David Warner: A Celebration - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

David Warner: A Celebration

When people with a great talent die, there’s a temptation to mourn like family, because their work reached out and touched us, sometimes on multiple occasions and in multiple flavours. But mourning is a privilege and a pain reserved for family. For friends. For loved ones.

When a great actor dies, it still hurts those who revelled in the greatness of their performances, absolutely. But that’s tinged with the wonder at a combination of circumstances that brought them and us together through any of the media in which they played. We shared a planet, for a while, with David Warner. How lucky were we?!

Throughout his career, David Warner could be absolutely relied upon to give you something that above all, caught your interest. That made you sigh with appreciation, or give a little nod, because he’d not only got a thing right, but made it, in addition, interesting on some other level. He was by all accounts too modest a man to go in for deliberate scene-stealing, but every scene you saw or heard that had him in it was just a little bit more special than the scenes without him.

And the thing is, you can pick a random stranger on the street and ask them when they first saw David Warner in something, and the chances are, they’ll be able to tell you distinctly. That was the difference he brought to everything he touched. Whatever the play, the show, the film, you remembered it because it had David Warner in it, and that made it better.

And whether in large roles or small, and across all media, casting directors recognised that David Warner touch. He got to play Hamlet with the RSC at Stratford-upon-Avon and at the Aldwych theatre, London by the time he was 25, and went on to a wide-ranging film career, including: The Thirty-Nine Steps alongside Robert Powell; Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment opposite Vanessa Redgrave; The Omen alongside Gregory Peck; starring with Malcolm McDowell in Time After Time; giving his Bob Cratchit to George C Scott’s Ebenezer Scrooge; with Anthony Quinn in Seven Servants; and of course as part of a cast of absurdly skilled contemporaries, including Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Ian Holm, Ralph Richardson, Peter Vaughan, and Jim Broadbent in Time Bandits.

If you may know a man by the company he keeps, then you can know the calibre of an actor, both in terms of his range of performance and his amiability of nature, by the stars alongside whom he plays. David Warner, in his own way, was as big a star as any of those with whom he played, and in each case we’ve cited, he is highly memorable even alongside other more nominal leads.

And while the range of his skills appeared to know absolutely no limit – whatever you gave him, he would transform into everything you knew you wanted, and something else again that was simply the David Warner effect – it’s no shame to acknowledge that the geeks of the world have many extra reasons to thank their lucky stars for David Warner. That he never scrupled, even with theatrical and Shakespearean bones, to play among the stars in science fiction was the science fiction fan’s great good fortune. And again, whenever he did it, he left stories that might have otherwise flagged with a little David Warner brilliance to lift them and make them interesting simply by what he did with his roles.

Tron, bless it, was mostly a film more interesting for its visuals than its plots or characters. Except when David Warner stepped on screen and made the faintly ridiculous somehow entirely plausible, and then important, and then thrilling. In Star Trek V and VI, he transforms a fairly standard Klingon role into something with subtlety (not easy through the Klingon make-up and given the Klingon culture). It was a lightning he was to re-bottle for Star Trek: The Next Generation on TV in the famous Chain of Command episode, torturing Captain Picard with both physical ordeal and gentle, obliging conversation. Basing his character on the re-educator from George Orwell’s 1984 let Warner tap into both the mundanity of evil and its relentlessness, in a performance that still astounds viewers today.

A lot of TV science fiction franchises were graced with a little David Warner magic here and there – Babylon 5, Lois and Clark (where he was able to step into the shoes of film legend Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father), and Doctor Who, in the Cold War episode alongside Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, to name but three in addition to his Trek expertise. He also added his voice to animated stories for both DC (Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series – a show that also used the voice of Mark Hamill) and Marvel (Dr Herbert Landon in Spider-Man: The Animated Series – a show which also, coincidentally, used the voice of Mark Hamill).

But geeks were nowhere near done with David Warner.

David Warner’s arrival at Big Finish, the company with the license to make audio dramas based on Doctor Who and a whole range of other geeky franchises, was a very good day. From adding his voice to audio adventures of Sapphire and Steel (becoming the audio equivalent of David McCallum), starring as a villain against Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, and joining the Jago & Litefoot franchise, to becoming an ‘Unbound’ or Alternate Universe incarnation of the Doctor himself, and taking on a non-sci-fi role as one half of Shilling and Sixpence alongside Celia Imrie, David Warner’s name in a story meant you were in for a treat, whether he was adding brusqueness, compassion, warmth, bafflement, or charm. David Warner could do all those things and far, far more, and he always delivered in a way that lifted scripts, sense, and other actors up as part of the storytelling whole.

That was probably never more evident than in his role as the Unbound Doctor. He became the only actor of a handful of Unbound incarnations to develop into an ongoing storyline, and shared several box sets of adventures with his real-life partner, Lisa Bowerman, already Doctor Who royalty herself as companion and solo adventurer, Bernice Summerfield, and a highly-skilled director at Big Finish and elsewhere.

In those box sets, David Warner gave us a performance that melded together a lot of the notes he brought to other productions, delineating a coherent incarnation that earned him a particular place in the affections of lots of Doctor Who fans.

The passing of David Warner is, without doubt, the winking out of a bright and powerful star in the acting firmament. Our hearts go out to those who knew him and loved him personally. But for those who knew him first and foremost through his work, the joy remains that we got to share a planet with him for decades, and that his talent was recognised early enough that we were spoiled for choice when it came to finding our favourite David Warner performances.

It’s likely that every single thing in which he played is somebody’s favourite David Warner performance – he was excellent in pretty much everything he did, whether the overall production eventually stood up to his standards or not. Even if the show, or the film, or the audio play, or the theatrical production was ultimately ropey, you knew that if it had a touch of David Warner in it somewhere, it would be hugely better as a result of his presence.

The same is true of our lives.

David Warner, we salute you. Thank you, and good night, sweet prince…

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad