As a new Seventh Doctor comic releases today, it seemed like a good time to share with you all the chat that I had at the recent MCM London Comic Con with the man himself, Sylvester McCoy.
I started my chat with Sylvester McCoy by asking him if I could record the conversation, and it started going down an unexpected path pretty early on…
(as I slipped my recorder onto the table in front of him)
Look at this little thing coming in.. I don’t know whether they’re characters in a science fiction film, or real…
I know, it’s wonderful. I’m not real either. I’m a hologram.
That’s going to make asking you questions really tough!
I’m a hologram. If I’d have become the Pope I’d have been a holy-gram. I did actually train to be a priest, you know. When you go into a business you head for the top.
So, I have to ask how did you go from training to be a priest to being a Time Lord?
Well its not too big a jump really, because I mean the reason why I wanted to be a priest, at the time it was thought for deep religious reasons but it wasn’t, it was because I liked the costumes! And the fact that you could stand on a stage and you had a captive audience so, you know, there’s a hint there that perhaps I might want to be an actor. So then I became an actor and then I got Dr Who, and then other things.
The rest is history
Obviously you’ve been in the public eye for quite a long time, with Dr Who and later The Hobbit, how have you found that fandom has changed in that time, and how have you found that the people that like your work have changed in that time?
Well fandom has changed, as far as Dr Who is concerned, when I did it, it was principally men and boys, you know there were a few girls but not many, it was just men and boys. Then suddenly when they got in those younger, more handsome doctors there came girls, lots more girls which, you know, that’s a bonus! I shouldn’t really curse them but no, that’s a big change, and it’s fascinating because visually, people wore costumes in those days, and then when the young guys arrived suddenly there are all these girls and they’re all wearing dresses of TARDISs and Daleks and you know, using their imagination and it’s just wonderful really. We didn’t have that when I started it was all very serious science fiction.
On the back of that, the Doctor him/herself is now a woman, how do you feel about that?
Fine, it’s fascinating and interesting and I’ve had – someone has told me a secret today, they’ve seen a few scenes, and he said that she hits it out of the ballpark – fingers crossed!
Because the thing is, she’s got to keep it alive, so that I can go to these conventions, all over the world, and sign things and be loved and adored! Its her job, to do that for me!
And she thought it was just an acting job…
Yes well, she thought she was doing it for herself and her agent and the bank manager… but no! No. There’s a whole pile of us on her back!
Do you find that you get more people wanting to ask you about Dr Who, or wanting to ask you about other things that you’ve worked on? People that approach you at conventions or for photos and what not?
Well mostly it’s Dr Who and fifty-fifty with The Hobbit, but a couple of times people have stopped me and said that they loved me in Still Game, which I don’t think that anyone knows, I hardly even knew I was in it, its happened a few times this weekend. It happens up north, they’re more into Still Game, it’s a Scottish comedy series if you don’t know it, but in Glasgow I am only famous for one thing, a half an hour in Still Game. Nobody comes up to me in Glasgow as says “eh, I love your Dr Who” or “I hate your Dr Who, here’s a Glasgow kiss”, they don’t do that, it’s just “Archie in Still Game, I love it”, well you know… it’s kind of weird now and again.
It’s always delightful as an actor when someone comes up and says, “oh I saw your King Lear”, not my King Lear, it was Ian McKellan’s King Lear, I was his fool, and I like that, when people come up and talk about other things that I’ve done.
So, out of all the things that you have done, and all the things that you could do, what is your favourite thing that you have done, and what is the one thing that you would like to do?
Well, the thing about being an actor is that you tend to, you’re not a very loyal lover. You fall in love with the part that you’re doing while you’re doing it, and then you move on to another one, and you, you tend to be loving the part that you’re doing that moment, really.
I mean at the moment I’m in love with the Old Man of Hoy, which is in Sense8, I don’t know if you’ve seen Sense8, so I’ve just finished doing that for the final film that’s coming out in June. I enjoyed that immensely.
It was great playing the Fool to King Lear, because the Fool normally – well I just heard recently that they’d asked Roy Hudd, who’s a great comic actor for those that don’t know, to be the Fool on the ones that’s coming out on the BBC, and Roy Hudd came along to do the Fool because it’s supposed to be a clown, and he looked at it and said “I can’t do this, there’s nothing funny in it!”, and when I did it I found the humour in it. I’m not saying that as a negative against Roy Hudd, because most of the Fools that have ever been played have not been funny, because in a way, it’s not written that way, but I tried to get humour in it. Because then when the sadness and tragedy comes along, the contrast is much sharper. I think it deepens that part of it. So I was quite proud of that.
What I want to do is play Quasimodo. I’d love to, partly because he hasn’t got many lines, and he’s the headline name in it and he swings about on bells, you know, and gets the hump.
Apparently Idris Elba is about to make a Hunchback film
Oh is he? Maybe I could apply for the hump?
It was reported he was going to star in it himself, so maybe you should just nudge him off and jump in and take the part?
No, no, I’ll apply for the hump, I’ll get my agent on to that!
Going back to Dr Who, you played the seventh Doctor and now we are up to number thirteen, did you have any sense that it was going to be such a cultural sensation for so long?
No, not really, I was completely ignorant when I took over the role, I hadn’t seen it for years, I saw it in the Sixties you know, Patrick Troughton was my Doctor I suppose, and a bit of John Pertwee and thing like that, and Tom Baker. But then I’d lost complete touch, so I had no idea! What shocked me was that when I went to the photoshoot, I was expecting The Guardian or the Times Literary Supplement – I don’t know why – and it was The Sun and The Mirror, and all the you know, and I thought “ooh, this is weird”, because I didn’t know it was that kind of success. When it first came out it was rather highly respected, you know, with a kind of seriousness about it. It was about science, it’s job was to encourage children to get into science, and suddenly it has become this big showbusiness thing, so that shocked me, a bit.
When it finished, when they took it off – when I killed it off! – I thought that was it really, it must be the end of it. Fifty-five years it is, next year? It’s amazing isn’t it? Quite extraordinary.
It’s great, because I still carry on being the Doctor was well, because of Big Finish, the audio versions of it, and that’s, um, all of us are privileged, the 20th Century Doctors are privileged to do it, and record it and keep our Doctors alive.
Thinking about that mixture of tragedy and comedy, that you were talking about in King Lear, my sense is that actually Dr Who can also be very dark, as much as its about wonder and science and companionship. Do you feel like that has changed over time, or has it always been that way?
Well, the thing it is, I’m told, my Doctor brought all that dark and mystery back, and sadness. Moffat once told me that was what was my Doctor was. He said before that it had got cartoon-like, not in a negative, you know, cartoon-like is good, but then I came along and, um, changed it, because I knew nothing about I, I was ignorant, and because of that I didn’t have the weight of the past on my shoulders.
So I looked at it and the couple of episodes it did it was comedic, because I’m comedic, and you know, Chaplin-esque and that kind of stuff but then I thought no, there’s more to this, and also I thought there was too much known about him so I wanted to bring back the mystery, of the first Doctors, so we worked at that, and that became our job was to work at that, to make him more mysterious. Even to make him seem, you know, is he dodgy? Is he nice? That was all part of the mix we were playing with, at the same time as keeping the comedy. Again, like doing King Lear, its that joy, you know keeping all that, juggling all those things, and seeing if you don’t drop them you know? And the contrasts then are more sparkling, more kind of bright between them and that’s what I was trying to do with my Doctor.
I didn’t know that I was doing anything different, except some fans did get very upset! But then Moffat said that 21st Century doctors were the result of my Doctor, which was very flattering! But which is great you know, because I thought Christopher Ecclestone was brilliant and I wish he’d done more.
Sticking with The Doctor, and obviously there is a really long history, who is your favourite companion? Because everybody has “their” Doctor, and everybody has “their” companion, and they’re not necessarily ones that went together, so do you have a favourite companion?
Well, both my companions were my favourite! Because I work with them still, and I wouldn’t want to choose them, it’s like my two children.
So, but who would I like? Well, when I did watch it I used to like Leela, it might have had something to do with that she didn’t have very many clothes on! I don’t know… oh yes, I know, Christopher Ecclestone’s companion.
Yes, she blew me away, she was like a continuation of Ace, and I thought she was brilliant and wonderful in it.
Which of your big franchises has the most enthusiastic fandom?
Between The Hobbit and Dr Who? I think Dr Who yes, although the thing about the Hobbit fans is they dress up more, I mean really dress up, really go to town, I went to a convention in Germany and 85% of the attendees were young women, and 60% or 70% or those were dressed up as dwarves, and they all had beards! And it was extraordinary – I never thought how much I’d love being hugged by bearded ladies! It was good.
I’ve been to a convention in Italy as well, and the fans there are great. Very enjoyable. Sense8 went to Italy recently, but I sadly wasn’t in those scenes. I was in Paris and Berlin, and in Paris we were mobbed in the hotel we were staying at like the Beatles used to be, by young people, especially young women, and in Berlin the same. But I believe when they went to Italy it was just wild!
I hope they have another Sense8 convention in Italy though, as I didn’t go to that. Let’s hope they invite me, because I only did a couple of scenes in the second series and the head writer said to me ”we’ve got plans for you for the third season”, and I thought “oh great”, because that means I can go travelling all over with them, and then they cancelled the third season. But luckily the fans have kicked up a stink, so they’ve brought back, well they’ve allowed them to do a wind-up film of it, so a two hours film is coming out to wind it up, and I think I appear in that somewhere.
There are scenes in it in France, we took over the Eiffel Tower, had a party! All night long and then fireworks, I couldn’t believe it, I was getting paid!
Did they know you were taking it over or did you just turn up and say “this is ours now”?
Yes, no, the whole thing was taken over by Sense8. What happened was that there was a dance scene, of course it was being directed, and then suddenly the Africa actors came and they started dancing in an African way, and it became addictive, and we all did and so it started off being directed and by the end of it, it was a documentary, they just kept filming us, we went completely bananas, and there wasn’t any drink to be had anywhere and it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been at! It was great, I loved it!
So the trick to a good party is to take over the Eiffel Tower?
Yes, and bring African actors in, who are absolutely stunning, brilliant, and they just infected us with the joy of dance!
Well that seems a pretty good note to end on – than you for taking the time to speak with me, and I hope to see you again soon!
That’ all for this time round folks, but check in again son for more interviews and updates – and don’t forget to look for the new Dr Who comics from Titan, released today!