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Sylvester McCoy: ‘Wisdom? Me? What wisdom have I got?’

Looking back with Sylvester McCoy on a year of lockdown, politics, travel – and hiding behind the sofa when he watched himself play Doctor Who

A recommended prescription at this time in history is to only listen to qualified medical professionals when it comes to Covid.

Sylvester McCoy was the Seventh Doctor, which is close enough. The 77-year-old’s bonhomie is certainly infectious, whether he’s talking about lockdown, politics, TV, travel or offering words of wisdom for lockdown.

The Big Issue: How are you?

Sylvester McCoy: I’m still alive!

Where have you spent lockdown?

I spent part of the time in France. I’ve got a wee… it’s not a chateau, neither is it a shithole, it’s in between. I went across there at the beginning of March for two weeks and came back four months later.

So you’re one of the few people who can compare lockdown in different countries.

France was much more disciplined. We had a piece of paper with lots of little tick boxes: I have to go to the supermarket or I have to do brain surgery – whatever it was, and the police would look at it. You were only allowed to go one kilometre from your front door, but at least you knew what the rules were. When I came back here I was completely confused. Every time I woke up, it was a different rule. I didn’t know whether I was in this tier four or five, I mean it just brought tears to my eyes every time I tried to work out what the hell was going on.

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Why did you come back?

In the summer we were allowed more freedom and I had to come over to do some filming. They’re releasing a box set of the 24th season [of Doctor Who] and I had to do interviews and a documentary on making it and then I got locked down again here.

Did you enjoy revisiting some of your Doctor Who episodes?

When it first came out years ago I used to hide behind the coach when came on.

You play another doctor in your new film The Owners. It’s a home invasion horror but the premise is so far-fetched. A gang sneak into an elderly couple’s house when they’re out – when would old people ever leave their house?

Nowadays, yes. It’s funny, when I watch television and I see two people standing close to each other… there should be space, there should be space!

What have you been watching apart from Doctor Who?

What was it I watched recently and was surprised I rather enjoyed – The Masked Singer. But mostly I’m addicted to anything that’s got subtitles, Scandi noir. I’ve been watching a series called The Restaurant, which they advertise as the Downton Abbey of Sweden. God, I hated Downton Abbey, just appalling propaganda for the aristocracy – but this one actually is much more sophisticated. It’s not just nice, well-dressed posh people and a caricature of people downstairs cooking the vegetables. Or overcooking the vegetables. My granny was a vegetable cooker downstairs. Whenever I went to eat at my London granny’s, her vegetables were drowned. They used to swim around in this gunge. But that’s the food they 
all learned to eat. For years, Britain was known as a place for terrible, bad food, it’s because those 
that ruled us must have liked all that stuff.

Another reason to do lockdown in France.

Exactly. Oh, in the village there’s a very good hotel and restaurant, and one of the best chefs in the area. And they in conjunction with le maire – the mayor – they’d do subsidised dinners for anyone 
over 75 so I was getting three-course meals by French chefs delivered daily.

Have you learned anything about yourself over the last year?

I am an itinerant traveller. I thought I’d hate this but it’s been alright. I’ve discovered I quite like myself. That surprised me. Because half the time I thought I was travelling around the world just to get away from myself.

Last time we spoke to you for a Letter To My Younger Self in 2018 you were getting ready to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway, on your way to Thailand to meet your new granddaughter. How have you been keeping in touch with family?

Zoom and WhatsApp have been great. I’ve just spoken to my son in Thailand. I see my granddaughter and chat to my son in Holland. But the problem is, I can’t go and see them physically. In a way it’s strange. I think the reason I’m able to deal with it is being an actor, you have no idea what the next thing is going to happen in your life. I feel very sorry and sad for people who have a regular life, who enjoy that regular life, whereas every day I got up as I do now, I have no idea what’s happening next.

Right, nobody has any idea.

The news is so depressing. They’re the most incompetent government that… When we joined Europe, way back in 1974 or thereabouts, we were known as the sick man of Europe. The Labour government started the slow disintegration of our plodding empire, which was really great, then we didn’t know how to rule ourselves because we’d been ruling other people. So we joined the club as a poor country. Forty years later we stupidly leave it as the second richest country in Europe. And that was because there was a partnership with other people who weren’t public-school trained. These guys that are running us, they could run Rome or ancient Greece but they can’t run a modern country.

Is there any piece of wisdom you have now that you didn’t before? Apart from The Masked Singer being pretty good.

I’m getting older. I haven’t got a lot of time left. And therefore that’s the bad bit, that I’ve lost a year. And I haven’t been able to walk down the street with my granddaughter and hold her hand. That sadness would be in my life if I allowed it to dominate, but I keep it at bay. But that’s not a word of wisdom. Wisdom? Me? What wisdom have I got?

The Owners  is on digital platforms now and on DVD on March 1

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