Sylvester McCoy & John Nathan-Turner (1987)

This is a transcript from a live PBS television interview with Sylvester McCoy and John Nathan-Turner.

Q: We are here tonight to tell people why it is that ‘Doctor Who’ is the great institution that it is, but most particularly on this special night to tell people how it is that you came to be Doctor number seven.

SM: Yes.

Q: How in particular did you come to be Doctor number seven?

SM: Oh yes, I’m sorry, I thought you were going to tell them. How did I become Doctor number seven? Well I heard on the news that Doctor number six was leaving and I asked my agent to get in touch with the BBC and just in case the lady who interviewed me this afternoon from NBC is here, that means the British Broadcasting Corporation. Because a lady interviewed me this afternoon from a television station here and she’d never heard of the BBC, so… I was floored. Anyway, I heard that they were looking for a new Dr. Who, my agent got in touch, I then went to several interviews and I did a screen test and they still asked me to do it.

Q: Now John Nathan-Turner, if we can swing over to you, what is it as a producer that you’re looking for in casting a new Dr. Who, and what was it about Sylvester’s qualities as an actor that caused you to make that decision?

JNT: Well I think each of the Doctors who’ve played the role to date, including Jon who’s sitting on your left, contributed a massive amount of their own personality to the part. I mean, we don’t know an awful lot about the central character of our show, and they have all fleshed out the role in their own inimitable way. So one’s looking for a kind of personality figure combined with a superb actor obviously, and I wanted to heighten the humour in the new seasons so I was looking for a kind of zany eccentric, and I think I found him.

Q: We were interested in particular in your interest in the part, you mentioned you put your agent onto the case when you found out that the role was open.

SM: I didn’t realise you were talking to me, I thought you were asking… Can you ask me that again?

Q: What was it about the part of Dr. Who that caused you to tell your agent this is a part you want to play?

SM: Well I’d been a great fan of ‘Doctor Who’ for years and like any great fan, you know, I’m sure they’d like to play a part and I wanted to. And also when I became an actor a lot of people said to me “You’d make a really good Dr. Who” so adding all that up I decided that’s why I’d like to be Dr. Who.

Q: Now you bring very particular stage experience and television experience to the part. Can you tell people what it is you’ve been doing in the past and you’ve enjoyed doing and you’ll hopefully continue doing in your role as the Doctor?

SM: Well yes I’ve done all sorts but like most British actors, I know in America the actors tend to become too specialised, but in Britain we tend to work a lot in television, and in the theatre and on film. I’ve done quite a lot of Shakespeare, especially the clown roles in Shakespeare, and I’ve done musicals, I’ve been in an opera, I’ve done quite a lot of television as well and a few films, and I think that’s good experience, as well as working in the box office of a theatre, I think that’s very good experience for being an actor.

Q: Now there’s a cute story about how you were discovered when you were working in the box office at the theatre, can you relate that?

SM: Yes, I was working in the Roundhouse theatre in London, collecting tickets, and there was an actor called Brian Murphy, who was in ‘George and Mildred’, ‘Man About the House’, I don’t know if you get that here, he was going through a sticky period in his career, and he was collecting the tickets I was selling and one day a director came in who was starting up a fringe group and he said he wanted someone really mad and Brian said “Well ask the guy in the box office, he’s completely out of his head”, and he came up and asked me, he said “Do you want to join this show?” and I said “Yes, but I’m not an actor”, he said “Well do you want to become an actor”, I said “Well okay” and I went off and joined it. It was quite an illustrious cast, because one of the other founder members was Bob Hoskins, who’s now up for an Oscar, and we worked together on that for about a year before he went off to do greater things. And now I’m here doing great things.

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