David Warner is one of my favourite actors. He has a refined yet intimidating voice which compliments his remarkable charisma. He has given his talents to many iconic TV and film franchises for over 50 years. You may not immediately know his name but his body of work is so immense and so diverse that you definitely know who he is.
Beginning his career in the 60’s he made a name for himself as Henry VI in William Shakespeare’s War of the Roses Trilogy. For the next three decades he played supporting roles in a string of TV shows and films including two collaborations with Hollywood wild man Sam Peckinpah. After co-starring with Gregory Peck in The Omen (and one of cinema’s greatest death scenes) he was cast as Evil in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. This was followed by another villainous part with an odd name; Master Control Program in Disney’s special effects extravaganza Tron. More sinister roles followed, most notably as the mad scientist Dr. Alfred Necessiter in The Man with Two Brains but in 1989 he given the first of three roles in a long running science fiction franchise.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a dreadful movie. David Warner’s role in this movie as a follower of Vulcan zealot Sybok is utterly forgettable and his talent is completely wasted. Luckily he would be cast twice more in the franchise and finally got to display his excellence. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country he plays Gorkon, Chancellor of the Klingon High Council. It’s a small role but a vital one as Gorkon spearheaded the peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets. Warner’s performance is the first time we saw a calm, almost reserved Klingon personality while retaining the sense of honour and unbridled devotion to his people.
One year later, in an episode of The Next Generation called ‘Chain of Command’, Warner took the part of Gul Madred, a Cardassian officer who oversees the interrogation of Captain Jean Luc Picard. Even though he was only cast at short notice and heavy makeup was involved, Warner gives one of his best performances. As with Gorkon, Madred is understated and severe, only this time he has no noble intentions and is quite sadistic in his torture of Picard. Watching our hero suffer is indeed difficult but also spellbinding, thanks to Warner’s engaging presence and especially, that voice of his.
David Warner’s voice is magnificent. So wonderfully rich and powerful yet with no shred of pomposity. Anything he says, you believe. Warner’s career in voice acting is just as versatile and impressive as his film work. After a few episodes voicing The Duke of Lionsgate in Prince Valiant he landed his most iconic voice acting role; that of Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series. Ra’s Al Ghul is Batman’s most powerful enemy. He has spent over six centuries amassing a clandestine criminal empire and sees himself as a godlike figure. His ultimate goal is to bring peace to the world… by killing off one-third of the population. This was the first time Denny O’Niel’s villain appeared on-screen and he could not have been cast any better. I still get the shivers when he coldly and frankly tells Batman of the astronomical death toll his plan will incur. This brought the character to a wider audience and has been depicted several times since then. For me however, David Warner will always be the definitive Ra’s Al Ghul for me.
Two other voice acting roles in 90’s animated series’ were The Archmage in Disney’s dark fantasy Gargoyles and The Lobe in WB’s surreal comedy Freakazoid! Fans of RPGs may also recognise his voice. He was religeous leader Morpheus in the first installment of the Fallout franchise and the evil John Irenicus in Baldur’s Gate II. Much like his live action work, his voice has been used in a multitude of animated shows like Iron Man, Biker Mice from Mars and The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy. He still continues to provide his chilling vocals to cartoons and audio dramas and even at 75 still sounds incredible.
Even if you never watched a cartoon in your life, his list of credits is so diverse that, by law of averages, you will almost have certainly seen David Warner in something. In David Lynch’s world famous Twin Peaks he played businessman Thomas Eckhardt. When an episode of Lois and Clark needed a Jor-El, Warner was the man chosen for the part. In Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Wallander he played Povel, father of the eponymous police inspector. He was excellent in the Doctor Who episode ‘Cold War’, where he played a Russian scientist with a taste for New Wave pop music. He was also great as Abraham Van Helsing in Penny Dreadful, eschewing the vampire hunter mythos and focusing on the science and expertise.
Until his name appears in the new year’s honours list, David Warner will forever be nerd royalty. From Tron and Star Trek to Batman and Doctor Who, his name and especially voice will be that standard for understated evil. An even greater gift he bestowed upon us is now when we read Batman do battle with Ra’s Al Ghul in the comics it’s his voice, the right voice, we will forever have in our heads.