Before series 10 of Doctor Who could even begin, we got the news. It will be Peter Capaldi’s last. Say your good-bye’s and prepare for a new Doctor. I, for one, was sad. Am sad. I like Peter Capaldi, I like his take on the Doctor, I wanted to see what he’d be like under Chris Chibnall’s direction.
My rant a few months ago aside (the one about how the casting department should really shake up its lead character), I always like the Doctors. Maybe not at first, and maybe I miss the hell of certain ones in certain moments after they’ve gone, and maybe I like some portrayals more than others, but the Doctor is the Doctor is the Doctor. And the next person they cast in the role will certainly be the same.
And we’ll have to say good-bye to our curmudgeonly Scottish punk rock Doctor to get there. Thanks, Capaldi. You were a blast. And while there’s a lot of speculation about just when and how he’ll go, we won’t really know for absolute certain until we’re sat in front of our screens and it’s happening. I’ve watched that second trailer about a dozen times, and even knowing it’s coming, that moment of the regeneration energy rising off his hand hits me like a punch in the gut. This one’s gonna hurt. But we’ve made it through every time before, and so I wanted to take a look at each regeneration in turn.
11 into 12/Smith into Capaldi
This was the first regeneration I watched as it aired, and I’ve always found this one disappointing. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of 11, but I deserved a good cry over his leaving (I mean, I cried when that triceratops died, I should certainly lose it when the Doctor goes). I didn’t. The plot of “The Time of the Doctor” felt needlessly convoluted, constantly tripping over itself. And it was an adventure I felt the audience was very much left out of. Why do you think we care about Clara’s awkward family dinner, when the Doctor has wooden Cybermen to fight?! On top of that, the regeneration kept beginning and then would be interrupted, and we didn’t get the definitive transition that we usually do. He de-aged, bopped his head, and BAM: 12.
And the fact that he was regenerating at all was an anomaly. I get that it was a Christmas special, but I would have preferred the episode to be dedicated to saving him or resetting his regeneration cycle or whatever happened there (I’m still not sure). That being said, the last little speech is lovely, and his moment with the imagined Amy is very (bitter)sweet, and when he did regenerate we didn’t need to worry that they’d done anything silly with the character, like suddenly make him competent (“Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”).
10 into 11/Tennant into Smith (Take 2)
Tennant is one of my two favorites. Unfortunately, I got a bit jumbled up near the end of his tenure. Silly me, I thought series 5 came after series 4. So I plunged into “The Eleventh Hour” after “Journey’s End,” and thought to myself. That’s a bit odd. Did I miss something? Did they forgo a regeneration sequence?
So I looked it up and sure enough I had missed 5 episodes between series 4 and 5 (I refer to it as the secret season). So I went back, but something about seeing even just a bit of 11 before I got to say good-by to 10 really annoyed me. Still does. That being said, damn I feel so many emotions in “The End of Time.” He says good-bye to all his friends and then dies alone. *SOB*
10 into 10/Tennant into Tennant (Take 1)
Remember he actually regenerated earlier in the last episode of series 4 in what I firmly believe is one of the greatest fuck-you’s to the audience ever. After being separated from his great love, Rose Tyler, a couple seasons earlier, and her trying to reach him all season long and just missing him, they finally find each other. And just as they’re rushing into each other’s arms a motherfucking Dalek pops out and exterminates the Doctor. Such is their relationship.
I do like that he’s not alone during this death. He’s with Rose, Donna, and Jack. Fair enough group for this Doctor’s exit. But then he uses the lizard hand that got chopped off (we knew there was a reason they were keeping that around) and regenerates into the exact same Doctor.
Buuuut, it still counts as a life. the 11th Doctor says so when explaining that he’s out of regenerations. That’s right, Capaldi’s the 14th Doctor.
9 into 10/Eccleston into Tennant
Completely traumatized. My first Doctor. And I didn’t know about regenerations. And I didn’t know I was gonna like Tennant so damn much. All I knew, was I just discovered a new show and 13 episodes in, they axed the main character. I was ready to abandon Doctor Who all together (thank God, I stuck around a few more episodes).
It was a long time before I was willing to admit that just maybe 9 wasn’t my favorite Doctor. His regeneration scene is still one of the most upsetting moments, but I’m also really happy to see 10 after it’s all over. So. Many. Feelings.
War into 9/Hurt into Eccleston
I was caught slightly off guard by this one. I mean, I guess it makes sense. The war ended, so the War Doctor did too. But he didn’t seem injured or anything (and I really really hoped that we were gonna get just a cameo from Eccleston, and to be completely honest, I’m a little annoyed he didn’t agree to do just that one bit), but it was a good strong moment, and didn’t have the same sadness behind it that most regenerations do. This was the beginning, not the end. This is where the show picked back up and where many fans (myself included) started. And the War Doctor fully accepted it.
And it meant we got to see a proper beginning and an ending to Hurt’s Doctor. All the Doctor’s deserve that. Even ones that only get a single episode (we’ll get to that other one in a second). And, no, I don’t think it’s tacky that they day John Hurt died there were pictures of his regeneration all over the internet. I thought it was beautiful. It was between that and Alien.
8 into War/McGann into Hurt
So glad we finally got this sequence! One of the gifts we got going into the 50th anniversary was this little mini-episode called “The Night of the Doctor.” It was the 8th Doctor making the choice not to be the Doctor anymore. He would instead become a warrior in order to end the Time War. It’s such a beautiful piece of television. And any little bit of Paul McGann as the Doctor should be treasured.
And with some fancy technology we see young-man Hurt reflected afterwards, which let’s us know just how long he had been fighting in the war and makes it a little clearer why he had enough and could take “no more.”
7 into 8/McCoy into McGann
I think it’s fair to say this is least like the others. There’s no shiny regeneration energy, and there’s a real long gap between his death and regeneration. Which kinda makes sense. An American network was trying to update the effects of the classic series while still honoring it. And kudos to them for actually including McCoy’s Doctor and bridging that gap. But anti-kudos for killing him off in such a stupid way.
The death also takes awhile. I mean, he’s shot (SO dumb), then taken to the hospital, then dies on the operating table. And technically it wasn’t the gun shot wound that did it, but the way they tried to save him, not knowing about the second heart and all. But everything about the death and regeneration felt really stretched out. We should have skipped to our new Doctor quicker than that.
6 into 7/C. Baker into McCoy (well…sort of)
Oh, dear. Well, McCoy did his best. After Colin Baker was fired from being the Doctor, McCoy notoriously began his tenure as Doctor with a curly wig and an obscured face. And we saw it happen mid story it seemed. Like, there was a bunch of action that we had missed out on, but all we needed to know was it killed the Doctor, and now this little Scottish guy who we were pretending wasn’t Scottish was running things.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really one you can go back and retcon into the show, because we did actually see the tail end of the regeneration. However, if you’re a really dedicated 6th Doctor fan and wish he had a better departure story, check Big Finish. I think they may have an audio adventure with his death in it that doesn’t mess with anything televised.
5 into 6/Davison into C. Baker
Davison often complains about how his death scene was upstaged by Peri’s cleavage. Personally, I always remember the scene for 2 other reasons: the spinning heads, which we only ever saw in one other (maybe) regeneration and the way the 6th Doctor’s “you were expecting someone else?” line is delivered in what may be the most clear personality shift between any 2 Doctors, perfectly encapsulating the arrogance we would come to recognize from him.
Davison himself does a good job dying. He got “death by poisoning,” which is a nicely gnarly way to go, lasted the length of an episode, and was also part of a sacrifice-for-companion plot line. Even if the companion was Peri.
4 into 5/T. Baker into Davison
First of all, this is some nightmare fodder right here. I’m pretty sure if I had seen this as a kid, I’d be talking about it in therapy.
After falling to his (not immediate) death, after a tussle with the Master (slightly dumb, but see, the Master did manage to kill him once), a ghostly white figure passes through Baker and transforms into Davison.
It’s probably, visually, the most bizarre regeneration scene. And I still don’t 100% understand what was going on (though I only saw it once, under distracting circumstances). But you could argue that for that exact reason it’s a memorable and epic way to say good-bye to one of the most popular and beloved Doctors.
3 into 4/Pertwee into T. Baker
Fun fact: this is the first time the Doctor dies from radiation!
This is a little less memorable one for me, and I don’t have much to say about it. I actually find Pertwee’s first serial, when he clearly still thought he was supposed to play the part like Troughton, to be more interesting. AND we never got a clear transition between them two.
Nonetheless, this was the transition into arguably the fan favorite Doctor. He was with the Brig, who was probably in the most episodes with the 3rd Doctor, and Sarah Jane was there, and his last words were to her, so that was very sweet.
2 into 3/Troughton into Pertwee(?)
Troughton is my other favorite Doctor. He possibly has the most puzzling regeneration in that there’s a lot speculation that whatever it was that was happening to him at the end of “The War Games” may not have even been a regeneration. That’s the season 6B theory. I’m not sure whether or not I subscribe to that. There are as many holes in that theory as there are that he was regenerating.
I’m willing to sort of believe that, sure, this was his regeneration. We had the swirly heads when 5 kicked the bucket, and the mugging Troughton was doing did look like the sort of face stretches necessary to morph into Pertwee.
1 into 2/Hartnell into Troughton
Is it the best regeneration sequence? I don’t know. It’s a good one. And maybe the most important sequence in all of Doctor Who. The show isn’t still being made in 2017 if it wasn’t for this regeneration. Hell, the show may not have made it through 1966 if it weren’t for this regeneration. Shockingly, while we don’t have footage of the episode this takes place in (the final part of “The Tenth Planet”), we do have footage of this sequence.
And I can’t even imagine what they thought when this happened. Or maybe it was like my experience with 9. But I didn’t have to wait for the next episode.
Something I really like about this regeneration is that you hear the sound of the TARDIS as it happens, letting you know that something exciting and Time Lord-y is going on.
So, we’ve done it loads before, and I suspect we’ll do it loads again. But we’ll be sad when Capaldi leaves. As usual. And then there will be a new Doctor to go on adventures with. And we’ll be happy again.