and I are geeks.
We converse—not quite exclusively, but largely—in quotations from various books, movies, and video games, up to and including lines from WarCraft 2 (largely “Stop poking me!” and “Hi-ho, matey!”).
(Nick has, in fact, just been speaking in an appalling ‘European’ accent, and ended up by saying, “I don’t know why I’m trying to sound like Gunther, the Eurotrash vampire, but Sam and Max is a great game.”)
We’re prone to saying, when faced by events in the real world, “You know, that reminds me of [random episode of random show].”
I could go on, but that would just lead to me explaining how I once said “The geek shall inherit the earth” while I was giving a class on punctuation, and we all know how that story ends.
But the point is that we know how geeks think—which is why we’re not sure that this influx of former Doctor Who actors into a Steven Moffat—run show is entirely coincidental.
Of course, few of the major Press Gang characters have appeared in Doctor Who, if you don’t count Julia Sawalha’s appearance as the companion in the Comic Relief special “The Curse of Fatal Death”—and, since that was written by Moffat, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Apart from Sawalha, there are only two exceptions: Lucy Benjamin, who played Julie Craig—once Head of Graphics, later Deputy Editor—also played the young Nyssa in “Mawdryn Undead” and Angela Bruce—Chrissy Stuart in the first two seasons of Press Gang—was, of course, Brigadier Winifred Bambera in “Battlefield.”
But consider the following list of guest stars, compiled by someone who has finished one major project and not started the next, and therefore has a lot of spare research energy floating around (or, at least, knows the URL for imdb.com).
Michael Jayston, who appeared as Colonel X/John England in “UnXpected”—an episode about a children’s television show that was a strange hybrid of Prisoner and Doctor Who, with a touch of Bond—also played The Valeyard, a shadowy semi-regeneration from between The Doctor’s twelfth and thirteenth regenerations, in “The Trial of a Time Lord.”
Also in “UnXpected,” were Eric Dodson, as Sir Edward, who played the Headman in “The Visitation,” and Brian Glover, as Dr Threeways, who played Griffiths in “Attack of the Cybermen.”
But it gets better, because in the same episode, as the psychiatrist Dr Clipstone, was perhaps the coolest guest star of all time: Michael Sheard. Not only did Sheard play the evil Mr Bronson in Grange Hill as well as once being choked the death by Darth Vader in the best of the three films (what prequels?), The Empire Strikes Back, but he was also in no fewer than six different Doctor Who stories, going back as far as 1966: as the headmaster of Coal Hill High School in “Remembrance of the Daleks,” Margrave in “Castrovalva,” Supervisor Lowe in “The Invisible Enemy,” Laurence Scarman in “Pyramids of Mars,” Dr Summers in “The Mind of Evil,” and Rhos in “The Arc.”
Or perhaps the coolest guest star was David Collings, who appeared in Press Gang as Mr Winters. He doesn’t have quite the Doctor Who credits on his CV that Sheard has, but he was in three episodes: as Vorus in “Revenge of the Cybermen,” as Poul in “Robots of Death,” and as Mawdryn in “Mawdryn Undead.”
Of course, while he was never choked to death by Vader, he was Silver in Sapphire and Steel, which is another degree of geek cool.
Also in “The Invisible Enemy,” as an opthamologist, was Jim McManus, who played Station Master Dutton in the Press Gang episode “Friends Like These.”
And “The Trial of a Time Lord” didn’t just have Michael Jayston—Sam Howard, who appeared as an unnamed “Teacher” in three Press Gang episodes, played Asta in that story.
Even the minor characters frequently appeared in Doctor Who episodes.
Peter Childs, playing the proprietor of a cafe, was also Jack Ward in “The Mark of the Rani.”
Tessa Shaw, who was a librarian in “Picking Up The Pieces,” was a UNIT Officer in “Spearhead from Space.”
Sharon Duce, who played Katherine Hill, was also Control in “Ghost Light”.
Paul Jerrico, a “TV policeman” in “Windfall,” was The Castellan in “Arc of Infinity”—“No, not the mind probe!”
Kevork Malikyan, who was Fahid in “Day Dreams,” was also Kemel Rudkin in “The Wheel in Space.”
Even the younger actors—the ones who haven’t been jobbing in the industry for twenty years—appear in Doctor Who episodes.
Christien Anholt, who was the tragic Donald Cooper in the two-part “The Last Word,” had previously played Perkins in the wonderful “Curse of Fenric.”
And, of course, Gian Sammarco—playing Benjamin Drexil in “Something Terrible,” a train-spotter who wanted a new image but didn’t think to mention that he was a black belt in judo and an accomplished mime—had followed up his role as Adrian Mole with the part of Whizzkid in “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.”
It’s even moving in the other direction, now—Raymond Sawyer, who played Councillor Peter Mayhew in “Breakfast at Czar’s,” recently played the desk sergeant in Moffat’s new-series episode “Blink.”
(And do you think that character name is a coincidence? Or are we supposed to think of Chewbacca?)
But is there any more to this than a strong indication that giving me a blog was not necessarily the wisest move?
But I would like to think that it’s not just coincidence—that, on some level, Steven Moffat is thinking, “Now, who can we get to play this role? I know, there was that guy on Doctor Who once!”