Happy Birthday, Sylvester McCoy!

Sylvester McCoy, otherwise known as the Seventh Doctor, is 70 years old today. Enjoy an excerpt from Doctor Who FAQ, written by Dave Thompson.

The Seventh Doctor—Sylvester McCoy (born August 20, 1943)

All rolling “r”s and mischievous smiles, physically the Seventh Doctor harked back to the Second. But emotionally, he reawakened memories of the First. Cutting to the point of cruelty, and appearing ready and willing to disassociate himself from even his closest friends, the Seventh Doctor was deep.

Even as he wrestled with the disorientation that now traditionally followed a regeneration, he seemed to know a lot more than he let on—particularly when his only foil was Mel, a spoiled brat of a girl whom he inherited from the Sixth Doctor (and truly, that pair deserved one another), and who echoed Adric’s claim to be a mathematical genius, without ever offering up any evidence of the fact.

Rather, if one can imagine a young Margaret Thatcher disguised as Raggedy Ann, that was Mel in a nutshell, and the Seventh Doctor’s dislike for her was evident every time they touched down on a new planet and he allowed her to go off on her own. Just once before (Earthshock, 1982) had one of the Doctor’s regular companions actually died in the course of duty, Adric, remaining onboard a doomed space freighter as it crashed into the Earth 64 million years ago. And the Fifth Doctor at least summoned up a show of dismay in his memory. Had Mel taken a similar exit, one doubts that the Seventh would have proven quite so respectful. Even his farewell remarks, it was later revealed, were secondhand; they were originally written as an audition piece when McCoy tried out for the role.

If the nature of the Seventh Doctor was initially partially shaped by his disdain for his first assistant, however, it was with the arrival of his second, Ace, that he became the most successful and, generally speaking, likable Doctor since the early days of the Fourth in the company of Sarah Jane, or the Third as he adventured with Jo Grant.

A companion, after all, is not simply someone who tags along with the Doctor to ensure that he has someone to explain things to. She or he is also there to allow the television viewer to see the Doctor as something more than an otherworldly alien who is good at saving the world. She (or he) is there to make certain that we love him as much as they do.

The first three Doctors understood this instinctively; the Fourth at least knew it at the outset of his reign. And the Seventh tapped back into that knowledge, at the same time—and this is where his cruelty comes into play—as he played Ace like an unwitting chess piece in a series of adventures that hindsight revealed were purposefully designed to bring out a secret that her own life had somehow buried.

It was a gambit that the Eleventh Doctor would employ in his dealings with the third of the TARDIS’s ill-starred redheads, the fragrant Amy Pond. The difference, however, is that the Seventh Doctor did not feel the need to make his machinations blindingly obvious all the time. Again, he was deep, and a secret entrusted to him would remain a secret for eternity. Whereas the Eleventh would not simply blab it at the first chance he got, he would also try and make a jokey-wokey out of it. “Try” being the operative word.


Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.



Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on August 20, 2013, in Film & TV and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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