Fringe Theorist

The world of showbusiness is stuffed to the gills with Doctor Who actors and fans, and when you spend a week at the world’s largest arts festival you’re bound to run across a couple. We spoke to Michael Legge, award-winning comedian and Doctor Who fan, in between gigs.

EL: Here’s a good place to start: the theme of your show this year is meeting your heroes, and why you shouldn’t because you will always disappoint them.

ML: Yes. That’s the thing – I genuinely believe, I have no choice but to believe now, that if you meet your heroes you will let them down. And why would you not? They’re your heroes. If they were peers, you would be doing exactly what they were doing, or doing something equally well. Even when I met Stephen Moffat, that was sort of a disaster; I remember telling him some Doctor Who anecdote and at the end of it he just said, “that never happened”. And then we sort of got into an argument, and I thought – I have to stop doing this, because he’s only just become the head writer of Doctor Who, and there’ll be plenty more time further down the road for me to dislike him. Let’s not discard all the goodwill right away…

EL: And has there been anyone from Who that you’ve met and it’s actually gone OK?

ML: Oh, yeah. I met Peter Davison and why that went well – and I think there’s a lesson here for all of us – it went really, really well because it was brief. Very, very brief. I also met Sylvester McCoy very briefly and he was lovely, because of the short amount of time together; I’m sure he’d agree. I saw him getting off a train and I gently touched him on the hand and I whispered, and I said, “I’m sorry to disturb you, I just wanted you to know that I love you”. And he laughed and touched my hand, and said “thank you very much”, and then we left. It was quick, and I didn’t go, “Er, Sylvester, you know what I didn’t really understand about every episode you’ve ever been in…” I just said hello, I love you, goodbye. And maybe that’s how we all should be. Just go up to random strangers and say hello, I love you, goodbye.

EL: Yes. I met Peter Davison when I was interviewing him and I went to usher him on stage, and I accidentally touched his arse. And then after a bit…you know when you think, “I’m still touching his arse…”?

ML: Well, no. I don’t know what it’s like to still be touching Peter Davison’s arse. When I met him he was standing at a bar, and way, way over at the other side of the bar was Christopher Eccleston. And I went up to Peter and I said to him, “oh look!” and he turned and saw Eccelston, and he said, “oh yes,” and I just whispered “time clash!” and then left. I mean, obviously, the idea of going up to Christopher Eccleston and saying “hey, guess what”…you’d get punched in the face, so I left that. I think that’s the wisdom that comes from meeting your heroes and embarrassing yourself so much. I think some people just have to go through that, and I’m definitely one of them. What maturity, to know not to go up to somebody and annoy them. That’s an amazing gift.

Waitress: Are you finished with these drinks?

ML: Yes we are, thanks, and that was very good timing. You’re in a magazine now.*

EL: Is there anyone else you would have liked to meet, or still want to?

ML: Well, Tom Baker is definitely the Doctor I want to meet the most. But the thing is, I don’t think I would make a fool of myself if I met Tom Baker. I mean, let’s face it, his Doctor…he’s not exactly in character for it, he’s just remembering the lines. He’s that eccentric, and that lovable, I think. My friend John, who’s done a couple of audios now with him, he’s crazy about Tom Baker…he said he’s a delight to work with, a delight to be with, and a delight to drink with, and I think I’d have to work hard to really put my foot in it with Tom Baker. I’m sure I could do it….

EL: I challenge you! So is Tom Baker your Doctor?

ML: No, if anything Peter Davison is my favourite Doctor. It should be…well, I think we have a law, don’t we, that whoever your first Doctor was, that’s your Doctor, and mine should be Jon Pertwee. I mean, I hated Tom Baker for about the first five seconds he was on screen. Absolutely despised him. It took me about five seconds to forget Jon Pertwee, which is quite a long time. I hated hearing the news that Jon Pertwee was no longer going to be the Doctor, I was heartbroken. It really upset me when I was a kid. And it’s brilliant how that still happens. That YouTube clip of that girl watching the BBC announcement that Peter Capaldi was going to be the new Doctor, that’s stunning. She just goes, “WHAT? WHY?”…and that’s a completely normal reaction.

EL: In Caves of Androzani, when Peter regenerates, I was seven when that was on. And I had to take the next day off school, I thought he was dead.

ML: That is an amazing regeneration. It was great. Watching any DVD with Peter Davison’s commentary on, sometimes when I’m working in the house I’ll put that on because it’s better than listening to music. Especially any episode with Adric in it, because every five lines is Peter Davison going, “Oh, Matthew”.

EL: So Peter Davison was your Doctor?

ML: Well, no, not at the time, to be honest. What happened was, as much as I kept an eye on Doctor Who, you know what, Star Wars just came along and the BBC just couldn’t compete with those effects, and that world. So I sort of forgot that I was a Doctor Who fan…I moved to London when I was about twenty-five and I just forgot about Doctor Who. And then I was at a party and I bumped into this guy, and I didn’t recognise him, and he said, “Don’t you know me? It’s Brian White. We were at school together”. I didn’t know him at all. And he asked, “Do you still like Doctor Who?” and I said, “I was never a Doctor Who fan, mate, it was always Star Wars”. But we didn’t know each other when Star Wars came out, that’s how young we’d been; and then he started to tell me stuff about what I was like as a Doctor Who fan and it was like in Chuck, all those scenes in Chuck where the memories hit him, it was like “oh God, yeah!”, and then I just started talking about Genesis of the Daleks, with knowledge, and it was a really bizarre moment. And I particularly remember because I was speaking with some women at the time that I genuinely thought I was going to chat up and, hopefully, seduce. It was amazing how, one, they were completely uninterested the moment I started talking about Doctor Who but also, equally, how I was no longer interested in them. I just wanted to talk to Brian about Genesis of the Daleks. It was fantastic. It’s amazing how the mind works.

EL: So you picked up on Davison after the fact?

ML: I didn’t watch Peter Davison, I guess because my heart and soul wasn’t in it. I was starting to get a bit older…I definitely didn’t watch Sylvester McCoy at all. Until maybe twelve years ago, something like that. I love him. I actually don’t have a Doctor I don’t like, I think they’re all brilliant. And the great thing about just discovering things… I’ve just discovered the Big Finish audios and they are great, just sheer entertainment. The original audio called Jubilee, by a guy called Rob Shearman…I think his episode Dalek might be my favourite NuWho episode, because the Doctor and the Daleks flipping roles is just so exciting, and I think Jubilee is even better. And the idea of that being on teatime TV…there’s just so much to it.

EL: And the Big Finish stories have given Colin Baker’s Doctor a bit of a renaissance.

ML: I am telling you, he is the best Doctor at Big Finish. And his character works far better in that form. And now I’ve remembered another timeI met one of my heroes. It was Alexei Sayle. Luckily enough, he asked me to support him on a tour, and that was amazing until he said “I’m going to drive us around on tour” and we went to Formby. And I was really good all the way there, I was like a normal person, but on the way back I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I said, “so, Alexei, what was it like being in the best episode of the Colin Baker era?” And he said, “Was it? I don’t remember”. I said, “Well, start remembering because I want you to talk about it!” And he’s a huge Doctor Who fan.

EL: Is he? He’s one of those people where you don’t like to mention it.

ML: Oh yeah, he loves it. But he’s never, ever watched his own episode. He was a massive William Hartnell / Patrick Troughton fan. He loved talking about that stuff. He hated talking about his own episode, but I just think he’s got no knowledge of it. What he said was when he was given the part, he said, “Oh brilliant! I’m going to be in Doctor Who!”, but it’s a bit like if you got a role in Star Wars but it was in Revenge of the Sith, so you knew it wasn’t for you any more, it’s not the Star Wars you like.

EL: And it’s not the best role ever, but he certainly gives it his all. I like that first series of Colin’s; not so keen on Trial, but the stand-alones are good.

ML: Well, Trial didn’t stand a chance really, because the thought process went: right, we’ve got a budget, let’s spend it all. Great; that’s the first ten seconds sorted out. Now what? The computer graphics were good but that’s all they got done. But some episodes are completely made by production screw-ups. I mean, look at The Mind Robber, where Fraser Hines has chicken pox and Jamie gets replaced with a cardboard cut-out. It’s fantastic. If I saw City of Death and Mind Robber drowning, I don’t know which one I’d save. But the great thing The Mind Robber is that its backstory is as good as the episode, and the documentary about the making of The Mind Robber is as good as The Mind Robber. And I love The Mind Robber. It’s very sad when the Edinburgh Fringe comes to an end, but I can always fit in a Troughton story to cheer myself up. The last day is my Doctor Who time.

EL: Have you ever thought of doing a Doctor Who show, like Toby Hadoke’s Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf?

ML: Oh, yes, of course I have. But the massive difference between me and Toby is, the internet is slower than Toby is. His knowledge of Doctor Who is insane. I enjoy Doctor Who and I love it, but I know…and I don’t mean to put vision mixers down, but I know that I can live the rest of my life not knowing who did vision mixing on Father’s Day episode one. Toby couldn’t. If Toby couldn’t remember that, I think he’d be the saddest human being alive. But I love his knowledge of it, and I find that really entertaining. When he talks about Doctor Who it’s full of facts, and names, and dates, and I would want to watch an hour of that. It’s really funny to watch someone having a breakdown over something they love in the middle of a cosy tale…I just don’t have the knowledge. Whereas Toby’s personality just is a compulsive Doctor Who fan…my birthday’s in August, so I’m always at the Fringe. And about four years ago I was getting a lot of phone calls on my birthday but when I looked, I didn’t recognise the numbers. And I am one of those people who will not answer the phone if I don’t know the number. So I was getting messages from numbers I didn’t know, and I ignored them. But what I didn’t know was that Toby Hadoke had called round a load of former companions from Doctor Who to wish me happy birthday, and I missed every single one of those calls. It was brilliant to get the messages on my phone, but how brilliant would it have been to take those calls?

EL: Ah, but now you can save them and play them every year.

ML: Yes! Well, I saved them for so long, and every few days I’d save them again. And one day I just forgot, and they were gone.

EL: Have you done any conventions yet?

ML: I haven’t, but I know I have to. That’s one of the great things about Doctor Who, that’s all out there. When you get a new DVD…it’s not that I don’t like NuWho, I really do, but I’m just not as interested in how it’s made. And it’s because of time. In twenty years’ time I will want to know how The Name of the Doctor was made, but not now. There won’t be any behind-the-scenes drama that they want to tell you about; they’ll want time to pass, and then they’ll say, oh, Matt was a treasure whereas a David was a nightmare. But I find the classic DVDs, that stuff, fascinating. I’m so anal I have to watch the story before I watch the documentary, even though I know the story.

EL: You mentioned Matt Smith before. You’ve gone on record on your blog before as saying Matt Smith is the best actor at Doctor Who…

ML: Yeah, I think he is. He’s not my favourite Doctor, but he’s the best at it. He’s taken on the role. Whereas Tom Baker’s Doctor is Tom Baker…what I mean is, Tom Baker uses himself to create the character, he’s thinking what can he bring to the character, but Matt Smith transforms himself into the Doctor. He doesn’t put himself into it. He does it probably the same way Peter Davison did. I mean, clearly Matt Smith is influenced by Troughton, but all the later Doctors are influenced by Troughton. Although William Hartnell was the first Doctor, really Troughton is the most recognisable Doctor. And I guess because Troughton had to do something vastly different to create the second Doctor – and he nailed the Doctor, he really did – he’s the one the actors look to and say, how do I do that? And then when you get to Pertwee, I’m pretty sure he just skipped the first two Doctors. He said, no, I’m going to be suave and I’m going to be Danger Man. He made the Doctor an action hero, which the first two definitely weren’t. Luckily, Tom Baker is just an eccentric, and quite clownish, and quite grumpy, so all those elements work. Maybe that’s the gift the BBC had, they looked at him and said “oh look, he’s a bit like all three”; although I think Tom Baker would argue that, he’d probably say, “no, I’m a bit like me.”

EL: There’s no-one quite like Tom. So how’s Capaldi working out for you?

ML: He’s got everything. Everything the other Doctors had. Let’s be honest, he’s not always had the strongest scripts, but he’s just like all the other Doctors in that he can turn it in whatever the script’s like. Like Peter Davison: there are times when you just know he’s read the script and thought, “ooh, that’s not good”, but he says some corny thing and he makes it work. The only time is that Rentaghost from the deep, what’s it called…it’s the worst thing ever…the Myrka! It’s the only time I can remember seeing Peter Davison going “even I can’t do this” is at the end, when the Myrka comes in and it’s the crappest thing anyone has ever seen, forcing its way through an iron door that’s clearly made from a mattress, and the camera focuses on Peter Davison and he says – and this is the cliffhanger – the Doctor just says, “Oh dear. It’s the Myrka.” Like he’s saying, we should probably just go over there slightly.

EL: Apparently it’d been great in rehearsal, and then they’d come in and seen the Myrka itself, and it just took the wind out of their sails.

ML: Oh, it must have been heartbreaking. But that’s the great thing – I think Capaldi’s had some lines that weren’t great, and he’s just committed to them. He is. But he’s a fan. And that was the great thing from the announcement show – his little touches, the fingers on the lapel…that’s when you knew. There was a massive screen in the BBC area up here in Edinburgh, and I saw it there. What I didn’t know is that there were a few people there who knew I was – I’m well-known up here from my various good works – and they took photos of me when the announcement was made, and when they announced Peter Capaldi, there was such a feeling of relief, I was just bent over with relief, it was like a punch in the gut, I was so delighted. So that’s the photo of me reacting to the new Doctor. Even if he’d done only done one series, I’d have thought, job done. I mean, Mummy on the Orient Express…that was it. It’s a great story, it’s a great script, and it looks amazing. We know, don’t we, those three things – you don’t always get all three. And Frank Skinner was good, and Capaldi was great.

EL: I think it’s the most excited I can remember being in NuWho, when the twelve TARDISes are converging on Gallifrey and you just get that one shot of Peter Capaldi’s eyes down the lens…

ML: I didn’t like that episode.

EL: Eh?

ML: No. I went to see it in the cinema in 3D and I remember being bored. I remember thinking, I’m seeing Doctor Who in 3D and I’m bored. This is a crime! But those eyes on the screen…worth every bit. Worth everything I felt I had been dragged through up till then. And I know why it wasn’t for me, because all I could see all the way through was the missed opportunities. I mean, we all know John Hurt was great in it, but we all know that it should have been Christopher Eccleston. So we were seeing something great but it was just falling short of what it should have been, and all I could see was that gulf between what it was and what it could be.

EL: Like, there’s a parallel universe where I’m really loving this.

ML: Yes. Exactly! And there’s all the stuff with the War Doctor to explain why the number of regenerations doesn’t matter any more and the thing is…I didn’t care. If no-one had ever mentioned the number of regenerations again, I would not have cared. It doesn’t matter. If that question is taking you out of the reality of Doctor Who, then I don’t think you were that interested to begin with. If there’s a continuity screw-up, well…if there’s a fifty year old show that hasn’t got a chink in its narrative, then well done to them.

EL: One last question: have you ever been asked to play Simon Pegg’s angry cousin in anything?

ML: No. It’s a shame, isn’t it? But people have said, to my face, what’s your name, and when I tell them they say, are you any relation to Simon Pegg? Well, our names rhyme…we could be related in a poem.

Michael Legge’s latest stand-up show is called Tell It Like It Is, Steve. More information is available at his Chortle award-winning blog, michaelleggesblog.blogspot.co.uk.

* And so she is.