“Doctor Who has never pretended to be hard science fiction … At best Doctor Who is a fairytale, with fairytale logic about this wonderful man in this big blue box who at the beginning of every story lands somewhere where there is a problem.”
Once A Doctor, Always A Doctor
I love Doctor Who. The show from 1963 about a runaway Time Lord who travels in time and space, defeats evil, makes us laugh, makes us cry, always shows us that hope and love are the most powerful tools against the evils of the universe.
It’s easy to fall in love with The Doctor. They are a charismatic superhero who never carries a gun and is always on the lookout for us stupid, pudding brained, humans.
But the problem with falling in love with The Doctor is that The Doctor has a habit of dying. Thirteen times so far in fact. When William Hartnell (the first Doctor) had to retire due to ill health in 1966 the show runners had a tough choice ahead of them.
The show was still as popular as ever and everyone loved The Doctor. But The Doctor was about to retire, and replacing Hartnell without some sort of explanation (in the show) would surely upset all the kiddies at home. So the writers came up with the idea of Regeneration.
In the real world regeneration is a useful little device that could keep the show going while replacing the actor every so often. In TV land though regeneration is what a Time Lord does when they are about to die, allowing them to take on a new body and personality. Despite this change in appearance and personality though, the show has always made it very clear that this change doesn’t change who The Doctor is. The Doctor never really goes away.
You can call this a cheap narrative device to keep the show running and you wouldn’t really be wrong, we’re swiftly approaching the shows 60th anniversary (2023). But for many nerds all around the world this narrative device is one of the things that makes Doctor Who one of the best shows on TV.
The regeneration scenes were always pretty similar. The Doctor would be wounded in some way and he would give a line or two reminding the kiddies at home that he’s not going anywhere and he’ll be back on his feet in no time.
But then when Doctor Who was revived in 2005 something changed. Russel T Davies added a good helping of drama to our sci-fi soup (and thank god he did) and the regenerations got a lot more personal. Maybe it was because the show runners wanted these scenes to be more of a gut punch, maybe the actors were given a bit more freedom with their final scenes. Whatever the reason though, it seemed that the actors were talking as their real selves as well as the silly Time Lord.
Christopher Eccleston (the 9th Doctor)
David Tennant (the 10th Doctor)
Matt Smith (the 11th Doctor)
Peter Capaldi (the 12th Doctor)
These personal touches have made the regeneration scenes that much more powerful in my opinion. It’s like the actors are one of us, breaking our hearts that much more.
Thanks for reading! Until next time, remember to take care of yourselves. Peace!
A quick rundown of all the Doctor’s regenerations.