Star Trek: 10 Biggest Takeaways From 'William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill'

Television icon explores a lifetime, his legacy and the final frontier.

William Shatner You Can Call Me Bill Documentary Kirk
Signature Entertainment / CBS Media Ventures

As fans, and perhaps especially as Trek fans, we all develop a parasocial connection of one form or another to the stars on screen. That doesn't mean, however, that we know who they really are. I must admit that I went into this documentary with my own set of preconceived ideas about William Shatner. I came out truly captivated by Bill.

What does William Shatner need with another documentary, you might well ask? He's certainly forged a good part of his prolific career out of the factual programme and currently hosts the docu-series The UnXplained on The History Channel. Shatner has also produced a slew of Star Trek documentaries of which Chaos on the Bridge (2014) is a must-watch, and The Captains (2011) is far better than it gets credit. All of these, however — aside, in part, from Mind Meld: Secrets Behind the Voyage of a Lifetime (2011) — have all been turned outwards, away from William Shatner.

You Can Call Me Bill does the opposite, like never before. It turns the gaze inwards towards Shatner. As the documentary's promotional material describes it, You Can Call Me Bill is "an intimate portrait of William Shatner's personal journey across nine decades of a boldly lived and fully realized life".

Elegantly directed, equal parts witty and profoundly moving, at times irreverent, sometimes self-deprecating, but always sincere, and stripped of all bombast, this, the latest documentary from director Alexandre O. Philippe, a Legion M/Exhibit A Pictures production, is a philosophical trip through the life and career of a legend, although Shatner would no doubt prefer we just call him Bill.

10. By Any Other Name

William Shatner You Can Call Me Bill Documentary Kirk
Signature Entertainment

I have seen William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill several times now. I already have all my notes, everything I need to write this piece, and yet I find myself returning to rewatch. To admit this is not entirely objective of me either — then again, nothing ever is — but recent events in my own life have created an uncanny resonance with the themes and philosophy of You Can Call Me Bill. I'm drawn to it. There is no doubt many others will be too.

There is one name in the title, but the themes of You Can Call Me Bill are as broadly universal as they are individual, and often 'universal' in the sense of 'the universe'. At the same time, no other name could be an effective replacement. The documentary is not just about Bill, it needs Bill, for his candour, his intelligence, his philosophy, and for the uniqueness of his life still living. You Can Call Me Bill is also about Shatner's career, about those other names he is, and yet he is not: You Can Call Me… Kirk, Denny Crane, T.J. Hooker, a Shakespearean actor, an entertainer.

But why this? Why now after previously saying no to a biographical documentary? As Shatner told CinemaBlend's Mick Joest, he had refused in the past because it "seem[ed] so final," but that now,

At this age, maybe it's time […] to put it down on film what I feel […]. What I was doing was telling the honest truth, unadulterated by, 'I wonder what people will think.' So that my family in the years to come will have some kind of legacy from me.

This is personal. By that other name, this is Bill.


Jack Kiely is a writer with a PhD in French and almost certainly an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek.