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Sylvester McCoy is back playing the doctor, but this time it's a manic surgeon in Arsenic And Old Lace rather than TV's timelord of old. VIV HARDWICK talks to the Scottish actor about his role at Newcastle and the new Doctor Who

SOMEHOW Sylvester McCoy will never escape the world of the Doctor.

The actor who closed the flimsy Tardis door on the old-style TV Doctor Who in 1989 is materialising in the North-East next week as a manic medical man in a revival of Arsenic And Old Lace. The famous black comedy, which inspired the 1944 film with Cary Grant, stars McCoy as wacky plastic surgeon Doctor Einstein - a role made famous in the movie by Peter Lorre.

As the farce about two elderly spinster sisters bumping off lonely old gentlemen prepares to play Newcastle's Tyne Theatre, the Scottish actor says of his involvement: "I saw the film years ago and enjoyed it and the chance to work with Angela Thorne and Bridgit Forsyth. . . we were the first three to be cast. Sometimes these things don't work out, but we have a cast with no weak links in it."

On the fact that stage productions of Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse's adaptation of Joseph Kesselring's thriller are rarely seen, he adds: "The principle reason is that the play requires a large cast. It might be done a lot by amateur companies but in commercial terms it's a large cast which is another delight. People are applauding and they see this line of actors and they feel they've got their money's worth."

So what is the effect of Peter Lorre's performance on his portrayal of Doctor Einstein?

"Peter Lorre has had a wonderful effect on me. It's very difficult not to use Lorre-isms throughout because the lines are 'Charlie-Charlie' and 'Easy, Johnny Easy' (using McCoy's best Lorre impersonation) and I tried to fight against it but then I thought 'I'm just going to go for it' because it's a delight for me to go out on stage and create a homage to Peter Lorre."

He's particularly looking forward to making his debut at Newcastle's highly-prized Victorian Tyne Theatre. When I observe that the Tyne is probably starting to show it's age these days, he quips "Well, so am I."

But having been reminded he is in fact a Timelord who can never grow older in the eyes of millions of fans, he talks about the current reincarnation of Doctor Who.

McCoy says: "I saw the first episode and it was absolutely terrific. I just thought it was stunning and I was full of envy and I wish I'd had the writers and the money when I was making my episodes. The performances of Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper were out of this world."

McCoy doesn't even have criticism of the BBC scriptwriters ignoring the traditional "regeneration" scene - possibly from one- off Doctor Who Paul McGann to Ecclestone. He says:

"When I did the Canadian-American film with Paul McGann I thought the big mistake was having me in it because it made it complicated for a new audience to work out what was going on. The only way you can do that is to have Doctor Who running in a continuous form and my scene just seemed to confuse the American viewers. They suddenly got this Doctor, they quite liked him, and then he changed into another one and they didn't quite know why. I think they were very wise to introduce Christopher Ecclestone differently because they had so much to say in the first episode anyway."

McCoy dubbed his successor as "a favourite Doctor to a new generation. . . he's quite quirky and quite mad".

The Dunoon, Argyl, born actor denies a rumour he was disappointed about being voted No 4 in a recent poll of Doctor Who fans.

"The thing is, there's no doubt that Tom Baker is everyone's favourite and he's one of mine - Patrick Troughton being the other - but Patrick wasn't above me and Peter Davidson was because that is more to do with him being on TV a lot. These voting things don't have a real meaning because each generation loves its own Doctor."

McCoy has a lively career spanning TV, theatre and film in equal proportions. His eccentric characters have included The Pied Piper and Buster Keaton and only the Iraq War stopped him playing Widow Twanky in Aladdin for US audiences in Minneapolis in 2003.

He's touring Arsenic And Old Lace until the end of June, having begun the rehearsals straight after panto in Guildford. So McCoy will be spending the summer sailing in the Adriatic before discussing an, as yet, unnamed TV project about newspaper reporters.

"The project came out of a small budget film I shot with Danny Dyer (star of football hooligans movie The Firm) who is an up and coming Cockney actor. Everyone who has seen it says we're a great double act.

The working title of the film is Vanilla Envelope but I think that may change, " he explains.

McCoy's sleazy local Battersea newspaper hack plays against the rising stardom of former colleague "done good" Dyer who is now on a national title. The original plot involved the Battersea ripper and high profile corruption and producers now hope to bring this double act to the small screen.

"There's a whole wonderful lot of storylines to be mined from the world of newspapers, " he explains.

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