When William Hartnell became too ill to continue working on Doctor Who back in the 1960s the producers were in a jam. They had replaced other characters before but this was the title character. How do you do a show without him? The solution was something that would later be called regeneration: a different face with a different outlook and different physical and personal traits becoming dominant over others but at the core still the same man, even if that man is a woman. This has allowed the show to go on for decades (with a break while sci-fi haters ran the BBC and an attempted American revival made the mistake of going with Fox, a network with a science fiction failure rate so large that its one success not called X-Files ended up moving to Hulu) without a reboot. Unless you count the two Peter Cushing movies and nobody does. I mean, I like them and will defend it partially based on when it came out, but they’re better off as their own thing.

Now the current Doctor, Jodie Whitaker, will be leaving the show, meaning she’ll be regenerating soon. And I’ll say this about the rumors of David Tennant coming back…save him for the Big Finish audio dramas. The “familiar faces” bit between 11 and the Curator was cute but the Doctor shouldn’t return to old lives. He should move forward, not backward. The other “big deal” about this regeneration has been that she doesn’t do so within the walls of the TARDIS like this is some big deal. While this tends to be a thing in New Who, especially when a new showrunner wants to destroy a console room and internal design–a sin Chibnall doesn’t get marked enough him as he replaced the best console room in New Who with the worst–is it really that unusual? Sorry for those of you on slower systems or those of you who may not have time to watch this now, but let’s take a look back at all the regenerations of the Doctor and get a proper count, as well as how those regenerations were handled. Luckily the official YouTube channel has them all.

“The Tenth Planet” is one of the lost episodes, with the regeneration footage coming from the next episode, so here is the animated re-creation of the scene.

Yep, it’s in the TARDIS. It’s also the first regeneration. The idea wouldn’t be properly formed by and to the staff until later on, and would allow actors playing the Doctor to move on with their careers. I’m hoping more stories work with this. This is also examined with a new actor playing the first Doctor when it came time for 12 to regenerate but I think we’ve seen enough of this one. Let’s move on to the next Doctor.

As I said, the creators really didn’t have a set of rules yet when it came to regeneration. Based on what we now have they basically slapped a death sentence on the Doctor, depending on whether or not you accept the fan-retcon to the plothole of “The Two Doctors” as to when it takes place and how. This is happening outside and away from the TARDIS, and is just treated like he got plastic surgery, while the first regeneration is closer to how we know it today. The same is true for the next regeneration.

We still see that regeneration is getting a helping hand. The first one appears to be being done by the TARDIS itself but that could just be one interpretation and not what they were going for. On the other hand the second one is forced on him by the Time Lords as punishment, a sort of death sentence by current rules. The third, which is two for outside the TARDIS if you’re keeping score (and that’s kind of the hook of the article), could be allowed to happen on its own but whoever he is opts to speed things up for the Brigadier and Sarah Jane’s sake. It’s still not quite regeneration as we’ve come to know it. The next one still hasn’t quite hit on the formula.

It’s strange how much of the typical regeneration we see here but going from four to five it’s still not quite there. I don’t think anyone has ever explained why or even how the fifth incarnation was walking around playing Uatu during the events that led to the Doctor’s death, so they still don’t have the rules down. Also, once again outside the TARDIS. So thus far we’ve only seen it happen once. Meanwhile, you have the early ideas of the light covering his body to transition to the next body (possibly a way of hiding the effect between actors beyond a simple fade), the first time the Doctor dies saving the universe or one of his Companions rather than “wearing a bit thin” or being punished either by the Time Lords or the spider people he stole from, and the first time in classic Who you see the Doctor flashing back to the friends and foes he made during his time. This would happen again when five made his regeneration.

Again, if you’re keeping score this is only the second time the Doctor has regenerated within the TARDIS and its obvious that it doesn’t require the TARDIS to make it happen. We also see regeneration for the first time beyond a fade and treats the process like a power more than a biological factor. I think offering to reset the Master’s counter in “The Five Doctors” further confirms that as well as how we see it in the future. This is also the last time they use the flashbacks, but given the circumstances leading to the next regeneration there’s a good reason for that.

I have to feel sorry for Colin Baker. One higher-up is trying to kill the show and force the producer who wants to leave but keep the show being made on board. Another is dating his ex-wife and holding a serious grudge against him. It’s not surprising that Baker refused to regenerate out, forcing a last-minute change to the episode that has the Doctor regenerate in the TARDIS for reasons unknown. (The common theory is hitting his head on the console when the TARDIS was being battered around.) So to hide the fact that this is Sylvester McCoy in a blond wig they used the lighting effect again, and it might have become a staple (and certainly influenced New Who regenerations) except that’s not how the TV movie handled the change to #8.

We can debate the circumstances that led to the Doctor’s regeneration but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to note that this wasn’t in the TARDIS and talk about about the regeneration itself. Here they went with lightning bolts instead of a white light while McCoy and McGann try to do the changing face bit Patrick Troughton was doing along with other special effects. Personally I kind of like it as it looks more like a changing of faces but it really doesn’t fit in with the other regenerations thus far. I suppose it’s just lucky that the producer of the movie was continuing from the series. This is the second time we’ve had no Companions and while this can be a questionable choice as the Companions help us to accept a new Doctor, this was reaching an American audience who may not have been aware of regeneration unless they had watched the show on PBS so it makes him all the more alien and all the more interesting. It would be years into the new show before McGann finally got to do his regeneration.

Effects wise we’re jumping ahead since this was a lead-in to an 11th Doctor story but we’re counting out of TARDIS regenerations and thus far we’ve only had three out of eight Doctors in the TARDIS at the time. This time we have another forced regeneration, though this time of the Doctor’s doing rather than having it forced upon him, as in causing his own death rather than threat or gravity. It’s necessarily bleaker than previous regenerations and credit to McGann for really selling how badly he didn’t want to do this. After Eccleston’s terrible time in the role thanks to health issues, life issues, and just terrible treatment by BBC Wales he wasn’t about to come back, so instead they came up with The War Doctor, a “Doctor” that would be needed for the Time War. And when it was time for Hurt to resume being the proper Doctor, the official Ninth, he didn’t have Eccleston to regenerate into, while the reveal of the War Doctor would happen later in the short that introduced “The Day Of The Doctor”, one of my favorite episodes.

That’s four for inside the TARDIS. This one is a bit more upbeat, because this is when the Doctor gets to pass on as the Doctor, while still explaining why Nine didn’t know he adverted destroying everything at the end of the Time War (though apparently Ten still time locks at least one major battle). He doesn’t have to worry about forgetting saving Gallifrey instead of burning it, so it’s a happier ending than he was expecting. Moffat also likes revisiting old ideas. Here we see the Doctor using the “wearing a bit thin” line again, and a reference to the first time we see the Doctor look in a mirror and noticing how the ears look. There’s some question as to how much time is between this story and “Rose” though given how Big Finish is doing Ninth Doctor stories prior to meeting Rose I guess we know what their answer is. Maybe he just never got used to them. As for the burst of energy, that started with the first actual regeneration of New Who.

And here is where in the TARDIS regenerations try to catch up. If somebody hadn’t seen Doctor Who before they wouldn’t be aware of regeneration in this new series, so handling this was very important. Having the same Companion along helped to mirror the audience’s confusion about the new face and persona to their hero. They have to sell the concept all over again to a skeptical audience, which was already a concern in Classic Who when they changed Doctors. This showcases the transformation but the  next episode itself had to sell the regeneration and new Doctor, which it admittedly did well with Rose, Mickey, and Jackie as confused as the rest of us while the Doctor recovers from having the energy of spacetime running around in his body. When I first saw this explosive regeneration I passed it off with that reasoning in mind, that this was because of why the Doctor was regenerating. Then New Who just kept on doing it and even upping the blast.

Okay, that’s six for in the TARDIS and one for trashes the TARDIS. Every showrunner likes to have his own TARDIS console and design, and it usually means trashing the one before. I’d call this one a mercy killing, especially in 13th’s case, but I’d like to know how absorbed radiation backwash did more damage than absorbed space/time energy. Exploding regeneration energy would just be how it goes in New Who and I’m not a fan. I want it to look amazing but not destructive. This is about new life more than it is death of an old Doctor and it just felt wrong here. It doesn’t help that Tennant’s often mocked “I don’t want to go” line added to worries of accepting a new Doctor after Tennant had replaced Baker as favorite Doctor for many fans, especially the new ones who didn’t have the nostalgic connection to Tom Baker, while Matt Smith sells us on the early stages of his regeneration sickness. I will give New Who credit for finalizing the rules of regeneration but I can do without the exploding energy.

This is quite possibly the best regeneration in the franchise. A near-perfect send-off to the old Doctor and a thrilling teaser for the new. We still have a crashing TARDIS (so our count is seven), which is an odd thing about New Who, but everything you need is in place. We have memories, though I would have liked to have seen Rory show up as well. I know he wasn’t as close to him as he was to Amy given their history but as the only other Companion he was close to besides the one standing next to him it would have been the right thing in my opinion. No exploding energy, though I guess he burned that out on Trenzalore. The TARDIS is in trouble but not blowing up. This being the second Moffat design and honestly the best of New Who that’s a good thing. 11 has come to terms with his regeneration and his new upcoming life (we also see later that he took the time to call Clara to ask him to watch over 12 as he tries to figure out who he is), and it’s a beautiful scene overall. Outside of a missing Companion I have nothing bad to say about this scene. Then we go back to form.

While not the worst regeneration it does get a lot wrong. We have another TARDIS trashing (making this a grand total of eight regenerations in the TARDIS, and with the news of 13th’s regeneration six out, with New Who as the one pushing it over the line for team in-TARDIS), a speech that makes us further concerned over an already controversial change to the new Doctor, and yet another crashing TARDIS. Why does New Who keep crashing and trashing TARDISes? On the other hand Capaldi gives a great speech while believably in pain either from the regeneration itself or holding it back the whole episode. It plays into 12’s theme of wondering if he is a kind man, has that great line about children, and gives us a last look at the best New Who console room. The bit with the ring falling off, is a great visual transition between Doctors, though it also plays into the worries this new Doctor can handle it. It’s amazing how much it gets right and how much it gets wrong.

So most regenerations have happened in the TARDIS but with a two to three gap in the stats. I don’t think regenerating outside the TARDIS is that radical. It’s not even the first time in New Who thanks to the War Doctor. What will Jodie’s regeneration look like? We’ll see at the end of the season but they have a lot of history to use as a guide. Then again Chibnall hasn’t been so great on that count.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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