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Bringing cult hero back to life

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1996-05-14 USA Today.jpg


LOS ANGELES -- When a new production of Doctor Who was announced, "it was like the search for Scarlett O'Hara," says Paul McGann, who nabbed the coveted title role.

"Every actor imaginable was mentioned for the part," he says. "Sting, Eric Idle ... even Pamela Anderson Lee."

So when the producers called and asked if McGann was interested, "I thought it was a mistake. Doctor Who is a national British institution, like the Crown Jewels. Why me?"

But the British actor, known for the 1987 cult film Withnail & I, wasn't about to turn down the part of a lifetime.

Doctor Who premiered in England in 1963 and is said to be the longest-running science-fiction series on television. Fox's two-hour movie tonight at 8 ET/PT serves as a pilot for a possible series for next season.

"I grew up with Doctor Who," McGann, 37, says. "At that time, we only had two channels, and there was no choice. The show was so popular nothing of any worth aired against it."

Doctor Who is the story of an alien time traveler who has 13 lives. When one life comes to an end, the Doctor regenerates into another body -- explaining how so many actors have played the character.

William Hartnell was the first, followed by Patrick Troughton in 1966, Jon Pertwee in 1970, Tom Baker in 1974, Peter Davison in 1982, Colin Baker in 1984 and Sylvester McCoy in 1987.

Executive producer Philip Seagal says he hired McGann for his eyes. "That's the secret -- the eyes tell it all. You have to know that this is a guy who, in his heart, is an adventurer, but is also a child. That's the spirit of the Doctor."

McGann is convinced the new show will click because of the force of Who fans who have been out there for so many years.

"Sylvester said to me on the first day, 'You don't understand the magnitude of what you're getting into. This is bigger than Star Trek; it's been around longer, and there are faithful all over the world.' "

After the first night of filming, McGann went into the Doctor Who Web site on the Internet and found fans from Thailand, Australia, Britain and Germany all talking about him. "There were four pages on me, with things I didn't even know about," he says. "I couldn't believe it."

How does he explain the popularity of Doctor Who?

"People identify with the character," he says. "He's a half-alien, but he doesn't zap you from his utility belt. He relies on his wits and thinks on his feet. There's a vulnerability to him that makes him more accessible."

McGann grew up in Liverpool, the brother of four actors who began acting in school. His biggest film to date has been Alien but he says most of his performance ended up on the cutting room floor.

Doctor Who completed filming last summer in Vancouver, British Columbia, and McGann has been taking a break ever since, waiting to find out if Fox will ask him to put back on his time-traveling shoes.

"They'd be foolish not to pick it up," he says. "The audience is waiting for it all over the world with bated breath. I can't see how it can fail."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Graham, Jefferson (1996-05-14). Bringing cult hero back to life. USA Today p. 5D.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Graham, Jefferson. "Bringing cult hero back to life." USA Today [add city] 1996-05-14, 5D. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Graham, Jefferson. "Bringing cult hero back to life." USA Today, edition, sec., 1996-05-14
  • Turabian: Graham, Jefferson. "Bringing cult hero back to life." USA Today, 1996-05-14, section, 5D edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Bringing cult hero back to life | url= | work=USA Today | pages=5D | date=1996-05-14 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 March 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Bringing cult hero back to life | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 March 2023}}</ref>