Brainiac On Banjo #034: Niles Caulder’s Doppelgängers

When it comes to the DC Universe streaming series Doom Patrol, the world can be divided up into three groups: those who have never seen it, those who have seen it and hate it, and those who have seen it and love it.

It’s exceptionally weird and based (self-referentially) more upon Grant Morrison’s work on the comics series than the original Arnold Drake / Bob Haney / Bruno Premiani creation. Why not? We’ve got plenty of straight-forward superhero dramas on television. On streaming. Whatever. It is clear to me that everybody gets paid by the number of times Brendan Fraser utters a curse word, and that might upset the uptights. After the pilot episode, there isn’t much nudity or on-screen sex.

But that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write about one of the show’s stars, Timothy Dalton.

We’ve seen many gifted actors specialize in playing heroic fantasy characters ever since Douglas Fairbanks first sold popcorn. Some performers are built for it, others are such on-model character actors that they become typecast. Between 1930 and 1982 Buster Crabbe played a whole lot of them: Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, Captain Gallant, Billy the Kid, and Red Berry.

More recently, Ian McKellen performed as Sherlock Holmes, Gandolf, and Magneto. McKellen also had featured roles in The Shadow, Doctor Who, the 1982 version of the Scarlet Pimpernel (arguably the first costumed hero) and the 21st century Prisoner mini-series. He’s also done an incredible amount of Shakespeare, which, of course, is heroic fantasy but with somewhat less CGI.

I think Timothy Dalton has those guys beat. Ruggedly handsome with a smile and a twinkle in his eye that would melt steel, Dalton has appeared as Sir Malcolm Murray in Penny Dreadful, Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story, Lord President Rassilon in Doctor Who, Allen Pinkerton in American Outlaws, Rhett Butler in the Scarlett mini-series, Nevelle Sinclair in The Rocketeer, Basil St. John in Brenda Starr, Prince Barin in Flash Gordon, and… oh, yes, and as James Bond in a pair of movies that could have been among the best had the scripts been better. And now he plays The Chief, the nexus of the new Doom Patrol series.

I think he wins. For one thing, I left out his Shakespeare credits here as well. He played Clarence Darrow, a real-life hero who was larger than life. He co-starred with Mae West, Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Regis Philbin, Walter Pidgeon and George Raft in Sextette — a movie so strange it makes Metropolis look like a travelogue. Sadly, a great cast does not always make a great movie.

Not a bad CV for a 72 year old guy from Wales.

Even for a performer as versatile and talented as Dalton, his current work as Niles Caulder, a.k.a. The Chief, is quite a stretch. It would be a stretch for Plastic Man (whom he has yet to play) as while the entire Doom Patrol series revolves around him and he is the reason the super-not-hero team exists, he is both hero and villain, both a scientist of exceptional skill and a mystic of undefined power. Caulder is kind, yet violent. He seems to have lived for over 125 years but he’s always the same age, more or less (at times we can carbon-date him by the length of his beard).

The show is about as linear as an LSD trip, and Timothy Dalton fits right in. He commands every scene he’s in while coming off as likable even when he’s quite threatening. Sometimes he’s in a wheelchair, sometimes he’s walking around in the Yukon snow.

Timothy Dalton is just what Doom Patrol needs: an actor who can convince the viewer that playing that charming guy who haunts the plot by popping out from between the movie frames with a smile on his face and a gun in his hand.

It takes the right cast to pull off a show such as Doom Patrol. Just as a compass would misdirect you in an M.C. Escher graphic, Dalton is everywhere in this program, particularly when he’s not to be seen at all.

Yeah. This isn’t your typical Greg Berlanti superhero show, and they tell you that at the very start of the series. But weird doesn’t work without performers who can hold your interest, and the cast of Doom Patrol does a fine job. Timothy Dalton may play the weirdest of the bunch, and that’s fine. He’s got the chops and the gravitas to pull it off.

2 thoughts on “Brainiac On Banjo #034: Niles Caulder’s Doppelgängers

  1. I really like Red Barry, although I think only about seven people know about it today. I haven’t seen IDW exactly rush to put out a second volume of reprints. Maybe someday…