Here’s Sylvester McCoy, back in 1988 when he’d just finished his second season as the Doctor. He talks about working with John Nathan-Turner, about trouble with the fans and about wanting to make a few changes to his costume:
Q: Would you like to write or direct for ‘Doctor Who’?
A: I’d quite like to direct. I’ve directed some plays in theatre, ‘The Fosdyke Saga’ at Contact Theatre in Manchester, and ‘School For Clowns’ for Half Moon. With ‘Doctor Who’, I’ve been able to suggest shots and I’ve written a scene for one of the upcoming shows, ‘Silver Nemesis’. That’s all to do with chess and chess movements with the Cybermen.
Q: Have you done much film work?
A: Not as much as I’d like to have done. I’ve done seven one-hour films for ATV, and I’ve a one-and-a-half hour film for Granada. I also did ‘Dracula’, which was a big cinema film, and something called ‘Three Kinds of Heat’. I’ve done the odd thing, not as much as I’d like to.
Q: You haven’t been cast as the film Doctor, then?
A: No, they haven’t cast anyone yet, so I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I think it’s a great shame, my bank manager things it’s a great shame, and as for my agent…
Q: Why did you change your name to Sylvester McCoy?
A: Well, the name I used at first was Kent Smith, part of a very long name I’ve got. There was another actor in America called Kent Smith, and I always had ambitions beyond my… rights. I thought perhaps I might do something in America, not realising I’d end up doing ‘Doctor Who’. Also, I thought Kent Smith was more of a matinee idol name and I didn’t think I was that kind of actor. I was doing a show called ‘An Evening with Sylvester McCoy, the Human Bomb’, and in it we wanted the audience to believe that McCoy existed, that there was this little man who could do all these amazing stunts. So we printed a programme stating ‘Sylvester McCoy played by Sylvester McCoy’, and it struck, really. I thought it was quite a good name, so I kept it.
Q: Did you watch your first series of ‘Doctor Who’ when it was shown?
A: Well I did bits of it, yes. I was unhappy about going out against ‘Coronation Street’ last year. I found out, talking to some children I was working with, that a lot of parents wouldn’t let their children watch it, because it was up against ‘Coronation Street’.
Q: What’s it like working with John Nathan-Turner?
A: Great. I’ve enjoyed working with him immensely. I know a small, bizarre section of the ‘Doctor Who’ fan club – God knows why they’re fans, really – want to pillory him, or kill him or something. But all the directors, the writers, all the people who’ve worked on the show have said to me quite clearly and off the record how much they’ve enjoyed working with him.
We had a very difficult time with ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ because of the asbestos scare at the BBC – we had to go into this tent at Elstree. The cameras broke down, we had to stop every time a car went by or a bird whistled. Amazing. Alan Wareing, who was under terrible pressure, said ‘John has been wonderful, helpful in every way – he doesn’t get in the way’.
Every now and again, when things get slightly confusing, John might suddenly come up with an idea and get things straight. He’s not one of these guys who comes in all the time and stamps the programme, says you can’t do that, you’ve got to do it my way. Everyone likes him that works with him.
Q: Certainly from our readership, the detractors are in a minority.
A: I know, but they’re such a vocal minority, that’s the problem.
Q: Would you wear your costume out in the streets?
A: Funnily enough, I was doing Shop Aid to raise money for the Terrance Higgins Trust in Covent Garden a couple of Saturdays ago. A couple of million people turned up and they made over a hundred thousand pounds. I was walking back from one of the shops I was supposedly serving in, to the base, in costume, and on the way there I was stopped by an interviewer for ‘The Clothes Show’. He said ‘Now you’ve become a celebrity, Sylvester, does this allow you the luxury and the money to be able to dress as you do?’. He thought my costume was my everyday wear! So yes, I do wear it in the streets. I was quite pleased with the costume because I wanted one that was slightly odd. I’d miss the umbrella if it went, because I invented that, but I think the scarf could be darker, and the hatband too. Perhaps the jacket could be brown. I’d like to change it, but not dramatically.
Q: Did the criticisms of season 24 annoy you?
A: Well it did, in a way. What annoyed me most was the small vocal group of so-called ‘Doctor Who’ fans. They annoyed me immensely. With the press, I expected what they said. The criticism was mixed, very mixed. It started off with ‘Doctor Who? Who is this person?’, and then as the season went on it became more and more sympathetic. Then these fans came out and started this ridiculous attack on John Nathan-Turner and therefore on whoever plays the Doctor as well, so it affects me and that kind of thing turned the press away again.
Q: Did you have any qualms about replacing Colin Baker?
A: I didn’t really have any qualms, because he’d gone and being an actor, we know that we take over other people’s jobs and things change. I didn’t sack Colin Baker. I agree it was unfortunate and unfair, but it had nothing to do with me, there was a job going. And in a sense I’m keeping the ‘Doctor Who’ thing going.
Q: Have you got a favourite villain?
A: I was delighted to work with the Daleks. I didn’t feel I was the Doctor until I had. But I wouldn’t say they were my favourites, really. Don Henderson’s villain, Gavrok, was great fun. Richard Briers was great, and Kate O’Mara. I enjoyed ‘Delta and the Bannermen’, because it was such good fun to make.
Q: Crashing motorbikes and things…
A: Well I wasn’t supposed to crash them. I must watch that season again, because there was that initial thing of ‘My goodness, this is all the first time’ and all that. I couldn’t step back from it and look at it. ‘Dragonfire’ was much more of a traditional ‘Doctor Who’ as well. Funnily enough, I didn’t think it was going to work that well, because it was all set in the studio. I don’t like working in studios any day, I’d rather be outside. That’s why I liked working on ‘Delta’.
Q: Did you find out why you climbed off that cliff at the end of episode one of ‘Dragonfire’?
A: It was a mystery. There was a reason why we did it at the time, I think, but everyone’s forgotten. A simple line would have solved it – perhaps ‘Maybe Glitz has gone this way’, or something.
Q: Ian Briggs said the original idea was to have another corridor running back under the one you’d just come out of. You were supposed to be trying to swing down into it, and got stuck.
A: I think they fell in love with the actual stunt and forgot what it was about.
Q: Does that happen a lot?
A: Falling in love with the stunt? No, I don’t think so.
Q: You’re very secretive in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’.
A: Am I? I’m up to something, there’s a feeling that the Doctor has a deeper mystery, which Andrew Cartmel wants to give him. He felt that, over the years, the Doctor’s become too well known. We know he went to university somewhere, and they’ve invented all sorts of things about him. This time, we want to create the idea that there’s something even more than just the Doctor Not sinister, but slightly more dangerous. We’ve got Who? again – is he a good man or a bad man? I’m not saying we’ve got that far, just brought back the questions. Whether it works or not, we’ll have to wait and see.