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Heroes of Cult: Sylvester McCoy

Sylvester McCoy was the last Doctor of the shows original run. He is also the only Doctor, to date, that has been cancelled. For years his time as the Doctor faced quite a bit of unfair criticism from those outside the core fan base. Only it recent years has he been reassessed and given the plaudits he deserves.

Sylvester was born Percy Kent-Smith on the 20 of August 1943 in Ducoon Scotland. His mother was Irish and father English. He would never know his father as he was killed in action, during World War Two, a few months before Sylvesters birth.

He was raised in a religious household and at the age of twelve left home to study to become a priest at ‘Blair’s College’ in Aberdeen. At the age of sixteen he had a conflict of faith and left the college. Within a few years he would leave his religion behind and become an atheist.

At the end of his mainstream education he left Scotland for London working in insurance for five years. He would leave insurance to work at the box office of ‘The Roundhouse’ venue in Camden London. It was here he was discovered by actor, director and comedian Ken Campbell who called McCoy the most naturally gifted comic actor he’d ever met.

He would join the comedy act ‘The Ken Campbell Roadshow’ playing a variety of characters. His most popular character, which he co-created with fellow troupe member Brian Murphy, was a stuntman by the name of ‘Sylveste McCoy’. As a joke they listed his name as such in the program. After a favourable reviewer assumed this was McCoys real moniker he decided to adopt it as his stage name. He would later add the r as he thought it looked better.

His career on television and in film started mainly with roles in children’s programs. He would also be seen in small parts in the odd TV drama or even film. During this time he continued to further his stage career and even entered the world of stand up comedy.

In 1986 his agent had heard that the producers of ‘Doctor Who’ were looking for a new lead. He persuaded McCoy to do a short audition tape. Sylvester would be chosen from hundreds of actors, some established, and given the task of saving the show which, at the time, had seen its ratings drop and the support of the BBC hierarchy disappear.

McCoys first scene as the Doctor saw him donning a curly wig and the costume of his predecessor Colin Baker. This was due to the fact that Baker, who had been sacked, refused to film a regeneration scene.

At first McCoy played the Doctor as almost a comedy character. He would spout proverbs and was very light-hearted. But, following complaints by the shows core fan base and his own desire to develop the character, his later episodes would see his Doctor turning increasingly darker.

McCoys Doctor was popular amongst the fans of the show but both he and the show had one major problem. The then controller of BBC 1, Michael Grade, hated the show. He did everything in his power to make sure it couldn’t continue. He would have its timeslot and even sometimes the channel it was to be shown on changed at the last minute. This meant that the fans of show struggled to find it and the ratings suffered. In 1989 the show was cancelled and McCoys time as the Doctor seemingly had come to an end.

He would play the Doctor twice more on television. Once in the charity special ‘Dimensions in Time’ and then again, filming his regeneration, in the ‘Doctor Who TV movie’ in 1996.

Post ‘Doctor Who’ his career returned to pretty much as it had been before. He continued to play the Doctor in the ‘Big Finish’ radio plays and audio books. He’s also a regular on the convention circuit.

Of course his biggest role to date was his recent ‘Radagast’ in Peter Jacksons ‘Hobbit’ trilogy. A fan of McCoys Doctor, Jackson had previously tried to cast him in the ‘Lord of the Rings’. This only helps to prove that, although once mocked, McCoys Doctor is well worth a watch and is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

Recommended films and TV appearances (outside of Doctor Who):-

Radagast – The Hobbit trilogy

Dr Colin Dove – The Zero Imperative

Anthony Stanwick – The Airzone Solution

Rusty – The Seventeenth Kind

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