Doctor Who is a British superhero who has been played on TV by more actors than Batman, Superman and Spiderman combined. Now in his seventh incarnation in 24 years, the famous Time Lord will be in West Hollywood this weekend to introduce a traveling "Doctor Who" exhibition.
On display at Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., will be the science-fiction series' most famous monsters and villains, including the dastardly Daleks. Also featured is Bessie, the vintage car that on numerous occasions has helped save the Earth.
Sylvester McCoy is the Scottish actor whose molecules now determine what the good Doctor looks like. "It was a wonderful, brilliant, clever idea to have Doctor Who's outer molecules change while his inner self stays the same," he says.
Actually, the transformation gimmick was born out of desperation. "The original Doctor (William Hartnell) fell ill, and the BBC wanted to keep the series going," McCoy said.
Today, "Doctor Who" is a cult favorite around the world. It airs in 62 countries and attracts almost as many fans with Ph.D.s as those still in grade school.
"I was in Silicon Valley last weekend, and I was amazed at how many computer experts and NASA specialists are Whovians," McCoy said by telephone from London this week, where he had to return briefly for rehearsals of "The Pied Piper," at Britain's National Theater.
Back in 1963, when the series premiered in England, "Doctor Who" was part of children's programming. The show has now graduated to an evening time slot on the BBC and is considered "family programming," McCoy said. In Los Angeles, the series airs at 1 p.m. Saturdays on KCET-TV Channel 28.
As the seventh Doctor, McCoy, 44, said he is shifting the character back toward eccentricity, perhaps acknowledging the popularity of the fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. "Each Doctor Who is different because the role depends on the actor's personality," McCoy said.
"Tom Baker had his (17-foot-long) scarf. My trademark will be a London gents' umbrella which has a handle shaped like a question mark."
In addition to eccentricity, McCoy and Baker have several other bonds. Both have been members of the National Theater and both initially intended to be priests. "Tom is a tall ex-monk," McCoy quipped. "I'm a short ex-monk. There can't be too many of us in the acting business, although training to become a priest seems to be good training to become an actor."
Baker was in a monastery for six years. McCoy spent four years in a Scottish seminary. "I quit when I was 16," he said, "when I discovered girls."
McCoy began acting 16 years ago, after being discovered while working in the box office of a London fringe theater. A fan of "Doctor Who" from its earliest days, he pursued the role when he learned that the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, didn't renew his contract.
"I heard it on the news," McCoy noted, "so I phoned my agent and said there was a job going at the BBC. They called me in for a screen test, and they still gave me the job." McCoy has already completed his first season as "Doctor Who," but his episodes won't begin airing here until next year. Colin Baker's stint as the Doctor begins on KCET Oct. 31.
Baker almost had the distinction of being the last Doctor. Two years ago, during a housecleaning at the BBC, the new programming chief canceled "Doctor Who," claiming the series was too expensive. Outrage from audiences around the world reversed the decision.
"I think the BBC has gotten over that mistake," McCoy said with a chuckle as he began packing for his trip to Los Angeles.
The "Doctor Who" exhibit will be open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Admission: $7.50; children younger than 5, free.