Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Phasers to stun - Shatner at 80
Today William Shatner celebrates his eightieth birthday. The first time I saw him I wasn't sure I wanted to. I had two favourite shows as a kid - Lost In Space (check out Series One before it got stupid - ooo scary, well it was for a ten year old) and Dr Who, which most people say they watched from behind the sofa. I watched it sitting on the sofa, and lapped it up. So, when the BBC announcer told me that was the end of the series and next week I could join the crew of the USS Enterprise on their space adventures I was less than impressed - until I saw it. Star Trek opened up a new world of story telling. Phasers, photon torpedoes, the transporter room. There were Green women, Blue women, a race of all Blonde women - all in short skirts. All the men had their trousers tucked into their boots - hmm, where can I get a pair of those boots, I drove my mother crazy, Clarks didn't do them.
And at the centre of all this was the man they called Jim - Captain James Tiberius Kirk. A quip and a smile for the ladies, didn't matter what colour they were he was up for it (the kiss he shared with Uhura was the first interracial smooch ever televised). He had a judo kick or a punch for his enemies - sometimes it was an enormous rock that he'd pluck from the perfectly flat alien ground, using it to crush an alien head. Ouch.
Growing up with the space race and the moon landings Kirk was my hero and by extension Shatner too. His acting style was broad. His - speech - was - quite -odd andthenhe'dsuddenly runallhiswordstogether - and - then - back to - the - staccato - stuff - Bones, Spock, Mr Scott.
He was the man at the centre of the universe, dispensing good old American values to those far flung M class planets whilst swatting away those pesky Russians, sorry Klingons. Gene Roddenbury's Wagon Train to The Stars was just that, a series that stopped off at a new point each week to have adventures, just like the western series before it. Shatner was its heartbeat.
He's also the star of one of my favourite Twilight Zone episodes, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
playing Bob Wilson - no, not the ex Arsenal goalkeeper, that's Bob Primrose Wilson - but a salesman on an airplane for the first time since his breakdown six months before. He spots something on the wing what - is - that - out - there? Every time someone else looks out the window, the thing leaps out of view, so nobody believes Shatner's outlandish claim.
He realizes that his wife is starting to think he needs to go back to the sanitarium, but also, if nothing is done about the thing, it will damage the plane and cause it to crash. He steals a sleeping policeman's gun and - in a fantastic sequence - opens the window marked "Auxiliary Exit" to shoot the gremlin, succeeding despite the fact that he is nearly sucked out of the plane himself. Once the plane has landed, although he is whisked away in a straitjacket. But the final shot reveals evidence of his claims: the unusual damage to the plane's engine —yet to be discovered by mechanics.
I never knew about shows being canceled in those days, Star Trek was repeated ad infinitum, the BBC's planet earth logo mixing through to the stars as Kirk's voice intoned those now classic words "Space, the final frontier...."
Yes, there was TJ Hooker but Bill poured into a uniformed cop's suit didn't look right - it looked like he'd forgotten to say when.
Much better was Boston Legal - and his surprisingly good chat show Shatner's Raw Nerve attempting to probe his guest's most sensitive subjects, quite often capturing celebrities at their most unexpected.
I got to write for him when we did a 'Houseparty' show in New York - but I didn't get to meet him.
Having met some of my heroes who turned out to be less than heroic maybe that was for the best.
So thank you Bill for fifty years of entertainment.
Live a bit longer and prosper.