Regeneration: it’s what makes Doctor Who the show that never ends and it’s what everyone is talking about at the minute – and with good reason. This Christmas we are going to say farewell to Doctor Eleven and hello to number Twelve.
So what better time to take a look at the whole business of regeneration, why have we had them in the past, which ones have worked and which ones haven’t, is there anyway that the process can be tampered with – for good or bad?
Let’s go all the way back to 1966 and the very first regeneration, which, if we are being picky, wasn’t even a regeneration; it was called a ‘rejuvenation’ so one could argue that Doctors One and Two were essentially the same Doctor, just with his clock turned back a bit. The whole purpose for regeneration/rejuvenation was to facilitate the switch from outgoing Hartnell to incoming Troughton in a way that made sense in terms of story. Considering that it was such a last minute addition to things (as we now know thanks to the discovery of the original scripts for episode four of The Tenth Planet in which Hartnell carries on with his companions) the fact that an eleventh hour addition to cover a change in actor could then go on to not only ‘rejuvenate’ the show (see what I did there) but to go on to define it is nothing short of remarkable.
After ten regenerations the show is still finding new ways to do it, from Troughton’s intergalactic witness relocation programme to McCoy’s gangland drive-by, but there has been one method that has been reused over and over, yet still seems fresh. Poison.
Yup, over the years the Doctor has bitten the big one through poisoning no less than four times. Pertwee was the first, thanks to his shenanigans on Metebilis III (yes, radiation is a form of poisoning); next was Davison, heroically taking the metaphorical bullet so Peri could live. Then we had the Ninth Doctor, Eccleston, re-absorbing the time vortex from Rose and saving her but effectively poisoning himself, and finally the spiky-haired wonder that was Tennant, who sacrificed his own life to save Wilf.
But while each of these shares a common method of dispatch, each is so uniquely crafted they never feel like repetition, you never hear someone say “remember that time he regenerated after he was poisoned” followed by confused looks: it’s always “when he saved Peri/Rose/Wilf” or “when he beat the giant spiders.”
Nothing, however, is perfect. Over the years we have had a couple of less than stellar farewells, namely those of Doctors Six and Seven who met their ends via a bump on the head and random shooting respectively. But I can forgive even these, as they were victims of circumstance, Six into Seven was hampered by the absence of its star and Seven’s exit suffered from ’90s Hollywood excess.
Thankfully both managed to gain a measure of retribution by poking fun at themselves in the Big Finish anniversary epic Zagreus:
[comparing 'deaths' with Doctor Eight]
Six: It’s a better exit than I ever had. A bang on the head, I ask you.
Seven: Even that’s more dignified than what I endured – didn’t see that one coming, did I!
So what about the limitations of regeneration then? We know that Time Lords can only use their ‘get-out-of-death free’ card twelve times, but even then there are ways round it as the Master has proven on multiple occasions – by effectively car-jacking the bodies of those around him once his limit was up, not to mention the rather generous offer he received in The Five Doctors of a whole new regenerative cycle in return for his help. Is this something that the Time Lords have the power to do for anyone? Is it the equivalent of having your overdraft extended? How about limits to the kind of death that you can recover from? We have already seen that you can kill a Time Lord if you get him while he is still regenerating (see Series 6 opener, The Impossible Astronaut) and we know that gun shots, poison (radioactive or otherwise) and even a nasty bump to the noggin can all be regenerated from. But how about decapitation, dismemberment or atomisation (I know, I missed my calling as a Bond villain) – could the Doctor make a comeback from any of those more grizzly deaths?
The Doctor’s already re-regenerated a handy hand when the Sycorax cut one off in The Christmas Invasion, but that was only because he’d recently changed…
From a writing point of view, it’s clearly in the show’s best interests not to answer many of these questions; let’s face it, we all know that once something is in the show it becomes law to the fans and can become quite a limiting factor in writing the show. Far better to say nothing and just use things as and when you need to. But from a fan point of view it would be great to be able to effectively dissect a Time Lord and find out what makes him tick… Maybe that’s why I have never had that blue box appear in my garden.
But I digress. Getting back to this Christmas, where do we stand? Well, we know that Eleven will become Twelve, but we also know that it’s actually the death of Thirteen outright as he has no more lives (again thanks to the War Doctor and the meta-crisis) and the as-yet-unexplained phoenix-like rebirth into his Fourteenth body. How is this going to happen, why does he have the face of a man who escaped the fires of Pompeii, and will we get answers? Who knows. But everyone has their theory, even me.
I think, for what it’s worth, that the Doctor will be fatally injured and dive into the TARDIS and randomly set co-ordinates and hope for the best. It touches down in Rome in 80AD at the home of none other than Caecilius who is waiting for the Doctor to emerge. Except it’s not the Doctor who emerges, not as such. He has pulled the same trick that the Master did in the TV Movie and given his essence a tangible form and dives into Caecilius’ body, taking it over. He is now the Doctor and has a limited time to find Gallifrey and get a new Time Lord body before this one dies out on him, thus giving a sense of urgency to the Gallifrey quest.
But what do I know?
What are your thoughts? If you think that they will do something totally different, let us know. The more madcap the better!