There have been 13 writers who’ve penned the Doctor’s various regenerations over the last 58 years. You’d think everyone would be used to it by now, on both sides of the camera.
But then you get some odd ideas that creep in.
Throughout all of classic Who, and parts of NuWho, it was clearly understood that regeneration was mostly a formality. A renewal, if you will. The Twelfth Doctor described it as the Time Lord equivalent of having man-flu!
In fact, and — I’m sorry, but — it occurred to me at some point that, yes, it is an accurate comparison! When you have something like the stomach flu, or food poisoning, there comes a point when you realize everything’s coming up. You don’t want for it to happen, you’re not looking forward to it, but it’s necessary and it is inevitable. There’s that ramping up process. Uh oh.
Think about that the next time you’ve eaten bad clams, and you’re headed face first to the porcelain deity in the bathroom. You very well might feel bad enough to wonder, “is this death?”, but no, it’s more like regeneration. You know you’ll survive, but first, upheaval!
Throughout his lives, the Doctor’s been aware of this. With the exception of the Second Doctor, who had the change forced upon him, he’s usually been resigned to, and accepted the process. Usually, with dignity.
The First Doctor simply came to the end of the road. Wearing a bit thin, he went gracefully. Well, yes and no. Steven Moffat brought it to our attention much later that he was initially resistant to it, and to be fair, trepidation might be expected as it was going to be the first time it ever happened to him. (As far as he knew. Sigh.)
Anyway, each Doctor went along with the routine, be it radiation, great falls, poison, severe… buffeting, gun shots, fatal spaceship crash, absorbing the time vortex, you name it. Deep breath, fresh start, and all that.
Which makes the Tenth Doctor’s freak out at the end of his time all the more confusing, and nonsensical. The Ninth Doctor was more concerned that Rose (and new viewers) should be aware that it’s okay, it’s just change. The new guy’s coming; he just won’t be looking at the universe with the same eyes.
The eleventh incarnation really thought he was facing the abyss. Got a bit emotional thinking about the grave, but after another 500 years defending Trenzalore, he’d had enough anyway. He defiantly told the Daleks to do their worst. Time to go.
But the Tenth Doctor seemed to revel in self pity. At the cafe, he spilled his guts about how every time it happens, the man he is “dies”. Poor Wilf probably thought he should have brought tissues. Counting the meta-crisis version, he was on his twelfth body already. What was this new obsession with death? Or was this ego? Or vanity? “The universe simply mustn’t lose this me!”
This was a puzzlingly bad look for the character. Not only had he done the whole regeneration bit almost a dozen times in the past, but he also dodged another one when he redirected the regeneration energy into his extra handy-hand. He was already granted an additional go round. Worst of all, he knew very well it wasn’t really the end.
At the crucial moment, four knocks on the glass caused another meltdown. The Doctor pulled a tantrum, while poor Wilf was left feeling guilty in the booth, waiting for the imminently deadly radiation bath.
Putting it all into perspective: Wilf had to listen to the weepy, emo nonsense in the cafe. Then up on the ship in orbit, he had to sit there while the Doctor refused to kill the Master, clearly indicating that the Master’s life was more important than all of humanity’s. Now, all he could do was breathe on the glass, watching the skinny guy throw things and scream. Wilf is probably the best man we’ll ever meet. Certainly coming off better than this “Time Lord”. All this, and the Doctor hadn’t even taken on the radiation yet!
Speaking of which… Radiation? PAH! Been there, done that. Both he and his third self went weeks before having to succumb. Another stay of execution. He had a grand time, going to war zones, bars, weddings, stalking Rose (creepy), and pulling dumb kids off the street. Then, even after the numerous reprieves, delays, and tantrums, he stumbled past the peeping Ood, and into the TARDIS, where he still whined about not wanting to go.
One wonders if all this fluff wasn’t down to Russell being ultimately exhausted after five years, and he just needed a nap. Maybe deep down, he didn’t want to go, but he just couldn’t stay.
The Twelfth Doctor had simply become sick and tired of the constant change. Being granted the brand new life cycle, and knowing that there was no end in sight, he now considered death to be a privilege. Which is understandable. At what point, after thousands of years, do you begin to appreciate, or even yearn for, death?
Now, saddest of all, we learn the Doctor is immortal and can never truly die. The Doctor has been regenerating for billions of years and this will continue for billions more. The Doctor need never, ever fear death anymore. What does that knowledge do to a person, even one as long lived as the Doctor?
The privilege of death will never be granted. Only regeneration.