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"It’s A Lottery": The Doctor's Post-Regeneration Reactions

One of the interesting things about having 14 actors in the same role over the course of 50+ years, is that you witness a lot of face changes. It’s a somewhat delicate matter that’s been handled differently by different showrunners, producers, and writers over the decades. Most recently, current showrunner Chris Chibnall presided over Jodie Whitaker’s first words upon seeing her new reflection in the TARDIS monitor screen: “Aw, brilliant!”, before falling out of the TARDIS and plunging harmlessly to the Earth, 10,000 feet below.

But here, we’ll take a look at all the other various reactions by all the incarnations of our favorite Time Lord, with the exception of the original, William Hartnell.

In Power of The Daleks, a freshly “rejuvenated” Doctor in Patrick Troughton seems a bit unhinged for a few moments before asking for a mirror from traveling companion, Ben Jackson. I can only imagine the average child watching this episode back in 1966, mouth agape, wondering what the heck was going on. Wisely, for those audience members, the Doctor sees his new visage but moments later, it fades into that of Hartnell’s reflection and back again. The producers’ way of reassuring the fans that it’s okay. This is the Doctor.

Troughton’s reaction: A slightly knowing, slightly vacant smile. They kept that bit simple. They navigated the first ever regeneration very carefully.

3 years later, a delirious Third Doctor was brought into hospital by UNIT, met by the Brigadier, thinking he’d located the little cosmic hobo he’d met in The Web of Fear and The Invasion, as the TARDIS was found next to him. He was in for a surprise though, as this was the first time he’d seen the results of a regeneration. “I’ve never seen him before in my life,” uttered the Brig, as Pertwee opened his eyes and called him by name as if they were old friends, flummoxing the poor Brig as usual. He shortly realised why the Brig didn’t recognize him and asked for a mirror.

Pertwee’s reaction: A dissatisfied “Oh no, that’s not me at all. No wonder you didn’t recognise me. That face…hair…”But then, smiling very appreciatively – at himself – you could see him quickly warming to his new look at light speed. “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s rather distinctive, actually, don’t you think?” The Brig didn’t know what to say. The first of many instances for the poor man. But again, Pertwee’s Doctor quickly falling in love with his looks helped out the audience, too. If the Doctor likes himself, it’s easier for the more impressionable audience members to like him too.

Fast forward 5 years to a manic Fourth Doctor who’s trying to distract Harry Sullivan from taking him to the UNIT infirmary or sick bay, depending on which doctor you followed. Here, the Doctor who would eventually command a room better than any other incarnation is talking about inhabiting a new body when he’s brought up short by his new reflection. He’s initially a bit alarmed.

Baker’s reaction: Gasping, “As for the physiognomy… well, nothing’s perfect. Have to take the rough with the smooth…” Clinical concern falls away quickly to admiration and wonder. “Mind you, the nose is a definite improvement.” Steps back to clinical interest to something we’ll end up barely seeing for the next 7 years… “As for the ears, I’m not to sure. Tell me quite frankly, what do you think about the ears?” Harry didn’t much care. He’d soon be upside down in a closet.

Tom Baker’s infectious smile and booming personality won over a lot of people in record time. No easy job, considering up until that point, the show had seen huge popularity during Pertwee’s reign.

Speaking of tough acts to follow, after the longest run by any Doctor, someone had to step into Baker’s shoes. Peter Davison, well-known for his role in All Creatures Great and Small, got the role. Some were unhappy about the choice initially, including a youthful Steven Moffat who was aghast that someone only 29 would get the role. He was obviously too young! Man, if he were in charge…

But after a post-regeneration episode of wandering through the TARDIS corridors (as well as his past lives), the new Doctor happened upon a full length mirror and echoed what a few fans already thought.

Davison’s reaction: Wary, defeated and still not fully baked… “That’s the trouble with regeneration. You never quite know what you’re going to get.” This negative line was a bit risky, but at the same time, they may have just wanted to identify with the uncertain audience, intending to win everyone over.

Then came controversy, just 3 years later, when pleasant, harmless, beige Peter Davison turned into the rude, bombastic, rainbow of megalomania, Colin Baker. You can’t say they never took risks back in the 1980s! But if the point with regeneration is to change the man – well, this was a good 180°, no doubt about it. Then assistant Peri was instantly body- and face-shaming, quickly panicking over this latest model and handing the Sixth Doctor a mirror, asking him – ooops – what he saw.

Baker’s reaction: “Ah, a noble brow… clear gaze – at least it will be, given a few hours of sleep. A firm mouth… a face beaming with a vast intelligence. My dear child, what are you complaining about? It’s a most extraordinary improvement!” For many, such as myself, it was great fun to have such a brash character taking over.

Then, even bigger controversy just a few years later led to a Seventh Doctor in the form of Sylvester McCoy, who, post regeneration, was still in Baker’s baggy clothes, on a desolate planet, without his memory, in the company of the Rani, who was dressed as Mel. Sort of.

Anyway, standing next to Mel/the Rani, he saw his reflection in the mirror.

McCoy’s panicked reaction: “Ah! Who’s that? Me? No wonder I’ve lost my memory!” He eventually got it back. Mel too.

We jump to the 1996 TV Movie for the Eighth Doctor’s emergence and reaction. Having burst out of the hospital morgue, the confused Time Lord, toe tag still attached, wandered the curiously deserted medical building, presumably between shifts. He finally found himself in an area under construction and allegedly open to the elements and there, amidst loads of items laying around was the mirror section, where he spotted his reflection repeatedly. Confused, he dropped to the rain-soaked floor.

McGann’s repeated, yelled reaction: “WHO – AM – I?” Very cinematic.

Going chronologically through the Doctor’s own timeline, we would now come to the War Doctor and after drinking from the pertinent chalice on Karn, then seeing his reflection in same, he swore an oath.

Hurt’s reaction: “Doctor No More.” He was all about the cause. We didn’t see much of the War Doctor but he definitely made his presence known, loved and admired.

Thus, we come to the new era of Doctor Who in 2005 and Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Taking a break in his first adventure and ambling around the Tyler flat, he happens upon his reflection, allegedly for the very first time in this body.

Eccleston’s reaction: “Ah, could have been worse.” Then warily. “Look at the ears…” One thing always used to bother me. That was the first time he’d seen himself in this body? In the same episode, Doctor researcher Clive showed Rose some of this incarnation’s already documented exploits via photos (with horrific Photoshopped bits) and drawings. It seemed to stretch credibility that the Ninth Doctor was wandering around these adventures, without ever checking a mirror. After all, he’s normally pretty eager to check out his new looks.

Two possibilities. 1: Clive is really horrible at Photoshop trickery and doesn’t draw that well. 2: A rather lovely theory by our own Philip Bates that I wholeheartedly agree with. When Eccleston offered to take Rose with him at the end of the episode, and she refused, he left and came back a few seconds later. During those few seconds – to us anyway — he could have easily wandered around time and space with some bad make up (for the intended effect of looking like a poorly Photoshopped person), went to the JFK assassination and stood around staring straight ahead at some imagined camera. Ditto for the Titanic. Then realised he forgot to mention all of time as well, then popped back to ignore Mickey and scoop up the hot blonde. Works for me.

4 years later, we see David Tennant take over the role and he spends much of The Christmas Invasion on his backside. When he does wake up, there’s no time to check himself in the mirror. In fact, as we would come to learn, it’s really all about if Rose likes what he looks like. That would seem to be enough. He is disappointed that he’s not ginger, though. Later, after the pyjama fight, in the TARDIS’ lovely wardrobe room that we never see again, he finally checks himself out in the mirror as he tries on clothes.

Tennant’s reaction: Nothing but a nod and another tongue swipe over the new teeth. He’s still got it. He was confident in his vanity. A vanity so strong, he’d eventually duplicate himself, rather than changing into a new body. The Meta-crisis Doctor seems happy enough naked in the TARDIS in front of Donna.

When Matt Smith took over, he saw himself for the first time and it wasn’t even him. Prisoner Zero was copying young Amelia Pond and brought along the pseudo Doctor. Rory and the Doctor looked on at the duplicate.

Smith’s reaction: “Well, that’s rubbish, who’s that supposed to be?” And after Rory gives him the news; “Is that what I look like?” and shrugs it off. Busy day. Later in this incarnation, the last of this life-cycle, he’d comment about just how unimportant bodies are. Dime a dozen, he’d had loads of them. His initial lack of concern made sense. (Though he also acknowledges that the Curator is right for having favourite bodies, heavily implying both these incarnations will be forever fondly remembered by our Time Lord.)

Speaking of new life-cycles, Peter Capaldi ushered in the Doctor’s new string of bodies. Although suffering from post-regenerative confusion and emotional outbursts, there was an added level of concern, starting this new era in his life. He wondered about “the faces”, indicating that what he would look like in a new body was often up to him. He was in a filthy nightshirt, wandering through an alley in Victorian London, when he found a reflective surface. A nearby homeless person was drawn over to him as he stared at his new/old face.

Capaldi’s reaction: “Look, it’s covered in lines, but I didn’t do the frowning. Who frowned me this face?” He accosts the derelict a bit more, then: “Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking?”

The scared vagabond is questioned further about this stranger’s face until he admits he doesn’t like it! The Doctor agrees. “I don’t like it either. It’s alright up until the eyebrows, then it just goes haywire. Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows. You can take bottle tops off with these. They’re cross! They’re cross with the rest of my face; they’re independently cross. They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows!” The tattered companion can only agree that they are indeed mighty eyebrows. The Twelfth Doctor’s take on his looks is certainly the most prolific. The insinuation that he can choose his face is interesting. It would explain why the Curator looks so familiar. Maybe it’s one of the new rules of this life-cycle.

It’s a whole new lottery!

Do you have a favourite post-regenerative

Rick Lundeen

"It’s A Lottery": The Doctor's Post-Regeneration Reactions

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 8 min
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