New Beginnings: Messing Up Regeneration

“Regeneration; it’s a lottery.”

That’s what the Tenth Doctor would have us believe when confronted with his successor in The Day of the Doctor, but is it really as simple as that?

There have been plenty of other Time Lords regenerating during the series 50+ year run, with the General merely being the latest, that seem to manage it with few or little of the side effects that the Doctor seems to suffer from on a pretty regular basis. Which makes you wonder; is it the circumstances under which he finds himself having to regenerate or is it merely, as a friend of mine recently commented, “more that he just wasn’t paying attention when regeneration was taught at the Academy.”

Looking back at his first regeneration it’s hard to be too critical. After all he’d never attempted regeneration before and he was far from Gallifrey. Up until this point regeneration was merely a theory, arguably one he’d missed, so the fact that he managed it all is probably worthy of praise. In fact watching The Tenth Planet in hindsight it could be argued that he was fighting off regeneration for most of the serial and had probably been resisting it for sometime prior. It’s also note worthy that his first body was one of only three to make it to the natural end of it’s life cycle, it’s likely that that might have had some effect on the regeneration. There’s some argument to be had that the planet Mondas was somehow siphoning off his energy and therefore triggered this regeneration, I find that particular theory quite hard to accept.

Once in his second body he seems to get over the regeneration quite quickly. Any confusion on his part on this occasion can be put down to novelty rather than any actual distress.

His second regeneration is a completely different story however. He has no say whatsoever in the process this time, giving up the choice of face in a fit of temper. Although the fact that he could have chosen a face is quite telling in regards to just how much control Time Lords can have on their chosen appearance. The sad truth here is that the Second Doctor was essentially executed and selectively mind wiped by his own people.

The Third Doctor took some time (and several attempts) to recover from his enforced regeneration, but you could argue that was due to the artificial nature of it. Certainly he didn’t take as long to recover the first time round. His persistent efforts to reclaim his TARDIS key however suggest that he’s in control of his faculties from the start though.

Spearhead Regeneration

But it’s when the Third Doctor reaches the end of his life that we get the first clear sign that maybe, just maybe, he isn’t all that capable of regenerating properly by himself. Certainly the enigmatic mutterings of K’anpo Rimpoche throughout Planet of the Spiders suggests that there’s a degree of mental, perhaps even spiritual, preparation required to allow the regeneration to occur. Certainly it’s heavily implied that the Doctor’s life would have ended here if his old mentor had not been on hand to give the process a little push.

It’s also worth noting that K’anpo Rimpoche regenerated with the help of self projected future version of himself, but we’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs.

Whilst the Fourth Doctor is recovering from the regeneration process he finds himself randomly vocalising memories of his past selves before lapsing in unconsciousness. On regaining consciousness he locks up poor Harry Sullivan and is apparently stopped from running off in the TARDIS by Sarah Jane, after which he more or less stabilises as much as this particular incarnation ever did. Or did he?

According to Terrence Dicks’ novelisation of The Face of Evil it was at this point that the Doctor visited the Sevateem and accidentally left his personality print on Xoanon, before returning to UNIT headquarters seconds after he left. Forgetting you’ve accidentally programmed a computer with part of your personality and therefore inducing a split personality is not something that should be easily forgotten, yet somehow the Doctor managed it. A sign that the Fourth Doctor’s mental stability was arguably the most fragile in his post regenerative state.

Then, at the end of his fourth life, he requires help from a future version of himself known by his companions and the script writers as the Watcher. In a move very reminiscent of K’anpo Rimpoche, the Doctor’s future version merges with his current self to trigger his regeneration. Little is revealed of the origin of the Watcher and we’re left wondering if he was a subconscious projection of the Fourth Doctor or a result of the Doctor tweaking his own timeline later on. Either way the Watcher’s participation again highlights the Doctor’s inability to regenerate by himself. At this point something that hasn’t happened since his very first regeneration.

The Fifth Doctor’s post regenerative state is possibly the worst one on record so far. By this point we expect him to lose consciousness and to relive moments of his past, but as he stumbles around the TARDIS hunting desperately for the Zero Room he reveals that not only can regenerations fail, but that this one is doing exactly that! Only once cut off completely from the rest of the universe within the Zero Room does the Doctor begin to recover from regeneration, but even then the process is slow and a state of amnesia occurs that leaves the Doctor searching for himself on a literal and metaphorical level.

In keeping with the touch and go nature of his introduction the Fifth Doctor is unsure if he’ll regenerate after failing to ingest the antidote to the Spectrox. There are several factors that could have contributed to his uncertainty; his (incarnation specific) allergy to praxis range gases, the fact that he fought off the regeneration in his determination to reach Peri in time or perhaps the fact that this would be his first unaided regeneration since his very first one.

sixth twin dilemma

Although he does finally regenerate the Sixth Doctor is hardly what you would call stable. Despite remaining conscious throughout his recovery period he does succumb to violent outbursts, at one point even going as far as to actually strangle Peri. On realising his mistake this Doctor decides to embark on a millennia long exile as a hermit, perhaps the next best option given his lack of a Zero Room and again hinting at the idea of being mentally and spiritually prepared in order to successfully regenerate.

There are several versions of events that seem to surround the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration that all suggest different levels of involvement in his regeneration. If you follow TV canon alone then he merely fell and bumped his head, which in itself could account for his period of unconsciousness afterwards. If (like myself) you favour the New Adventures then his regeneration was brought about and influenced by the Seventh Doctor’s influence and represents the most controlled regeneration the Doctor has ever managed.

Although that does fly in the face of the fact that all the Rani needed to fool him was a ginger wig.

Ahem.

When the Seventh Doctor was gunned down outside his TARDIS and taken to the nearest hospital the anaesthetic given to him significantly delayed the regeneration process and was directly responsible for the extended bout of amnesia that followed. Or so the Doctor would have you believe. At this point it would seem to simply be business as usual for him following a regeneration…

Mind you, this was his fourth solo regeneration so you’d hope he’d be getting a little better at it by this point.

And just as the Eighth Doctor was actually dead prior to starting his life so he found himself again at the end of it. Fatally injured in a crash on the planet Karn he was offered more choice than he’d ever had before on the nature of his next regeneration. Even the Time Lords could only offer a say in his appearance, the Sisterhood of Karn offered a say in his height, age, and nature. Once again the Doctor requires assistance to regenerate, but this time he is fully in control of what he is to become and no after effects are visible as the War Doctor takes Cas’ belt and declares himself “Doctor no more”.

Eight_Regeneration

When we next meet this Doctor we discover that he is only the second incarnation to reach extreme old age and to be dying from it. His decision to end the Time War directly influenced the man he was to become although it’s possible that the amnesia from encountering two of his later selves immediately before and the PTSD from the Time War resulted in the angry, lonely Doctor we meet at the start of Rose. Due to various factor we’ll never know just how well the Ninth Doctor handled post regeneration.

However when it came time for the Ninth Doctor to regenerate he was calm and fully accepted his lack of control over what was coming next and was in control of himself enough to say farewell to Rose Tyler.

After a brief spell of lucidity, the Tenth Doctor, returned to form with a prolonged bout of unconsciousness and was only roused by a superheated infusion of free radicals and tannin from a cup of tea healing his synapses. This Doctor also displayed an ability to regrow part of his body after having his hand chopped off, revealing that perhaps he’d learned something of regeneration over the years. It also indicates just how much energy a Time Lord body requires to successfully sustain a regeneration. No wonder he’s struggled with it in the past.

The Tenth Doctor shows even more control of the regeneration process when he uses the presence of his severed hand to regenerate into himself and shows absolutely no sign of regenerative trauma what so ever. And indeed when the Tenth Doctor regenerates for the second time he is able to stall the process (like his First and Fifth selves) long enough to say goodbye to all his companions. An unprecedented level of control from him, which you would hope for given that this was meant to be his last regeneration.

And actually when you look at the Eleventh Doctor in the aftermath of regeneration he has more the feel of someone trying out a new car. He regains consciousness and suffers no significant issues apart from the odd discharge of regeneration energy.

And because this was meant to be his last incarnation he puts in no preparation for his next regeneration at all. Yet even still he is able to use the new cycle gifted to him by the Time Lords to take out a whole Dalek fleet before temporally regaining his youthful appearance. As he bids farewell to Clara he is fully aware of the upcoming regeneration and not only seems at peace with it, but is fully aware of it’s progress.

Bearing all this in mind it then seems strange that the Twelfth Doctor once again exhibits extreme confusion and lapses in and out of consciousness. Although we should perhaps be charitable and put this down to him dealing with a brand new regeneration cycle.

  • Dr. Moo

    We may be able to question the Doctor’s capabilities to regenerate but there can be no question about whether Kasterborous could do it. This site is running on full now and already has new people coming to join the fun, a sure sign that you pulled it off. Good job all involved in the switchover!

    Oh, and the Doctor’s struggles with regeneration are because he’s the protagonist in a TV series and so otherwise there’d be no story when it happened to him. 🙂

    • TimeChaser

      Wibbly wobbly handy wavey drama wamma? 😉

  • TheLazyWomble

    Another excellent article. Thank you, Alasdair, for a thought provoking piece.
    And I agree with Dr. Moo: this site nailed it from day one. Actually, you aced it from day one.

    • Alasdair Shaw

      Thanks, TheLazyWomble. Appreciate that.

  • TimeChaser

    One of the many continuity issues that Doctor Who has had over it’s long and storied run. I’ve often thought to myself how remarkably inconsistent generation is, with the effects (and FX) changing every time, as well as the symptoms immediately following. If you subscribe to the controversial “half human” theory, then this could potentially explain why the Doctor in particular has such trouble with his regenerations. Personally, I don’t.

    As for Ten’s regeneration, I’ve always thought it was so explosively violent because he held it back for much too long in order to do his farewell tour. The SJA episode Death of the Doctor suggests he wasn’t just visiting recent companions, but as many from as past as he could find, including Jo. Imagine the willpower needed to hold it off for that long. No wonder Eleven is screaming when he finally appears. Think about it: the Master killed himself by holding back regeneration, and that was for less than a minute. Surely the Doctor should be dead at least a couple of times already in his own herculean efforts to hold back the inevitable. Again, more inconsistencies.

  • Simon Danes

    Pedantry time again (sorry). In fact, the idea that the Hartnell/Troughton change and the Troughton/Pertwee change were regenerations is ret-con. It’s pretty clear from the narrative that Troughton is meant to be Hartnell rejuvenated; he’s a younger version of Hartnell’s Doctor. (It also explains why the TARDIS is involved.) In ‘The War Games’, it seems that the Time Lords deliberately change the Doctor; Bernard Horsfall’s line, ‘Your appearance has changed before; it will change again — and that is part of the sentence,’ would make much less sense if they all could do it: it’s presented as a startling and weirdy thing. So, calling the first two changes of actor ‘regenerations’ is ret-con; a bit like saying Hartnell’s Doctor or Troughton’s Doctor was a Time Lord. But ret-con is good, and it helps us to ignore inconsistencies in a vast narrative. Does anybody think that the Doctor is half-human or that the TARDIS is isomorphic? Pedantry corner now closes. Goodnight.

    • Dr. Moo

      As the 11th Doctor once said: “That was a clever lie, anyone could tell that was a clever lie!”

    • TimeChaser

      Sometimes ret-con can be good (regeneration, Time Lords, etc.) and sometimes it just messes with the previously established history too much for some of us (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday & The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End trampling all over The Dalek Invasion of Earth being humanity’s first encounter with the Daleks).

      • Dr. Moo

        (Victory of the Daleks deals with that last one.)

        • TimeChaser

          Oh man, thanks for reminding me about “Spitfires in Space!”. I’d actually managed to forget that one. 😛

          • Dr. Moo

            Spitfires in Space is just the tip of the iceberg. What about the New Dalek Paradigm lining up and then being encouraged to exterminate the previous models?
            Victory of the Daleks… or Victory of the BBC Merchandising Department? (I still love you Dalek Strategist!)

    • Alasdair Shaw

      I took a more in universe view to proceedings. Your view is very much based on the production side of things and flies slightly in the face of the spirit of the article.
      Sorry if that aspect of it bothered you.

  • Excellent article. Wish I’d written it!

    • Alasdair Shaw

      The ultimate compliment. Thanks, Tony!

  • Josh

    Great article Alasdair!

    • Alasdair Shaw

      Cheers, Josh.