The Endlessly Delightful, Always Effervescent, Wonderfully Wild Sylvester McCoy: “A Visit with the Seventh Doctor”

The auditorium wasn’t quite packed, but thunderous applause greeted Sylvester McCoy as he entered the Sheraton Grand Ballroom on Sunday at 1PM for his final panel at his fourth Dragon Con. The moderator described McCoy as one of the most popular and, certainly, most loved and of the guests. He is also incredibly comical and entertaining—a man who knows how to work a crowd.

Photo by Sam Harris

McCoy, who played the seventh incarnation of The Doctor on the popular Doctor Who, started on a more serious note, describing his experience in The Hobbit film series as wonderful and glorious and helping him to round out his career. “I’ve been blessed with playing the Doctor [on TV], and then I was blessed to play in King Lear [on stage], and then to get three films? The response from the world has been very, very good,” he said before breaking the tender moment. “Apart from the hedgehog!”

He’ll next take on a documentary-like series as a part of an ensemble of older people—including actress Miriam Margoyles from the Harry Potter film series—testing out the premise of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

When asked about Peter Capaldi, who currently portrays The Doctor, McCoy did an amazing fast-talking, garbled impression of the acerbic Capaldi, but said he thinks he’s great in the role. The Doctor was always an older man, and McCoy is happy to see the character back in this form.

“I like that we have an older superhero,” McCoy said. “He’s brawn and brain and doesn’t wear his underpants on the outside.” He did like Matt Smith in the role because “his face had the experience of a thousand years in it,” but believes that having an actor like Capaldi portray The Doctor shows reverence for older people that is often missing in Western cultures.

McCoy fell into acting after his company went bust—which he hopes he had a lot to do with—and he became a hippie who worked the box office of The Roundhouse, a theater in London that was at the epicenter of the British culture revolution in the 1960s. In 1969, he even “bounced” a pre-America Rolling Stones performance at The Roundhouse in what he called “the days of innocence.”

One of his first roles was in Dracula with Sir Laurence Olivier, who did not take a liking to McCoy. “One must not speak ill of the dead,” McCoy said, followed by a perfectly timed dramatic pause, “but, I will!”

During his first day on set, McCoy offered to buy everyone a drink, to which Olivier responded, “Oh, do sit down and stop showing off.” He described Olivier as snobbish, though Olivier did try to make amends with McCoy by taking him aside and sharing personal feelings about his regrets regarding his marriage to the late Vivien Leigh. McCoy found this weird, and, later Olivier physically knocked McCoy out of a scene as they entered it through a doorway.

When asked about his friendship with Sir Ian McKellen, McCoy described McKellen as very tall and quite shy. “Yes, I’ve heard of you,” McKellen told McCoy on their first day of production for King Lear. Later McKellen welcomed McCoy as an old friend on the set of The Hobbit series. McKellen was very supportive of McCoy and always helpful, even when off camera.

Next, the audience asked questions of McCoy, who left the stage and led a group of mostly kids on a parade, weaving in between rows of people and up and down the aisles. It was like watching a rag-tag group of soldiers march towards the circus while led by the jolliest fellow in the universe. The questions vacillated from silly to serious, and McCoy answered each with the poise and wit befitting a former Doctor. He even gave a tasteful diatribe on the state of politics in Scotland.

The Q&A exchange was rapid-fire, and super fun and funny.

Photo by Sam Harris

If McCoy had had one more season of Doctor Who, he would have wanted to play it darker, more serious. His favorite new Doctor Who creature is the Ood. He loved Kate O’Mara as The Rani. He wasn’t too sad about not being in the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (the brainchild of fifth Doctor Peter Davidson and a TV film in which current Doctor Who producer Steven Moffat is the villain).

He joked that he wanted to do The Hobbit for the money. For him, the most fun thing about being on Doctor Who was working with Sophie Aldred and the team, who had “so much love and enthusiasm for the program.” His favorite Doctor is Patrick Troughton because Troughton was his first Doctor (and you never forget your first Doctor). His favorite line on the show was “Ace!”, and his favorite costume piece was his umbrella. He thought Tetraps were overrated, jumped for joy when he got the Doctor Who role, and if Steven Moffat called him today for help, he’d say, “Write me into the part!”

McCoy took extra time to impart advice on an aspiring actor—“be utterly committed” McCoy told him—and to tell a little girl named Julie, who asked about his favorite companion, to give Amy Pond/Karen Gillan his love.

Most importantly, he expressed his love for Doctor Who—all it has done for him professionally and as a cultural phenomenon that has impacted culture for decades.

Doctor Who was subversive” he said of it in its beginning, “and the coolest people in town were into it.” Today, CGI has taken the show to a new level, but as a whole—old and new—Doctor Who is “all one, big, long journey.”

McCoy is happy that new, young viewers continue to discover the original run of the series, calling their admiration “amazing and humbling” at the same time.

Author of the article

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.