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Feature: Sci-Fi Deaths

The Death of Doctor #7

Killing with kindness

For many, witnessing the death of a favourite Science Fiction or Fantasy character is a first brush with the Other Side. We take a look back at the deaths which have affected us the most…

Most Sci-Fi characters die sacrificing themselves for a greater cause; saving their friend’s life, or Humanity, or the Universe. The Doctor’s done it a few times himself. Of course, in the real world, death is messy and unexpected; for most of us, it’s likely to sneak up and catch us unawares, in the form of a virus or a speeding motorist. It’s just such a random occurrence that sneaks up on Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, in the 1996 TV movie. After stepping out of the TARDIS into the middle of a shootout, he’s immediately cut down by a stray bullet, and is then operated on by a surgeon who’s unfamiliar with his alien physiology – thereby triggering his regeneration.

It’s pretty obvious that McCoy’s send-off was nothing more than a sop to the fans, and as a result, he’s despatched with unseemly haste. However, it’s this very fact that makes the Seventh Doctor’s demise memorable; it’s messy, brutal and sudden, and most importantly, it’s entirely coincidental – a monumental case of bad luck. In doing away with the Doctor in this throwaway manner, the TV movie arguably makes a deeper impression than if it had employed the hoary old cliché of the noble sacrifice.

It’s also satisfyingly ironic that the Seventh Doctor’s demise should fall victim to random chance, given that the character was previously written as a master manipulator who always remained one step ahead of his enemies. The Doctor we see in the TV movie’s opening scenes is a man finally at peace with himself, a man who’s just buried his oldest enemy – or so he thinks – and is taking a well-deserved rest. The moment he lets his guard down, of course, he falls victim to unfolding events that he couldn’t have hoped to predict.

There’s another level on which we can read the Seventh Doctor’s demise; American TV demands a conventional romantic hero – someone like the Eighth Doctor, an American’s idea of an eccentric Brit, all floppy hair and eccentric mannerisms. McCoy’s small, unassuming Seventh Doctor is out of place in the world of US TV, with its gang warfare and hospital operating theatres, and it’s almost as if the medium itself is reaching out to snuff out the character and replace him with something more appropriate. Watching McCoy’s Doctor cling to life on the operating table is a little uncomfortable, as he struggles to get one line out, then another, then a final scream of defiance before he’s smothered. Then there’s the bizarre ‘gurning’ regeneration sequence, which comes across as rather more undignified than the more serene transitions of the past – there’s even a fat guy munching popcorn in the next room while the Seventh Doctor expires.

by Stephen Graves

There's more on Doctor Who and the new series in Starburst, with a CGI Dalek cover for Issue #313 and a new series photo location report in Issue #315 and much, much more on the Dead in
Starburst Special #66

Photo © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2004. Not for reproduction

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Starburst Special #66, see below for ordering options
Starburst Special #66
Dead! 2004
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