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The Seventh Doctor Who


The seventh Doctor Who was Sylvester McCoy, not a very well known actor. He seems to have done mostly comedy and children's television before taking the part. After the sacking of Colin Baker, the casting of McCoy seemed like adding insult to injury, and I firmly believed he was the worst actor ever to take the part - very prone to over the top outbursts of anger or anxiety, which are simply embarrassing to watch. That said, I rather enjoyed his first season, a series of light-hearted adventure stories and surreal comedies, in which McCoy played the Doctor as a bit of a clown, with just occasional hints of the Doctor's true personality showing through. It worked well enough. But for the next season, the characterization was considerably darkened. The Doctor became an arch-manipulator, playing out great master plans which he appeared to have set up centuries before, treating the universe as a kind of chess board for his schemes. Though this built on character ideas seen in the second and fourth Doctors, it was not very successfully executed in this case. That's not to say that new ideas shouldn't be encouraged. The series survived through change and constant re-invention. Should we not see a different facet of the Doctor's character brought to the fore? Indeed, there's great scope for drama in this, examining the Doctor's personal demons, what has driven him to take this path, and how it affects him and those around him. Some of the subsequent novels have done this very successfully, but on television it never seemed to work, perhaps because McCoy was not the right actor to handle a role of this kind - he was much better suited to the comedy. Of course, I can't blame McCoy personally for the change of direction. The fault must lie with the writers, and particularly the script editor Andrew Cartmel, who it seemed to me, had absolutely no idea what Doctor Who was about. At this point, the series started to imply that the Doctor wasn't really a Time Lord at all, but some kind of superhero - an ancient entity with some sort of mission to defend the universe, rather than the well meaning gentleman adventurer of previous incarnations. Part of the appeal of the Doctor for me was that he was an altruistic hero. He'd put his life on the line to help people he had barely met, just because he believed in doing what was right. Once you take that away, and give the Doctor some sort of destiny to protect the universe, then you destroy the point of Doctor Who, and it's no longer the same programme. Again, the novels have delved into this successfully - so maybe it was too difficult a concept for tv to deal with. Incredibly, there are large numbers of fans who love McCoy's Doctor, and his episodes. For me, the tampering with the Doctor's character damaged the show irreparably. Previously, I've criticised the lack of moral direction in the Colin Baker episodes - yet we see the McCoy Doctor committing acts of wanton genocide, and large numbers of fans seem to think that's perfectly acceptable. I found it detestable. What's interesting to me is that in the intervening years, I've come round a lot more to McCoy's portrayal, and what the writers were trying to do - and my opinions have probably mellowed somewhat from what I've previously written above. I do still think there were mis-steps in the scripts - and McCoy really needed to be directed differently at times - but a lot of it seems to make more sense to me now. (And the twenty-first century version of the show has picked up the Doctor as superhero concept to varying degrees, so it doesn't seem as out of step these days.) Doctor Who was cancelled after McCoy's third season.

Best and worst TV stories

Adventures of the seventh Doctor Who


Battlefield - Arthurian Nights - by Matthew Newton

Dalek Empire: The Genocide Machine - a review by Matthew Sheppard