Sylvester McCoy (born Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith), led a rather strange life leading up to his iconic role as the time traveling champion of justice generally known as the Doctor. While he started his career as an executive, he enjoyed the company of hippies and vagabonds who, likewise, relied on his charm and respectable appearance to get them out of tight spots. After taking up a job selling tickets and keeping books for the The Ken Campbell Roadshow, he was soon enticed to take a turn on the stage as a spectacle, Sylveste McCoy, the human bomb. McCoy would keep ferrets down his trousers, brave a table top railroad train with a salad fork taped to its front driven at his delicates and more. The lifestyle jived with his personality and in time, so did his stage name.
Later becoming a regular on the children’s program Tis Was, McCoy became something of a household name. Off the air, he also performed on stage in several highly acclaimed plays including a piece devoted to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. When producer John Nathan Turner was looking to replace outgoing Colin Baker, he again chose to direct his attention to the polar extreme. Whereas Baker was grand, McCoy was sly, Baker’s girth was similarly met with McCoy’s diminutive stature (in fact he remains the shortest actor to play the part). As the BBC executives had continually pushed JNT to transform Doctor Who into a family-friendly program, it made perfect sense to cast an entertainer known for children’s TV in the lead role.
Of course, McCoy’s 7th Doctor was not only a comical character with a penchant for physical humor and tricks (just watch Greatest Show in the Galaxy to witness his ability as a circus performer), he was also deeply attracted to serious drama. His version of the Doctor was intensely soulful, showing a wide range of characteristics from rage to compassion and deep sadness. The 7th Doctor also displayed a bizarre and alien set of mood swings mirrored by his companions, the wholesome Mel and the rambunctious Ace.
Lasting a short three year stint, the 7th Doctor’s reign from 1987-1989 saw the program flex its creative muscles in what can only be called its last hoorah. Fighting Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, time-traveling vampires, an evil from the dawn of time, robot clowns and a sadistic candy creature… this Doctor did it all.
Surprisingly, Character Options has only released three versions of the 7th Doctor in action figure form (the third being a ‘kit bash’ of the previous two, combining the head of one version on the body of the other). I have also purchased a custom-made toy combining the best attributes of each.
The first McCoy figure is from the 1988 adventure Remembrance of the Daleks. Donning his trademark panama hat, cream-colored jacket, tartan trousers, white/brown brogues and paisley scarf he is instantly recognizable thanks to the outrageous sweater vest (or jumper) assaulted with question marks.
While he always carried an umbrella as a prop, in his third adventure Delta and the Bannermen, the 7th Doctor had obtained a model topped with a question mark-tipped handle (McCoy’s idea, apparently).
This version of the Doctor’s costume is both eye catching and rather practical and somewhat less conspicuous than his previous two costumes. It informs the wanderer/adventurer traits of the character through the panama hat and safari-style jacket while retaining the mad professor traits through the two-tone shoes and tartan trousers. It is possibly one of the best version of the Doctor on TV as far as costuming goes as it delivers a cartoon-ish character that is instantly identifiable with the program as well as being practical (amongst gadgets and other handy devices, McCoy stuffed the scripts in the two copious pockets).
The oft-remarked upon smiling face is rather garish and makes the 7th Doctor look like a lunatic, but given the wide range of comical faces the actor has made on screen, it’s unfortunately not that far from the mark.
For his third series, McCoy had requested a darker tone to his costume as he felt that the cream-colored model was far too soft and child-like. This fits the more serious tone of series 26 as well. In the second story of the series, Ghost Light, the Doctor and Ace arrive in a Victorian house taken over by malicious alien lifeforms plotting to kill the Queen (no, I did not ruin the adventure for you if you haven’t seen it, I might have actually helped you out as a matter of fact).
Almost immediately, McCoy drops his hat and umbrella on a hat stand and is transformed into a more dignified character. It helps, because the villain of the piece Josiah Smith (played to perfection by Ian Hogg) is a class act, dolled up in the refinery of a Victorian gentleman yet murderously mad. The pair have a series of stand offs that have all the more impact thanks to the loss of the 7th Doctor’s cumbersome props. In some cases, the umbrella and hat are signifiers that he is an alien adventurer, but in the setting of Ghost Light they stood out as incongruous.
The 11th Doctor 7th Doctor figure captures that moment with a repainted version of the costume we had already seen in cream (this time in deep brown) and removed the hat to reveal McCoy’s swept-back curly locks and stern countenance. It may sound like a little thing, but it makes a big difference. The scarf and necktie have also been recolored in dark blues and reds (mimicking a paisley pattern far too precise to replicate to a tee).
There are, as some have pointed out, some inaccuracies such as the color of the fob watch chain and that of the handkerchief hanging out of the Doctor’s pocket, but these are small problems. The first variant is a wonderful addition to the Character Options line and worthy of a place on your shelf. As the heads on both McCoy figures are swappable, I found myself switching them back and forth, giving a more serious tone to the light-colored costume that I personally prefer.
I had mentioned that a third 7th Doctor figure had been released. Accompanying a TARDIS supposedly from the Curse of Fenric, this figure was a kit-bash of the two previous figures, placing a smiling face wearing the panama hat on the brown jacketed body. A simple maneuver and as the Remembrance of the Daleks set has become a hard to find item, I can see why they felt there was a market for this variant.
However, I was lucky enough to find a custom-built McCoy figure that used the serious faced head from Ghost Light and the top of the head from the Remembrance of the Daleks version, resulting in a stern-faced 7th Doctor still donning his hat.
I know, right? FINALLY.
Despite my addiction to toys and Doctor Who I had never bought a custom action figure before this one. I feared that the head would fall apart, the limbs would swing all over the place, the neck would not turn, all kinds of worries went through my head. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had purchased a quality product that was indistinguishable from the rest of the Character Options offerings at their best. All of the limbs are tight, the joints are fluid and there is no noticeable line from where the two heads are joined.
A class act!
I’d like to point out that only the 4th Doctor (played by Tom Baker) and the 7th have received different faces depicting specific stats of mood. The first 4th Doctor release featured swappable heads including the stone-faced version(similar to the face seen in the opening credits) and a mad smiling head complete with floppy hat. I’m not sure why Character Options has taken so much attention to McCoy’s Doctor, but I have a feeling that they are not done yet.
There are still a few variants possible for Doctor no.7, such as:
What do you think?
(in closing, anyone interested in the custom McCoy figure, please check out the listing on ebay. I am not sure if the seller has plans to make any more, but it is well worth the money and a professionally crafted toy)