Look, it had to happen some day: Both David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch, those big-eyed British heartthrobs, have officially signed on to play the same guy. That is, Cumberbatch has just signed on to play former KGB spy, turned defector, turned “guy who got very sick, very quickly, and then died of polonium poisoning in the process of trying to expose wrongdoing by the Russian Federal Security Service,” Alexander Litvinenko, in a new show for HBO.
Which is interesting, both on its own merits—Litvinenko, the first person to ever be confirmed to have been killed by polonium-210 poisoning, and a strident critic of Vladimir Putin’s government, is an interesting guy in his own right—and because it puts him on a direct collision course with a similar project, set up at the UK’s ITV, with Tenant in the same role.
Somewhat shockingly, Tennant and Cumberbatch have only ever worked together directly on a single TV or film project: The Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett adaptation Good Omens, on which Tennant stars, and Cumberbatch has a brief voice role. (As the Devil, natch.)
Their careers do have a fair amount of overlap, though, most notably in their shared association with Steven Moffat, who wrote some of the most beloved episodes of Tennant’s Doctor Who run before helping to launch Cumberbatch into global superstardom with Sherlock. (They’re also sort of both MCU alums, although the nebulous canonicity of Netflix’s Marvel shows these days makes Tennant’s tenure on Jessica Jones a bit of a question mark.)
Now, though, it’s apparently time to boot up The Premise Dome for The Battle Of The British Guys Pretending To Die Slowly While Playing A Former Russian Spy. Cumberbatch will play Litvinenko—who wrote two books accusing Putin-controlled security assets of committing acts of terrorism and assassination, before suddenly dying in 2006—in Londongrad, which is being developed at HBO. The project is, per Variety, based on The Terminal Spy, by author Alan Cowell, and is being written by All The Money In The World writer David Scarpa.
Tennant’s project (titled just Litvinenko) was announced back in September, and will reportedly put more of its emphasis on Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, who’s spent the years since his headline-making death campaigning for justice for him. (Margarita Levieva, who recently co-starred on The Deuce, will play her.) The series is being written by Lupin’s George Kay.
No word yet on when either project will see the light of day, but we’ll be genuinely interested to see what the two of them each make of this particular high-profile part.