During his chat with us about his upcoming movie, The Undertaker, we asked Paul McGann about his Doctor Who TV debut, and what it meant to him after all these years.
A year ago last week, Jodie Whittaker signed off as Doctor Who in The Power Of The Doctor. One of the key elements of that story was the appearance of several of The Doctor’s former selves as The Guardians of The Edge, to offer advice in her time of need. For one of the Time Lords, Paul McGann’s Eighth incarnation, it marked the first time he’d actually appeared as the character in a genuine series episode, having appeared on screen before in the pilot-cum-movie of 1996 and the Night Of The Doctor webisode that preceded the 50th anniversary special, Day Of The Doctor.
“I was made up,” McGann chuckled at us in his Liverpudlian brogue. “Finally, after however many years I’ve been involved with it, well, since 96, I made it onto the telly. Properly. Finally! It took me all that time!
“The fans call me ‘the longest and the shortest’. Though I’m hardly in it, I’ve made hundreds of [Big Finish] audio adventures of my iteration… It’s all been audio. It’s a mad thing to think that, on aggregate across nearly 30 years, I’ve made hundreds of hours of audio. But I’ve been in costume on screen as The Doctor for under two hours. In all those years!”
So, we wondered, how did it all come about? Had he been sitting on the plans to bring back multiple former Doctors for a long time?
“This is how it happens,” he laughs, ready to burst that bubble. “You’re sitting here and the phone rings, and they’re like: ‘we’re doing this, and it’s gonna be next week, are you around?’ and you go ‘yeah’, and they say ‘do you want to come to Cardiff?’
“And you go, ‘is there a script?’ and they go ‘we haven’t got one…’ This is always the kind of conversation you have!
“So I went to Cardiff, on my own, no one else was there… Actually, Janet Fielding was there the day I was. I was excited because thought I might meet Jodie Whittaker, but I didn’t… I wouldn’t say I did my lines to a hat stand, but it was almost that. [Sylvester] McCoy and Colin [Baker] and Peter [Davison] they would have been there on different days. That’s how it worked. I got there and saw what I was wearing, read what I was gonna say, and that’s how it went. That’s how this kind of telly tends to be.”
‘The Guardians’, though, as a plot device, opened up a lot of potential for McGann and other Doctors to pop up at any point in the show’s future (or past, we suppose). And when we put this to him, McGann enthusiastically shared his belief that they will be part of Russell T Davies’ thinking going forward.
“You said it, lad, you said it! There’s a lot of optimism about this kind of thing at the moment. Because it’s Russell T Davies. I say that because Russell, I mean, even aside from Doctor Who, he’s Mr Telly. He’s a TV genius. He’s good in all aspects: he knows that the fans want, he knows what people want. As things change, and they will – format, length of episodes, you know, the different ways it’s going to change in the coming two or three years – we know we’re okay because it’s him. It’s in the best hands. And the optimism springs from knowing that we’ll probably get another little go at it, in different ways, small ways.
“Being Doctor Who, you can do what you like. It leaves, always, the possibility of moving slightly sideways or going backwards a little bit. You can say ‘yeah, we’re now going to go back to this bit! We’re going to go slightly to the left and shoot this!’
“It’s just the way it is. It’s great! It’s great for us.
“But I can tell you, when you go out and meet the fans, they are really happy with the prospect of it. It seems like there’s been a real shot in the arm recently. And, of course, it’s a big anniversary – 60 years – so there’s sort of palpable excitement anyway. It’s a good time. I think that 20 years from now, people will still be talking about it. It’s going nowhere.
The three Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials will air on BBC TV and iPlayer in the UK, and Disney+ around the world, from 25th November. Featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate as The Doctor and Donna Noble (also both making a somewhat-unexpected return to the show), three episodes – The Star Beast, Wild Blue Yonder, and The Giggle will appear weekly, before a Christmas Day special, which is expected to represent the passing of Tardis to season 14’s new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa. Last week it was reported that, even though Season 14’s appearance is yet to be formally confirmed, Season 15 of the new incarnation of ‘Who is already filming.
Paul’s new movie, The Undertaker, will get a limited cinema run in the UK from November 3rd before, presumably, moving on to streaming platforms. It’s an unnerving period thriller, with a unique look, and he puts in a great performance. Here’s the trailer.
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