A Beginner’s Guide to Regeneration

Doctor Who is surely one of the most original television programmes ever to be made.

From the concept of the TARDIS being bigger on the inside than out, with the ability to go anywhere in time and space, to the concept that the main hero, the Doctor, is not the average science fiction pin-up, using his wits instead of a gun or other weapon. Some of these ideas were born out of real world considerations, such as the exterior of the TARDIS being stuck in the form of 1960s Metropolitan Police Box, which was brought about so the production team could use one prop instead of having to find a new one each adventure to blend in with its surroundings.

One such idea was the idea that the Doctor could ‘renew’ his body when it became old and frail or was otherwise mortally injured, was thought up when the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell, became too ill to carry on and was also becoming quite hard to work with at times, something that is played out in detail in the 2013 special, An Adventure in Space and Time.

So at the conclusion of the second adventure in Doctor Who‘s fourth season, The Tenth Planet, the Doctor announced that he was ‘wearing a bit thin’ and regenerated into character actor, Patrick Troughton.

Part of what convinced Hartnell to approve of the change in leads was not only his respect for Troughton as an actor, but also the fact that he was reassured at the time that Troughton’s performance as the Doctor would be totally different from his own.

So not only was the Doctor’s outward appearance changing, but his entire personality as well.

Troughton would first show the world this take on the Doctor on the 5th November, 1966 in The Power of the Daleks, because the producers felt that with so many changes the audience would tune in to see the popular Daleks and in turn bear witness to the first of many regenerations in the Doctor’s TV life.

Of course, pretty soon, fans will get to relive this lost adventure when the animated version of Power of the Daleks is released 50 years after its first broadcast from the BBC Store and on DVD.

Patrick Troughton would stay in the role of the Doctor for 3 years and by the time he had decided to call it quits, the show was in need of a format change as well as a change in the lead actor – for the dual purposes of refreshing the series and making it less costly to create the various alien worlds the Doctor visited. It was decided that the Doctor would be exiled to Earth by his own race, the Time Lords and would join up with UNIT, the United Nations task-force that investigated alien occurrences on the planet Earth.

Shown in The War Games, the Doctor’s regeneration this time would be forced, as he recklessly tried to escape his fate by telling his people that he would be recognised on Earth if they exiled him there.

Enter Jon Pertwee, who not only would bring a bit of James Bond into the role with his Venusian Karate and love for cars and gadgets, but also a sense of style and class to the role. Pertwee again shifted the dynamic of the Doctor’s personality while exhibiting some very human-like qualities as well.

The end of the line for the Third Doctor was when he was battling the Giant Spiders of Metebelis Three and if it weren’t for another Time Lord going by the name of K’anpo giving his regeneration a little ‘push’, this may have really been the end of the Doctor’s life.

In Planet of the Spiders, K’anpo said when helping the Doctor change into his fourth body that his behaviour may be a little ‘erratic’ but said nothing about him also being wonderful, magical, and the man who would really put Doctor Who in the public eye around the world, especially in the United States.

Tom Baker’s Doctor was totally alien and also delightfully eccentric. Tom lasted 7 years in the role before turning the TARDIS keys over to someone else in Logopolis by falling from a radio telescope, surely one of the most painful of the Doctor’s deaths, and, for Doctor Who fans for whom Tom was the Doctor, one of the saddest as well.

Peter Davison would be the man to replace Tom Baker for the next three years, before sacrificing himself to death by Spectrox Toxemia to save his young companion, Peri Brown in The Caves of Androzani.

Davison was at the time the youngest actor to play the Doctor and was designed by producer John Nathan-Turner to be the ‘anti-Tom.’ Straight hair replaced curly, youth replaced middle age, and the iconic scarf would be replaced by celery as a ‘decorative vegetable.’

This era would soon pass and would give rise to Colin Baker’s brief and tumultuous run as the Doctor, whose violent and aggressive ways would put off many fans for decades until Baker got to return to the role in the Big Finish audio plays, where he would tame his take on the Time Lord. His reign was host to plummeting viewing figures, a long hiatus in production, and numerous fans complaining about his jacket, which looked like it was a cast off from an odd production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Colin was sadly forced out of the role to be replaced with someone with more humour and charm, as the powers that be thought the show had lost its way and became too violent and stale, which lead to Colin being the only ‘official’ Doctor to not have a proper regeneration scene filmed when he refused to come in to do the scene.

So the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy did the regeneration scene wearing a wig as a stand in for Colin Baker in the opening scenes of his first adventure, Time and the Rani, in which the TARDIS being pulled off course by the renegade Rani made the Doctor bump his head on the TARDIS console and die.

(Perhaps this is why the Tenth Doctor worries so much that he might have died by ‘tripping over a brick or something’ in the 2009 special, The Next Doctor. He had suffered such a humiliating fate before.)

McCoy started off as just what the BBC had ordered by being a complete and total buffoon to a degree when he took the role, more likely to be seen doing some visual gag or another rather than feeling like the embodiment of a 953-year-old lord of time. However, by his second season in the role, McCoy had turned his Doctor into a man who seemingly knew exactly what was happening before it happened and thus was a master manipulator. That clownish outer exterior in fact held a man you would always want on your side in matters of deception or importance.

Sadly, we will never know how long McCoy might have graced us with his presence because Doctor Who went off the air and into long term hibernation from 1989 until 1996.

Sylvester would reprise his role in the 1996 TV Movie to properly hand over the role to Paul McGann, who has only appeared on screen as the Doctor twice in over 50 years of Doctor Who due to the TV Movie not taking off as a ‘back door pilot’ as a FOX Movie of the Week after that production was riddled with drama and missteps. Fortunately, McGann would go on to play the Eighth Doctor in numerous Big Finish audio plays and eventually returned to the screen briefly to regenerate during the mini-episode, The Night of the Doctor, which was a prelude to the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor.

Despite only visually playing the role of the Doctor twice, McGann has gained a lot of loyal fans for his portrayal of the character with fans to this day wishing he would return to the screen in some form in the currently ongoing series.

After McGann drank a potion that would force his regeneration as he wanted to become a ‘warrior’, able to fight in The Last Great Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, John Hurt appeared in the aforementioned 50th anniversary episode and was dubbed the War Doctor, a man who nonetheless renounced the title of the Doctor to fight a war.

Although the continued adventures of the War Doctor were of course never shown on screen, he seems to have lived for a very long time and most likely had many off screen adventures during the Time War which will surely play out across Doctor Who media for years to come.

This culminated with him meeting his tenth and eleventh incarnations during the events of The Day of the Doctor in 2013, at the conclusion of which he too ‘wore a bit thin,’ much like the First Doctor and regenerated into the Ninth Doctor… or should that be tenth?

Christopher Eccleston would play the role of the Ninth Doctor for only one series when Doctor Who triumphantly returned to television in 2005, but he did it in such a way that assured that the programme would stay on the air for a long time. Eccleston’s portrayal was one of a man grieving the losses of the Time War and wiping out his own people and the Daleks (although all of that would be rectified later). This would lead to a more dramatic take on the Doctor, mixing in more edge with the usual eccentric nature of the character.

According to information gleaned over the following years it appears Eccelston was not happy with certain aspects of the production of that series.

Ultimately, this Doctor would die due to a plan to conquer the Earth in the distant future by some hybrid Daleks when the Emperor Dalek escaped the Time War and took over Earth’s television via the Game Station – actually a direct result of the Doctor’s earlier adventure, The Long Game. He would die from a plot put into motion by the very creatures his damaged memories thought he wiped out along with his own people as the ultimate sacrifice to end the Time War.

Actor and longtime Doctor Who fan David Tennant took over the role in late 2005 from The Parting of the Ways.

The Tenth Doctor is actually responsible for using two of his regenerations when he shot his regeneration energy in his hand that was cut off during his first full adventure, The Christmas Invasion after being shot by a Dalek in the 2008 finale, The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (those pesky Daleks get everywhere), resulting in the human Time Lord meta-crisis with companion Donna Noble.

That Doctor that would return with his former companion Rose Tyler into a parallel universe.

The Tenth Doctor’s death came about when he once again sacrificed one of his own lives to save Wilford Mott, who was helping the Doctor stop the Master and a survival-driven group of his own people in The End of Time.

Matt Smith was to be the Eleventh Doctor and due to the Tenth Doctor creating the meta-crisis half-human Doctor mentioned above and the events that lead to the creation of the War Doctor during the Time War, the Eleventh Doctor would actually be the last life in a normal Time Lord regenerative cycle (although considering how many Time Lords are reborn or resurrected, it is hard to really gauge what is normal for them, truth be told).

The Eleventh Doctor was a mix of youthful exuberance, all moving hands and rapid movement, like someone put a hot coal on a cat’s tail.

Although he could be sweet and caring, he also had not lost his darker side that all of the modern Doctors seemed to have retained since the Time War.

Matt Smith would leave the role in December 2013’s The Time of the Doctor and his Doctor would have actually died for the final time of old age and not being strong enough to fight during yet another battle with the Daleks if his own people had not stepped in and gave him a brand new life cycle with an unknown amount of regenerations.

Those events would ultimately bring about the Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi, who fittingly for the first body in a new cycle was older and initially a bit off putting, much like the First Doctor, William Hartnell.

Capaldi is a great choice to currently have the role as he is a fan of the series, a top notch actor, and brings a sense of alien detachment arguably not seen since the Tom Baker days (Eccleston’s alien detachment always seemed like more of a front or defence tactic to hide his own feelings).

In the next few years a new Doctor will likely be at the controls of the TARDIS… I wonder what he will be like?

And it will all start again.