As schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara were capable adults and equal to the Doctor in many ways, a situation that arguably has not repeated itself since, and Susan blended human and alien qualities (although not as much as Carole Ann Ford would have liked). The humans softened up the Doctor’s approach to other people and to the universe, and together they were an unstoppable team – even against the dreaded Daleks. Because Doctor Who was still finding its footing in the early years, those stories remain fascinating to watch now.
Carole Ann Ford vs. the fanboy. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]
In my interview with her, we discussed the chemistry of the original cast, her meeting with current Doctor Peter Capaldi (who has insisted she return to the show at some point) as well as reviving the role of Susan for various Big Finish audio adventures.
[This is the last of my L.I. Who interviews, but look for more from the Signal archive coming up soon.]
The gentleman and his Jules Verne time machine. [BBC photo]
As I’ve discussed before on this site, it’s now easy to forget that Doctor Who and its fans survived through the so-called “Wilderness Years” between the cancellation of the original series in 1989 and the wildly successful revival in 2005.
The great fan hope during that time was the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, which was a co-production among the BBC, Fox and Universal and which aired on Fox exactly 20 years ago today as a backdoor pilot for a potential new series. Say what you like about the movie’s flaws, but there was no question that McGann made his mark as the Doctor with less than an hour onscreen in the role.
When the film did not turn into a series, many fans (myself included) were quite disappointed. It seemed like Doctor Who was finally dead – and, worse still, we thought we’d never see the potential of the eighth Doctor fulfilled. Then Big Finish Productions got a license from the BBC to produce official Doctor Who audio plays. At first, it didn’t seem like McGann wanted to take part – so when it was announced that he’d return to the role for “Storm Warning” along side new companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher), I was very thrilled with the result.
The audio release that started the eighth Doctor’s second life. [Big Finish Productions]
No offense to the other Doctors making audios at the time (fifth Doctor Peter Davison, “Old Sixie” Colin Baker and seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy), but because the eighth Doctor’s tenure remained open-ended, the stories felt more like “proper” Doctor Who. It also helped a lot that McGann is a stellar audio actor with an expressive, unforgettable voice that added new dimensions to the Doctor’s character – many of which, I’m sure, were picked up for later Doctors when the series returned in 2005.
“Four minutes? That’s ages. What if I get bored, or need a television, couple of books? Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting.” [BBC photo]
When it comes to conventions or other appearances related to the role, McGann remained a notoriously private man for the first eight years or so after playing the role on TV. When he finally booked his first American convention – the 2004 Gallifrey con in Los Angeles – I arranged on short notice to fly out there for it. Who knew if he’d hate it and never do another one?
Paul McGann gets friendly with the Doctor’s oldest enemy at the 2004 Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles. [Photo by me]
Luckily, that convention only started his love affair with Doctor Who fans, and over the years I’ve seen him at three other conventions: once at the last official I-Con (where I got a quick station ID for WHRW that I use to close every edition of The Signal) and twice at L.I. Who over the past couple of years. (He’ll be returning for his – and my – third year in a row this November.)
At last year’s L.I. Who, I fulfilled a longtime goal and got to interview McGann. Wish I’d had more time but the schedule was running late and others were waiting for interviews behind us. Perhaps I’ll get another shot this year – we shall see.
Time can be a funny thing, but in many ways it hardly seems like 20 years since I first saw Paul McGann’s Doctor on TV – and I’m glad that, two decades later, he’s still roaming time and space with new adventures. Glorious.
Obligatory nerd photo: Me with the main cast of the Doctor Who movie, Daphne Ashbrook, Paul McGann and Yee Jee Tso at L.I. Who 2. [Photo provided]