Doctor Who’s David Tennant talks to Star Trek’s George Takei
Russell T Davies may never have gotten that Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover he wanted on screen, but at last the Tenth Doctor meets Captain Sulu in podcast form. Or rather, David Tennant sits down for a virtual chat with actor George Takei. In this week’s David Tennant Does a Podcast with… the two discuss fame, activism, fathers and life in internment camps. In fact, anyone hoping for an acknowledgement of this as a meeting between two of the biggest science fiction worlds on the planet will be disappointed. As in previous episodes this season, Tennant resists drawing too much on his own experience. He doesn’t throw in parallels with his own life, no matter how obvious. It’s an understandable, and admirably professional, move considering the shift from last year’s gabbing with his colleagues and friends to proper ‘grown up’ interviewing.
So there’s no mutual back-slapping as Tennant (prepare to clutch your pearls) lauds Star Trek as the most successful, enduring and culturally significant SF television show of all time (… and relax). Nor does he interject with insights about the pressures and responsibilities of being the lead actor in such a show. Not even when Takei pokes fun at William Shatner’s insecurities. Instead he allows Takei to retain the spotlight. The former Doctor Who acts more as a facilitator of a potted history of the Japanese-American star’s struggles and victories.
Takei’s formative experiences, interred without trial by his own country at four years old, set him firmly on his course
And without doubt, the eighty-three year old actor has led an extraordinary life so far (“Don’t talk about it in the past tense!” he jokingly pleads with Tennant at one point.) American troops rounded up the four year old Takei and the rest of his family at gunpoint fter Pearl Harbour. He then spent the remainder of World War II behind the barbed wire of an internment camp. At the time embracing it with the innocence of a child (thinking it was nice of the guards to shine a searchlight on him if he had to walk to the outdoor toilet during the night), but later keenly aware of the injustice.
Both his parents were born in the United States, and natural born citizens. Yet their Japanese ancestry caused all their assets to be frozen; their jobs and suburban home lost. And it’s starting from scratch after the war, living in slums, that Takei remembers most vividly.
Not content with symbolizing Roddenberry’s vision on TV, Takei has engaged with politics to try and make it a reality
The experience has left him remarkably unbitter. But imbued with a keen sense of injustice and outrage at the humiliation of it. And also with a passionate belief that America is only as good, moral and just as the people in America choose to make it. His conviction is that the US only works as a participatory democracy. That it’s a place where everyone must actively work to shape it for the better. It’s a theme he returns to time and again. It’s there when he talks about working on the Presidential election campaign of Adlai Stevenson as a young man.
And again when discussing canvassing for the Mayor of LA or running himself for minor political offices. It’s also reflected in his regret for spending so many years in the closet in order to protect his career. And in his righteous fury when then Governor Schwarzenegger, having campaigned as a friend to the LGBT community, vetoed marriage equality. That led to his coming out in the media to campaign for gay rights, and a place in history as he and his now husband Brad became the first couple in West Hollywood to apply for a marriage licence.
A veteran of a thousand interviews over decades, George Takei’s life story is well known, but also well told
There is a sense, though, that we don’t get much fresh insight into George Takei. A few weeks ago, the podcast with Jim Parsons created a small avalanche of news stories, as various media outlets seized on Tennant’s skillful interview with the Big Bang Theory actor for new insights and details about him. This time, however, Takei’s storytelling has the smoothness and rhythms of a well oiled machine. The Star Trek star’s been telling some of these anecdotes at conventions for almost half a century, after all. But, rarely for him, Tennant doesn’t quite manage to dig much deeper than those convention appearances. But for those unfamiliar with Takei’s story, it’s a well told journey through 20th century America’s duality. From the shameful treatment of its own citizens to the hope and optimism Gene Roddenberry wanted to inspire with Star Trek.
A new expanded edition of Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy was published this weeks, and available from Amazon.
David Tennant Does a Podcast with… Dame Judi Dench. In a return to more familiar territory, the Doctor Who star chats with a fellow actor he’s worked with on previous projects. And it promises to be a raucous affair.