STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, England — It's Hamlet, but not as we know it.
The Royal Shakespeare Company usually draws genteel, theater-loving crowds to the serene town of Stratford, the playwright's birthplace. It has never seen anything like the fan frenzy surrounding a new production of Hamlet that stars not one but two science fiction icons: David Tennant, hero of the British Broadcasting Corp.'s beloved Doctor Who, and Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Tickets for the sold-out run are trading on the Internet for hundreds of dollars, screaming fans have thronged the stage door after each preview, and management has banned autograph-hunters from bringing TV-themed merchandise to the theater.
All this before critics were to even pass judgment Tuesday night at the show's opening.
"The last thing I lined up for was ET when it came out," said Clayton Doherty, 53, waiting hopefully for a chance to buy last-minute return tickets.
The U.S.-born Stratford resident was there because his 10-year-old daughter is a huge Doctor Who fan. He thought having famous names in the cast made the show "a great introduction" to the theater.
Not everyone is so happy with the decision to cast 37-year-old Tennant as Shakespeare's melancholy Dane. Veteran director Jonathan Miller recently sniffed that the choice of "that man from Doctor Who" was an example of the theater's "obsession with celebrity."
That's not entirely fair. Tennant has an extensive theater background and has appeared in several RSC productions over the past decade. This season he's also playing the less high-profile role of Berowne in the comedy Love's Labour's Lost.
But the gangly Scot has become one of Britain's biggest stars — and gained a cult following across the Atlantic — since joining Doctor Who in 2005 as the title character, a galaxy-hopping Time Lord with a knack for witty banter and for saving the Earth from alien attack. The show is a 45-year-old institution, and its recent season finale drew 10-million viewers in Britain.
Stewart, who plays Hamlet's treacherous uncle Claudius, is known to millions as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. But he is also an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, nominated for a Tony Award this year for his performance in Macbeth on Broadway.