by Shannon Lush
Last time, we took a peek at the first four actors to play The Doctor on TV, and appropriately, we ended on Tom Baker, the most popular actor to this day. This week, we shift our focus to the glitzy, superficial 1980's, and we will end off on the era that could have been, the so-called 'American Doctor Who', headed by Paul McGann.
THE FIFTH DOCTOR: PETER DAVISON (Duration: 3 years, 1982 to 1984)
Who To Credit: By the time that Tom Baker had quit as The Doctor, producer John Nathan-Turner had firmly become the 'hands-on' creative force behind 'Doctor Who'. As the first producer to truly understand the power of the media to promote the show, JN-T utilized every opportunity to shamelessly plug it in a variety of interesting ways. In addition to instructing Baker to 'let slip' that the producers were strongly considering casting a female as his successor, for no reason other than it added to the intensity of the media scrutiny when Baker announced his departure, JN-T also arranged for the creation and transmission of a special retrospective. 'The Five Faces Of Doctor Who' thus became the first compilation package of 'best of' episodes chosen from the past, allowing British audiences to watch episodes featuring all four previous Doctors while they waited for the debut of the new Fifth Doctor, and that episode, ultimately entitled 'Castrovalva', was the cherry on top.
JN-T also had arranged for the production of the first-ever spin-off series concept, producing the pilot episode of an intended new series, 'K-9 And Company'. Actress Elizabeth Sladen had declined to re-join 'Doctor Who' when invited by JN-T, who was afraid that Tom Baker's large and loyal fan following would stop watching now that he was gone; therefore, JN-T needed to give them another reason to remain loyal by bringing back the most popular companion character ever, Sarah Jane Smith. She did, however, accept his second offer, to co-star in the spin-off. Along with voice actor John Leeson, who gave life to K-9, Sladen returned as Sarah Jane in the pilot episode of 'K-9 And Company', in an episode entitled 'A Girl's Best Friend'. While ratings were strong given the whimsical K-9's popularity with children and the Sarah Jane character's popularity with just about everyone, the BBC decided to pass on an option of commissioning a series. Nevertheless, its very existence remains a testament to JN-T's thought processes at the time, to maximize 'Doctor Who' at every opportunity.
As producer, JN-T would go on to become, to this day, the most controversial, visible, fan-friendly, and important creative person behind the ups and downs of 'Doctor Who' throughout the 1980's. And his first big decision, the one he wanted above all others, the one that had contributed to on-set arguments with Tom Baker frequently, and the one that he lay awake at night dreaming about was: he wanted to cast his own Doctor. And essentially, that's exactly what he did.
Why He Accepted: Peter Davison is the stage name of Peter Moffett, who by the time he was approached by JN-T to become The Doctor was beginning to become a familiar face on British TV screens, if not yet a household name. Discovering that he could not apply to become an actor under his real name due to the actor's union Equity's rule disallowing this due to the director of the same name (who would later direct Davison in 'Doctor Who', in fact), Moffett changed it to Davison, and it is under that name Whovians would come to recognize him. The rules have since been changed, allowing Davison's own daughter to not only appear in 'Doctor Who' under the surname Moffett, but to also marry David Tennant, who played The 10th Doctor!
In a very definite attempt to get away from the overwhelming and iconic image of Tom Baker's 4th Doctor, JN-T wrote a shortlist of the qualities and traits he wished to emphasize with the 5th Doctor. Among them were that he must have short hair, preferably blonde! Recognizing, as previous producers of the show had, that nobody wins by casting a 'poor man's' carbon copy of the previous Doctor, JN-T was eager to get as far away from the acting style, overall physical look, and even larger-than-life and booming vocals of Tom Baker and his version of the Doctor. To this end, he recalled enjoying an actor who he had previously worked with in the TV series 'All Creatures Great And Small', an actor who fit the bill in every way that JN-T wanted: Peter Davison. A publicity photo of Davison in cricketing outfit taken for a charity event during that show that just happened to be hanging in JN-T's office even inspired the final design of the 5th Doctor's clothing. It appeared to be written in the stars.
Not so fast. When contacted by JN-T out of the blue, Davison was astonished by two points made during the conversation. First, that not only was Tom Baker leaving the show that Davison had often fantasized about guest-starring in once his acting career took off...but that JN-T wanted a 'personality actor' to play the 5th Doctor. 'Never in a million years did I see myself as a personality actor', Davison recalled, 'someone who just came with a ready-made personality to a role'. And yet, by JN-T's reckoning, that was exactly the type of actor he was looking for, and what's more, Davison was 'exactly' the actor he was looking for. Despite massive reservations, Davison eventually accepted. Why? 'If I had turned it down, and they had casted someone else, I couldn't very well tell anyone then that I'd been asked to play it first'. From day one, Davison felt he was too young, too unsuited to the role, and often wondered why he was given the simple instructions from producers, directors, and writers of 'you are The Doctor. Now go and do it!', as he recalled years later. Perhaps JN-T truly felt that Davison the 'personality actor' would simply play it as himself..?
The only true inspiration Davison got from this time was from, perhaps appropriately, a child. During a press launch to announce his appointment as The Doctor, he chanced to be speaking in front of a crowd of children. When he asked them 'how should I play it?', the answers ranged from bland to repetitive. Except one boy, who said he should play it 'like Tristan, only brave', in reference to the character of Tristan Farnan from 'All Creatures Great And Small', the show that had brought Davison to not only JN-T's attention, but had been Davison's break-out role. 'I quite liked that suggestion', Davison said, 'it was simple, to the point. I thought 'if only I can catch onto that idea!'
It is not well known now, but at the time that Davison played The Doctor, he was in fact quite busy as an actor, alternating between the TARDIS and the ITV drama series 'Sink Or Swim' at the same time, consequently becoming the only Doctor actor to pull double-duty on another series as a regular while working in 'Doctor Who'. This would perhaps hurt his credibility as The Doctor, as audiences could see Davison not only in two regular series airing at the same time, but also in a series of guest-starring roles, small film roles, even as the voice of animated features, all while he battled Daleks, Cybermen, and Matthew Waterhouse. While a boon for the actor to have such a variety of high profile acting jobs, it had the unfortunate side-effect of watering down The Doctor and rendering him less than 'special' if one could see the same man in ordinary situations on the other channel.
Perhaps as another side-effect to this steady work was Davison's approach to the role, as he simply did not have adequate time to truly stress over being The Doctor. Unlike Tom Baker, who came to obsess over minute details in scripts and lines, Davison's Doctor was younger, fresher, less complex and by far the most 'human' in terms of character than all of his predecessors. Though being a hero to millions of children meant he was released from a lucrative television advertising contract by Guinness Beer, and the ads, which had already been filmed, were erased.
In the end, Davison accepted the role, as he viewed it as an acting challenge. He accepted that, as Tom Baker's replacement, he would be required to fill big shoes and win over a hard core Baker fan base, and realized that he would utilize the opportunity that playing the lead in 'Doctor Who' would give his career, as he likely would never have such a highly-visible part offered to him again. But there was the small matter of typecasting..
As has been noted, Patrick Troughton met Davison in the parking lot of the BBC car park, congratulated him, and told him to 'only do three years'. Davison would adhere to the advice of Troughton, one of the small number of men who had been exactly where Davison was going. His Doctor was youthful and naive, with flashes of stubbornness and quick-temperedness. But he always intended it to last only three seasons.
Why He Quit: Despite his puzzlement over JN-T's insistence that he was a 'personality actor', Davison maintained that he was, simply, an actor. One who looked for work and one who, hopefully, was always working. At no point did he ever give 'Doctor Who' or The Doctor character the type of attention and/or obsession that others did. He was eager to avoid the pitfalls of typecasting which had plagued every previous Doctor actor to one degree or other, and instead of foregoing other work in order to fully concentrate on 'Doctor Who', Davison, as noted, successfully juggled lead roles in two different shows at once. Due to this outlook, Davison made it clear that he would play the role for only 3 years.
Other mitigating factors in his decision to leave, above and beyond his self-imposed deadline, were that he felt the 'budget was never enough, just barely adequate', that certain stories, particularly within his second season, were not good, dramatic stories that as an actor he could be proud of, and that union strikes hampered the show and left him 'at the point of exhaustion'. He claimed to be 'relieved' when he was finished with the grind of 'Doctor Who'. He 'had' asked for a period of contemplation over whether he would return for a 4th season, and at one point had even contacted JN-T to indicate he was leaning towards doing so. JN-T told him that he had already instructed the wardrobe, script, and casting departments to prepare for a new actor as The Doctor, and thus Davison reverted to his previous decision to leave.
'I do miss it, from time to time', Davison said. He noted that 'strikes delayed my last stories so that I was wore out by the time it was all over, but yes, one does suffer the odd pang'. As the youngest Doctor to that point, Davison's era is best remembered for the introduction of glitzy new FX, the 'two episodes a week' format that ultimately worked against the success of the show in the long term, the 20th anniversary 'The 5 Doctors' special, and for being the only televised instance where a future Doctor appeared as a character other than The Doctor, when Colin Baker played Maxil in 'Arc Of Infinity'. Perhaps Davison's finest performance came in his final, swan-song story, 'The Caves Of Androzani'.
THE SIXTH DOCTOR: COLIN BAKER (Duration: 2 years, 1984 to 1986)
Who To Credit: John Nathan-Turner, once again. By this point having overseen the casting of his own Doctor with Peter Davison, JN-T had become comfortable in this particular aspect of the perks that come with being producer of 'Doctor Who', and once more relished the idea of casting his own man in the lead. As a senior producer who rose through the ranks on various BBC and independent series, JN-T was friends with a great many people in the British television landscape, both in front of and behind the camera. While quietly considering who to approach to take over the series during the period when Davison had requested more time to mull over whether he wished to remain for a fourth year, JN-T happened to attend the wedding of a former assistant floor manager of his. Coincidentally, Colin Baker, who had worked with both JN-T and Davison on 'Arc Of Infinity' barely a year and half previously, also was in attendance. Little did he know it, but JN-T was mentally 'auditioning' Baker from the moment they both sat together. 'I thought, if he can keep a roomful of hardened show-business professionals entertained for hours at a time, he could do the same to an audience of millions', JN-T would recount later. Baker himself, recalling how JN-T had asked him to 'tone down the acting in the background, please', while playing Maxil in 'Arc', nevertheless also noted that it was that very performance that put him on the producer's radar. 'Maxil was an over-the-top performance', Baker said, 'so much so, John remembered it vividly and thought of me when Peter decided after all he would leave'. A clandestine meeting, far from the prying eyes of press and Whovians alike, was set up a local pub later in order for Baker and JN-T to further discuss the little matter of casting a new Doctor. 'He told me Peter was leaving, which I didn't know at the time', Baker recalled. 'Suddenly, who appears but Peter! I had to pretend I was there for a completely different reason, like I'm there to clean the windows!', Baker laughed. When finally offered the role, Baker accepted without hesitation. 'I had contacted my agent when I heard Tom was leaving, saying 'look, there's a job going at the BBC and I'd very much like it, so get on it', but by the time he got through to them, Peter had been casted already', Baker said, indicating his desire to play the role extended for years. In fact, his association with 'Doctor Who' in general can be traced back to decades before he ever assumed the lead. In addition to being a roommate and good friend of Patrick Troughton's son David for ten years, Baker had also narrowly missed being cast as Jellico, the assistant to the evil Winters in 'Robot', Tom Baker's first story. When the time came, he finally realized a dream of sorts when he was cast as Maxil, never actually considering that it would be this role that would lead him indirectly to becoming the Doctor himself. 'Many people suggested that my true audition for the part was shooting Peter!’ he joked, 'the unofficial rule being if you zap the incumbent, you get to be the next one!'.
Why He Accepted: In addition to his admiration for 'Doctor Who' and his memories of being a fan growing up in England, which made him the first Doctor to have actually been such prior to being the lead actor, Baker also realized the career opportunity it afforded him. Perhaps his highest-profile work prior to 'Doctor Who' had been a drama series called 'The Brothers', which, in his own words, 'was a bit like the 'Dallas' set-up, only they didn't sit around pools freezing and pretending it was hot!' A series about a hauling company comprised of a fleet of trucks run by two brothers, Baker's character, Paul Merrony, came into the series half way through its run. 'I was J.R before J.R was! In England, I was the man the fans loved to hate!'. While consistently topping fan polls as the 'best bad guy on TV' at the time in the late 1970's, when the series ended Baker found himself 'out in the cold', type casted and overlooked for parts dissimilar to the ruthless and unethical banker role he had played. By the 1980's, after appearing in guest-starring roles in both 'Doctor Who' and 'Blake's Seven', Baker nevertheless found the bulk of his work in the theatre, and jumped at the chance to be a part of what he called 'something that has left an indelible print on generations'. Promised by the head of BBC Drama at the time, David Reid, to be given 'a four year contract, as Peter had left after three, and they wanted to get a bit more continuity out of it', Baker would find himself instead a victim of what he termed 'power politics'.
Why He Quit: As a victim to everything from a new running time for his episodes (45 minutes, instead of the traditional 22, effectively halving his seasons and ensuring 'Doctor Who' was no longer a permanent and familiar fixture on British television for long periods), to the costume he was forced to wear ('an explosion in a rainbow factory', he described it as), to the implementation of controversial efforts to 'darken' the nature of the series and specifically of the Doctor, ('we do want to give the Sixth Doctor more of an acid wit', JN-T said during the press launch), to the shifting nature of BBC funds allocations going to a new daytime programming format instead of on its nigh time programming, which resulted in the cancellation of several series and the 'pausing' of 'Doctor Who' for 18 long months, Colin Baker endured daily upheaval in the role he always dreamed of playing. 'For a brief period there, I had the best job on television, and like any child who has his toy taken away before he's done playing with it, I was more than a little cross when they took it away from me', he would fume. As the only televised Doctor to be officially 'axed' from the role thanks to instructions from BBC corporate suits like Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell, who had replaced David Reid, Baker stated that the 'concession' that JN-T had won for him, to be invited back in order to film a regeneration story, not only was insulting but that he would have been forced to forego work in the meantime, due to the demands of the BBC contract. 'I've always likened it to your girlfriend giving you the push but then saying 'you can come spend a night with me again next year', he said. 'You know, if someone else had been cast in that role in 1984, and I was playing it now, I'd still be in that role for years to come', Baker summarized, chalking up his tenure to being 'unlucky'. Perhaps his most amusing quote regarding his time as the Doctor was the underwhelmed reaction of his wife. Upon being officially casted, he went home in a triumphant mood. 'I burst through the door, put my hands on my hips, and bellowed I AM THE DOCTOR!' he said. 'My wife said, 'oh, yes? Listen, could you now take out the rubbish, please'?
THE SEVENTH DOCTOR: SYLVESTER MCCOY (Duration: 2 years on BBC television, 1987 to 1989: 9 years as 'official BBC licensed Doctor' in spin-off material).
Who To Credit: While anxious to finally depart 'Doctor Who' as it's producer, having performed as such since the dying days of Tom Baker's reign, JN-T was forced to carry on when the BBC made it clear it was either that, or be removed as a staff producer. To quote Colin Baker again, 'the BBC mixed it up: they kept the guy who didn't want to stay, and fired the guy who did!'. Handcuffed to the series at a time when he felt he had given it a significant portion of his life, JN-T's weary approach to casting his third Doctor in 8 years was reflected in the casting of light entertainer Sylvester McCoy.
Born in Scotland as Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith, McCoy was raised in a household that did not even own a television! Working in insurance initially, and gravitating towards show business due to his job as an usher in a movie theatre, McCoy found his talents for farce and comedy would come into play often. Adept at odd facial expressions (the regeneration sequence in the FOX TV film featured McCoy contorting his face naturally, without the need for FX to assist!), being able to play the spoons, juggling...all became a part of his act, as he began touring with comedy theatre groups. In addition to 'stuffing ferrets down my trousers', as he said, he adopted the stage name 'Sylvester McCoy' after a reviewer mistook the name as his, as he was billed as that fictional actor on a poster as an 'in-joke'.
It was playing the Pied Piper in theatres that he was spotted by JN-T, and McCoy has said he felt it was the fact that the Piper wore multi-colored costumes similar to those worn by Colin Baker as the Doctor that may have caught JN-T's eye. Once he became aware of the possible interest, he instructed his agent to call JN-T directly to place him into nomination for the role. Coincidentally, a mutual friend of theirs had just before called to himself vouch for McCoy as an ideal candidate for the next Doctor. Suspecting collusion, JN-T was nevertheless intrigued enough to agree to meet with McCoy and sound him out for the role.
Showing up to the meeting wearing a cream-colored jacket, paisley scarf, and tweed hat quite similar to the clothing worn by the character that would become his Seventh Doctor, McCoy won JN-T over to the idea of casting him. Despite his lack of extensive television experience and name-value recognition, McCoy not only was friends with Bonnie Langford, who he would inherit from Colin Baker as his Doctor's first companion, but his appeal to children was what JN-T would cite as a major factor. 'I hadn't watched 'Doctor Who' in years', McCoy said, and what memories he did have centered around Patrick Troughton, which informed his decision to 'play it for laughs', as he admitted.
His initial year, season 24, is generally regarded as among the worst in the series' history, as the Doctor became an impish, clown-like figure, featuring multiple moments of hat-doffing, not to mention pratfalls. The introduction of the character of Ace in 'Dragonfire' and the arrival of new script editor Andrew Cartmel, who would significantly 'darken' the McCoy years with the blessings of both McCoy and JN-T, extended the series' lifespan further than perhaps it would have under McCoy's initial characterization. In its final seasons as a BBC drama series, McCoy would give 'Doctor Who' some of his strongest performances in excellent stories such as ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks', 'The Curse Of Fenric', and 'Battlefield'. Once the series was placed on 'hiatus' again by the BBC in 1989, the expansion of the character further in numerous books and comics permanently shifted the 7th Doctor into the dark, foreboding figure of enigma and 'cosmic chess playing' that JN-T had attempted and failed to do to anyone's satisfaction with Colin Baker.
Why He Accepted: As noted, Sylvester McCoy was quite keen to attach himself to a venerable but still money-making and moderately successful BBC series, even more so when he discovered that JN-T, having been stung by the public and fan's refusal to accept a darker Doctor and adult-oriented stories with the Sixth Doctor's era, was open to the idea of not only 'playing it for laughs', but for incorporating elements of McCoy's own act into the Doctor (hence, the newly-regenerated Doctor's bizarre decision to pratfall away from the Rani in his debut 'Time And The Rani'). JN-T, in perhaps an over-reaction to the drama associated with Baker's dismissal, decreed that they would be forced to 'play it safe', and present a Doctor who was virtually 'kid friendly'; as noted, the result was the bland and childish stories of season 24.
While he had performed in TV series in the past as a guest star, these had all been of the light-entertainment and children's educational variety, thus McCoy was, on paper, an unsuitable choice for a producer striving to present more mature stories, which would require a more experienced actor. To his credit, McCoy, despite lacking in the finer points of acting and to his end in the role exaggerating his natural Scots brogue, displayed strong performances in several stories in the latter years of his tenure. McCoy championed the idea of taking on the role despite the resentment it caused within his own family; in a revealing interview with 'Doctor Who Magazine' years removed from his time as the Doctor, he stated that his eldest son had come to 'hate' the Doctor character, as his father grew more and more recognized for it. 'He said he wished I had stayed in theatre and gained success there', McCoy admitted, though he also said that being 'Doctor Who' gave him everything he would go on to have in life. 'God, the money's appalling', he laughed.
Why He Quit: The Seventh Doctor is, essentially, split down the middle in the eyes of many fans: there is the 'TV version', which definitely grows and matures and gains not just a twinkle in his eye but a streak of malevolence and hints of a dark past, of being 'more than just a Timelord'. There is also the speculative expansion of the character once the series itself ended, with the Doctor beginning to wield time itself as a weapon in order to 'take the fight to the enemy', becoming ever more ruthless, to the point that, when she encounters him again in the novel series, Mel slaps him, sickened by what he's become and what lengths he will now go to in order to justify his actions and achieve victory.
All of these elements introduced into the novels 'would' have been presented, in some form, in the TV series, had it continued. As it was, many former script editors, Terrance Dicks among them, contributed to the 'New Adventures' novels, and major revelations regarding the Doctor, his past, and that of Gallifrey itself, had all been adapted from the original plans that Andrew Cartmel had prepared for the TV series, the so-called 'Cartmel Masterplan'. To all this, one must credit McCoy, who took the role 'as a laugh', and ended up introducing a character closer to the First Doctor's style and approach, of a 'wizard' to quote William Hartnell.
As an actor, he brought a satisfaction to those yearning for the good old days with his performance. One such scene was, smiling enigmatically, he held up a finger to shush his companion when she wonders aloud, 'who are you?' in 'Silver Nemesis'.
And yet for all the hard work McCoy put in at a time when 'Doctor Who' was not only an old series but one in which the BBC sharks were always circling, waiting to slash its budget, juggle it around the schedule, put it on the shelf, and/or cancel it outright, it came to naught when the axe finally came down. As the last televised Doctor in what is now called 'the classic series', McCoy's Doctor remained the 'BBC Doctor' for longer in print and spinoff materials than Tom Baker was the Doctor on TV.
And while he has indicated that he would have remained with the series on TV for up to 5 years or perhaps more, it was his promise, once it was made clear the BBC would not renew the series itself without an outside partnership, that he would 'pass the torch' to another actor to assume the role that remains, perhaps, McCoy's greatest contribution for Whovians. Fully 8 years from his last appearance in 'Survival', Sylvester McCoy gratefully accepted the chance to play ‘The Old Doctor' in the FOX TV film, in order to 'pass' the role to his friend Paul McGann. He also took the opportunity to record a special in order to reflect on his time and its passing, called 'Bidding Adieu'.
THE EIGHTH DOCTOR: PAUL MCGANN (Duration: less than 2 hours in only televised appearance in FOX TV film; 9 years in spinoff material, 1996 to 2005; unrevealed final appearance; current 'Big Finish Audio' Doctor).
Who To Credit: The very nature of the FOX TV film meant the approach to casting the lead role was vastly different than it had been in John Nathan-Turner's time. To begin with, 'Doctor Who' had been a long-running BBC series, and the job of casting was unofficially given to whomever the producer was at the time, subject to not only contributions from the creative staff, but with final approval from the BBC itself; in the long history of the series, no casting choice made was ever overturned or rejected by the BBC big wigs in charge at the time it was made. For the FOX film, however, other, loftier considerations came into play.
By this point in 1995, 'Doctor Who' was unofficially 'dead' as an ongoing concept wholly owned and transmitted by the BBC 'in-house'; even during the McCoy years, the BBC were quietly negotiating with companies such as Coast-To-Coast Productions (who later became Daltenrays, co-owned and financed by Roger Daltry, lead singer of the British band The Who), in order to 'farm out' the series for co-production funding, either to continue as a series or else a film or film series.
There was also the fact that JN-T had departed 'Doctor Who' as the last of its 'classic series' producers, and was not even given a perfunctory consulting call or appointment in the negotiations that would lead to the marriage of BBC Worldwide, the American production company Amblin Entertainment, and the FOX Television stations, all of whom had their hands in the pie when it came to the funding and realization of a brand-new adventure for a brand-new Doctor.
The TV producer Philip Segal, who is British, was employed by Amblin Entertainment, and was among the first to champion the idea of bringing 'Doctor Who' to American audiences; counting the syndication of the classic series beginning with Tom Baker on PBS channels, and the current attempts made through BBC America, SPACE channel in Canada, and SyFy in the United States, it is the third time in Whoniverse history that someone, somewhere, tried to forcibly crack the elusive North American market with the good Doctor.
Segal had badgered his boss, Steven Spielberg, for permission to 'go after' the rights to 'Doctor Who', and Spielberg had agreed to lend his name to the cause. 'Spielberg's golden name is what got me in the door with the BBC', said Segal. Eager to begin a partnership with the legendary director and his company, who had at the time sold two moderately successful, and certainly glitzy, SF series to the NBC Network, 'SeaQuest DSV' and 'Earth Two', both of which Segal had received producing and co-producing credits on, the BBC overcame their objections to allowing the 'quintessentially British' series to be reformatted to appeal to North American audiences.
After ABC passed on the idea, FOX optioned the film as a 'backdoor pilot', intending to gauge audience reaction and use it to measure whether they wished to commit to either a full season of a new series, or else a series of TV films. In the end, its underwhelming ratings initially in the United States came as little surprise to Whovians who understood that FOX had a tendency to abruptly cancel promising projects when they did not immediately make a ratings splash.
Coupled with stiff competition from ABC in the form of a 'Roseanne' episode centered on main character Dan having a heart attack and virtually 'no' advance publicity on the part of FOX 'or' Amblin, alongside actor Eric Roberts, who played the Master, feeling the role was so 'cartoon terrible' that one month prior to the film's broadcast he did not utter a single word about it while appearing on David Letterman's show, which was watched by millions of North Americans, the film was doomed to failure. In the home of 'Doctor Who', however, nearly 10 million people watched it, many of whom had purchased the VHS which was placed on sale in England prior to its debut on television there!
One of the most contentious issues was, in a film intended to launch a brand-new series, for an audience not whatsoever familiar with 'Doctor Who', and with three different production entities each with their own list of preferred candidates...who would play the Doctor? The most extensive casting sessions ever for the role of 'The Doctor' was undertaken, with numerous suggestions of 'name value' actors, both British 'and' American.
Reflecting the earliest scripts, Peter O'Toole was sounded out for the role of Rassilon, which in this 're-imagined' Whoniverse, was to be the Doctor's father. He expressed initial interest, but nothing was ever signed. Alan Rickman turned it down. Harrison Ford was considered. Christopher Eccleston, in 1995 mind you, appeared on a list as possible young actors considered 'too off the mark' by marketing departments.
In the end, the decision was made to 'cheap out' slightly on the Doctor in order to put the money into the 'bad guy' of the film, who was to be The Master. Thus, Eric Robert's salary for a few weeks’ worth of acting in what he considered so beneath him he didn't breathe word one of it to a national TV audience weeks prior to its debut, surpassed that of every other actor chosen, including that of the Doctor himself, Paul McGann! Let us also point out Eric Roberts is the lead in a film entitled 'Sharktopus', in which he wails 'damn you, sharktopus'!. Just sayin'.
Paul McGann satisfied the concerns of Philip Segal, who was, like JN-T before him, aware of the large and vocal Whovian population that were making their opinions known as to the 'Americanization' fears of this new project. McGann was British, and had a healthy respect for 'Doctor Who', immediately attending conventions even before filming began, in order to 'get on the pulse of it'. McGann was a respected actor from a family of actors, and his own brother had even screen tested for the Doctor!
He was familiar with the character and the history, comfortable enough with the fans, and had delved into SF before, having appeared in one of the 'Aliens' films. 'I knew it would have an immediate impact', McGann said, and has recently stated that had the series gone ahead, he would have been 'delighted' to continue to play the role. As it is, his Eighth Doctor remains the longest serving in audio play form, being the 'flagship' Doctor for the Big Finish range.
Why He Accepted: In numerous panels across numerous fan conventions, McGann has made it clear what initially attracted him to the role was that it was 'so very British'; 'everyone knows Doctor Who, the young and old alike', he said. It would be his most high-profile role, and he had hoped that it would lead to a new series. Financially, the film paid well and the opportunity to perform before a North American audience also factored into his agreement.
Why He Quit: Technically, Paul McGann is 'still' playing the role of the Doctor. Due to complicated rights issues that arose with the parties involved in funding and broadcasting the film, impediments were in place for several years that prevented the BBC from moving forward with regenerating the character into (what would become) the Eccleston Doctor. Before the BBC were able to finally regain the full rights to the likeness, their stop-gap solution was to create a briefly-official 'Ninth Doctor' with the 'Scream Of The Shalka' webcast, in order to side-step the matter altogether.
When the decision was made to bring the series back, one of the first decisions new producer Russel T Davies attempted to address was what became of the Eighth Doctor and why is there not a regeneration scene? Approached by Davies, Pannini Books, a division of the sticker company that produced 'Doctor Who' licensed comics and comic strips, had briefly planned to write and illustrate a 'bridging story' linking the Eighth Doctor to the Ninth and presenting a regeneration. Apparently, Davies himself supplied the script, but when tasked with this momentous Whoniverse event, the editors passed, fearful that the limited page count afforded them was not sufficient to properly give the story justice.
Thus, as he has really never 'stopped' playing the role, McGann continues, in both Big Finish and BBC Radio drama plays, one of which acted as a 'teaser' for the new series and features the McGann Doctor becoming exasperated with an alien race that claims that he should be wearing a 'black leather jacket', and proclaiming 'what kind of a fashion sense nightmare do you think I become??'. Now that the rights issues have been cleared, the Eighth Doctor's stories continue to entertain Whovians who appreciate his charismatic, friendly approach to the Doctor. Official 'canonicity' was attained, much to the chagrin of embittered long-time Whovians who had refused to acknowledge the Eighth Doctor as 'official' until he appeared within 'Doctor Who' on BBC One itself, when the character did just that several times now, represented both in the artwork of 'The Book Of Impossible Things' in the Tennant era, as well as visually as a flashback/roll-call of past Doctors in Matt Smith's debut 'The Eleventh Hour'.
We are going to skip the post-2005 series Doctors, as they are all rather recent and their respective history has been extensively covered elsewhere; in Smith's case, of course, it is still ongoing. I do hope you have enjoyed this look back at the actors who played the Doctor, and join me again soon for another blog entry chock full of 'Doctor Who' goodness!