The parallels between John Constantine and a certain other character from British fantasy are becoming unavoidable.
At first I thought it was just my imagination, making me see similarities when none existed. After all, covering both Constantine and Doctor Who for this site, all but side-by-side like this, would pretty much ensure that one of these shows would be on my mind while I was writing about the other. (Actually, that has turned out to be only half true.) But after watching this week's episode of Constantine, I am satisfied that not only is it reasonable for me to notice commonalities between the two shows: it's expected. Below is a ranking of reasons why, from least to most compelling. What does John Constantine have that the Doctor doesn't, and vice versa? That list is dwindling rapidly, and none of the following items is on it.
- An Accent From The British Isles
Despite his status as a nearly-immortal being from beyond the stars, the Doctor has always spoken in a British (or occasionally Scottish) accent. Which is not unusual; according to that show, every other alien race in the cosmos talks the same way, with the exception of the exotic and seldom-encountered species known as Americans. Constantine is a British expatriate, a Liverpudlian played by a Welshman, which would make him stand out stateside even without his habit of gratuitously calling everyone "mate" or "love." In both cases, the deep, authoritative burrs lend much-needed credence to senseless technobabble and new-age hippy-dippy spiritualism, respectively.
- An Attractive Female Companion
The Doctor's longstanding habit of traveling with young hotties is well-documented. Meanwhile, Constantine is still getting used to having new apprentice Zed at his elbow. (Or, given their immediate penchant for close-talking, at his philtrum.) Zed does come with some handy skills, like ASL and divination pre-installed -- unlike most of the Doctor's companions, whose factory-default settings pretty much cover screaming and saying, "What is it?"
- A Dark, Haunting Past
The Doctor first fled from, then destroyed his homeworld, which gave him a big sad for quite some time. Constantine's defining tragedy is on a smaller scale but no less poignant, in that he is responsible for the damnation of a little girl he was trying to save. However, both of them may just have a chance at redeeming the nightmare moment that made them the damaged fuckups they are today. Probably not any time soon, though, because what fun would that be?
- Knowledge Of And Ability To Communicate With Beings Beyond The Ken Of Mere Mortals
Constantine has already demonstrated a knack for a fistful of tongues like Latin, Welsh, and Aramaic, which is handy for dealing with creatures of the underworld. The Doctor didn't even have to study linguistics, because his TARDIS also operates as a universal translator that works for himself, his companions, and we the viewers. The point is that neither Constantine nor the Doctor ever seem to need subtitles.
- A Misbegotten Cinematic Adaptation
I can't seem to stop mentioning the 2005 Constantine movie with the tragically miscast Keanu Reeves. But that was no worse than a mustachioed Peter Cushing playing a character named "Dr. Who" in not one but two movies in the mid-sixties. The major draw of both of these Mad Men-era cash-grabs was showing Dalek robots in color. And neither of them had Tilda Swinton in the cast.
- Higher Beings To Provide Occasional Guidance And Irritation
Much as the Doctor used to find himself waylaid by Time Lords wanting him to run some temporal errand for them (sometimes showing themselves, more often not), Constantine receives occasional visitations from an angel named Manny, whose verbal proclamations are invariably a lot less direct than his golden-eyed stare is. The Doctor doesn't have that problem so much any more (see above), and if Constantine manages to pull off something like that with Heaven itself, I will confess to having underestimated him.
- An Iconoclastic Philosophy Of Fashion And Personal Grooming
Much as the Doctor's conveyance has a busted chameleon circuit, the man himself generally makes little sartorial effort to blend into his surroundings. Constantine's trademark look was explored at length in this space last week, but it wouldn't be out of place on some future Doctor. And I think he and David Tennant's tenth Doctor have the same hairstylist.
- A Wallet-Sized Document That Seems To Change Appearance
Since the 2005 reboot, the Doctor has been equipped with what he calls "psychic paper," an all-purpose fake ID that gets him through guards and bureaucrats the way his sonic screwdriver gets him around technology. It's a far-fetched concept, but in a post-9/11 world, it's more believable than his former ability to simply bluster his way past anyone in a uniform. Meanwhile, in this week's episode, Constantine flashes an enchanted playing card at a nurse who sees valid credentials instead of the nine of diamonds. Maybe Constantine had it first in the comics or maybe he didn't. Either way, it's a brazen move -- not by John Constantine, but by a show that just dropped another thick branch on the back of an already-overladen camel.
- A Seemingly Innocent Yet Distinctive Domicile That Turns Out To Be Larger On The Inside
The Doctor's time-and-space machine is also his home: a vast, book-laden space that from the outside looks like an ordinary, if dated, police box. Constantine operates out of an old mill-house in rural Georgia whose interior dimensions are not as strikingly paradoxical, but still noticeably so. And it's also pretty book-laden. If Constantine starts making it travel around the country, the BBC may well have a copyright infringement case.
In the meantime, it's getting harder every week not to picture Constantine lead Matt Ryan being shortlisted the next time the role of the Doctor goes up for grabs. By that point, he'll have plenty of experience playing him.