Hanging around as The Doctor

In the run up to recording an interview for an upcoming “Stripped for Action” feature on an as-yet-unannounced future Doctor Who DVD, I came across a few photographs in my archive from my time as editor of Doctor Who Magazine I thought might be of interest.

For DWM Issue 140 we commissioned ace artist John Higgins to draw a painted cover, to tie in with the story he’d drawn in the issue (Keepsake by Simon Furman). The painting arrived, we liked it, we told John so, and we sent it off to Sylvester McCoy’s agent for approval.

Sylvester didn’t like it.

So we had to go back to John and tell him Sylvester didn’t like it and cower under our desks as expletives rained down on Redan Place from somewhere in Croydon (a bit less dangerous than the huge crane that crashed into the offices at a later date, but that’s another story).

Still, Sylvester was nothing if not helpful (he always was) and I was duly invited up to recording of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, a story set often in a large tent being recorded… in a tent. At Elstree, in a car park, to be precise, the recording location necessitated by problems with asbestos found in the BBC’s studios.

The aim: to try and get the painting sorted out and keep the issue on schedule.

This was a) the first time I’d been to a recording of Doctor Who and b) the first time I’d met Sylvester (and also one of the first times I’d met producer John Nathan-Turner, who turned in his chair to greet me and almost fell backward, which would have brought even more disaster to an already difficult shoot if I hadn’t grabbed the chair in time. I could hear the curses of some vitriolic Who fans even as I did it).

I didn’t know what to expect from Sylvester but I certainly didn’t expect him to be so helpful: he looked at the art I’d brought with me, offered his comments (“too dour” he opined) and then suggested he pose for some photographs to help out.

Not only did he pose for photographs – he even climbed the scaffolding used to construct the emergency set (health and safety would have had a fit if they’d seen him!) and swung around to try and match John’s striking pose in the painting as closely as possible. Then with that, he apologised for being difficult and went back to filming.

Anyway, I sent the photos to John, he repainted Sylvester’s face (still firing off invectives, I imagine), Sylvester approved the revised art and we made the most of it, not only using it as planned as a cover but also as a poster.

You can see how closely Sylvester managed to match his comics self – remember, only the face was changed in the revised version.

This wasn’t the only time Sylvester posed for reference – I took several photographs of him during location shooting for Survival and we often used other photographs taken by Steve Cook – but it was certainly the most memorable!



Categories: Doctor Who

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