Paul McGann

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Paul McGann
Paul McGann 2015.jpg
McGann in June 2015
Born (1959-11-14) 14 November 1959 (age 61)
Liverpool, England
EducationRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1982–present
Spouse(s)Annie Milner

Paul John McGann (/məˈɡæn/;[1] born 14 November 1959) is an English actor. He came to prominence for portraying Percy Toplis in the television serial The Monocled Mutineer (1986), then starred in the dark comedy Withnail and I (1987), which was a critical success and developed a cult following. McGann later became more widely known for portraying the eighth incarnation of the Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who television film. He is also known for playing Lieutenant William Bush in the series Hornblower.

Early life[edit]

Paul John McGann was born in Liverpool on 14 November 1959,[2] into a Roman Catholic family of Irish origin.[3][4] His mother, Clare, was a teacher, and his father Joe who died in 1984 was a metallurgist.[5][6][7] His cousin, Ritchie Routledge, was in the 1960s band The Cryin' Shames.[8] He has an older brother, Joe, and three younger siblings: brothers Mark and Stephen and sister Clare.[5][6] All three of his brothers are also actors and the four of them played brothers in the 1995 TV serial The Hanging Gale. The same year, McGann also played Grigori Potemkin in the television film Catherine the Great alongside Mark and Stephen.

McGann attended Cardinal Allen Grammar School in the Liverpool suburb of West Derby. He was 17 and working in a shoe shop when he acted on the advice of one of his teachers and successfully auditioned for a place on the acting course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[8] In 1980, the Principal of RADA, Hugh Cruttwell, selected a scene from an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, which McGann co-wrote with Bruce Payne, to be performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II in one of her rare visits to the academy. Kenneth Branagh performed a soliloquy from Hamlet at the same event.[9]


Early work and breakthrough[edit]

McGann's breakthrough role was in Give us a Break, devised by Geoff McQueen, McGann played a good snooker player who got into scrapes with Robert Lindsay, who played his wideboy manager. The series was a comedy drama in the vein of the popular ITV series of the time, Minder. The series only lasted for one season and it was concluded by a one-off special. His first major dramatic role was the British World War I deserter and criminal Percy Toplis in the 1986 BBC serial The Monocled Mutineer. The film was based on the 1978 book of the same name, written by William Alison and John Fairley.[10]

Following on from the part of Percy Toplis, McGann sought[citation needed] a less controversial and more comedic role for his next project. In 1986, he was cast as the anonymous main character (Marwood) in Bruce Robinson's cult film, Withnail and I. He also starred as Anton Skrebensky in Ken Russell's 1989 adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow. McGann's other early film appearances include The Monk, Dealers, Tree of Hands and the epic war film Empire of the Sun. McGann and other young British actors who were becoming established film actors such as Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bruce Payne were dubbed the 'Brit Pack'.[11]

Since 1989, McGann has concentrated primarily on television work, including Nice Town and Nature Boy for the BBC, and The One That Got Away and the second series of Hornblower for ITV. However, he has had small roles in a number of high-profile American films like The Three Musketeers and Alien 3. His role in Alien 3 was originally larger, but much of it was edited out of the final print. The cut footage can be seen in the extended version of the film.

In 1992, he was cast as Richard Sharpe, the lead character in the Sharpe series of made-for-TV films based on Bernard Cornwell's novels, however he injured his knee while playing football just days into filming Sharpe's Rifles in Ukraine. He was replaced by Sean Bean and the role effectively kick-started Bean's career and is the one that he is most closely identified with.

Doctor Who[edit]

McGann played the eighth incarnation of the Doctor, in the Doctor Who 1996 television film. The television film also starred Eric Roberts, Daphne Ashbrook and featured the outgoing Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. McGann's brother, Mark McGann, also auditioned for the title role.

The Doctor Who television film was a joint venture between the BBC, Universal Studios and the Fox Broadcasting Network. McGann had signed a contract to appear as the Eighth Doctor in a new Doctor Who series, if Fox or Universal exercised their option. Thus, the television film was supposed to be a "back door pilot" in that, if it obtained respectable ratings, the new series would continue to be produced. The film was shown on 14 May 1996 in the US and on 27 May 1996 in the UK. Although it had 9.08 million viewers and was very successful in the UK, ratings were very low in the United States. As a consequence, Fox did not exercise its option to pick up the series and Universal could not find another network interested in airing a new Doctor Who series. Thus no new series was produced until 2005, after all the contractual rights had returned to the BBC.

McGann gave permission for his likeness to be used on the covers of the BBC's Eighth Doctor novels and he has reprised the role of the Eighth Doctor in an extensive series of audio plays by Big Finish Productions. A number of these plays have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 7 (later BBC Radio 4 Extra).

Rumours abounded that Paul McGann would reprise the role of the Eighth Doctor in a new series of television films, alongside the current television series.[12] McGann has denied these rumours on the grounds of not having been asked back to play the part but if he were to be asked would be interested as long as he "didn't have to wear a wig".[13]

After months of speculation, on 14 November 2013 (coincidentally McGann's birthday), as part of the show's 50th Anniversary celebrations, Paul McGann finally reprised his role as the Eighth Doctor, in the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor. In this appearance his incarnation of the Doctor finally regenerates, 17 years after his first television appearance, into a previously unknown Doctor played by John Hurt.

In November 2013, McGann briefly appeared in the 50th anniversary comedy homage The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.[14]

Later career[edit]

In the years following his appearance as the Doctor, Paul McGann continued to diversify his acting portfolio with the television and film roles he accepted. In 1997 he appeared as a concerned father in the film FairyTale: A True Story and later that same year as Rob in Downtime, then in 1998 he appeared as Capt. Greville in The Dance of Shiva.

In the 2000s McGann's film appearances began to increase with films like My Kingdom (2001), Listening (2003) and Gypo (2005). Perhaps his most iconic role since Doctor Who came in 2002, when McGann appeared in the film adaptation of the third story from Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, Queen of the Damned. McGann played the part of David Talbot, a member of the secret organisation the Talamasca, which researches and investigates the supernatural. Talbot has appeared in many of Rice's novels and has become a central character over the years. The film also starred Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau and R&B singer Aaliyah. McGann has also been in demand for voice-over work in Britain in recent years, particularly on television documentaries and commercials.

He also gained acclaim for his portrayal of William Bush in the final four instalments of the ITV/A&E television series Hornblower, based on the Horatio Hornblower books by C.S. Forrester. He initially appears in the 2001 episode "Mutiny", with Bush being the 2nd Lieutenant of HMS Renown (and Hornblower's superior). In the 7th episode, "Loyalty", he agrees to join Hornblower as his 1st Lieutenant when Hornblower takes command of HMS Hotspur. McGann again portrays Bush in the 2003 finale of the series, "Duty".

In 2006, he appeared in the television drama Tripping Over. In 2007, McGann starred alongside Dervla Kirwan, Lorraine Ashbourne and David Bradley in BBC One drama True Dare Kiss, written by Debbie Horsfield. In 2010, McGann played a major role in a feature-length episode of long-running BBC mystery series Jonathan Creek, as well as appearing as a regular in the crime drama Luther. In 2011, McGann played a major role as an Assistant Commissioner with something to hide in the final episode of Waking the Dead and also featured in Simon Gray's Butley alongside Dominic West at the Duchess Theatre in London.[15][16]

In 2017, McGann joined the cast of the long-running BBC series Holby City, playing neurosurgeon John Gaskell.

In 2021, he hosted the 'British Podcast Awards Gold' winning Noiser podcast production Real Dictators, a history show about the up to date facts on dictators of the past.

Audio books and voice work[edit]

McGann is also known for audiobook narration having read several Pat Barker and Bernard Cornwell novels. He narrated the abridged audiobook of Jeff Noon's 1993 cyberpunk classic Vurt.

McGann continues to play the Eighth Doctor on audio. McGann's first Big Finish audio play appearance was in 2001 in the story Storm Warning. It was through the Big Finish audio plays that McGann's Doctor faced many classic Doctor Who villains like the Daleks (in various different audio plays, the first of which being The Time of the Daleks) and the Cybermen (first encountered by the Eighth Doctor on audio in Sword of Orion).

Five Eighth Doctor dramas were broadcast in BBC 7's The 7th Dimension slot between August 2005 and January 2006. They were in release order, starting with Storm Warning, although Minuet in Hell was judged unsuitable for the timeslot, and skipped. Two more Eighth Doctor audios, Shada and The Chimes of Midnight were broadcast in December 2005 and January 2006; all six of these stories were rebroadcast on BBC7 beginning in July 2006. In 2007 and 2008, a series of audio plays starring McGann as the Eighth Doctor and Sheridan Smith as companion Lucie Miller was broadcast on BBC7.

His voice also featured in the 1997 video game Ceremony of Innocence together with those of Isabella Rossellini and Ben Kingsley.

After hearing him sing in The Monocled Mutineer, composer Bernard J. Taylor invited McGann to create the role of Benedict in the concept studio recording of the Much Ado, a musical based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

McGann portrayed Ambassador Durian in The Minister of Chance, a fantasy audio drama released in six parts from 2011 to 2013. The series is a spin-off of the Doctor Who audio drama Death Comes to Time, but has no official connection to the franchise. In February 2014, a crowdfunded short film based on the first instalment of The Minister of Chance was released to those who had helped fund it.[17]

McGann portrays antagonist Noah Shackleton in the audio drama adaptation of The Phoenix Files. The Australian production is the largest audio drama ever produced in Australia with a cast of 42 actors. McGann appears in all three instalments of the science-fiction, dystopian thriller series.[18]

McGann has done audio narration on BBC documentaries, including the 2014 BBC Scotland production, Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting.[19]

Personal life[edit]

McGann is married to Anne Milner,[3] with whom he has two sons: music producer Joseph (born 1988) and actor Jake (born 1990).



Year Title Role Notes
1987 Withnail and I "I"
Empire of the Sun Lt. Price
1989 Tree of Hands Barry
The Rainbow Anton Skrebensky
Dealers Daniel Pascoe
1990 The Monk Father Lorenzo Rojas
Paper Mask Matthew Harris
1991 Afraid of the Dark Tony Dalton
1992 Alien 3 Golic
1993 The Three Musketeers Girard/Jussac
1997 FairyTale: A True Story Arthur Wright
Downtime Rob
1998 The Dance of Shiva Capt. Greville Short film
2001 My Kingdom Dean
2002 Queen of the Damned David Talbot
2003 Listening Short film
2005 Gypo Paul
Naked in London Mr Johnson
2006 Poppies Tony Hudson
Always Crashing in the Same Car Bill Mackinnon Short film
2007 Voice from Afar Actor 4
2009 Lesbian Vampire Killers Vicar
2010 Godard & Others Torrence
2012 Notes from the Underground Photographer
2013 Art Is... Lulu's Dad
A Little Place Off the Edgware Road James Craven Short film
2014 The Minister of Chance: The Prologue Ambassador Durian Short film
2015 Absence Man Short film
The Pit and the Pendulum: A Study in Torture Christian Judge Short film
2016 Brakes Peter
Letters from Baghdad Henry Cadogan Voice
2017 B&B Josh
Perplexed Music Man


Year Title Role Notes
1983–1984 Give Us a Break Mo Morris 8 episodes
1986 The Importance of Being Earnest John Worthing
The Monocled Mutineer Percy Toplis 4 episodes
1990 Screen Two Colin Episode: "Drowning in the Shallow End"
1992 Nice Town Joe Thompson 3 episodes
1995 Catherine the Great Potemkin
The Hanging Gale Liam Phelan 4 episodes
The Merchant of Venice Bassanio
The One That Got Away Chris Ryan
1996 Doctor Who Eighth Doctor The Movie
1998 Our Mutual Friend Eugene Wrayburn 4 episodes
1999 Forgotten Ben Turner 3 episodes
2000 Nature Boy Steve Witton 4 episodes
Fish Jonathan Vishnevski 6 episodes
2001 Hotel! Ben Carter
Sweet Revenge Patrick Vine 2 episodes
2002 Blood Strangers DC David Ingram 2 episodes
The Biographer Andrew Morton
2001-2003 Hornblower Lieutenant Bush 4 episodes
2003 Agatha Christie's Poirot Dr. Peter Lord Episode: "Sad Cypress"
Shada The Doctor
2004 Lie With Me Gerry Henson 2 episodes
2005 Kidnapped Colonel MacNab 2 episodes
2005 Fables of Forgotten Things Clarence
Agatha Christie's Marple Dickie Erskine Episode: "Sleeping Murder"
2006 If I Had You Philip Andrews
Tripping Over Jeremy 6 episodes
Sea of Souls Christopher Chambers Episode: "Rebound"
2007 True Dare Kiss Nash McKinnon 6 episodes
2009 Collision Richard Reeves 5 episodes
2010 Jonathan Creek Hugo Doré Episode: "The Judas Tree"
2010–2011, 2019 Luther Mark North 10 episodes
2011 Waking the Dead ACC Tony Nicholson Episodes: "Waterloo", Parts 1 & 2
New Tricks DCI James Larson Episode: "Object of Desire"
2012 A Mother's Son David 2 episodes
SOS: The Titanic Inquiry Sir Rufus Isaacs TV film
2013 Ripper Street Stanley J. Bone Episode: "The Good of This City"
Moving On Phil Episode: "Blood Ties"
Doctor Who The Doctor Episode: "The Night of the Doctor"
The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot Paul McGann TV film
2014 The Bletchley Circle John Richards Episode: "Blood on Their Hands: Part 1"
2016 The Musketeers St. Pierre Episode: "The Queen's Diamonds"
2017–2018 Holby City John Gaskell 40 episodes
2021 Annika Dr. Jake Strathearn 3 episodes


Year Title Notes
2004 That'll Teach 'Em Series 2 (5 episodes)
2005 Zero Hour Series 2
2006-2007 Real Crime Series 5 (2006)-Series 6 (2007)
2011 Britain's Greatest Codebreaker
2013 Wildest Latin America
Extraordinary People: The Boy with the Incredible Brain
2014 Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting
France: The Wild Side
Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race[20]
2015 Shark[21]
Hunt for the Arctic Ghost Ship[22]
2016 Wildest Islands of Indonesia
2016-2017 Eden[23] Series 1-2
2021 Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World


Year Title Role Notes
2001-2011, 2021 Doctor Who: The Monthly Range Eighth Doctor 32 releases
2007-2011 The Eighth Doctor Adventures
2012-2015 Dark Eyes
2015-2017 Doom Coalition
2015 The Diary of River Song "The Rulers of the Universe"
2016-2017 Doctor Who: Classic Doctors, New Monsters 2 stories
2017-present The Eighth Doctor: The Time War
2018-2019 Ravenous
2019 The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller
2020-2022 Stranded
2019 You're the Boss Bill Track 5 on "Shuffle" by Jamie Lenman, reading of a scene from "Always Crashing in the Same Car" (2007)

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1997 Ceremony of Innocence Griffin Moss Voice role


  1. ^ As pronounced by McGann in his 2009 Talksport interview.
  2. ^ "Paul McGann Biography (1959–)". 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Actor Paul McGann enters his second act". 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  4. ^ "Paul McGann | Doctor Who Interview Archive". 25 August 2009. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b Shennan, Paddy (30 July 2017). "Surviving famine, the Titanic and D-Day - the amazing story of the McGanns". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b Dwyer, Ciara (21 August 2017). "McGann: 'I have their blood in my veins - but I own my story'". Independent Ireland. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  7. ^ "Paul McGann Biography (1959–)". 14 November 1959. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b Jones, Catherine (8 May 2013). "Liverpool actor Paul McGann talks about his 30-year stage and screen career ahead of Club Geek Chic In Conversation appearance at St George's Hall". Liverpool Echo.
  9. ^ The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (1980) An Entertainment, 19 November 1980 programme, GBS Theatre: London
  10. ^ Barnett, Laura (3 August 2009). "Portrait of the artist: Paul McGann, actor". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  11. ^ "The Brit Pack". Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  12. ^ "New 'Doctor Who' film in the works?", SyFy Portal 14 May 2007 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 May 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) and at Outpost Gallifrey.
  13. ^ "The Doctor Who News Page". Archived from the original on 30 June 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2007.
  14. ^ "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot", BBC programmes, retrieved 26 November 2013.
  15. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (20 February 2011). "Dominic West to revive classic stage role". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
  16. ^ Bishop, Caroline (29 June 2011). "Paul McGann". Official London Theatre.
  17. ^ "Pilot for unofficial Doctor Who spin-off Minister of Chance". 14 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  18. ^ "The Phoenix Files". Preachrs Podcast. Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  19. ^ "Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting". BBC Four. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  20. ^ "BBC Four - Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race". Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  21. ^ "BBC One - Shark". Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  22. ^ "Hunt for the Arctic Ghost Ship". Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  23. ^ "Eden - On Demand - All 4". Retrieved 24 November 2016.

External links[edit]