profile of Paul Verhoeven

Doctor Who - An interview with Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor

I called Sylvester McCoy, also known as The Seventh Doctor, in his Wellington hotel room at an hour far too early to mention here. It's a terrifying feeling knowing you're about to speak to your idol, and you've probably felt it before yourself; a kind of gnawing, bubbling sickness that threatens to overwhelm you, much like the fugue that ensues after you've inhaled a solid kilo of brown sugar pop tarts. And in my case, it did overwhelm me. I had a recording studio booked for fifteen precious minutes, and as I went to dial outside the country, I realised I didn't know how. The phones had been locked against any such incursion and so I had to spend five whole minutes bolting about the place sweating pure anguish. And after tearfully (I'm not going to lie, there were actual tears) begging a tech guy to help out, I got through.

     Sylvester sounded like he'd just woken up which, as it stands, was perfectly understandable; I'd called his hotel room first thing in the morning. "Sorry, I don't know who you are. What is this for?" was the first thing he said to me, and instantly, my heart broke a little. I’ll be honest; I have immense trouble separating actor and character, as I’m sure you do. A friend of mine once met Harrison Ford and, asking him to “do Han Solo” was given a brutal and blunt reply of “...busy.”, which broke her heart. Ever since, she’s been incapable of enjoying any of Ford’s characters. For her, Han Solo and Indiana Jones are now brusque assholes.



And It wasn't until I explained that I was with the press in Australia and wanted to have a chat that he... well, he told me to wait whilst he grabbed his coffee. I could hear him on the other side of the room, saying "i'm coming across the room now. I'm almost at the phone". This is great, I thought! Running commentary from The Doctor! Then he sat down and we started talking properly.


     "So, how've you been finding the tour so far?" I asked, thinking that a nice, safe question like that might let him open up a bit. He paused, sipped, and stated "well, it's been very simple. I just show up, look at the map, and follow the directions. No, no, it's been fine, much bigger than last time, especially in Melbourne. And... sorry, hello?". We talked over each other a bit, before he explained that the line was awful and he could hardly hear me. We continued. I asked him how he landed the part of The Doctor. "Well", he replied, somewhat deadpan, "I'd heard that the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, was quitting. I read that in the paper. So I called my agent and said that there was an acting job open, and that he should... no. It was a drawn out process. I did several screen tests, and then I met with the... hello?". I told him I'd be back in a moment, turned the volume down, and performed some truly brutal manoeuvres on the phone. I was in the midst of talking with a childhood hero, and here I was being stymied by an ignorant piece of technology. Looking back, I can at least laugh at how much I resembled the Doctor lecturing an uncooperative TARDIS, but you know what it's like when things are going well with somebody you admire and something totally out of your control gets in the way. You want to punch a kitten, don't you? Right in it's stupid adorable kitten face.

   

If you're unfamiliar with Doctor Who, there's something which fans have been referring to for decades as the 'Cartmel Master Plan'. Basically, the Seventh Doctor (we're onto Eleven now) was meant to, eventually, be revealed as a reincarnated progenitor of the Time Lord race. His assistant, Ace, was meant to be inducted into the Time Lord academy (think Hermione Granger with a leather jacket and a baseball bat), and The Doctor was going to become increasingly manipulative and messianic. This is what fans call the 'Cartmel Master Plan', on account of how the script editor at the time, Andrew Cartmel, had hatched it. "NO. It WASN'T the 'Cartmel Master Plan', stated McCoy emphatically. 'We BOTH came up with it. We collaborated (he rolled his 'R's at this point, and I may have made a silent squeal of delight). We sat down and created the character's narrative together. People need to stop referring to it as 'Cartmel Master Plan', when it's..." "The... McCoy and Cartmel master plan?" I offered helpfully. "Sorry, what? This line is terrible. It sounds like thunder is exploding down the line". I punched myself in the thigh, cried a little with frustration and continued.



     The conversation, from here, got more fluid. He began to loosen up and even began to laugh a little. Hell, we bonded over how shitty and unreliable technology was. I asked him whether he followed the ongoing Doctor Who story. "Here and there, yes. I try to watch more, but I don't have the time really. I'm acting all the time, on stage or for Big Finish, or television... I have walls at home of things I've taped but I never have time to watch them. I do try and watch whenever something significant is happening. Say, a new Doctor, or a major story arc". I asked him what his thoughts were on Matt Smith, the newest incarnation of The Doctor. "Well you know, at first, I was opposed to him. I thought he was too young. The Doctor was always meant to be this old, mysterious character; back when I was the Doctor, there was this respect and reverence for the old, and now that I'm old myself, I'd hoped to see a middle aged Doctor. And so, yes, I was very concerned, but he's fantastic! Great! I mean he's excellent, he really carries the weight of all those past lives in him". "Well yeah", I said, "but how do you feel about the new series when they throw curveballs?" "What do you mean", he asked. "Well, Russell T. Davis recently dropped the bomb that Time Lords can regenerate an infinite amount of times. Do you take that sort of thing with a pinch of salt?" "Oh! Yes, yes", he assured me. "I mean it's just this thing... I'd always wondered how they'd deal with that, and like you said, it may just be a throwaway line. There was no way, back at the start, that the BBC could have known that the show would have been going. I mean it's approaching fifty years, yes? Eventually I'll be ninety years old, turn on my television and see a two year old Doctor bouncing about the place". We both laughed, and my inner child began doing pelvic thrusts whilst yelling "We're friends! We're totally friends now!"

     At this point, both in high spirits and two minutes overtime, I decided to lay my hero worshipping cards clean on the table. I took a breath, and ploughed on into what I'd been wanting to say since the early nineties. "Sylvester. Everyone has A Doctor they're attached to, and that always effects the sort of Doctor's they're going to be accepting of. For example, when I was growing up and coming home from school every day, you were the Doctor I associated with the role. You were MY Doctor. You were always running around, hatching schemes, clutching an umbrella... you and Ace are the Doctor and assistant that stuck. That meant the most to me whenever I was trying to think of characters to draw inspiration from. You were it. You're my Doctor".

And then there was a pause.

And then, finally, my hero spoke.

"...I'm sorry, this line is very bad, I probably only caught every fifth word of that."

/Paul

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