DOCTOR WHO: Could PAUL McGANN have become the definitive Doctor?

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On the occasion of Paul McGann's 55th Birthday, Tom Pheby wonders, if given the proper chance could McGann have been the greatest Doctor ever?


It's a great pity that something which was supposed to be a revival ended up being a false start. I am of course referring to the 1996 TV Movie version of Doctor Who. It seemed to fail to understand the concept of the Time Lord at just about every level, leaving us with a mountain of Hollywood hogwash to wade through. Yet as disjointed and bizarre as it was, Paul McGann managed to transcend this tired, confused and unfocused pile of mediocrity.

When you look back on McGann's brief on screen time as the Doctor (which amounted to only just over an hour), you can't help but ask yourself - if given a proper run could he have gone on to be the best Doctor ever?

I believe that could well have been the case. Paul McGann is an excellent actor, strong enough to make an impression in a film that could only have been worse if Jim Carrey, dressed as Ace Ventura, had been in the big blue box - Alrighty then! McGann managed to make what was essentially a diabolical script, at least to some degree believable, and he did this by performing his socks off.

Prior to his casting as the Eighth Doctor, the Liverpudlian had already impressed many people with confident, assured performances in projects as diverse as Withnail & I, Give Us A Break, Empire Of The Sun and The Monocled Mutineer. McGann was also cast in the title role of the popular Sharpe TV movie series, however he injured his knee while playing football just days into filming the first installment and had to withdraw from the production, being replaced by Sean Bean.


Doctor Who TV Movie producer Philip Segal championed for McGann to be cast as the Eighth Doctor (one that both Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi had been invited to audition for - both declined), but FOX, who had stumped up most of the cash for the movie, weren't convinced he was a big enough 'name'. In the end a compromise was made, and Eric Roberts was cast as the Master to keep the Network happy. Opposite this toothy purveyor of ham, McGann shone like a gem. He managed to find a mix that incorporated frustration, bitterness and pithy wit, and amazingly papered over the shortcomings of the mismanaged project.

Although the ratings in Britain were very good, over 9million, the TV Movie failed to attract as US audience, and so McGann's time as the Doctor was over before it truly began. I've always thought it might have been interesting if he'd been invited back by Russell T Davies for the 2005 relaunch. I'm sure he would have continued to explore the part for considerably longer than the one series that Christopher Eccleston did, and I'm convinced he would have been a massive success too. Perhaps he was just overlooked? Or more likely Russell T Davies just wanted to fashion the show from scratch.

He still has his admirers working on the production though, one of them being the current showrunner, Steven Moffat. It was thanks to Moffat that 17 years later we we're finally given a few more brief minutes of Paul McGann's wonderful take on the Time Lord, and McGann himself was given some kind of closure...



Of course, it would be wrong not to mention his amazing work in the Big Finish and BBC Audio range of adventures - currently over 70 stories and counting. But if given the chance again, would McGann think about reprising the role on screen?
"If the same thing were to happen again and [Steven] Moffat were to say 'would you come back and do it and I'll write it?', why wouldn't I want to do it? If it's going to be that quality, why wouldn't you want to do it?"
But he diplomatically added:
"I think it's only fair that [Peter Capaldi] gets a decent run on his own without any distractions so he gets his feet under the table."
Many people have held out hope for a mini-series based around the early days of the Time War, with the Eighth Doctor front and centre. As interesting as that would be, I do feel that any Doctor Who spin-off series which focuses on a previous Doctor is highly unlikely to happen, but there could be another way to bring McGann back to the screen.


Near the end of The Day of the Doctor, the Curator hinted to Matt Smith's incarnation that he may be revisiting old faces, this could in theory leave the door open for Paul McGann to return as a future Doctor. And why not? He's certainly still young enough for the demands of the role, and we know that we would be getting pure quality. In my mind, McGann has unfinished business, and he clearly remains intrigued by the part and what might have been. It may be an unlikely scenario, but with Doctor Who anything is possible, and I think it would be a stroke of genius.

On the strength of that hour+ of on screen time alone it is very difficult to claim that Paul McGann is the best Doctor ever. After all, how can he compare with Tom Baker's 7 year innings and multiple classic adventures? But in his brief time he showed us enough of what he, and the Eighth Doctor were capable of. He left us intrigued, and with the thought that if only he was given a proper chance, Paul McGann really could've been the definitive Doctor.

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter
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