“Eric, YOU’RE FIRED!”, or The Dungeon Master’s Apprentice
Think about it: a bunch of hapless chancers, likeable to varying and questionable degrees, find themselves trapped in an arcane world, strange and unfamiliar to wholesome ordinary folk, with its own arbitrary rules. They are made to jump through a series of hoops by an odd, often grumpy little man who has the power to send them home on a whim… Theoretically they are working for him and there is some kind of higher purpose, but really he’s just toying with them like a capricious child.
There’s a song by Peaches called ‘Casanova’ on a bonus disc that came with some copies of her first album. The song is about Peaches and her (female) friend Mignon planning a threesome, in which the (male) third party is clearly going to take a passive/submissive role. Calling him the “Casanova” is therefore partly a joke at his expense – he’s not seducing them, in fact the lyrics even imply that he may be on the receiving end of penetration. But it would be foolish to think that Peaches is not aware of the fact that she’s offering certain male listeners a fantasy.
Anyway, I don’t know if Russell T Davies had ever heard the song*, but he clearly had similar ideas in mind when he was writing at least some of his Casanova. His great lover is hardly a great conqueror, instead most of the time Jacko Casanova** just stands there looking very pretty until someone conquers him. In fact he needs to be seduced not only to become a great lover but to be a functional human being at all: as a young boy, he’s mute and fragile until he’s initiated by a strapping (albeit also barely pubescent) girl. The next significant sexual encounter we are told about after that is when Jacko has been trying to court a blandly pretty lady and is instead set upon by her two ‘ugly’ sisters (a far more preferable fate). Now I’m not going to suggest that this is necessarily in and of itself subversive because a) we’re all bored of the word ‘subversive’ and b) the same thing tended to happen to Robin Asquith in the Confessions films, but it is interesting, as is the fact that these examples portray underage sexuality and heavily implied incest respectively in positive terms.
The one time Jacko does any active and successful pursuing is with Bellino***, who is supposedly a castrato. Jacko starts off all cocky and “I can tell she’s a girl unlike the rest of you fools”, but he’s then convinced that Bellino is a boy and forced to admit/realise that it doesn’t really matter, he still totally would. Once he’s accepted this, there’s a great shot of Tennant running towards us (RTD is totally obsessed with shots of people running), light glancing off the waters of Venice behind him as he dizzily rushes towards an unknown sexual future. Only when he’s accepted B as male is he allowed to see B as female (her cock is detachable, giving rise to the best line: “mine doesn’t do that…”). Blah blah gender theory, drag, blah blah fairytale transformations, yada yada Shakespeare – there is room here to complain that it would have been far braver to go the other way in the end and have Bellino really be a castrato (it is a bit “phew, thank God for that!”). But overall I think RTD probably struck the right note, in terms of bringing in what one might call a queer sensibility whilst keeping Jacko basically heterosexual (I almost suspect that RTD might have set himself that constraint, almost as a formalistic challenge).
Of course all of the above would be a bit irrelevant if the lines weren’t great and the look of the whole thing wasn’t lush and shiny and wonderful. My only worry is that the storyline in which Jacko pursues the not-feisty-enough Henriette**** (who is married to evil ReplacementPoshGitFromSpooks) could be much more conventional and boring.
*The other obvious pop comparison for this show is Pulp’s ‘I Spy’, since Davies positions Casanova’s serial shagging as a form of class war – the bit of rough cuckolding nasty posh men – except he’s not that rough at all, he’s yr archetypal mildly effeminate working class dandy, faking it until he makes it, which makes this comparison even more accurate, yay!
**David Tennant, who given the chance will be the best Doctor Who ever.
***Nina Sosanya, finally in something good after somehow managing to leave a positive impression in several people’s minds whilst being in things like Teachers, Nathan Barley, and Love Actually.
****Door from Neverwhere who somewhat disturbingly has not aged, maybe she struck some kind of deal with Teh Endless.