Sylvester McCoy? He’s My Doctor!

There’s a train of thought that Sylvester McCoy was only the Doctor from 1987 til 1989 and that despite appearing briefly in 1996 to regenerate into Paul McGann can’t claim to have been the Doctor in the interim period.

It’s a compelling argument. It’s an argument with plenty of evidence to support and many people who passionately believe in it. There’s just one slight flaw in it, as far as I’m concerned, and that is it that it’s wrong.

I know the arguments I’m going to hear:

“He stopped appearing regularly in 1989.”

“But there was no new Who until 1996.” (No-one ever really, seriously, includes Dimension in Time as canon.)

“The books don’t count! McCoy didn’t star in them.”

“The BBC wasn’t involved in Who again until the TV Movie.”

I know them all. I’ve heard them all. That doesn’t stop them being wrong.

I can’t argue that the BBC stopped making Doctor Who for the telly in 1989. I may well have had difficulty accepting it at the time, but the fact itself isn’t up for debate.

It only took 18 months for the first of the New Adventures to appear after the Doctor and Ace went looking for a cup of tea. The New Adventures picked up almost exactly where Survival left off and carried the tone of Series 26 for many fans until 1997 and the publication of Lungbarrow. Many, now prominent, Who fans kept the Doctor and the Tardis adventuring during most of the 90s. Amongst them were Kate Orman, Gary Russell, Justin Richards and Lance Parkin. Some of the writers from the series carried their arcs for the Doctor straight into the books; Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Marc Platt and even Terrence Dicks himself. Other authors have even gone onto write for the 2005+ series; Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts. Oh and Russell T Davies.

With Whovians of that kind of calibre it’s hard to argue that the Seventh Doctor wasn’t looked after well during his book run. Except, we’ve missed a name from those lists. A name whose absence would have made for a much harder job for all concerned.

Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith.

We know him as Sylvester McCoy and to say he didn’t star as the Doctor from 91-96 is to completely underestimate the mastery of his performance as the Doctor.

“This is the Doctor; President Elect of the High Council of Time Lords, Keeper of the Legacy of Rassilon, Protector of Gallifrey, Defender of the Laws of Time.”

Regardless of what you thought of the episodes from Series 24 there’s no denying that McCoy brought a much darker edge to the Doctor to Series 25 and especially to Series 26 and his portrayal of the Doctor as “far more than just another Time Lord” is what set the New Adventures apart from the Targets, the Missing/Past Adventures and probably even the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Incidentally he remains the only version of the Doctor to appear in each of those lines.

So, I can’t accept that he didn’t star as the Doctor from 1990 until 1996. The only problem being that the New Adventures were released by Virgin Books rather than by the BBC. A lot of the McCoy detractors see this as their key argument; that the BBC itself didn’t produce new Who material until the TV Movie.

Except they did. You see Doctor Who Magazine never stopped rolling off the presses. An official BBC product, it held Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor from issue 130 through to 242 and as such used his interpretation of the Doctor in their (officially sanctioned) comic strip.

So, as far as I’m concerned the Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy between 1987 and 1996.
And he’s still My Doctor.

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  1. JanuaryLost says:

    This is an excellent deposition. I, too, have heard the many arguments… and it seems quite senseless. I should mention before I comment further that 7 is not my Doctor, and for my personal tastes I’m not sure that I cared for him.

    That said, it still changes nothing about the social respects that’s inherent to this fan-driven debacle–and perhaps the one element that should have been included in the article.

    There’s a certain amount of reflectivity (and basic succession logic) on the social front that should be considered. It’s an easy fact that the “last is the last” one until the “new” arrives. Even if at the time the show was considered “dead” we now know it was only a very long break and that nothing has changed apart from the succession. Therefore, 7 was the Doctor until he wasn’t.

    It’s the same for any show, movie, or book where character succession is prime, and even moreso for Who where character succession is literal and plot-integral.

    A contextual example could be used with any Doctor. Let’s say the future Moffat “Season 7” is put on hold for another 3 years. Smith will remain the Doctor. He will because in our minds, Smith was the last and therefore remains the last until he is succeeded by someone new. One could take away all of the non-canonical material given in the interim and that remains true in terms of the show and psychologically.

    Regardless of how anyone might feel about the TV Movie, clearly the BBC blessed the project and continues to hold 8 to canon. Thus the very moment 7 walked onto that screen in 1996 and graced us with his exit, the lines of succession were cemented and now continue to prevail.

    I really don’t see much of an argument when all is said and done.

    Again, fabulous article—-smashing and brilliant enough that it really should be referred to in the future of any debate on this as “the article that ended it all”.

  2. Alasdair Shaw says:

    Thanks, January. Very kind of you to say.

    I didn’t include your argument since it’s the main one and doesn’t really need expanded on and clarified. It just seems so….. obvious. Yet I know it can’t be as so many Whovians continue to disregard it.

    I have to admit to being disappointed; I was hoping for a little more debate on this one. Oh well.

    I would, however, like to apologise for using “and” 3 times in one sentence…

  3. gavinio says:

    Sorry, but I’m a bit of a stuck in the mud oldie (okay I’m 37), but I’ve only ever counted the TV episodes as ‘canon’ (and I know that is a whole other debate!) so it matters not one jot to me about using comic strips and novels to justify McCoy’s term as the Doctor. Having said that he WAS the Doctor from 1987-1996 because that’s the last time he appeared on screen.

  4. Stlshawn says:

    One thing. If there was no doctor for those years, and unaired years do not count, is this really going to be a 50th anniversary?

    It’s one or the other. You can’t have it both ways.

    As far as products are concerned, wouldn’t baker be longest serving as he’s doing BBC sanctioned audio plays, so does his time as the doc go from 1974 to 2011?
    So we need rules for this argument. Is there only a doctor for one hour on Saturday nights? Is the rest of the weeks no doctor? Is the doctor the doctor between broadcasts? What constitutes being the “current” doctor?

    And FYI, Colin baker ruled, McCoy was fantastic, but McGann has become “my doctor” thanks to the amazing audios from big finish.

    • Alasdair Shaw says:

      “One thing. If there was no doctor for those years, and unaired years do not count, is this really going to be a 50th anniversary?”

      Yes. Because it’s been 50 years since the program first appeared on our screens.

      “It’s one or the other. You can’t have it both ways.”

      Yes I can. The two things are not linked. Not even slightly.

      “As far as products are concerned, wouldn’t baker be longest serving as he’s doing BBC sanctioned audio plays, so does his time as the doc go from 1974 to 2011?”

      Well no. Because since he left 12 other actors have taken the role. He’s returning after a decades long absence.

      “So we need rules for this argument.”

      Perhaps you do. I don’t.

      “Is there only a doctor for one hour on Saturday nights? Is the rest of the weeks no doctor? Is the doctor the doctor between broadcasts? What constitutes being the “current” doctor?”

      Having your name appear first in the title credits of the show. In the absence of the show, as happened in the 90s through to 2005, it’s DWM.

      “And FYI, Colin baker ruled, McCoy was fantastic, but McGann has become “my doctor” thanks to the amazing audios from big finish.”

      At last, something I can agree with.

      • gavinio says:

        Alasadir – 12 actors have taken the role since Tom Baker left???? Have I missed whole series then? By my maths it’s only seven (Davison, C.Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant and Smith)!

        • Alasdair Shaw says:

          Yeah, that should have been 7 other actors or 12 in total. I’m counting Michael Jayston incidently….

          I couldn’t decide which to use and it would seem my subconsciencous decided to mock me.

          • gavinio says:

            Why not just go the whole hog and include Toby Jones as well from Amy’s Choice?

          • Alasdair Shaw says:

            Because the role Toby Jones played was a mental manifestation of the Doctor’s dark side as opposed to the physical one that Michael Jayston played.

            If the Moff makes the Dream Lord flesh then I’ll quite happily include him.

  5. darthg1nger says:

    I still can’t shake the image of the liquorice allsort berty-monster.

    • James McLean says:

      I always find that a shame when I hear that Darth, as I think so many fans missed the point of the Candyman – he wasn’t meant to be the monster of the piece from how I saw it. As Happiness Patrol was a strikingly blatant satire on Thatcher, in some respects it was a satire on Who too. Candyman was the episode of the week’s token “monster”, but he wasn’t the true monster of the piece, in fact he was intentionally a bit rubbish (constantly stuck by lemonade) – the real monster as the story proceeds is Helen A, a monster with a human face, a constant smile and a belief she is doing “good”. And so the Candyman becomes the joke, not the horror – the horror, as the story is suggesting about Blighty in the 80s, is the ideology, not the lumbering creature (that was Denis..).

      As for the article, I agree totally. I think while McCoy did have a terrible start and pockets of mediocre in terms of production/story, his era shaped Doctor Who into what you have now – it springboarded the New Adventures which embraced the stronger companion role, darker Doctor and more mature subtexts we see today. I remember the fury because in the book “Transit” it referred to a prostitutes taste of semen in her mouth. That would not seem out of place today.

      Whether one liked McCoy as the Doctor or not, his era was the show’s moment of transition from one entity to another and I think the relevance of the era as much as the Doctor himself is vastly under-rated, particularly by certain groups of “classic” fans!

  6. kopicbloodaxe says:

    Ooh, nice article and some erudite comments! Whilst SM is not “my Doctor” I did really enjoy the darker tone of the latter years and being a true “fan” I could see past the production values to the underlying stories that kept me engaged and kept me going into the wilderness years with the New Adventures. I wholeheartedly support the idea that he was the Doctor from 1987 to 1996 until officially replaced by another, sanctioned by the BBC and accepted as canon. The definite article, you might say.

  7. Andrew says:

    Go onto and you’ll see a Favourite Doctor’s poll has McCoy currently 7th place, ahead of Christopher Eccleston!

    Quite right too, nothing wrong with being a fan of the 7th Doctor. He defeated aliens by double crossing them and being far more cunning than many of his other incarnations.

    Sylvester is a good actor, he gives a certain warmth to his characters, and I’m chuffed for him getting that part in “The Hobbit”. At a convention a few years back I had a cup of coffee with him and chatted about Dunoon and the Rolling Stones.

    • kopicbloodaxe says:

      “Dunoon and the Rolling Stones” eh? Was that a 7th Doctor story that I missed? 😀

      Yes, I’m looking forward to his turn as Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit.

      • Andrew says:

        Sylvester was a security guard for the Stones at Hyde Park ’69, he hung out with them back stage and is a bit of a fan.

        Keith Richards must be a time lord, as he’s been through a few lives and looks about 900 😀

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