a little bit of David Tennant: ‘Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)’
Ah, well, now, when I get to David Tennant’s startling performance in Takin’ Over the Asylum, I’ll get to, as well, a little bit of a discussion about stories about so-called crazy people as the only sane ones among us. But here, in the very first episode of the existential comedy detective series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (which is a remake of a 1960s series), there’s no question about it: Tennant’s character, artist Gordon Stylus, is indisputably a nutter. Which is catnip to an actor like Tennant, and indisputably fun for us to watch.
Here, in Season 1, Episode 1, “Drop Dead,” Tennant plays a sort of Damien Hurst wannabe, or else a not-so-subtle swipe at Hurst himself. Stylus’s art involves chainsaws and frozen urine and casts of his own head, which he invariably cannot help but kiss, in a hilariously artsy kind of intellectual masturbation. He’s prone to declaiming things like “Painting is dead!” and “We have to break down the barriers between sicence and art,” when really all he means is: “Look at me, world! I are awesome!”
Which Tennant is outrageously good at, being so extreme that he’s as intriguing as he is funny.
Randall and Hopkirk are private eyes, and Hopkirk is not yet deceased as the story opens (this being only the very first episode, which will later feature his death, but not yet), when Gordon comes to them and asks them to keep an eye on his wife, Annette. He suspects not an affair (the PIs’ stock in trade being tracking down unfaithful spouses) but that she is suicidal — and he can’t afford to lose her, since she’s his inspiration and all. Tennant is so good at being so self-involved that this seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation. No, wait: He’s such a wicked satire of self-involvement that when it later appears that he’s only been creating an alibi for himself in advance of murdering her, that seems like a perfect reasonable motive.
Actually, the key thing to note about Tennant’s appearance in this series is that he sets the bar so high in its very first episode that I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to keep going. And I tried — I did. For Tom Baker, Tennant’s Doctor Who predecessor, also appears in a regular, recurring role later on, and even he wasn’t enough to keep me interested.
Here’s Tennant with Jessica Hynes (then Jessica Stevenson) as the PIs’ secretary:
She, at this point, was right in the middle of doing Spaced with Simon Pegg, and would, of course, later go on to appear alongside Tennant as Nurse Joan in the Doctor Who episodes “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood,” as well as in the one-off movie Learners (which I’ll get to covering soon).
And here’s Steve Pemberton (from “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”) and Mark Gatiss (who wrote “The Idiot’s Lantern” and appeared in “The Lazarus Experiment”) as a couple of coppers:
They don’t appear onscreen with Tennant, but it’s interesting to note how many familiar faces keep showing up in Tennant’s work. He’s part of a whole new generation of young British talent that keeps going round in circles to work with one another again and again.
Not suitable for:
• anyone who doesn’t think that the wearing of baseball caps, gorilla-fur coats, or wedding dresses can be an appropriate — and hilarious — sign of mental instability
David Tennant checklist:
• Scottish accent: yes
• big hair: middling
• nudity: no
• women who can’t stand to be kissed by him: yes
• sex: no
• do you want to have sex with him: no
• cigar smoking/wine swilling: yes
Thanks to reader Martha, who lent me her DVD set of the series.
[part of my series “summer of David Tennant and ‘Hamlet’: Part Deux” series]