Blog/All About Sylvester McCoy: Doctor, Who?
All About Sylvester McCoy: Doctor, Who?
6 min read

All About Sylvester McCoy: Doctor, Who?

6 min read
sylvester-mccoy-doctor-who
Kyle McManusNov 23, 2021

Hopping in the Tardis and Turning Back Time with Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor

The Doctor Who cast featuring the Doctor (McCoy), Rani and Mel. Image credit: BBC One.
The Doctor Who cast featuring the Doctor (McCoy), Rani and Mel. Image credit: BBC One.

Sylvester McCoy is one of 13 actors (so far) lucky enough to play the Doctor in Doctor Who, the hit BBC TV series. But this is just one role amongst hundreds: the actor has enjoyed a long, varied career across stage and screen since he started performing in the 1960s. 

Read on to learn more about Sylvester McCoy’s time as the Seventh Doctor and other career highlights, including The Hobbit

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Sylvester McCoy’s Career Before Doctor Who

Much of McCoy’s work before landing the lead in one of the biggest TV series of all time involved the stage. He appeared in a wide variety of plays in his early career, and became known for his work with the experimental troupe The Ken Campbell Roadshow.

One of his biggest roles with the Roadshow was Sylveste McCoy, a stuntman, in the play An Evening with Sylveste McCoy. He demonstrated remarkable skill as a physical actor by performing some wild stunts, including putting ferrets inside his trousers and setting his head on fire. Talk about burning with anticipation...

McCoy played the stuntman "Sylveste McCoy", performing mind-boggling and cringe-worthy stunts. Image credit: Facebook/Doctor Who and the Tardis ~ The Classic Years.
McCoy played the stuntman "Sylveste McCoy", performing mind-boggling and cringe-worthy stunts. Image credit: Facebook/Doctor Who and the Tardis ~ The Classic Years.

This also led him to start using Sylveste McCoy as his stage name (his real name is Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith). Kent-Smith adopted the pseudonym after a reviewer mistook Sylveste McCoy to be his real name after the stunt character was credited as playing himself. 

McCoy also starred in one-man shows, playing two famous movie comedians: Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel. But he was a regular performer on many popular TV series, too, including Vision On, The Secret Police Man’s Ball, Jigsaw, and the anarchic Tiswas. Viewers also came to know McCoy from his appearances on the 1980s educational shows Eureka and Leapfrog

Sylvester McCoy starred in the popular TV series "Vision On" before Doctor Who. Image credit: BBC One.
Sylvester McCoy starred in the popular TV series "Vision On" before Doctor Who. Image credit: BBC One.

When Did Sylvester McCoy Become Doctor Who?

McCoy is best known for playing the Seventh Doctor in the long-running TV series Doctor Who, replacing Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor) in 1987. McCoy played both the Doctor before and after the regeneration scene that introduced him, as Colin Baker declined to take part.

McCoy simply wore a wig and kept his face hidden until his Doctor took the reins to disguise Baker’s absence. 

The seventh Doctor Who battles the Daleks once again. Image credit: BBC One.
The seventh Doctor Who battles the Daleks once again. Image credit: BBC One.

During his time on the TV series, McCoy’s Seventh Doctor took on classic Doctor Who enemies like the Cybermen and the Daleks. He also faced the Gods of Ragnarok, the Rain, and Fenric. One of the most memorable aspects of the Seventh Doctor’s run was companion Ace, a brave teenage girl from London. 

The Doctor and feisty companion, Ace, played by Sophie Aldred. Image credit: BBC One.
The Doctor and feisty companion, Ace, played by Sophie Aldred. Image credit: BBC One.

She joined the Time Lord for more than 30 episodes and remains one of the most beloved of all Doctor Who companions. Andrew Cartmel, who served as script editor for the TV series between 1986 - 1989, said that she was “a fighter and not a screamer — the antithesis of some of the earlier companions”. 

How Long Did Sylvester McCoy Play Doctor Who?

McCoy stayed in the Doctor Who role until the TV series ended in 1989 (before it was resurrected almost 20 years later). He appeared in such classic Doctor episodes such as “The Happiness Patrol”, “Ghost Light”, “Silver Nemesis”, and “Survival”. 

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The Seventh Doctor evolved significantly between 1987 and 1989. McCoy’s performances as the Doctor initially had a more humorous style than seen in previous incarnations of the character, due to his background as a comedy actor.

However, this clown-like humour soon faded following some negative feedback from Doctor Who fans. Steered by McCoy and the writers, the Seventh Doctor developed into a much darker figure and had a more secretive nature than displayed at the start of his first season. 

McCoy was critiqued for his "clown-like" portrayal of the Doctor. Image credit: BBC One.
McCoy was critiqued for his "clown-like" portrayal of the Doctor. Image credit: BBC One.

In an interview with Radio Times, McCoy said that after being in the role for a while, he “realised that, actually, there’s more to this character than just being a cartoon”.

He continued that “it’s much more fun trying to do the dark side, especially if you’re known as a comic person” and that he wanted to “bring in the tragedy of his longevity, and the terrible things he’d seen.”

McCoy in the foreboding episode "Ghost Light". Image credit: BBC One.
McCoy in the foreboding episode "Ghost Light". Image credit: BBC One.

This is evident in some of the memorable lines the Seventh Doctor delivered. For example, in “Remembrance of the Daleks”, the Doctor observes: “Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself.”

McCoy also delivered another unforgettable yet darkly foreboding line in “Ghost Light”: “We all have a universe of our own terrors to face.” This actor could vie against the Dalai Lama with his wisdom.

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After his final season of Doctor Who, McCoy made a brief appearance in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, in which the Seventh Doctor regenerated into Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor and took on his old enemy the Master. McCoy remains one of the most popular Doctor Who actors; in 1990, Doctor Who Magazine’s readers voted McCoy’s Doctor as the best. 

Sylvester McCoy: Dr Who Returns 

Sylvester McCoy returned to play the Seventh Doctor multiple times after the TV series was cancelled in 1989. He appeared in a special episode of the educational show Search Out Science for BBC2, in which he asked Ace, K-9, and a character known as Cedric, astronomy-related questions. 

McCoy reprised the Seventh Doctor role again in Dimensions of Time, a crossover between Doctor Who and the hit BBC One soap EastEnders. This was aired as part of Children in Need 1993, and united all of the surviving actors to have played the Doctor previously including: Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and (of course) McCoy.

McCoy passes the torch to Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor. Image credit: Doctor Who TV.
McCoy passes the torch to Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor. Image credit: Doctor Who TV.

McCoy featured in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie to pass on the torch to Paul McGann. However, he has continued to play the Seventh Doctor in numerous audio Doctor Who dramas since. These include Doctor Who: Return of the Daleks, Doctor Who: The Light at the End, and Doctor Who: Last of the Titans. 

McCoy also played the Seventh Doctor again in the video game Destiny of the Doctors, though he wasn’t the only Doctor: previous Doctor actors including Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor) and Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor) featured too. The Seventh Doctor appeared in the 2015 Lego Dimensions video game, though archive voice clips of McCoy were used.

Sylvester McCoy: Hobbit Trilogy and Radagast the Brown 

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy took cinemagoers back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical Middle-Earth, and introduced a cast of fantastic characters — including Radagast the Brown. Radagast is a friend of Gandalf the Grey, and plays a prominent part in the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

McCoy as Radagast the Brown. Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.
McCoy as Radagast the Brown. Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

McCoy’s Radagast the Brown was given a much bigger role in The Hobbit films than in the book, and has an eccentric style that helps set him drastically apart from fellow wizard Gandalf (and, later, Saruman). McCoy played Radagast again briefly in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

McCoy’s Recent TV and Stage Work

Fans may have seen McCoy appear in a number of popular TV series since his Doctor Who days. Some of his most notable television appearances include guest appearances in the outrageous Scottish comedy Rab C. Nesbitt, ITV’s police drama The Bill, the BBC’s long-running medical drama Casualty, and BBC One’s daytime soap Doctors (in the episode "The Amazing Lollipop Man"). 

McCoy as the Foot Doctor. Image credit: BBV Productions.
McCoy as the Foot Doctor. Image credit: BBV Productions.

He also featured as The Foot Doctor in Do You Have a License to Save This Planet, and appeared in Hollyoaks, King Lear (alongside old friend Ian McKellen again) Holby City, and Thunderbirds Are Go. It's hard to say where McCoy will travel next on the big screen, but we hope he takes us on the journey with him.

The Perfect Treat for Sylvester McCoy Fans

Are you a dedicated Whovian? Is a family member a long-time fan of McCoy? We have good news: you can book a personalised video message from Sylvester McCoy at Thrillz today! "Come on, Ace. We've got work to do!"

Kyle McManus
Kyle McManusCopywriter
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