LEGEND HAS IT that my mother watched the show while she was pregnant with me, and the cathode rays emanating from the television induced some kind of nerdy mutation in her unborn child. My earliest memory is of the Dalek shuttle shattering the windows of Coal Hill School, at the end of Part Three of Remembrance of the Daleks. Unlike UK fans – who can accurately pinpoint each childhood memory based on the series’ original transmission dates – I have no way of telling exactly when this was, but it must have been around 1989 or so.
It’s probably a disappointment to my family that, rather than remembering my first glimpse of snow, or the birth of my baby sister, what mattered most to young Patrick Magee was a pretty sweet spaceship smashing up a beacon of government-funded education.
As a child, my most treasured possession was a battered copy of the 1983 Radio Times special, held together with sticky tape and Eric Saward’s turgid prose. It was from the pages of that hallowed tome that I first learnt about the five actors who had played the various incarnations of television’s greatest hero, and it was then that my innocent mind set an irrevocable and financially untenable destiny: I was going to become an actor, so that one day I could be the Doctor.
Of course, I was slightly hampered by the fact that I grew up in the Wilderness Years – that dark, lonely period between 1989 and 2005 when, like a shoal of desperate and socially inept sharks, we eagerly swallowed whatever half-baked chum with a logo on it that was thrown at us from the back of the BBC Worldwide boat.
(I’m being slightly disingenuous there, of course: many of the New Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures are amazing examples of Doctor Who, and Scott Gray’s run on the DWM strips is some of the greatest comics writing ever. But we still had to put up with War of the Daleks, whose sole raison d’etre was to retcon the aforementioned school-smashing spaceship out of existence.)
No matter, thought the child version of me, I’ll while away the hours til the show comes back by writing my own novel, a story too broad and deep for the small screen that those stuffed shirts at the BBC would never have the guts to show on television. That as-yet unfinished magnum opus was called An Unstable Doctor, and you can read it here.
When I was fourteen (some four years after I’d burst into tears at the end of the TV Movie, crying that “it wasn’t Doctor Who” while my stoic Northern Irish grandparents looked on embarrassedly) it dawned on me that I wouldn’t stand any chance of playing the Doctor with my Australian accent. So I did what any reasonable teenager would do in that situation: every night in my sleep, I listened to the Talkin Bout My Regeneration CD that came free with DWM 279 to celebrate the launch of Big Finish’s audio Doctor Who range. And over the course of a year, my voice slowly evolved into the bafflingly plummy tones we all enjoy today.
Was I bullied about it at school? Hell yes I was. But every taunt and jibe and snipe was worth it, because that stupid accent was one step closer to becoming the Doctor.
In 2005, the show finally returned to the air. In a weird turn of events, the BBC misspelt my name as “Christopher Eccleston” on all the publicity material and then followed it up by completely forgetting to cast me, a decision they’re probably still ruing to this day. But Doctor Who was back, and – more importantly – it was bloody fantastic.
Twenty-some years after my first fateful decision, I was an actor. By most accounts, I’m pretty good at it – I starred in my first feature, Gene-X, at the tender age of eighteen, and played the titular role in the Tropfest-winning short Be My Brother in 2009. I’ve been Sebastian Flyte, Wilfred Owen, Mercutio and the Time-o-naut, a hat-stealing, time-travelling ne’er-do-well. I’ve performed at the Belvoir, the State Theatre and out the back of a vineyard in Mudgee.
Being a pretty good actor, of course, is not quite enough to make a living in this country, but that’s the risk you run by living in the sun-drenched and home-renovation-reality-TV-obsessed paradise that is Australia. So I did what any reasonable young man would do: I abandoned all my friends and burgeoning career in the exciting field of car-dealership related advertising, and I moved to London.
And great butts alive, it was amazing! I took a method-acting class on the basis that Louise Jameson (Leela) would be running it! Richard Franklin (Mike Yates) hired me to proof-read his novel! In March, I played a frog footman in a very silly, very wonderful Cinderella play written by the filthily talented Arthur Darvill, and we all got very tipsy afterwards.
At the Edinburgh Fringe, where I was performing my solo stand-up show, I met the wonderful Toby Hadoke and John Dorney, both of them fine writers and performers and actively involved in the world of Doctor Who. They were two incredibly inspiring men who were making a living from being Doctor Who fans. Before I left Australia, I had no idea such a thing could exist; it belonged firmly in the realms of fantasy, like dragons or Daleks or decent policy from David Cameron. I followed the two of them around Edinburgh like a lovelorn puppy, until they finally caved in to my affection, and now I’m proud to call myself their casual acquaintance.
After the Fringe, I was homeless for a period of close to two months, because of a broken heart and the fact that my primitive amphibian brain cannot make plans further than two days in advance. Now, I should stress that it wasn’t a completely dire situation; I had a good network of wonderful friends who generously offered couches and beds and blow-up mattresses to crash on. But London in the autumn is not an ideal place to be sleeping rough; I spent one night under Southwark Bridge and another in a shop doorway in Camden Town with only a stray cat and some salami for warmth.
It was then that I decided it was time to come home.
So here I am, back in Australia, still trying to carve a living for myself in this cut-throat industry. Recently, Carlo Ritchie and I created the impro format Pat & Carlo’s Incredibly Useful Adventures Through Time, which is a series about time-travelling troubleshooters which in a certain light may resemble a certain BBC television programme, but – crucially – not enough to attract the attention of copyright lawyers. Life is, on the whole, good, even if it’s becoming increasingly clear that I’m never going to play the Doctor. But that’s okay. You get over it.
And then, this morning, the news came through, along with a series of increasingly tenuous puns revolving around the words “Who” and “time”: Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who.
Which means there’s an opening. A tiny crack in the fabric of the universe that (for example) a twenty-something actor with an inexplicable British accent could crawl inside and find himself at the helm of the TARDIS, in that mysterious place where time and space are one (Wales).
Hartnell. Troughton. Pertwee. Baker. Davison. Baker. McCoy. McGann. Eccleston. Tennant. Smith… Magee?
Of course not. Of course not, for a number of reasons. Doctor Who is a multi-million pound industry for the BBC; for them to throw caution to the wind and cast an unknown twenty-six year old from Australia would be a level of insanity roughly equivalent to putting a cat in charge of a combine harvester.
Also, as a young, white and fairly gawky male, I’m far too similar a choice to Matt Smith. If Moffat’s got any nous, he’ll cast someone as dissimilar to the Eleventh Doctor as possible; we could conceivably be seeing a female or black Doctor in 2014, and isn’t it fantastic that we can find ourselves typing those words?
So it’s pretty unlikely that Andy Pryor is going to drop everything and cast me as the next Doctor, “pretty unlikely” being a phrase which here means “definitely not going to happen.” But if there was ever a show that encouraged people to follow their mad dreams, to chase impossible ideals and make insanity into reality, then it’s this one. The same batshit crazy TV programme that smashed its way into my consciousness as a child and has been with me in one way or another for the intervening twenty six years. If I’m mad, it’s at least fifty percent Doctor Who‘s fault.
In the words of Rose Tyler: “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen.” So this is a plea, to everyone who reads this, to everyone who’s seen me perform over the years, to anyone who’s ever met me and thought “yeah, that pasty weirdo is a bit like a thousand year old alien from the planet Gallifrey” – write a letter. Send an email. Twitter the wifi (#magee4doctor). Spread the word to anybody and everybody that there is a young man in Sydney, Australia, who will drop everything for the chance to audition for the greatest television series the world has ever known.
Basically, BBC: can I be the next Doctor Who?
When not begging the BBC for a job, Patrick Magee is a mid-size, wide-body twin-engine jet airliner built by Boeing Commercial Airplanes. More of his ramblings can be found here, and you can buy his novel As Baile: A Story here.