Posts Tagged ‘Sylvester McCoy’

Sylvester McCoy (2010)

October 9, 2010

Here are some quotes from Sylvester McCoy, talking about life in Dunoon, becoming the Chieftain of the Cowal Highland Games, and his thoughts on Matt Smith and David Tennant:

“I was born in Dunoon, I left here when I was 18. Every year, the Cowal Highland Games was an exciting time in Dunoon. “When I was a little boy I used to climb over the wall and sneak in here without having to pay, to watch all the events. Now I’ve come back, and my penance is I’ve got to be Chieftain.

“As a little boy, Dunoon is a small little insular place. When the games arrived it brought in the whole world, and that was really exciting. God, wow!

“Matt Smith is wonderfully strange. He’s got a great, strange look to him, a great face, and his timing is terrific, his concentration and everything. And he’s very young! I wasn’t mad about the idea of him doing it, but now he’s done it I think he’s done a really good job.

“I watch it. I’ve been working all over the world so I don’t see it always, but I do dip in now and again. Partly out of duty, but I enjoy the duty, especially because of Matt Smith, I like what I’ve seen of him. And David was terrific, you know. I also liked Christopher Eccleston because he was the first real working-class Doctor, I was disappointed in a way that the next one wasn’t equally.

“I would have loved it if someone like Billy Connolly came out, and said [doing Billy impression]: ‘Oh my God, look at that planet, I love it! Bleep bleep bleep, I love it.’ I would have liked more of that, but apart from that it’s good”.

You can read the whole interview here.

Sylvester McCoy (2010)

February 16, 2010

Here’s Sylvester McCoy quoted in ‘The Times’, discussing the idea that late 80’s ‘Doctor Who’ had an anti-Thatcher streak. You can read the full ‘Times’ article here, including some real gems of insanity in the Comments at the bottom of the page, such as the guy who rants against the ‘orchestrated chorus of evil’ that was late-80’s BBC television, and the guy who defends Thatcherism on the basis that Mrs. T had nothing to do with some piers in San Francisco being torn down!

“The idea of bringing politics into ‘Doctor Who’ was deliberate, but we had to do it very quietly and we certainly didn’t shout about it.

“We were a group of politically-motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time, ‘Doctor Who’ used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster that the Doctor hoad encountered. Those who wanted to see the messages saw them, those who didn’t – including one producer – didn’t.”

Sylvester McCoy (1988)

September 28, 2009

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.

John Nathan-Turner (1993)

August 30, 2009

Here’s John Nathan-Turner, probably the most controversial producer in the show’s history, giving a quite wide-ranging interview about the show. He talks about working as a Floor Manager in the Patrick Troughton days, about trying to persuade Peter Davison to stay on for a fourth series, and about the real reasons for the Colin Baker era’s troubles.

Q: Going back to ‘The Space Pirates’, how did you find the production team, the atmosphere, compared to under Barry Letts, who was producer on your second one ‘The Ambassadors of Death’?

A: Well when I first worked on the show it was in the role of Floor Assistant, the most junior member of the production team, basically a kind of glorified Call Boy, my main responsibilities being getting the actors on the set at the right time. And the very first story I worked on was with Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, and subsequently two other stories with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. Now the thing about the role of the Floor Assistant is that you’re working on the floor, you don’t have headphones, you’re not aware of what’s going on upstairs, and certainly it seemed to me that what was going on down on the floor was more fun on the Patrick Troughton show. There was a tremendous atmosphere of naughty schoolboys, almost, with the last Pat Troughton and Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury all goofing around. Being serious for the rehearsals and takes, of course. Now that’s not to say that when it came to working on the Pertwee shows they weren’t fun, they were just not as much fun. I think perhaps the technicalities of the show undoubtedly had become greater. The show had moved into colour, which required greater concentration in those areas. So that’s why my chief memories of the show are of Pat’s era, towards the end of black and white era of ‘Doctor Who’, as being a very fun environment, and Jon’s era being a little more serious from upstairs.

Q: When the BBC gave you the producer’s post in 1979, you’d already proved yourself as a Production Unit Manager on ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and on ‘Doctor Who’ under Graham Williams. Did you know what you wanted to do from the start with ‘Doctor Who’, particularly with the changes to fan consciousness of the show in America?

A: I think if you’re hoping for something to happen, like you’re hoping to take over ‘Doctor Who’ as producer, then you tend to have very very tentative plans indeed, because I think the whole time perhaps you’re expecting disappointment and that it won’t happen. So I’d made only a few initial plans of what I’d do if I got to take over from Graham Williams. It wasn’t until I actually took over that I sat down seriously to appraise what it was that I actually wanted to do. I think it was a case of tempting fate too much, if I’d had an enormous list before I got the job.

Q: Recalling what Pat Troughton told Peter Davison, to not play the Doctor for more than three years, and then recalling the 18th month hiatus, the cancellation in 1989, and all that happened, do you wish you’d got Peter Davison to stay on for a fourth year?

A: Well I did attempt to persuade Peter to stay on after he’d completed three years. I think the decision that the optimum period is three years is one that’s been made subsequent to Peter’s time. I think everyone at the BBC – myself, the head of drama, perhaps even the controller of BBC1 – did attempt to persuade Peter to stay on. If that had happened, I think those questions of ‘What if?’ are very difficult to answer. One thing I know is that I really wish that I had moved on earlier, because I feel to some extent, although every actor who plays the part gets labelled by playing the leading role in the world’s longest-running science-fiction series, I feel that as producer for eleven years it labelled me more than I would like, because I don’t see my future being concerned totally with science-fiction. I actually see my career having a much broader canvas, really, so I think in terms of people moving on maybe I should have moved on earlier.

Q: On the bright side, if you come to the States you always have somewhere to stay.

A: (laughs) That’s true.

Q: Looking at Colin Baker’s era, and the official story that the show was put on hiatus for 18 months because of the excessive violence in his first year, do you wish you could change the violence level, looking back at it?

A: Well I think I have to pick you up there and say I don’t think it’s ever been said that it was taken off for 18 months because it was too violent. I think the real reason was that they needed a certain amount of money by cancelling many programmes – ‘Doctor Who’ was one of them – to establish daytime television on the BBC, and it was an attempt to suddenly demand this money because the BBC wished to pull forward their launch date because the independent companies were pulling forward theirs. So there was a sudden and dramatic attempt to get this money by cancelling a lot of shows, and this was always the reason, or certainly the reason I was always given, as to why it was rested. As for Colin’s contribution, I actually think he got a tremendously raw deal, in that he did one season, then there was the hiatus, then we came back and there were only fourteen episodes and they were in a different format, and then the decision was made to move forward with a new Doctor. So Colin never got a chance to get his teeth into the part. I think most people would agree with me that the first season of virtually every Doctor is really a very tentative one, the actor trying desperately to find a way to play the part, which after all is veyr thinly sketched, and coming to terms with the amount of themselves that has to be injected into the portrayal. So I really feel that Colin, maybe, if there hadn’t been that hiatus, would have got into a slightly higher gear that would have allowed him to mature his portrayal.

Q: He did seem to get screwed, and he did very well with the resources that he had. Was ‘Doctor Who’ put off a bit to make way for ‘Eastenders’?

A: No, I don’t think so. ‘Eastenders’ had been on the cards for a number of years. I think that where ‘Doctor Who’ got involved with ‘Eastenders’ was that after ‘Doctor Who’ was moved from its traditional Saturday slot, each year we’d be on different days. One year it’s be Monday and Wednesday, then another year Monday and Tuesday, and so on, and apart from doubling our audience during this time, which was a significant indication that those early evening drama slots could work, I think that what we were doing was really rehearsing which of the two evenings of the week would be ideal for a soap opera which had yet to be named, which was ‘Eastenders’. And the whole thing has come full circle, because this weekend in Britain there has been a programme celebrating thirty years of ‘Doctor Who’ combining the programme with ‘Eastenders’. The TARDIS arrives in London and gets embroiled with characters from ‘Eastenders’ in a two-part mini-adventure in 3D, a very exciting technology that I don’t think we’ve seen the end of. The story has all five living Doctors, twelve companions, a multitude of characters from ‘Eastenders’, and a multitude of monsters, something like twenty different monsters. And in a way there’s a certain irony that we were once rehearsing the slot for ‘Eastenders’, which by the way has just become the most popular programme in Britain, in positions one and two, it’s finally beaten ‘Coronation Street’.

Q: Fans want to know if the selection of Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush was because the BBC wanted to keep the show on track when it returned, because she was popular from ‘Crackerjack’, or was it more a matter of calming down the front office from the BBC’s point of view?

A: You’ve got a lot of mis-information there. Bonnie was never on ‘Crackerjack’, which was a programme that was cancelled when ‘Doctor Who’ was rested in 1985, and ‘Crackerjack’ never came back. I don’t think Bonnie was ever involved in that. I cast Bonnie, it was my idea, I thought she was right for the part. I also thought that bringing in someone who already had a name, as a companion, would help with publicity, to refresh people’s memory and to help with that. It was not a popular decision with many of the fans in Britain, but I think you have to keep that in perspective. Fans with a big ‘f’ who are members of the DWAS in Britain total 2,500 people, and over the years, for example when we were doing two episodes a week and getting ten million viewers, I think you have to keep the views of the Fans in context.

Q: I was speaking to Sophie Aldred, and she said that she didn’t originally audition for the role of a companion. She said she auditioned for Chris Clough, then went to you for approval, then back to Chris Clough and found out that you had just selected her in a way that required no test readings or auditions whatsoever. And she said that she owes her career success to you.

A: Well it was a weird situation in a way, because at the end of that season there were two stories both of which featured a possible ongoing character. There was a young girl in ‘Dragonfire’ and a young girl in ‘Delta and the Bannermen’, and the script editor Andrew Cartmel and I couldn’t  decide which story should end the season, and consequently the casting of these two young girls involved my office in a very major way because whichever one went out last would possibly hold the key to staying on in the show as a companion. But I’m delighted that it was Ace. I certainly don’t think that Sophie was right for the other part. I’m not saying she couldn’t have played it, but I think she was much righter for Ace, and I think the combination of Ace with Doctor number seven, Sylvester McCoy, is probably one of the most successful in the show’s history.

Q: How do you know if that chemistry will exist?

A: If you could bottle that kind of chemistry, you’d be the next multi-millionaire. I think it’s very much a kind of instinctive chemistry that happens between two people who are working together and something additional gels in front of the camera. It’s something that I think was particularly applaudable in the work that Sophie and Sylvester did.

Q: Onto the ‘New Adventures’ books, do you like the novels and their treatment of the characters?

A: I have to confess that I have limited knowledge of those novels and their characters. Not being the resident producer of ‘Doctor Who’, although I’ve just guested on this Children in Need thing, I find some of the things that have developed that I’ve read slightly odd, you know, but then I’m a sweet old-fashioned thing hankering after my old days. I think it’s right that the show should develop, and I’m not knocking what Peter Darvill-Evans does with the books, and I think it needs to go forward in order to be successful. The development of characters, situations, the whole premise of the show, I think it would be infinitely preferable if it happened on television rather than in the novels first.

Q: Sophie Aldred said that she didn’t like seeing Ace as a warmonger in the books, she wanted her to be a pacifist, but she said that she hadn’t actually read the books. I take it a lot of people from the show don’t know how the books have developed things?

A: Unfortunately not had the time, I guess.

Q: Your participation with the video releases, after the cancellation, did that help to convince the BBC that they didn’t really need to make new stories? That they could just make a buck with rehashed old stories.

A: Well, I think that’s a very simplistic view, if I may say so. I think inevitably there’s a buck to be made, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to see that the buck is going to run out pretty soon. In the UK, they release twelve complete stories each year, plus three specials, and that’s a hell of a lot of material. They’ve been doing it for a number of years, and I don’t think it’ll be long before those video releases run out. I know you get them slightly slower in the States, so they’ll hang on longer, but I really don’t think that anyone thinks it’s a substitute for making new product.

Q: When the show comes back, how would you like to see it?

A: I’ve said in print and in a docuumentary that goes out tonight in the UK that I see this ‘Children in Need’ thing as my absolute farewell to ‘Doctor Who’. Although it’s only twelve minutes, it has brought together every living Doctor, all of them in costume, all of them recording new material that’s specific to this rather than using material that was left over from a junked story, and it’s brought back so many of the companions and so many of my old team that I really feel that it’s the end of ‘Doctor Who’ for me. What it needs for the future is a new team with new ideas and a whole new aegis of taking the show forward into the next century.

Sylvester McCoy (1996)

August 25, 2009

In this 1996 interview (you can hear the original here), Sylvester McCoy discusses the Paul McGann TV movie, British theatre and the reasons why the show was cancelled back in 1989, as well as his thoughts on ‘Search Out Science’ and ‘Dimensions in Time’.

Q: What’s your opinion of British theatre? Do you think British theatre deserves a lot more credit than it gets at the moment?

A: Well, yes, I mean it’s the perennial cry, British theatre is, in Britain, very successful in its own terms, and much loved. It depends on which government’s in power, it’s a bit like PBS over here. If you’ve got Republicans in power, goodbye PBS; if you’ve got Democrats, they might be able to scrape a little money together to keep it going. It’s the same with theatre in Britain, although because we have this long and wonderful tradition with theatre, they haven’t killed it off and they never will, really.

Q: What’s more difficult to do, classical Greek tragedy or panto?

A: Well they’re not difficult, I mean if acting is difficult then they’re all difficult, but if it’s not… They all require different skills. So pantomime you give as much, you have to give energy, high energy, because you’ve got to directly entertain the audience, you can’t relax. You need many skills to do it, it’s not an easy thing to do. When you’re doing tragedy or more concentrated theatre, the skills there are deep concentration and communication, being able to tell the story. But both… I don’t differentiate between the great classics, which I’ve been lucky to do, and the pantomimes, which I suppose a lot of people in the US think of pantomime as Marcel Marceau, but in England…

Q: More like ‘Oh no he isn’t’, ‘Oh yes he is’?

A: Yes. A whole different skill’s involved.

Q: Do you think William Shakespeare’s resurrected British film, with Kenneth Branagh?

A: Well I suppose if William Shakespeare were alive he’d be working out here as a hack in Hollywood. It’s wonderful that Kenneth Branagh, well it’s Kenneth Branagh who’s helped to revive the British film industry, a bit. Again, with a change of government and a bit of sensible tax adjustments, as they’ve done in Ireland, we’d have a very good film industry. The problem is because we’re an English-speaking country we have to compete with other English-speaking countries that make films, and one of those is Hollywood. So it needs help. I think most likely in Hollywood help is given in tax breaks to people, but they don’t do that in Britain at all. We’re not playing on a level field.

Q: Speaking of doing great things on low budgets, what are your thoughts on continuing to work with people like Bill Baggs and Nick Briggs?

A: Well yes, I was very pleased, Sophie was the one who advised me to go and work with them, because she’s done them before. The first one I did, more because it meant working with Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker and Peter Davison, I just wanted to have at least worked with a few of the other Doctors. That was the main reason I did that. Then the second time, the chance to play such an interesting villain, because he starts off not as a villain and then develops. So just in purely selfish terms, the parts were really nice that I was given.

Q: Speaking of traditions and other Doctors, tell me about Paul McGann?

A: Well Paul McGann has been a friend, I’ve known him for quite a few years, he’s a marvellous actor. What he’ll bring to it is a sense of danger, he has a wonderful sense of danger. As a film actor, he’s a bit like Laurence Olivier, in the sense that when you went to see Olivier you were never quite sure what he was going to do it. I mean, he might just explode in front of you into something amazing, and Paul McGann’s got that, like any minute now something amazing might happen, something terrible might happen. And he’s very good at comedy, he can jump back and forth. So I think he’ll be a very good actor to play Dr. Who because of those facets, he’s got lots of things he can play around with.

Q: How does it feel to pass the baton? Your Doctor’s been around longer than Tom Baker’s.

A: Well I’m absolutely delighted to be involved in this transformation, because it finished for me about six years ago and I carried on doing whatever I’ve been doing for the rest of the time, having a merry time, and I’ve had a merry time. I gave up being the Doctor. I mean I enjoyed the conventions and the other side of the ‘Doctor Who’ world, or should I say universe, so when the phone call came I was delighted to learn that it was being revived. Because I’ve got to know a lot of fans and I know it’s what they want. And for purely selfish reasons, it’ll revive interest in the earlier Doctors. So I think it’s a very good thing. So I with delight and great pride pass on the baton to a great actor who I think will be marvellous. I think I’m blessed that the other actors gave up with sadness – apart from Peter Davison – but I get to pass the baton in this way, and in such an exotic location.

Q: With things like ‘Search Out Science’ and ‘Dimensions in Time’, did you feel it was a case of the BBC leading the fans on, saying ‘We’ll bring the Doctor out when it’s convenient for us’, until about six months ago?

A: Not really, no. I mean the BBC’s a vast organisation, and within there were people who were trying to keep it alive, and I think what they were doing was trying to keep it going. It wasn’t any kind of Machiavellian plan by the people at the top. I’m a great believer in the cock-up theory, the reason why ‘Doctor Who’ finished was it was a complete cock-up by management, so those things that you mentioned weren’t in any devious way, someone just thought ‘It’d be good to have the Doctor doing this’, and I think the one we did for ‘Children in Need’ they thought might revive interest in the show within the BBC, but it didn’t.

Richard Briers (2009)

August 16, 2009

This is a collection of quotes from Richard Briers, taken as a trascript from his appearance at a ‘Doctor Who’ convention in 2009.

On ‘Torchwood’:

“I’ve only seen ‘Torchwood’ once and I didn’t realise what an incredibly successful show it was. I was at a party and someone said ‘Oh my son thinks the world of you’ and I said ‘Thank you very much’, thinking he meant ‘The Good Life’, you know, and he said ‘No, no, Torchwood’ and I thought ‘Blimey, I’ve done it again, I’m famous again’. That was very impressive, that ‘Torchwood’… but I find that at my age now, I’m seventy-five, in one year I had three parts, one was in intensive care, one where I was dying, and then one where I played a ghost, I was dead! So I thought ‘Someone’s trying to tell me something, I’m too bloody old’. All my parts are lying down and dying.”

On the rehearsals for ‘Paradise Towers’:

“(John Nathan-Turner) was looking at me in a funny old-fashioned way, we were rehearsing it, and I thought this guy I was playing wanted to rule the world and is completely mad. So that’s the way I was playing it. And he (JNT) was looking at me and looking at me, and I thought ‘He doesn’t seem to like me very much’. In the end the director, who’d had a chat with him, came to me and said ‘He’s very worried about you’, I said ‘I know, I got the vibes. What’s wrong?’, and he said ‘He thinks you’re over-playing it’. I said ‘Oh, I thought it was that kind of a part. I don’t see how you can underplay Adolf Hitler, if you want to rule the world you can’t be very subtle about it’. He said ‘No, he’s very worried about it’. But my sidekick said ‘Never mind what he says, you do it your way, it’s very funny’ and I said ‘Okay’ and in fact you know I think I nearly lost the job. I think he thought I was sending it up, but I was just simply over-acting.”

On Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant and the new series:

“He (McCoy) had just started, he was another new one. They were all middle-aged, and he was a younger one, wasn’t he? And then they got the child on board about two years ago (Tennant), and I thought ‘Well, I don’t know whether I like this guy’, I like my Dr. Who to be a mad professor, middle-aged or an old boy, or potty like Tom Baker. And here was this very pretty guy, I thought, but he’s so talented, he was brilliant. I mean it’s a different thing now, isn’t it? The special effects are so amazing, it’s very gripping. It’s brilliant. The production’s wonderful now.”

Peter Purves (2006)

August 7, 2009

Another interview about the early years of the show, this time it’s Peter Purves talking to Mark Ayres about William Hartnell, who was apparently a fan of curries! Purves obviously got on well with Hartnell and sheds some light on his ‘irascibility’; it’s also notable that Purves is very knowledgeable about not only ‘Doctor Who’ but British TV and acting in general. This is another transcript, from an interview conducted by Mark Ayres that you can find here.

Q: ‘The Savages’ was your swansong as Steven, and also the last of your missing stories, coincidentally. How do you look back on your time as Steven?

A: More fondly as time has gone by. When I left… I was unhappy to leave it, actually, I didn’t particularly want it to stop there, but the policy of the programme had changed and they’d decided that they were not going to keep the companions onboard for longer than a year, or so I understand. In fact I think they did the same with Jackie as they did with me, they didn’t keep her much longer, I think she only did one more serial after I left, and I think Michael Craze who took over from me only did a year, but then Frazer came and I think he stayed much longer, I think he stayed about three years, something like that.

But now I remember it quite fondly. The things that I didn’t like about it, when I’ve more recently gone to the occasional convention – as you well know, I don’t like them, I don’t go to very many, in fact I’m not going to go to any more, I’ve finally determined that I can’t be bothered to be honest, it sounds awful but I just don’t like looking backwards all that much. But I have seen a number of clips that I hadn’t like when I made them, and I’ve seen them since and thought “Oh, that wasn’t so bad”. In particular ‘The Gunfighters’, which I always hated, deep down I had this sort of passionate dislike for it. I really hated it when we made it, I don’t know why, because now when I’ve seen it, it really is quite good, it has some things, it’s got a certain charm, it’s very quirky, it’s very odd.

But in general I have some very fond memories of the show, I mean I loved the people that I worked with, some very nice people, nice directors. Bill, I got on with like a dream, I was one of the few people who seemed… I loved Jackie, I thought she was splended, I loved Maureen O’Brien, directors like Dougie Camfield, I mean really nice people, so yes, I think “fondly” is probably the fairest way of describing it. And the historical stories were the ones I liked best, we did ‘The Massacre’, which was a wonderful story written by John Lucarotti, we did ‘The Myth Makers’ which was based on Troy, these were wonderful historical, or mythical stories. We did the invasion of the Vikings coming in to Northern England, but that was sci-fi as well because that was ‘The Time Meddler’. But the historical ones I liked, the mechanical ones I didn’t, I wasn’t fussed about the gadgets and I wasn’t fussed about the Daleks and the Mechanoids and so on, they didn’t interest me a great deal.

Q: That’s heresy!

A: Oh, I’m sure! It is heresy, and I’m a heretic.

Q: Talking earlier, you said you were trained in rep, which is just the best training an actor can get.

A: I think it probably was. I didn’t go to drama school, but I was lucky enough to be asked to join a repertory company in the north of England, in Barrow-in-Furness.

Q: And it stood you in good stead, I’d imagine, for ‘Doctor Who’, which was pretty much round the year, wasn’t it?

A: It was. I can’t remember how many weeks off we had, maybe ten, but it was a weekly thing, I did 44 episodes, so that’s eight weeks off in the year.

Q: A bit like a weekly rep in itself.

A: In itself it was, but only half an hour long. Plays could be as long as two hours. Then you really could struggle, it depended how big the part was. It was comparatively easy for me in that respect, but it was a new medium for me, I’d done a few television plays, I’d played bit parts in all the series that people got involved with back in the 60’s, you know ‘Z Cars’, ‘Red Cap’, ‘Court Martial’, ‘Gideon’s Way’, ‘The Saint’, you played in all those here and there, ‘Z Cars’ was the big one. I even did an episode of ‘World of Wooster’ with Ian Carmichael, that was about 1964, something frightening like that.

Q: I’d have thought that stood you in good stead for ‘Blue Peter’.

A: Certainly. ‘Blue Peter’ we did live, without an autocue, half an hour a week, ten past five, full rehearsed, vision mixer cutting on words, it was scary stuff, we had to be very precise.

Q: So as a work experience you look back on it with a great deal of affection, obviously.

A: Oh yeah, and when you consider, there were only three channels, and BBC2 hadn’t been going that long, and if you got a job in a regular series you were a very lucky person. I’ve always considered myself to be a lucky person in that respect. I’m not saying I don’t feel I deserved the part, and again following on with ‘Blue Peter’ and ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Crufts’ and all these things that have been part of my life, but again I’ve always felt that I was lucky and it wasn’t a god-given right. Maybe I was good enough, I like to believe I was, but no it’s a tough old business to succeed in so if you get your head above the parapet you’ve not done too badly.

Q: Looking back on ‘The Savages’ a little bit, did you think that was a fitting leaving for Steven?

A: Oh, I loved it. Chris Barry directed it, and Christopher was an absolutely lovely man – is a lovely man – and I thoroughly enjoyed working on that one. I always thought it gave the opportunity for Steven to come back, I always thought it would be rather nice if they did a follow-up serial at some point where the TARDIS comes back to the planet where Steven was left in charge and he’d really screwed it up. Gone egomaniac, whatever, just gone way over the top and, you know, been a very bad Emperor, King, I can’t remember what they left me there as, I was definitely the boss man. Anyway, I thought it could be really funny if he’d screwed up the lives of the people there and the Doctor had to come and put it all right, that could have been a good thing.

I haven’t done any proper acting in years. I’d love to.

Q: I was going to say, have you been tempted?

A: I’ve been tempted, but no-one offers. It’s just one of those things, and if someone offered me a part, I’d take it. But it just doesn’t happen. I’m known as myself, and I’ve had a very nice and successful career. I’ve presented all these different shows, and I’m proud to have done that. I presented all the BBC’s darts coverage for about seven years, and odd little bits. We did a show called ‘Driver of the Year’ for three years, very interesting series, it’s never really varied. But the acting career hasn’t really been there, but of course going away and doing a short tour of something tends not to be as lucrative as doing a bit of telly, so one tends to do the telly. But as I say, if I was offered some acting, I’d seriously consider it.

Q: Tell me about William Hartnell. You got on with him very well.

A: Oh, I got on with him extremely well. He liked me immensely, I don’t know why, but he was very generous to me, always gave me little acting tips. He’d been around a long time, had Bill, and he’d had some successes and some failures, very honest about things that had worked for him and things that hadn’t and invariably he, you know, I think he just enjoyed the company, and at lunchtime when we broke and he’d take me over to Bertorelli’s for lunch, invariably he would pay. My wife and I repaid him at the time, you know, we used to invite him round for a curry or something, he liked his Indian food as well. But he was just very friendly and nice with me, he confided in me, he told me the things he was happy with, the things he wasn’t happy with. I watched him being truly irascible with so many people, and think “Oh Bill, please no”. It wasn’t my place to say “I don’t think you should do that, Bill”, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly, if he felt that people were not up to the level required, or not doing the job seriously or properly then he would get at them.

The problem was at this time he was not terribly well. He was reaching a point where his memory was going as well, so he was making mistakes and that made him even more angry, he hated the fact, he knew he was making mistakes and he didn’t like it. So there were reasons behind the cussedness and the awkwardness. There were one or two directors he got on with so well, I mean he always loved Dougie Camfield, he thought Dougie was one of the greatest directors and he may well have been. And he got on extremely well with Paddy Russell, who directed ‘The Massacre’, but he could be awkward, I watched him being awkward. He stepped out of line many times but he stepped in line a lot of times.

Q: He’d done some terrific work, I mean ‘Brighton Rock’…

A: He was a great actor, no question. I mean he created definitive characters. His sergeant in ‘Carry On Sergeant’, those sort of comedy roles. And funnily enough he didn’t have the greatest sense of humour in that respect, he wasn’t a comedy actor, but he was an actor who played comedy with truth, and so it was funny, it worked. I had a lot of time for Bill. He did ‘This Sporting Life’, wonderful part, which he claimed got him the part in ‘Doctor Who’, Sydney Newman suggested… I think he auditioned several times for it, or was seen several times for it before he got the part. But it was actually his performance in ‘This Sporting Life’ that won them over.

Q: You were saying about his irascibility, that he wasn’t very well and he was making mistakes. It’s interesting, I think, that he turns that into part of his character, the irascibility, you can actually see it sometimes.

A: I think that’s true. I think more than anything, though, the quirkiness, the sort of “Hmm hmm”, all these little bits that no-one would have ever scripted, were him thinking, trying to work out where to go next. But it was all part of a character, it was consistent, I just think it got a little bit more, a little bit less controlled, as he became less able to remember his lines properly.

Q: But he did define that character.

A: For me he’s the only Doctor. Isn’t that awful? I mean, far better actors than he have played it, but for me that was the character, the original character was the Doctor and it’ll never be anyone else for me. Patrick Troughton I think is probably a far finer actor than Bill ever was, but because he followed Bill directly, for me he could never really be the Doctor. And Jon was just a totally different character, Jon Pertwee, whom I knew very well, I was a friend of his, and I enjoyed some of what he did as the Doctor, but he was never the Doctor. And the same with Colin Baker, I directed him, very nice, we got on extremely well, but again that’s not the Doctor. The nearest, for me, is Sylvester, Sylvester McCoy, he has that total quirky oddness about him.

Q: A slight dangerousness to the performance as well.

A: Yes. Yeah, well that’s true, I mean Sylvester came through the Ken Campbell school of acting and that way, if it’s not dangerous it’s not worth doing, which I suppose is a very interesting way of looking at things. That’s possibly why I see him in a similar sort of vein.

Q: You have to remember William Hartnell, he laid the foundations for a character that, 43 years later, is still going stronger than ever.

A: I just find that remarkable, I mean none of us had any idea. Although when I joined it had done 80 episodes, I did 44, so 120-odd episodes it had done by the time I left the serial, and that was in 1966. Scary.

Sylvester McCoy & John Nathan-Turner (1987)

August 7, 2009

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.