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Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who!

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Sylvester McCoy was the last actor to portray DR. WHO on the long-running BBC series. Although his adventures may be less familiar to American viewers than those of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker (whose episodes were extensively shown on PBS), he gained higher visibility with his cameo appearance at the beginning of the Fox Network's made-for-television DR WHO movie, and now some of his classic episodes have reached these shores on videotape. Today, McCoy is happy to be part of the history of a show that existed long before he became a part of it. "I knew about it, and I was a fan," he recalled. "I started watching when the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, was in it. I enjoyed it a lot, but then when I started working as an actor, I couldn't really follow it, so I lost the habit of watching. But I was aware of it; it's a national institution in this country. I mean even today, out in Trafalgar square, I was launching the time thing [countdown) for the millennium, because of DR. WHO, ten years after I started doing it."

McCoy landed the role after seeing in the news that the previous actor, Colin Baker, was leaving. "I phoned up my agent and said, `There's an acting job going. Get in touch with the BBC.' And he did. As luck would have it, the next phone call the producer got was from another producer at the BBC, who said, `Listen, I think Sylvester McCoy would make a very good Doctor.' And the producer of DR. WHO said, 'What, are you working for the same agent?' Just by this coincidence, this made the producer interested. I was at that time at the Royal Nation Theatre, playing the Pied Piper, a musical that had been written for me; he came to see that, and it was a very good audition piece for Dr. Who."

As with the other actors in the role, McCoy's interpretation of the Doctor relied somewhat on his own personality. "Well, you have both a little say, and you have the writers trying to write for you," he explained. "The writers, in a way, spend most of their imagination writing for the other characters, because the Doctor is there—he's been created. I supposed it gets its individuality from the fact that they try to employ actors who have got a lot of personality themselves. I mean, other actors haven't got a lot of personality, but that doesn't mean they're not good actors; some of them are stunning actors--chameleons—but in their own life ployed for DOCTOR WHO tended to be larger than life characters—I don't know if I was one, but that's how I tended to view the others, anyway. So they filled the roll of the Doctor, because it was kind of an empty space in the script, apart from the words they had to say, and the actor came along with his personality and filled that space."

This necessitated a certain flamboyance in the performance. "That was one of the ingredients in the Doctor, and in a way that's why the kept changing actors—it gave it an interest, because a new eccentricity would come along."

Still, while bringing something new, McCoy was conscious of the character's history. "I also wanted—because there were six other Doctors before me—to be a multifaceted Doctor myself. If there were any moments that I thought were a Patrick Troughton moment or a John Pertwee moment or a Tom Baker moment or whatever, I would think of that and, in thinking of that, hopefully bring a little of them into that moment. That's why my Doctor was comedic, I think; that was a bit like Patrick Troughton. If he was a bit crabby and bad-tempered sometimes, that was like William Hartnell. Sometimes he was aloof and mysterious; sometimes he was a bit dangerous, like Colin Baker."

Besides a changing personality, each new Doctor also had a different look. Did the actor have any influence over the costume? "Yes, I did," said McCoy. "I actually wore my own hat. I went to see the producer, and my hat was like that. He said, `Oh. I like that.' I said, `Well, if you're going to put the hat in DOCTOR WHO, you've got to have me with it.' So that's how I got the roll: they cast the hat, but I went with the hat!

"That was the beginning of the costume," he continued. "I wanted a Chekovian professor type, and also I wanted big pockets, because I wanted somewhere to keep the script—that's how it came to be. The walking stick was my idea, because I liked the idea of working with a walking stick. The question mark pullover wasn't my idea; that was the producer's. He had to have his say."

By the time McCoy came to the role, the character was a familiar icon, not the object of mystery he had originally been. "So much had been written about The Doctor that a lot of the mystery had disappeared, unlike the original first Doctor, and the second Doctor as well—they were more mysterious characters. So what I wanted to do was bring back that mystery. Luckily, the script editor was of the same mind. The other thing was the first Doctor was slightly more dangerous, in a way, partly because of the mystery, so I wanted to try and bring that back to it—and a slight darkness as well. When you bring mystery, then that can happen—darkness and danger. That's what we were working towards."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Blodrowski, Steve (August 1996). Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who!. Cinefantastique p. 55.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Blodrowski, Steve. "Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who!." Cinefantastique [add city] August 1996, 55. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Blodrowski, Steve. "Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who!." Cinefantastique, edition, sec., August 1996
  • Turabian: Blodrowski, Steve. "Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who!." Cinefantastique, August 1996, section, 55 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who! | url=,_that%27s_who! | work=Cinefantastique | pages=55 | date=August 1996 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 January 2021 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dr. Who? Sylvester McCoy, that's who! | url=,_that%27s_who! | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 January 2021}}</ref>