Paul McGann was born in Surrey, although his family moved to Liverpool when he was a young child. His brothers Mark, Joe, and Stephen are also actors; the four of them starred together (as four brothers) in the 1995 television miniseries The Hanging Gale. They also formed the pop quartet “The McGanns”, releasing the single “Shame About The Boy”.
McGann made his name on the BBC serial The Monocled Mutineer, in which he played the lead role of Percy Toplis. Following that part, he was cast as the eponymous “I” in Bruce Robinson’s cult film comedy, Withnail and I (1987). He also starred as Anton Skrebensky in Ken Russell’s 1989 adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow.
McGann was cast as the Eighth Doctor for the series TV movie return. During the production of the TV Movie, McGann participated in the documentary Bidding Adieu: A Video Diary, Sylvester McCoy’s personal documentary of his then-final outing as the Seventh Doctor.
Since Doctor Who, McGann’s career has concentrated on television work including the Hornblower series. His voice was featured in the 1997 video game Ceremony of Innocence, together with those of Isabella Rossellini and Ben Kingsley.
In 2013, McGann appeared as himself in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, alongside fellow classic Doctor actors Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.
From 2017 to 2018, McGann played sinister surgeon John Gaskell in forty episodes of the medical drama series Holby City (1999-ongoing).
McGann had given permission for his likeness to be used in BBC Books’ Eighth Doctor Adventures novel range and the monthly Doctor Who Magazine comic strip continuing his character’s adventures without him having any actual involvement. As a result, in the many years before television Who returned to production, the Eighth Doctor remained the “current” Doctor in all the new Doctor Who spin-off media with the character’s mannerisms extrapolated from his brief performance.
In 1997, McGann made his first foray into Doctor Who audio when he recorded several audiobooks for BBC Audio, beginning with an audio adaptation of The Novel of the Film and continuing with a collection of short stories, Earth and Beyond. In 2000, he joined the roster of Big Finish Productions, reprising the role of the Eighth Doctor for the Main Range, and was treated as the “current” Doctor by the majority of fandom and the BBC until Christopher Eccleston assumed the role in 2005. He also made his webcast debut with the animated Shada. McGann continues to play the Eighth Doctor in Big Finish’s main Doctor Who range, as well as Eighth Doctor Adventures, a second series of audios produced by Big Finish for broadcast on BBC7 Radio.
McGann participated in a commentary and other material for the DVD re-release of his own TV Movie. He has narrated material on other classic Who DVD releases as well, for example, the Five Doctors DVD featurette “The Ties That Bind Us.”
Paul McGann finally returned to the screen as the Eighth Doctor in 2013, when he reprised the role in The Night of the Doctor. Though it was only a brief outing, the mini-episode allowed him a chance to at last depict his regeneration story.