Sylvester McCoy (1943) played the seventh incarnation of the Doctor on television from 1987 to 1989 and reprised the role in the 1996 Doctor Who television movie. He is sometimes credited as Sylveste McCoy.
Prior to Doctor Who edit
He was born Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith in Dunoon, Scotland. In his youth he trained for the priesthood but gave this up and worked for a time in the insurance industry. He worked in The Roundhouse box office for a time, where he was discovered by Ken Campbell. He was a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones.
He came to prominence as a member of the comedy act The Ken Campbell Roadshow. His best known act was as a stuntman character called "Sylveste McCoy", whose stunts included putting a fork and nails up his nose and stuffing ferrets down his trousers. As a joke, the programme notes listed Sylveste McCoy as played by "Sylvester McCoy", and after a reviewer missed the joke and assumed that Sylvester McCoy was a real person, Kent-Smith adopted it as his stage name. Notable television appearances before he gained the role of the Doctor included roles in Vision On (where he played Pepe, a character who lived in the mirror) and Tiswas. McCoy also played in one-man shows on the stage as two famous movie comedians, Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton. He appeared as Bowers in the 1985 television mini-series about Robert Falcon Scott's last Antarctic expedition, The Last Place in Earth, and had a small nonspeaking role in the 1979 film version of Dracula, with Laurence Olivier and Frank Langella. (McCoy had also played the title role onstage.) In his Sylveste McCoy persona, he appeared in the first Secret Policeman's Ball film, a comedy/musical program in support of Amnesty International. The film was released to DVD in Region 1 in early 2009 as part of a box set of the Secret Policeman's benefits.
Only months before being named the seventh Doctor, McCoy played a villain in a B-film entitled Three Kinds of Heat, which featured appearances by a number of Who alumni including Trevor Martin and, most notably, onetime Romana actress Mary Tamm, whose character gets killed off by McCoy's bad guy.
As the Seventh Doctor edit
The television years edit
McCoy was one of several actors considered for the role. In 2010, audition tapes for several actors were included on the DVD release of the Seventh Doctor's debut story, Time and the Rani. In this audition McCoy played opposite Janet Fielding (companion Tegan Jovanka from the Peter Davison era), who portrayed a villain in the scene. Another audition piece was released on the Dragonfire DVD release.
McCoy actually has the distinction of having played two incarnations of the Doctor; when Baker declined an invitation to record the regeneration scene in Time and the Rani, McCoy put on a wig and Baker's costume and, with his face obscured by special effects, filled in for the role.
In his first season, McCoy, a comedy actor, portrayed the character with a degree of clown-like humour, but script editor Andrew Cartmel soon changed that. The Seventh Doctor developed into a much darker figure than any of his earlier incarnations, manipulating people like chess pieces and always seeming to be playing a deeper game. McCoy generally approved of this, as it allowed him to play more of a dramatic role.
A distinguishing feature of McCoy's performances was his manner of speech. He used a slight Scottish accent (the only Doctor to have used a Scottish accent on a regular basis until Peter Capaldi began as the Twelfth Doctor), rolled his "r"s, and often placed emphasis on unusual syllables or words. This has the added (possibly intentional) effect of sounding a little alien, and wrong-footing the audience. It also made the viewer question established speech patterns often taken for granted. At the start of his tenure he used proverbs and sayings adapted to his own ends (e.g. "There's many a slap twixt cup and lap" — Delta and the Bannermen), although this characteristic was phased out during the later, darker seasons of his tenure.
McCoy saw out the end of the original run with 1989's Survival, the last regularly airing Doctor Who story until Rose, which aired in 2005. He later reprised the role in the 1996 one-off, Doctor Who, in which the doctor regenerated into his Eighth incarnation, portrayed by Paul McGann.
Although previous actors have reprised their incarnations for various specials (TV: The Five Doctors, TV: Time Crash for example), McCoy is the only actor to portray the "current" Doctor in a canonical television adventure over a span of 10 years.
At 5'6, he remains the shortest man to play the Doctor.
Although McCoy only appeared on television as the Doctor for three extremely abbreviated series, some aspects of fandom treated him as the "current" Doctor from his debut in Time and the Rani in 1987 to his regeneration scene in Doctor Who in 1996. According to this line of thought, McCoy would therefore have served for nine years, outlasting Tom Baker's seven-year run. Other aspects of fandom find such reasoning completely spurious. They point out that one can apply the same standard to Paul McGann and discover that he is the longest-serving "current" Doctor of all time — despite having only appeared on television for the TV movie and the mini-episode, The Night of the Doctor. A total of 96 minutes.
Whatever one's views on this subject, though, McCoy has remained an active supporter of the franchise from 1987 to the present. In addition to the 1996 tele-movie, he also returned for the 1993 charity special, Dimensions in Time, and in a short segment for British educational television called, Search Out Space. He appeared in several independent, Doctor Who-inspired productions by BBV Productions, including The Airzone Solution and the spoof Do You Have a Licence to Save this Planet? in which he played a parody of the Doctor called The Foot Doctor. He also reprised the role of the Doctor for the animated webcast Death Comes to Time, the first made-for-internet Doctor Who story. He has also annually reprised the Seventh Doctor for Big Finish Productions. Like all of the "Big Finish Doctors" that have been involved since the company started producing licensed Doctor Who stories in 1999, he has far more appearances as the Doctor on audio than on television.
Post-Doctor Who career edit
McCoy's more recent roles have included Michael Sams in the 1997 telemovie Beyond Fear, shown on the first night of broadcast of Channel Five.
He has also acted extensively in theatre in productions as diverse as pantomime and Molière. He played the role of Snuff in the macabre BBC Radio 4 comedy series The Cabaret of Dr Caligari, and The Fool in a Stratford production of King Lear by the Royal Shakespeare Company, opposite Sir Ian McKellan.
When the news of David Tennant leaving Doctor Who was announced and quickly spread, Sylvester McCoy said in an interview that he believed Andrew Sachs (best known for his role as Manuel in Fawlty Towers, who had appeared in the Shada webcast) would be best for the role. Regardless he approved of the casting of Matt Smith, and has recited Smith's famous speech from The Pandorica Opens at conventions.
Recently, in "The Lollipop Man", an episode of the medical soap opera Doctors, McCoy played the role of Graham Capelli, a retired actor best known for playing the title character in a 1980s children's television character similar to the Doctor. The role was written as a tribute to McCoy. The episode featured several references to Doctor Who.
McCoy was attached to play Governor Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl when Steven Spielberg was attached to direct it in the early 90s, Disney didn't give permission for the film to be made then. When the movie was greenlit the role was played by Jonathan Pryce.
In 2013, Sylvester and his co-star Sophie Aldred partnered up for the Doctor Who edition of the game show "Pointless Celebrities". Later the same year he also appeared as himself in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, in which he and fellow actors Peter Davison and Colin Baker attempt to appear in the 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor.
- Internet Movie Database at the
- Travelling Light - Sylvester McCoy article at Kasterborous.com
- Sylvester McCoy - The Unofficial Site