The Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy played Dr Who from 7 September 1987 - 6 December 1989

Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith AKA Sylvester McCoy was born on 20th August 1943 in Scotland. His mother was Irish and his English father sadly died in action in the Second World War just a month before Percy was born.

Like Tom Baker, the young Kent-Smith had religious leanings and trained to be a priest. He then worked in Insurance for a short time before working in the box office of The Roundhouse in London. This amazing circular Grade II Listed building which was built in 1847 was originally a railway shed which had a turntable to enable trains to be turned around. It was subsequently converted to a Performing Arts Centre.

The Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy, played Dr Who from 7 September 1987 – 6 December 1989Credit: was discovered in the box office by writer, director and playwright Ken Campbell who included him in The Ken Campbell Roadshow – a group of theatricals who appeared in unusual venues. Kent-Smith performed as a stuntman – stuffing forks into his nose and putting ferrets down his trousers. A fellow actor, Brian Murphy gave Kent-Smith the name of Sylveste McCoy. It wasn’t until a few years later that McCoy added the r to Sylveste and became Sylvester.  

McCoy made various appearances on TV, including Vision On (an iconic programme for deaf children) and the zany Tiswas.

In 1979, McCoy appeared in the film Dracula – with Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasence.


McCoy Becomes Dr Who

As mentioned in the article re: Colin Baker, McCoy was the only Dr Who to play both Doctors in the regeneration scene. As Baker did not return to play his own Dr regenerating, McCoy wore a blonde wig to play Baker’s part – as well as his (McCoy’s) own Dr coming out of the regeneration.

As McCoy was inherently a comedic actor, he brought this to the role of Dr Who but fans complained that the character was too lightweight. The script editor, Andrew Cartmel listened to what they had to say and as a result, McCoy’s Dr developed a deeper, darker side which was enhanced by being at odds with his outwardly colourful appearance.

  • McCoy provided voiceover for the game Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors
  • McCoy’s Dr went on to become so popular that he beat Tom Baker to be named the Best Doctor in a 1990 poll in Doctor Who Magazine.
  • McCoy presented The Hartnell Years, a 1991 documentary which included episodes of missing stories from the time of the First Doctor.
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McCoy misses out on two big roles...

McCoy was lined up to play Governor Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl which Steven Spielberg was going to direct but Disney wouldn’t give their permission for the film at that time.Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in The HobbitCredit:

He was the second choice to play Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson but missed out to Ian Holm. However, he did get the part of the wizard Radagast in Jackson’s The Hobbit.

Shakespearean actor

McCoy acted the Fool in Lear, starring Ian McKellen. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) took the production to Australia, New Zealand and London. The play incorporated McCoy’s talent for playing the spoons!

A great singer

  • McCoy has performed with the Welsh National Opera.
  • He appeared in a Robin Hood musical playing the Sheriff of Nottingham, in a London production, featuring songs by award winning composer Laurence Mark Wythe.
  • McCoy played the lead in the 2008 Carl Rosa Company production of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Eighth Doctor

Paul McGann,who many believe was Dr Who from 1996-2005

Paul McGann was born on 14th November 1959. Paul was the third child of six. He had twin brothers born a year before him but one, John, sadly died.

The surviving twin, Joseph, and Paul’s two younger brothers, Mark and Stephen are all actors.

Paul was advised to become an actor by one of his teachers at school and he subsequently went to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts).

In 1995, Paul starred with his three brothers in a TV serial about the famine in Ireland, called The Hanging Gale.

  • Paul, Mark and Stephen appeared in a film made for TV, Catherine the Great.
  • All four brothers formed a pop group called, not surprisingly, the McGanns. Their single was called Shame About the Boy.
  • The British TV series Give Us A Break provided McGann with his breakthough role. He acted alongside Robert Lindsay. There was only one series.

The Monocled Mutineer

Paul McGann as The Monocled MutineerCredit: people remember McGann for his first major lead in the BBC serial The Monocled Mutineer. He received great critical acclaim but sadly the series was never shown again by the Beeb.

The subject of the series was a very sensitive one, dealing with the 1917 Étaples Mutiny – which occurred at a tough training ground for the British Army.

Documentation dealing with what really happened at Étaples will stay sealed until 2017. However, when the series was shown in 1986, the Conservative Government said that events shown were inaccurate and took an unfairly Left Wing view.

This cause a minor political issue and so the BBC shelved any plans to show it again. However, it came out on video in the 1990s and on DVD in 2007.

Withnail and I

Paul McGann in Withnail and ICredit: the debacle caused by The Monocled Mutineer, McGann searched for a lighter and less inflammatory role. He found it in 1986 when he was cast to play alongside Richard E Grant (in Grant’s first film role) in the now iconic Withnail and I. The hugely popular black comedy was based on the life of its’ writer and director, Bruce Robinson. McGann and Grant paid unemployed actors sharing a seedy flat in Camden. Desperate for a break from London, they go to stay in a cottage in the Lake District having been given a key by Withnail’s extrovertly gay Uncle Monty, played by the greatly missed actor, Richard Griffiths. However, they don’t get the restful break they were anticipating.

The film became greatly loved for its’ use of period music. Its’ vast selection of quotable lines lead it to be described as one of the biggest cult films in Britain.

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Most people associated the Sharpe TV series with Sean Bean. It is not widely known that McGann was the original Sharpe but only for the first few days of filming. McGann injured his knee while playing football and was unable to continue in the role. It earned him £2,128,172 – at that time, the biggest insurance payout in British TV history. However, it lost him a role which went on to make Sean Bean world famous.

McGann Becomes Dr Who

The Eighth Doctor: Paul McGann, who many believe was Dr Who from 1996-2005Credit: and his brother Mark both auditioned for the lead role in the 1996 film for TV. It was a massive co-production by BBC Films, BBC Worldwide, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios and the American TV network, Fox.

The TV series of Dr Who had been on hiatus since Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor ended on 6th December 1989. The production companies hoped that a good reaction to the TV film would prompt a new series. Sadly, that didn’t happen. The TV film performed well in the UK with high ratings of over 9 million. However, it didn’t do so well in the USA and so no new series was commissioned. There would not be another TV series of Dr Who until 2005 – a total hiatus of sixteen years.

So Paul McGann only made one appeaance as Dr Who, in that ill-fated TV film.

From 1991 to 1997, Virgin Publishing had been publishing successful Dr Who spin off books. When McGann’s film failed to deliver the hoped for series, the BBC chose not to renew Virgin's license and took on the publishing of their own range of books. McGann allowed them to put his face some of the front covers.

He also appeared again as the eighth Doctor in the BBC Radio 7 series Doctor Who, from 2007 to 2012.

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McGann has continued to perform in film, on TV and on stage.

The Ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston

played Dr Who from 26 March - 18 June 2005

Christopher Eccleston was born on 16 February 1964 to working class parents in Salford, Lancashire, England. He has twin brothers who are eight years than him.

Eccleston did well at school and became Head Boy. He was inspired to become an actor by gritty, down to earth films like Kes and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and took a Performance Foundation Course in Salford. He then moved to London to train at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Despite his early inspiration, he performed in classics by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Moliére. His first professional (at age 25) role was in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Bristol Old Vic.

Sadly, this promising beginning dwindled as it does for so many actors. Eccleston ended up working in a supermarket, on building sites and even as an artist’s model to make ends meet.

Let Him Have It

Eccleston first caught the publics’ eye in a 1991 British film which was based on a true story. Let Him Have It tells the tragic story of a young man, Derek Bentley (played by Eccleston) who is illiterate and has developmental disabilities. He joins a gang led by 16 year old Chris Craig. The two become cornered by Police. They tell Craig to throw down his gun. Bentley says ‘Let him have it, Chris’ – meaning, give the gun to the Policeman. Instead, Craig fires, wounding one Policeman but killing another.

The court scenes of cross examination showing Bentley being bombarded with questions that he struggled to comprehend are haunting and a wonderful performance by Eccleston.

Although Craig fired the shots, he was considered a minor. Despite pleas for mercy from Bentley’s family he was hung on 28 January 1953, before the Government could take any steps to prevent it.

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Other notable roles

  • 1994, Danny Boyle film Shallow Grave, starring with a newcomer, Ewan McGregor
  • 1996, Our Friends in the North, working alongside Daniel Craig. For this performance he was nominated for Best Actor at the 1997 British Academy Television Awards (BAFTA), losing out to the late Nigel Hawthorne. However, he did win Best Actor from the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards and the Royal Television Society Awards.
  • 1996, TV drama Hillsborough written by Jimmy McGovern. Eccleston played Trevor Hicks who lost both of his daughters in the 1989 disaster. During the Football Association semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a crush barrier collapsed resulting in the death of 96 people. 766 others were injured and it is still one of the worst football related disasters in the world. Eccleston was Trevor Hicks’ Best Man when he got married in 2009.

Eccleston has worked with a lot of famous people

  • Jude(1996), co-starring with Kate Winslet
  • Elizabeth(1998), co-starring with Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, John Gielgud and Richard Attenborough.
  • A Price Above Rubies (1998) co-starring with Renee Zellweger
  • Existenz(1999), co-starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm and Willem Dafoe.
  • Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), co-starring Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie. Eccleston didn’t take his driving test until January 2004 and admitted that his licence only allows him to drive automatics.
  • The Others(2001), co-starring with Nicole Kidman
  • The Invisible Circus (2001) co-starring Cameron Diaz
  • 24 Hour Party People (2002), co-starring with Steve Coogan
  • 28 Days Later (2002), co-starring with Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris

Eccleston Becomes Dr Who

The Ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston, played Dr Who from 26 March – 18 June 2005Credit: April 2004 the BBC announced that Dr Who was coming back at last with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role as the Ninth Doctor. The show returned on 26th March 2005 and just four days later a statement was released – by the BBC but allegedly from Eccleston – claiming that he didn’t want to become typecast and so he was only going to do the one series. A few days later, the BBC admitted that they had falsely attributed the statement to Eccleston and that he hadn’t even known about it.  Ecclestone had only ever intended to do one series and the BBC had agreed to keep this quiet but when journalists contacted the Press Office the erroneous statement had been released.

In June, Eccleston was being interviewed on a BBC radio show and was asked if he had enjoyed being Dr Who. He replied “Mixed – but it’s a long story.”

In October 2005, actor and comedian Alan Davies was being interviewed by The Daily Telegraph and claimed that Eccleston had left the role because he was exhausted, having been overworked by the BBC. Ten days later, Eccleston claimed in the Daily Mirror that this was not true and appeared to be irritated by Davies’ comments.

 In the 2005 National Television Awards, Eccleston won Most Popular Actor for his performance as Dr Who.

Russell T. Davies who had revived Dr Who and was Executive Producer, was promoting his book The Writers’s Tale at The National Theatre in 2008. He said that Eccleston had only been contracted for a year because at that stage, no one knew if the series was going to continue, having been on such a long hiatus.

In an interview in 2010, Eccleston said that he was proud to have played Dr Who but left the show because he "didn't enjoy the environment and the culture that the cast and crew had to work in".

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