Sylvester McCoy on Jodie Whittaker, BritBox and 30 years of the Seventh Doctor – Exclusive interview

By Beth Axford

Sylvester McCoy is in New York. ‘I’m watching the sun bounce off the tall buildings’ he explains. He goes on to gush about the beauty of his view and the tall, shining buildings surrounding him. It’s wet and dark here in London, we sigh, which is received by an iconic seventh Doctor chuckle that fills our hearts with joy.

This Boxing Day, BBC/ITV owned streaming service BritBox will bring classic Doctor Who back for anyone to access and enjoy. How does it feel to Sylvester, for his stories to be watched an enjoyed by a new generation of fans? ‘Well, it’s wonderful really, such a joy!’

‘I’ve been experiencing it for a few years now. When the 21st century Doctors arrived, a whole new generation of fans came from that. They decided they loved it so much that they started searching through the backlogs and discovering the old, classic Doctors. It’s a privilege.’

All of Classic Who will be streamed from the 26th of December on BritBox

There are plenty of ways for younger fans to engage in the Seventh Doctors era; last year, video streaming service Twitch aired every episode of classic who back to back. People of all ages got to discover the origins of the show and celebrated by creating memes, jokes and even fan art.

If someone was new to the seventh Doctors era, which story would Sylvester recommend? He jumps straight to an old favourite; Remembrance of the Daleks. ‘It’s got everything in it!’ He exclaims. ‘It’s got Daleks, it’s got Doctors, it’s got explosions.’ Almost a recipe for a perfect Who story. ‘It’s also about something – it has some depth in it. It’s about race and division.’ Remembrance marked Doctor Who’s 25th anniversary in 1988. The story heralds a tradition seen throughout the show’s history; debating political and cultural issues and presenting them through the lens of aliens and spaceships.

‘I didn’t feel like I was a real Doctor until I took on the Daleks.’ Sylvester tells us. He has a point – every Doctor has faced the Daleks on screen – apart from Paul McGann. ‘Oh, poor fellow!’ He chuckles. ‘I’m actually seeing him tomorrow. We’re going to the museum of modern art in New York. It’s very exciting – the two Doctors!’

2019 marks 30 years since Sylvester’s final series of Doctor Who and the cancellation of the show until its return with the TV movie (1996) and the eventual revival in 2005. Becoming one of the most well-loved characters on TV is a massive undertaking – did Sylvester and the team know how important their work was? Did they have any inkling that it would still be so huge over 30 years later? ‘I had no idea. When I took over, VCR’s were just coming in. Up until then, I had lost touch with Doctor Who because you couldn’t record it, so I never saw it!’ It hardly seems believable in today’s Netflix and Blu-Ray world, but if you missed Doctor Who back in the 80’s, it was almost impossible to catch up until years later.

Sylvester finally battled the Daleks in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)

‘When I got the job, I had a faint memory of Patrick Troughton (Sylvester’s first Doctor) but that’s all I knew about it.’ Perhaps then, it might have felt daunting, not knowing what was to come? ‘It was actually a blessing because it didn’t have any baggage. Andrew (Cartmel – Script editor at the time) didn’t know much about it either – we just made it up. Not knowing that all these years later it would still be going.’

Coming to Doctor Who with fresh eyes meant Sylvester, Andrew, and the team could give it something new that hadn’t come before. ‘It was a blessing that we were that ignorant. When I started filming my first story, Time and The Rani, I brought my comedy tricks. Because that’s what I was, a comedy actor. I realised very quickly that I had been given one of the greatest television roles. You can go anywhere with it. The freedom I was given!’ Sylvester tells us about the process behind his Doctor and what he wanted to do with this gift of a role. ‘I felt like the mystery of the character had gone. I wanted to bring that back. The ambition was to bring back the question mark. The ‘Who?’ question.’ Sylvester and the team certainly did that – all the way down to the Doctor’s costume!

It’s no secret that late 80’s Doctor Who influenced the show’s 2005 revival. ‘When they brought it back there were so many echoes of what we did’ Sylvester says of the shows explosive return. Show-runner Russell T Davies took inspiration from the contemporary companion and political undertones that came before. He wrote the Doctor as the last of the Time Lords, making the character more mysterious than ever. Was there anything that Sylvester wishes he got to do that his future incarnations did?

The Seventh Doctor’s companion, Ace, led the way for the women to come in the 2005 revival.

‘They twisted my arm into doing a full season – and then it went on hiatus! It was very frustrating’ he recalls. We were going to hint at so much more. That the Doctor was more than just Doctor Who from Gallifrey – we were going to hint at much more power for the Doctor.’ It seems that there isn’t so much that Sylvester wishes he could have done from future seasons, more so that he wished his series continued on its path. ‘In The Curse of Fenric (1989) Sophie ends up holding her mother as a child. In Christopher Eccleston’s series, wonderful Billie Piper had a similar sort of story (Fathers Day, 2005). There were echoes all over the place.’ He states proudly. Most of the writers who brought Doctor Who back were fans who grew up on the 70’s and 80’s serials. Sylvester beams; ‘It is glorious!’

In 2019, we’re at a point where a female actor is playing the role of the Doctor. There had been female Time Lords before in the show, but the Doctor had never regenerated into a woman until 2017’s Twice Upon a Time. Is this something that Sylvester and the team ever considered during their time on the show?

‘No, not at all really. There were whispers that perhaps, maybe one day (it could happen). But nobody really thought it could work. I was one of those people! When it was announced she was going to do it, I thought ‘Wow, I better think about this seriously.’ And then ‘Why not?’ And then I sat down and watched her – I was blown away. After the first few minutes, she was the Doctor! There was no doubt at all. It didn’t matter what sex she was.’

‘One small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind’

Did Sylvester give her any advice on taking on the role? ‘I wrote her a message. It said, ‘one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind.’ What a leap it was. She is about to launch her second series as the Doctor after the success of her first in 2018 and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. The sincerity and passion in Sylvester’s voice dulls a little as he finishes; ‘(She’s been) Overusing her sonic screwdriver though!’

Finally, we set the seventh Doctor one last question: Can he describe his era of the show in 3 words? ‘Mystery, question mark, Who.’ He replies instantly. Well, technically that’s 4 words, but we’ll take it.

Find Classic Doctor Who episodes, spin-offs, documentaries, telesnaps and more on BritBox from December 26th

The Macra Terror review – everything you need to know about the animation

The big news this month is the release of The Macra Terror – a second Doctor story currently missing from the BBC archives. All four parts were wiped to save space back in the 60s, meaning they aren’t available to watch anywhere! Luckily, the audio for the entire adventure was recorded by a fan and with the help of some rare clips and stills, it has been animated for us all to enjoy!

The second Doctor Polly and Ben.

Fast Macra facts

  • The serial was first aired in 1967 – the seventh story of the fourth series of Doctor Who.
  • The Macra Terror features the second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton and his three companions: Polly – Anneke Wills, Ben – Michael Craze and Jamie – Frazer Hines.
  • It was the first story to feature the Doctor’s face in the title sequence.
  • The Macra returned to Doctor Who in Gridlock (2007) – 40 years after their original appearance!
  • The whole story has been released in animation on DVD, Blu-ray, Steelbook and downloadable in colour and black and white, available from March 25th 2019
The second Doctor and Polly, Ben and Jamie aboard the TARDIS – in stunning animation for The Macra Terror.

Anneke Wills (Polly, companion to the First and Second Doctors) spoke all things Macra and Who at the press launch:

Anneke excitedly revealed details about the original Macra props; ‘They were huge, clunky creatures made of papier-mache. Patrick took one look and said ‘We’re going to have to cover this with Polly’s blood curdling screams!’ She went on to gush about Patrick’s portrayal of the Doctor, saying that she thinks it’s his iconic voice that makes him so distinct, ‘It’s frightfully posh!’ She continued to say that ‘If it hadn’t been Patrick who took over the role of the Doctor, we wouldn’t be sitting here today – we should always be grateful to him.’

‘I felt curious’ was her response when she found out she was being animated. ‘In a way you remove yourself, because it’s not about you.’ She did have one qualm though – the animation team just didn’t manage to get her eye makeup right! ‘I want to take you back to the storyboard and show you how I did my make-up. It was the eye make-up of the time, a false eyelid.’ We totally agree, those wings have to be on point!

Anneke and Frazer both praised the hard work of the team and enjoyed the animation immensely – it was wonderful to hear her speaking so fondly of our favourite show.

Jamie McCrimmon – animated for The Macra Terror.

The Animation Journey

  • The BBC Studios team, headed up by Charles Norton and Paul Hembury (Executive Producer, BBC Studios) decide which missing story will be animated – this depends on time, budget and the detail and scale of the episodes.
  • Sound extraordinaire Mark Ayres enhances and cleans up the sound recordings available from the story’s first transmission. This includes slightly adapting the recordings as they can sometimes be muffled or bad quality.
  • Artist Martin Geraghty draws each character down to every movement they make. Charles Norton said of the work; “(Martin) Draws every single facial expression, every mouth shape, every eye blink, every frown, every smile – from every single angle for each character.” Phew – that’s a LOT of work!
  • They even have a library full of different hand gestures – the Second Doctor takes up alot of room!
  • Sun and Moon Studios animate Martin’s drawings to bring them to life, using an animation tool called ‘Toon Boon’
  • After months of hard work, everyone’s work comes together to create a fully animated, complete set of episodes for The Macra Terror – ready for fans old and new to enjoy

Our Verdict

The Time Ladies meet Polly and Jamie.

We were lucky enough to watch episode one of this epic adventure in advance of its release, so what did we think?

The Macra Terror animation is an exciting addition to any Doctor Who fan’s DVD collection, bringing to life a missing part of one of our favourite eras of the show. The team at BBC Studios have done a fantastic job of creating smooth, detailed animation that works brilliantly for the adventure. You can really tell the difference in quality from the last animated story – Power of the Daleks – with the use of new software and a bigger budget as well as more time to produce.

As Doctor Who fans who weren’t alive in 1967, it feels like such a treat to have an insight into a story we once thought we’d never lay eyes on. Episode one is pacy, with a mystery apparent as soon as the team set foot outside the TARDIS and capture an escapee from a colony. Snappy scenes, quick-fire dialogue and plenty of action set the story up against some of our favourite Second Doctor stories. As for the Macra in animation? We’re pretty sure it’s the best they’ve ever looked! Now, when can we see even more Ben and Polly please…

You can purchase The Macra Terror on DVD, Blu-ray, Steelbook and via download.

Classic Who for Beginners

if you’ve never delved into the world of classic Doctor Who then it can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? Only half of our time lady team (Kezia) has completed watching all of classic Who, while Beth is currently making her way through the Hartnell era.

Never fear though, because this week sees the launch of Doctor Who and Twitch’s classic series stream! From An Unearthly Child to Survival you’ll be able to watch it all.
We were lucky enough to be asked to appear on their Twitch Presents: Doctor Who chat show, talking all things Who! You can find Beth on the sofa discussing stories and Doctors between episodes on Twitch. In the meantime, if you’re not sure where to begin, we’ve created a beginner’s guide to Classic Doctor Who. We’ve picked a story from each Doctor that we think would be a great jumping on point, get your notepad ready…

The First Doctor

Top Pick: The Dalek Invasion of Earth


Join the first Doctor and his friends as they take on The Dalek invasion of Earth! The second ever appearance of the Daleks brings them to 2160’s London, where the Doctor’s enemy is trying to blow up the earth’s crust and destroy the world. After the TARDIS is blocked by fallen girders, the team must find out what is going on and are unable to leave. This is an incredibly important story for the Doctor as well as the first TARDIS team as they battle the deadly Daleks. You’ll get a taste of black and white Doctor Who as well as some good old quality time with brilliant companions Susan, Barbara and Ian! The team get split up in typical classic Who style bringing different, exciting elements to the adventure as well as insights into each character. The story is filled with action, romance and even heartbreak as The Doctor says goodbye to his grand-daughter. We’re treated to a real insight into Susan’s life with The Doctor as she tells her new-found love interest, David, that she longs for a life in one place with one identity. After the team save the world from the Daleks, The Doctor realises that she deserves this life with the person she loves and leaves her forever. Your hearts will break as he says goodbye and William Hartnell delivers one of the most iconic speeches in Doctor Who’s history. If you want a first Doctor story to get you started, this is definitely the one!

We also recommend: An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, The Time Meddler, The War Machines and Tenth Planet.


The Second Doctor 

Top Pick: The Tomb of The Cybermen


We actually think most of the second Doctor’s stories are excellent jumping on points, his Doctor and companions offer a lighter, more adventurous offering to the first so you’re in for a treat! If you want an overall flavour of his era we recommend the wondrous The Tomb of the Cybermen. Follow Jamie, the Doctor and Victoria on an adventure to unearth the secrets of a hidden away cave, discovered by an archeological trip on the planet Telos. They have no idea of what hides beneath the ground (but from the title I think you can guess). This is the first time we see the cyber mats and the first time the Cybermen make one of their infamous entrances, it really is iconic. There’s a brilliant mix of hilarity and big jump scares, but mostly adventure. Honestly, watch this and you’ll wonder why people call classic Who slow!

We also recommend: The Mind Robber, The Web of Fear, The Invasion, The Enemy of the World and The War Games

The Third Doctor

Top Pick: The Green Death


A thoroughly modern story that still resonates with us today, The Green Death deals with environmental issues, giant maggots and heartbreak for the Doctor as he says goodbye to companion Jo Grant.

As a mysterious death at a coal mine attracts UNIT’s attention, the team head to South Wales to find out what’s going on. The Doctor and Jo are split up when he wants to go to Metebilis 3 and she wants to investigate the mine and meet Nobel prize winner Professor Clifford Jones. This brings them into the middle of a deadly polluted chemical company run by a mysterious super computer named BOSS who is intent on poisoning the earth. The Doctor uses his wit and cleverness as a disguise to infiltrate the company and find out what’s going on, all the while his beloved companion Jo is falling in love with Clifford and helping to save the day in the process.

The story is a beautiful character piece for the Doctor and features stunning performances from Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning as their final moments together play out. It feels modern and relevant in terms of character as well as the environmental sub-plot, something that affects the Earth even more today. Along with UNIT, giant maggots and a good old traditional setting of an underground mine, this adventure is the perfect start to a third Doctor watch.

We also recommend: Spearhead From Space, Inferno, The Sea Devils, The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters. 

The Fourth Doctor

Top Pick: Genesis of The Daleks


Genesis of The Daleks introduces one of Doctor Who’s most iconic villains; creator of the Daleks, Davros. In the first of many appearances in the show, we are treated to the beginning of the Daleks story and just what drove them into being created. Alongside this we’re treated to appearances of their home planet, Skaro and an iconic TARDIS team adventuring upon it without the TARDIS…

On a mission for the Time Lords, The Doctor and his companions must complete a deadly task: Stop the Daleks from ever being created. This story deals with themes of morality, death, power and responsibility with the Doctor put through a difficult test. It’s one of the fourth Doctor’s most loved adventures and hold significant importance in terms of the show’s canon. With an appearance from the Time Lords and a look into the Daleks’ origins, it’s an exciting window into classic series Doctor Who. As well as this, it features the wonderful Sarah-Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan to help the Doctor with his mission, giving us the perfect introduction to Tom Bakers era of the show and all of its most famous elements.

We also recommend: The Ark in Space, The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom, The Hand of Fear, The Robots of Death, The Ribos Operation, City of Death
and The Keeper of Traken.

The Fifth Doctor

Top Pick: The Caves of Androzani 


This pick isn’t necessarily representative of the fifth Doctor’s era but The Caves of Androzani gives a taste of him at his absolute best. In this incredibly dark story the Doctor and new companion Peri are stuck on mining planet Androzani Minor where let’s say, the Doctor has got himself into quite a pickle! A story of kidnap, blackmail, politics and warfare take place underground as the truly terrible people (essentially tories), ruin the lives of everyone in their shiny offices far away. It’s some of the most absorbing Doctor Who and amazing storytelling.

A Doctor couldn’t go out on a higher note, there’s a reason this is consistently voted as one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.

We also recommend: Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, Kinda, Snakedance, Black Orchid and The Five Doctors.


The Sixth Doctor

Top Pick: Vengeance on Varos


Another dark story to add to your list, in Vengeance on Varos the Doctor and Peri arrive on a planet which feels very much like our potential future. In a heightened game of what feels like Big Brother, the public lives through the screens in their homes to vote for what happens to the people within ‘the game’. Imagine casually voting on someone’s life? Or worse still, your whole day revolving around that act? That’s where we’re at in this episode! You’ll get to watch the iconic, repulsive Sil *tongue waggle* and see Colin’s Doctor in action man mode as he leaps over fiery pits and more! The darker stories in the sixth Doctor’s era are definitely his best, and definitely worth the watch.

We also recommend: Attack of the Cybermen, The Mark of the Rani
and Revelation of the Daleks.


The Seventh Doctor

Top Pick: Remembrance of the Daleks


Remembrance of the Daleks is the perfect episode to introduce you to the seventh Doctor’s era. The story brings the Doctor to a very important time indeed; 23rd November 1963. The TARDIS lands back on 76 Totter’s Lane where the Doctor’s adventures began 25 years before, and there’s trouble at coal hill once more. Not only is the adventure a 25th anniversary extravaganza but it is also the Dalek’s last television appearance before the new series revival of the show.

On the hunt for some Time Lord technology hidden on Earth by the Doctor, two fractions of opposing Daleks fight to secure it and wreak havoc on time and space. With the whole universe in danger and a Dalek civil war unfolding, how will The Doctor and Ace save the day? Baseball bats, flying Daleks and coal hill nostalgia make this a fun and exciting adventure to jump into.

We also recommend: Paradise Towers, Delta and the Bannermen, Silver Nemisis, Battlefield, The Curse of Fenric and Survival.