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Doctor McCoy on stage

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Star tours, answers questions about 'Doctor Who'

"One of the joys of being The Doctor," Sylvester McCoy told fans July 10 in Wisconsin in his Scots accent, "is travel. But I didn't realize I'd visit the planet America so often."

McCoy is the seventh actor to play The Doctor in the BBC's science-fiction series Doctor Who. The series is the longest-running prime-time drama in the world, first broadcast Nov. 23, 1963.

The Doctor is an alien, and — when the first actor could no longer play the role — the concept was introduced that he could "regenerate" his body when it wore out. Thus, a new actor could take on the same role — and the personality of the central figure would alter as a "result" of the regeneration.

McCoy won the role following Colin Baker's departure. McCoy is in the midst of filming the 24th season of Doctor Who — and came to Green Bay, Wis., as a part of the Celebration and Tour sponsored by Lionheart (the American arm of the BBC) and PBS.

He had just finished working on the third episode of his first season. Wednesday, he had finished filming in Wales; he had appeared with the "Doctor Who Celebration and Tour" in one Midwestern city; and he was in Green Bay by Friday evening to talk with fans at a banquet preceding a Saturday convention.

Sunday, he flew back to England to resume filming on Monday.

Asked what he thought of America, he replied, "Gosh, is it big!" He continued, "I like it. I like it very much."

McCoy described Colin Baker's leaving the show, "You heard there was a little row at the end." He paused. "I wouldn't call it little. There was a falling out between the BBC and Colin."

Since Baker would not appear in a regeneration scene, in which the character would turn from his Doctor into McCoy's Doctor, the problem of doing such a scene was handled using McCoy alone. Flung face-down at the opening of the story, he would then be turned over. "I had to dress up in his costume in a silly wig," McCoy said. "I looked like Harpo Marx. There's a flash of my face shown — and I did look surprisingly like Baker for a moment. Then the picture went all funny and when it returned to normal, I was me — much to my horror when I looked in the mirror."

McCoy described himself as "an Anglo-Irish Scot, 5'6" in height, with blue eyes."

His biography included information on his early plans to join the priesthood. Asked about his religious time, he joked, "It's 20 past 6."

His parents were Irish immigrants to Scotland. "Such folk tend to be more nationalistic devoted_ to tradition than the land they came from," he said, adding that it was often the custom for the son of an Irish family to become a priest. "I ended up studying for the priesthood and got housemaid's knee." He was accepted on trial by the Dominican order, "but girls put me off becoming a monk."

He noted that many actors come from the church — a tradition that extended back to the beginnings of theater.

"Actors want to stand up in front. There's a close connection between acting and the clergy."

He became an actor at 27. Prior to that he had worked in London. "I hated it. I was a trainee executive for a company that went bust, and I then became a hippie with long hair, beard, and dangly things.

"I was a hippie who could count, so I joined the box-office of a theater." The box-office work led to his being asked to appear on stage. "Since then, I haven't looked back.

"Now I'm Doctor Who. I've been wanting to be Doctor Who for about six years."

He said that the first time he learned the BBC was looking for an actor to play the part, he heard about the opening too late. This time, his agent approached the BBC in time. (McCoy joked, "It cost a lot of money buying off all those other people.")

Asked how he was going to play the role, McCoy said, "I'll be very sedate. I'm going to be six feet tall, dark, and handsome. That's my fantasy."

The fans laughed appreciatively. Throughout the Green Bay event, Doctor Who fans commented on how much they enjoyed McCoy's humor, Scots accent, and appearance. "He's so cute," was the sentiment often repeated by many of the women in the audience — and it seemed to be generally agreed that the fans regretted McCoy would not be wearing his glasses when he played the role. The regret has been voiced by fans since his first American appearance.

"We did try the idea of having a four-eyed Doctor," McCoy said, adding that glasses with non-reflective lenses were tried. "We decided not to use the glasses, because my eyes can be seen more easily without them."

He was repeatedly asked whether his Doctor would have a scarf. "If I wore a big, long one," he replied, referring to the 14+-foot scarf worn by the fourth Doctor, "I'd fall over it. I'll try to wear a little bit of this and that of what the other Doctors wore before me."

He will wear a paisley scarf which will hang around his neck to about his waist. He'll have a panama hat with a turned-up brim and carry several watches, including a fob watch. He'll have a linen jacket "with pockets full of things" and a waistcoat with question marks on it. His trousers will be tweed, and he'll wear two-tone shoes. (The shoes he wore in Green Bay looked like part of a costume. They were high-topped, lace-up shoes —size 61/2 boys — in multi-colored leather, but they had been handcrafted for him and were, he said, extremely comfortable. "I sleep with these on.")

His distinctive accessory will be an umbrella, "my trademark. I think. It looks like a normal umbrella, but its handle is a red question mark, with the spokes where the dot is. I hope it sells and I get some of the money for it."

In the first story, "I have Colin's umbrella. That gets destroyed. In the second story, I carry an ordinary umbrella. Then I get mine."

He described several bits of business with the umbrella that will occur in his first season. "I end up in one story hanging by it. The episodes often have cliffhanger endings, and i end up literally hanging off a cliff by the umbrella."

The Doctor's age when McCoy assumes the role is 950.

Asked which of the six preceding Doctors had been his favorite, McCoy first hesitated. He commented that all the others were taller than he and he would be intimidated by them, if they met at a convention and he'd picked a different one as his favorite. Then he said, "You always like the first Doctor you see." He paused. "So you'll all be sad for years."

(Since McCoy's Doctor replaces all the Doctors seen by Doctor Who fans, they won't be seeing their favorite Doctor, under those circumstances.)

"The Doctors are all the same person. We're not the same person; he is." He said he had begun watching the show when he was about 20. "The stories appealed to many adults, even then. They were related to current events and commented on them. Pat Troughton is the first one I watched, so he's my favorite."

He does not, however, claim to be any sort of expert on the show. "I'm learning all the time from Whovians in America."

McCoy mentioned reading John Mortimer's Paradise Postponed and does not follow science-fiction novels. "I must confess I've never really read science fiction very much. I guess I should get into it, so I'll understand what I'm doing in the TARDIS."

If stories on Doctor Who were to follow his interests, "My personal wish would be to go back in time to examine was what history said actually what happened. I've said that to the producer, but he says the historical stories aren't wildly popular ."

He has met Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison (previous Doctors Three and Five). He met Pertwee ("I've always been a fan of Jon Pertwee!") at the Atlanta appearance where McCoy was first introduced to the public. "Monday morning I was named The Doctor; Thursday I was in Atlanta. I've been in Atlanta, Washington, Boston, Champaign-Urbana (Ill.), Portland, Me. — I've been in America a lot for the length of time I've been a Doctor.

"I met Peter Davison at the BBC, where he was doing another series of All Creatures Great and Small." That new series is currently in production.

How will McCoy play the part?

"I tend to be a bit joky, but I won't turn the series into a comedy half-hour."

At another point in a question-and-answer session, he amplified that statement. "I do take The Doctor very seriously, when there are serious moments in the show. I'll be more Keatonesque, Chaplinesque, Troughtonesque — and now you can 'esk' another question."

What does he see as The Doctor's most important quality?

"His love of humanity."

McCoy's theatrical background is varied. At one point he did a comedy turn which involved putting a ferret down his trousers. He also played the spoons. He has appeared in a variety of plays. "I played Festi in Twelfth Night twice. Lots of people play it as a sad clown; I played it as an angry man who can make people laugh. He's funny on stage but he's an unhappy, miserable man, singing songs about his past." McCoy said he drew the performance from a number of excellent comedians he knew who were bitter in their private lives.

He also appeared with the Welsh National Opera. "We did Benjamin Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream. Puck speaks to music, and I was Puck. It's great to be paid to stand on stage and be sung to by the greatest voices in the country."

Most of his television work has been done on children's programs. "It stretches you. Doctor Who stretches you, because of the type of character it is.

"I think I enjoy every part I play."

Asked how long he planned to play The Doctor, he said he planned on three years. "If I survive that long, I'll be reviewing the situation. Because of what happened to Colin, you become aware it might change."

He is married and has two sons, Sam and Joe; one is 9 and one is 11.

A fan asked, "Are they Doctor Who fans?

McCoy shot back, "They are now."

One questioner even asked him to name his favorite beer. ("I'm not a beer drinker; I'm a wino.")

His first season as The Doctor is currently in production and will consist of 14 episodes telling four stories.

The first stars Kate O'Mara returning as The Rani (a character introduced in Colin Baker's fourth story, "The Mark of the Rani"). "The Rani will return — delectable, wonderful Kate O'Mara." He said O'Mara had written to the BBC to say she missed working there and was offered the new story.

Another new story will feature monsters; their name sounded like "Tetraps." "They're a cross between a bat and an ape and they have four eyes — they're really nasty creatures."

He said he felt sorry for the actors who dressed as the monsters, which had to hang upside down on the overheated set in costume. "When they took the costume heads off, they just dripped out of them."

One story is set in 1959 and has rock 'n' roll and Teddy Boys as plot elements. "Squat, wriggly creatures come to an Earth amusement park for a vacation."

Once the season's filming ends, his work will go on.

"When I've finished my stint at the end of August, I'll go on to the theater. The play finishes in April at the National Theater —just in time for me to do the next season of Doctor Who."

No story in his first season features Daleks (his favorite old monsters) or his nemesis, The Master. When the topic of the robot dog K-9 was raised, he said, "K-9's a problem. The actual piece of machinery runs very slowly, so the actors who run with him have to run in slow motion and then get speeded up. Or you have to wait around for this damn dog to catch up with you." He paused. "We might get a cat," he said and laughed.

Pertwee's Doctor's car, "Bessie," was part of the Tour display. Someone asked McCoy whether he would have a car.

"They haven't said anything about that, he replied. "Remember, Pertwee's Doctor was banished to Earth and needed something to get about in." That is not the situation with McCoy's Doctor. McCoy also said he hasn't been in an episode calling for the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. Asked about eating jelly babies, he asked, "How do you speak after you've eaten a jelly baby?"

And has he learned to fly his spaceship-in-police-box-form, the TARDIS?

"No, no."

Or repaired its chameleon circuit, which would let it blend into its surroundings, instead of looking like a police box?

"I don't think so. I like it as it is now. When it was first thought of [in 1963], police boxes were very common in Great Britain. When children see one now, they point at it and say, 'Look! It's a spaceship!' "

Asked about violence on Doctor Who, McCoy responded, "My thoughts about that are that The Doctor shouldn't ever be violent. One of the earlier Doctors once took a gun out and shot somebody, and I thought that was inappropriate. The Doctor fights mindless violence by using his mind." He used the example of a scene in which, attacked by Tetraps, the Doctor pointed his umbrella at them, pretending it was a weapon. "He beats his foes by wit, by imagination, and not by violence."

He rephrased this later by saying, "I think some of the other Doctors were getting a little violent. The Doctor should get out of problems with wit and art and luck."

One fan asked him whether there would ever be a love interest for The Doctor.

"They say The Doctor is above all that," he replied, smiling. He suggested, however, that fans should watch the third story in his first season. "There's a bit at the end when he is talking with someone who is going to do a species cross." (The character is going to marry an alien.) "The Doctor says, 'I can't condone it, but love has never been known for its rationality.' My delivery of that line is that somewhere — in the deep, dark, distant past of The Doctor — he knew that pain."

His current Companion is Melanie, who first appeared as a Companion in Colin Baker's last season. Melanie is played by Bonnie Langford, and McCoy appeared with her in a run of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance at Drury Lane. "I played Samuel, and she played one of the daughters," he said. "We're old friends; we ended up getting married every day and twice on Saturdays. I've got smaller since then. She says —under threat — she enjoys working with me."

Asked if she was shorter than he, he said, "Is anyone shorter than I? Yes, she's tiny."

He told of one scene in which the cameras, panning across a group of actors, completely missed getting Langford in the picture, because she wasn't tall enough to be included in head shots of the others.

As a new actor joining a television series running since 1963, McCoy is expected by some viewers to make changes in it; he said the changes wouldn't show up immediately.

"I have very little control over the first season," McCoy said. "I gave them some ideas for a little scene here and a little scene there. In the future, they'll talk to me more, but the first four stories [his first season] are a transition period.

"There wasn't enough time to make it be me this year."

He noted, "What the new story editor likes is stories which emphasize the mystery of the character of The Doctor."

Due to the nature of the show, there have been occasional accidents involved in filming over the years. Had any happened to him?

"In 'Delta and the Bannermen,' I was on a rooftop, and charges were exploding around me," he answered. "One went off too early and banged my hand a bit — but that was all."

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who. Would it be celebrated by a special show with all the actors who have appeared on the series as regulars?

"We might get together. In the high echelons of the Who office, they are talking about this sort of thing at this very moment."

Asked about bringing all the Companions together, he asked, "Can you imagine all the young ladies in the TARDIS together?"

He said plans were complicated by the problems of getting some of the actors. "William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton are dead. Tom Baker is not very keen on doing this sort of thing at the moment for some reason. Colin Baker might be dubious for personal reasons. That might change. Who knows?"

Might there someday be another Doctor Who movie? He said he wasn't sure how well it would succeed. "Part of the charm of the show may be that the set shakes."

How about future Doctors following him? (A plot element in some stories has been that there is a limit to the number of times someone of The Doctor's species can regenerate.)

"I think they'll come up with some good idea to keep it going."

Asked how American fans could get to see the new episodes - which should be airing in late fall or early winter - he replied, "It's up to you, the fans, to nag your local stations to carry it."

Caption: Sylvester McCoy poses as he will appear on Doctor Who without his glasses.

Caption: Sylvester McCoy looks at a gift from Wisconsin and — a photo album of scenes of the state.


Friends, family mourn Patrick Troughton

Editors' note: This item has been approved for publication in CBG by Shelagh Troughton.

On Wednesday, April 15, at noon, a wake was held in memory of Patrick Troughton in the Bridge Lounge, BBC Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12.

Members of the immediate family present were brother Robin; sister Molly; sons David and Michael; sons Peter and Mark, and their mother, Bunny; and wife, Shelagh.

Among the 50 or so friends attending the private remembrance were producer Innes Lloyd and young actress Janet Dibley (co-star of Troughton's LWT comedy series, The Two of Us).

Doctor Who was represented by John Nathan-Turner, whose office had coordinated the wake. Anthony Ainley, Nicholas Courtney, Michael Craze, Gary Downie, Janet Fielding, Richard Franklin, Frazer Hines, John Levene, Wendy Padbury, Jon Pertwee, and Lalla Ward.

Food and drinks were served by staff.

On behalf of the family, David Troughton thanked everyone for coming. An anecdote about Troughton's days in the navy, reflecting his independent nature and sense of humor, was related by Innes Lloyd, who then offered a toast in Patrick Troughton's memory. Following that, Robin Troughton made a few remarks equally individual and equally affectionate.

Family members and several remaining friends left by 3 p.m. This was the only official gathering. Pat was cremated in Ga., and his ashes flown back to London.

Shelagh Troughton plans to plant a tree in Pat's memory in "The Woodlands" of Bushy Park, where their labrador dogs run and play daily.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Thompson, Maggie (1987-08-07). Doctor McCoy on stage. Comics Buyer's Guide p. 18.
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