After They Were Who: SYLVESTER MCCOY in The Hobbit

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Dr. Moo rides off on a rabbit-drawn sled.

“I hate good wizards in fairytales; they always turn out to be [the Doctor]”
River Song

JRR Tolkein’s Middle Earth novels are some of my favourite pieces of literature ever.

I hold the opinion that Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was very VERY good, possibly my favourite movie series of all time.

When you combine these two facts you’d be forgiven if you thought that this meant I loved it when Jackson made a prequel (although the novel was written first) with The Hobbit. But you’d be wrong. I think he took the book and then went overboard with it. He takes moments that were just hinted at in the book, mostly because they were unrelated to the main plot and only there to provide context and background, and then gives these things 20+ minutes of screentime each. Then he goes and throws in Legolas for some reason even though he’s not even in the source material, presumably to get the star power offered by Orlando Bloom. As well as this he gives us a storyline about Sauron beginning to come back, ahead of the events of TLotR. The book of The Hobbit is less than half the length of even one installment in The Lord of the Rings yet it gets the same length treatment on the big screen.

That's not to say that I didn’t like these three films. I thoroughly enjoyed them! It just feels to me like they weren’t as faithful an adaptation as TLotR had been. I’ve still seen them many times, but nine times out of ten I’ll turn to my 12-disk extended cut of TLotR to watch instead. What I’m trying to say is that The Hobbit should have been done and dusted in a single movie.

But then again, maybe it shouldn’t. And that’s because this way we get to see Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor himself, playing a wizard while sharing the screen with the likes of Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman, Christopher Lee and Sir Ian McKellan – and in his performance McCoy more than holds his own opposite these four incredible talents!


McCoy’s character is Radagast The Brown, a fellow wizard alongside Gandalf The Grey (McKellan). In the original book of The Hobbit we learn that Radagast is one of Gandalf’s closest allies, and that’s all we get, just one mention. In the films, though, he’s one of the most important supporting characters!

This major change to the character’s role doesn’t stop McCoy from being one of the best things in the trilogy. He plays Radagast as an eccentric and strange man with great affinity for wildlife, an ability to communicate with animals, and he even has enough knowledge of medicine to bring a dead hedgehog back to life!


He’s also a secret badass, more than capable of holding his own in an unexpected encounter with a Ring Wraith, and on a later occasion he goes riding away on a rabbit-drawn sled and manages to outrun a pack of wolves with seemingly very little effort.

And that’s just in the first movie! 


His role is reduced in the second and third installments, but he’s crucial to Gandalf’s subplot as he helps investigate the dark magic that threatens Middle Earth in the second and frees him from captivity before getting him a horse so he can catch up with Bilbo and the dwarves in the third. He shows up again later leading the eagles into battle because, like I said earlier, he’s a badass.


But it's not a case of McCoy having just a memorable character, he also gives a great performance. I’ve long maintained that Sylvester McCoy is an excellent (and underrated) actor, and the Seventh is one of my favourite Doctors largely because of McCoy’s deep and layered performance – a discussion for another time – and he’s just as good here. While his Doctor is a dark pragmatic antihero, doing what he deems necessary for the greater good even if that means being a manipulative prat, his take on Radagast is less complex but still layered. He’s a clearcut goodguy hero who works primarily to protect the wildlife of the forest but will drop everything and do anything if he discovers evil going unchecked. If that means running headfirst into conflict with a returning ancient evil, so be it! When he’s working with Gandalf to investigate the mysterious goings on we see him for the powerful magic-wielder that he truly is. He seems like an eccentric madman – probably because that’s exactly what he is – but mess with him or his friends and you’ll pay! Basically Radagast The Brown, as interpreted by Sylvester McCoy, is a less dark version of the Seventh Doctor. Think a more serious version an actually good version of Season 24 and you’re on the right lines.


It should come as no surprise that Peter Jackson is a huge Doctor Who fan and of the Seventh Doctor in particular (he’s clearly a man of good taste). One assumes that the only reason he worked Radagast into the films was because he’s similar to the Doctor in many ways – eccentric, unpredictable and more to him than meets the eyes – and it was thus an excuse to get Sylvester McCoy involved.

While Radagast has no reason to be in The Hobbit, McCoy plays him so well and lights up every scene he’s in that you won’t here me complain. Whenever I come back to these films it’s largely due to McCoy, and in a film series that also stars Richard Armitage, Christopher Lee, Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan that’s high praise indeed.

When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.

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