You may not know this but it was Sylvester McCoy’s birthday yesterday - 20th August – and you may also not know that the seventh Doctor is still going strong on the Big Finish audio adventures series. And you may have also forgotten it is 25 years since the seventh Doctor took the helm of the Tardis.
Now with the Greatest Show in the Galaxy DVD release, the era of the seventh Doctor is completed and like the entire run of Sylvester’s time as our favourite hero, it was a tumultuous production. Sylvester is officially the longest running Doctor due to the fact that he retained the title until the regeneration in the 1996 Paul McGann Doctor Who the Movie. Many say this was a mistake, but I disagree.
If Sylvester hadn’t been included then canon itself could have been rewritten and we may never have had Paul McGann recognized and acknowledged as the eighth incarnation. That would have been a travesty, especially since many are clamouring for his return to the show in the 50th anniversary and I for one wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Scottish actor, left, won the most coveted role in telly when sixth Doctor Colin Baker was unceremoniously sacked from the role and walked straight into a battlefield. Producer John Nathan Turner was under the impression he too was leaving the world of Doctor Who behind; a show he had steered from Tom Baker’s final season right through to the Trial of a Time Lord. But BBC management told him he was to produce yet another season in double quick time which meant he had no scripts, no staff and no Doctor.
Now, the actual auditions for the role can be seen on the Time and the Rani DVD which was the seventh Doctor’s debut story and it’s clear Sylvester was the best candidate. However, his scripts were written for the sixth Doctor so he had to come up with something fast and fell back on his comedy roots, something he has said he never wanted to do but had no choice at the time. It was by the end of Dragonfire when Bonnie Langford’s Melanie Bush left and Sophie Aldred’s Ace arrived as the new companion that Sylvester would get his wish. Ace and the Doctor were a partnership long before Rose Tyler travelled with Christopher Eccleston and it was through Ace that Sylvester got what he wanted.
He wanted his Doctor to go back to the show’s roots and be a Doctor that was dark, threatening and mysterious. What many forget is how many elements of the current era come from the seventh Doctor stories. He had the flying Daleks, the council estate setting where evil like the Master could walk into your living room and rip open your cat, the companions with story arcs and the mystery of the name ‘Doctor Who?’ which Steven Moffat has used and will use in further stories.
When River Song challenged the eleventh Doctor at Demon’s run as being the cause of all the destruction and the loss of Melody Pond it could have been the seventh she was talking to: “When you began all those years ago did you ever think you would become this?” she asks him and here is where it starts - with the seventh Doctor. He no longer has chance encounters with evil; he actively seeks them out. He lures the Daleks and the Cybermen into a final showdown which results in their being wiped out (or so he thinks) when he blows up the Dalek homeworld Skaro.
In both these stories, Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis respectively, the Doctor is ruthless and could his actions here have contributed to the Time War itself? Madame Kovarian talks about the endless bitter war with the Doctor and here it is clear, the seventh Doctor had taken the first shot. Nor does he have any qualms about using Ace’s insecurities and past to ensure his actions succeed even if he really is helping her. He breaks her faith in him in Curse of Fenric while vampires pour down on them as did the eleventh Doctor to Amy Pond in the God Complex.
He wipes out the Gods of Ragnarok in the psychic circus and that final shot of the Doctor striding out of the tent which explodes behind him is the defining shot of the seventh Doctor as much as the tenth strolling through an exploding Titanic. The seventh didn’t need to announce he was about to save everyone unlike Tennant’s. he just walks away in silence as the world burns behind him. Similarly, he stands silent as Helen A breaks down in the Happiness Patrol after she has slaughtered thousands for daring to be unhappy.
Sylvester’s angry acting may have been a bit ropey at times but in the same story he talks down a sniper in a speech that stands up there with matt Smith’s Pandorica one. It’s no secret Sylvester hated his question mark jumper but managed to get his jacket changed to a deep chocolate brown one to add to his character’s dark personality and even better when he lost it completely in the movie. And as he and Ace, best friends and partners, who have helped each other and brought each other back from places in their minds they never knew existed on a very rocky road, stroll arm and arm into the sunset for a cup of tea, who would have thought he and Ace would still be going strong today in Big Finish where they continue to battle old and new enemies alongside new friends and old ones.
It’s no wonder that he is my son’s favourite Doctor now. Happy birthday Sylvester.