(Actor) Born : 20 August 1943 –
Doctor Reign – 1987 – 89
“You don’t understand regeneration, Mel. It’s a lottery, and I’ve drawn the short plank!” The Seventh Doctor
The Clown Doctor
The Seventh Doctor’s reign was steeped in much controversy and this was no more realised than Sylvester McCoy’s first appearance in the show.
As we have explored in the Sixth Doctor’s profile, Colin Baker was unceremoniously dumped from the role – so was unwilling to return to be part of the regeneration sequence.
With other Doctor’s, the regeneration happened at the end of their final season but with this regeneration – from Sixth to Seventh, it happened at the beginning of McCoy’s era. It was weak and did a major disservice to the talents of Colin Baker.
Whilst travelling, the Tardis – carrying the Doctor and Mel, is attacked by The Rani and materializes on a strange planet and we see the feet of some hairy creature gain entry and approach the sixth Doctor’s body, lying on the floor – face down.
As the creature (we later learn, is a ‘Tet-trap’) turns the Sixth Doctor over, he promptly regenerates into the Seventh Doctor. It is unclear as to what actually “killed” the Sixth Doctor; some BBC insiders claimed he ‘fell’ off of his exercise bike! (Which could be seen at the back of the Tardis just before the regeneration!)
However, one of the more convincing theories is that the Sixth Doctor did this to himself, to prevent the Valeyard from becoming the next regeneration.
But the simple truth is, Baker was fired on orders of the then BBC controller Michael Grade and Who was given one more roll of the dice. Baker himself, wouldn’t return to do the regeneration, so they did it quickly and ruthlessly – using McCoy in both roles and got it out of the way, to get the Seventh Doctor’s reign underway – in Season 24.
Time And the Rani – 1987 is notable on two counts : It was written before the actor was chosen, so did not showcase McCoy’s strengths adequately and it introduced the Doctor’s post regeneration trauma as a kind of comical jester, spouting bad puns and general gibberish.
This was to be McCoy’s early trademark – along with his question marked shaped umbrella, for the first season of the Seventh Doctor. Afterwards, the 7th Doctor would become darker, more moody and introspective.
His backstory would be fleshed out more than any recent incarnation; as the hastily thrown together writing team began to make their mark on the show. Additionally, we were treated to the information that the Doctor (at the time of this regeneration) was roughly; 953 years old.
McCoy’s time in Who was punctuated by below par scripts, so-so acting and an over-reliance on every kind of celebrity guest star the producers could lay their hands on.
Season 25 got off to a much better beginning with the well thought-out Remembrance of the Daleks – 1988 which brought back Davros and warring factions of Dalek’s, in tribute to the 25th anniversary – was set in 1963 around the time we first met William Hartnell.
This episode built on the mythos of the original Hartnell character by divulging some backstory as to what he had really been doing in Totters Yard in 1963. This was punctuated by McCoy who gave a very subtle and brooding performance.
The Doctor had travelled back to London 1963, in the events just before Hartnell’s opener – An Unearthly Child – 1963 and hid the Timelord weapon called the “Hand Of Omega” in Coal Hill school – next door to Totter’s yard, where we had first first met Hartnell.
The Doctor became the destroyer of worlds, as Davros unleashed the power of the Hand Of Omega, which the Doctor had sabotaged and it obliterated the Dalek’s home planet of Skaro. This was a pivotal moment for McCoy as he showed a darker side of retribution, as the Dalek’s were destroyed and he taunted Davros for his arrogance.
“Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself!” [Seventh Doctor about humans] – Remembrance Of The Dalek’s
Silver Nemesis – 1988 reintroduced the Cybermen, battling Nazi’s in an interesting tale set between Earth 1600’s and the 20th Century; with the Doctor stuck right in the middle and manipulating all sides, who were attempting to acquire the Nemesis, another device the Doctor has attempted to protect from rogue parties.
“Among all the varied wonders of the universe, there’s nothing so firmly clamped shut as the military mind!” Seventh Doctor
Season 26’s Battlefield – 1989 saw the final appearance of the Brigadier, Bessie – (the Third Doctor’s wheels) and UNIT. The Brigadier was brought out of retirement to aid UNIT in a battle against knights from another dimension, fighting with UNIT over the body of King Arthur. Which was in suspended animation in a mysterious spaceship at the bottom of a lake.
The Doctor was recognised by these space knights – as “Merlin” the magician, whilst the Doctor was unable to recall being Merlin or not, he eventually came to the conclusion that these events must have happened in his future to come, or an alternative version of the Doctor.
Ghost Light was notable as the actual last episode of original Who filmed and produced but when it was broadcast – The Curse of Fenric – 1989 and Survival came after. It featured more back story for Ace as she revisited a house in Perivale, form her past. The Curse of Fenric pitted the Doctor against an evil ancient entity, called the Fenric, in WWII Northumberland. The Doctor, having originally trapped the entity by beating it at chess eons earlier was forced to replay again, to save humanity. This ended a theme of chess which had ran throughout Season 26, as the Doctor manipulated each episodes monster into “checkmate”.
This is set against the background of the Fenric turning all and sundry into Werewolves. A young lady with a baby who is saved from their clutches, turns out to be Ace’s mother – in a “future paths entwined in the past” moment.
Survival – 1989 was the final broadcast episode of season 26 and would in itself – come to highlight everything that had became wrong with the Seventh Doctor’s reign.
Survival had the Doctor returning Ace to her home town of Perivale only to notice that people were disappearing – seemingly stolen by a race of Cheetah people (who looked awfully like they had walked off of the set of the Musical “Cats”).
The Doctor himself is thrown into this world where he meets the Master; who has been aiding the Cheetah People by creating a “bridge” with Earth. The Master, affected by this strange alien world is turning into a feline – himself.
The episode climaxed with the Doctor and Ace escaping back to the real world and wistfully looking forward to their next adventure as they wandered off together, down a hill.
“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the river’s dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace – we’ve got work to do!” Seventh Doctor to Ace.
The Who producers knew cancellation was coming and the above monologue by the Doctor, was recorded later and hastily inserted over the scene near the end of Survival to sign off the show. Pre-production for a season 27 was underway when production was officially shut down in August 1990 – after 27 years. The BBC confirmed there would be no further Doctor Who’s produced in the forseeable future.
In the end, the Dalek’s, Cybermen, Davros, Ice Warriors, Wirrn, Sea Devils, Silurian’s, Yeti’s and countless other Who villains couldn’t get to the Doctor. The biggest villain in the end, turned out to be the BBC top brass themselves, as they wielded the axe on the show.
Who was tired and in many respects living on its former glories, the Seventh Doctor was being rewritten by a younger fresh team of writers – but they weren’t given enough time to save it. John Nathan-Turner stayed too long as producer and a fresh injection of producing talent around the time Colin Baker took over could have carried the show in a new direction.
As for McCoy, he was getting better as the Doctor, he brought alot to the role in terms of many different facets of personality. He could be whimsical and silly, quickly changing to broody and angry.
So in the end, it didn’t come down to one thing or the other –Who was on the operating table and it had flat lined. As we shall see later, Who would continue to cause controversy in the future, with the treatment of McCoy’s final regeneration scene (which was as ill thought out as Baker’s).
For now though, it was shelved – for the following 4 years and an era which began in 1963 with William Hartnell, was over and if it can be fitting – original Who was consigned to the annals of time.