If a hero is going to die then it is important that they die a good and/or meaningful death. When the hero in question is the Time Lord usually known as “The Doctor” then it’s even more important than usual, since he’s only gone and done it thirteen times!
As we here at Warped Factor consider the pros and cons of Peter Capaldi sticking around, join me as I look back over the 13 times that the Doctor has regenerated already, and rank them from worst to best! I’m not taking into account the story in which it happens, my opinion of the Doctors involved or anything like that, no, it’s simply the change itself that I’m interested in.
13. David Tennant into Matt Smith
The End of Time, 2010
“You die with me, Doctor!”
The Tenth Doctor was a melodramatic man. When his death came, despite this regeneration being prophesied to him the best part of a year in advance, he was ready. Then he wasn’t. Then he accepted it. Then he didn’t. Eventually he finally goes after a record breaking twenty minutes of screentime (and goodness knows how long in-universe) between the cause of death and the regeneration itself. During this time he goes and visits all his companions (and even people he’d never met before) and when it finally ends the music of Vale Decem, the explosiveness of the whole thing and his final line “I don’t want to go” all come together to mark the occasion as though the passing of a god. It’s like Russell T Davies and David Tennant were trying to say that the Tenth Doctor was the only Doctor and Matt Smith may as well give up because he’s not Tennant and therefore he sucks. Thankfully Smith proved them wrong immediately but that doesn’t excuse the sour taste this regeneration leaves me with.
12. Colin Baker into Sylvester McCoy
Time & the Rani, 1987
“Leave the girl, it’s the man I want! Take him to my laboratory.”
Or rather that should say Sylvester McCoy into Sylvester McCoy since, in a travesty of justice, Colin Baker became the scapegoat for the problems Doctor Who was suffering at the time and so he was unceremoniously booted out. As such, season 24 began with the sight of the incoming Sylvester McCoy wearing a wig and a blurred out face that slowly unblurred to reveal the sight of the Seventh Doctor. He makes a decent enough stand-in for the Sixth Doctor, provided you’ve never seen the Sixth Doctor before, and given the circumstances John Nathan-Turner was forced into he did what he had to do to keep the show on the air… but surely they could’ve done better than this?!
11. Sir John Hurt into Christopher Eccleston
The Day of the Doctor, 2013
“I am the Doctor again!”
The War Doctor
I’ve made no secret about my love of the War Doctor and Sir John Hurt’s flawless portrayal of the character. I’ve gone on record about how satisfying his character arc is on more than one occasion. When he regenerates into a man who can call himself “The Doctor” again it symbolises his redemption from being the Doctor’s evil incarnation to his most heroic incarnation. The reason this regeneration is so low on the list is because of the one person who wasn’t there. The regeneration ends off-screen! We see the War Doctor’s features slowly transform into those of the Ninth Doctor but before the Ninth can appear the scene cuts back to the Tenth and Eleventh in the museum. We get SOOOOO close to seeing the Ninth Doctor’s birth but then we don’t get to see it. Christopher Eccleston had his reasons to not come back, so fair play to him, it’s just a shame that the regeneration that created him is left incomplete. Steven Moffat stated that editing Chris’s likeness into this scene would’ve given the false and disrespectful impression that Chris had come in for filming even though he hadn’t; that’s fair enough but it’s a shame this means that the actual regeneration itself is always going to be left incomplete.
10. Patrick Troughton into Jon Pertwee
The War Games, 1969
“The time has come for you to change your appearance Doctor and begin your exile.”
Another incomplete regeneration is that of the Second Doctor. Calling on the Time Lords for help with a situation beyond his control, he is himself punished for interfering. He tries to call them out on not using their powers for good like he does. They respond by exiling him and forcing him to regenerate. By 1969 standards the effect used here is great, with multiple Patrick Troughtons maybe inspiring the music video for Bohemian Rhapsody, as the Doctor is sent off into darkness moaning and screaming, but the Third Doctor remains unseen until the next story begins. Mind you, if I were ranking this on the faces made by the outgoing Doctor upon regeneration then Pat would win by a landslide.
9. William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton
The Tenth Planet, 1966
“It isn’t all over. It’s far from being all over.”
The First Doctor
After an ordeal with the Cybermen the Doctor’s first incarnation collapses inside the TARDIS, suddenly there’s a flash of light and a new man lies in his place. The effects are of their era but the thing that makes this regeneration stand out is the novelty. This is the first time it happens and it comes completely out of nowhere. Watching today you get a sense of “Is That It?!” but back in '66 this was like nothing else that had ever been seen before. This is the moment when the makers of Doctor Who said “No” to letting the show end with Bill Hartnell’s failing health and ensured it could continue onwards for another 5 decades and counting, making it the single most important defining moment in the entire history of British television.
8. Tom Baker into Peter Davison
“He was the Doctor all the time!”
A dramatic ending for Tom Baker’s iconic and, to the minds of many, definitive Doctor. He stops the Master’s plot to destroy the entire universe and then dies gracelessly in a fall, thirteen years before Captain Kirk infamously tried the same thing. But, unlike Kirk, the Fourth Doctor gets a decent death scene after his fall. He lies dying surrounded by his three companions, two of whom are newcomers in this very story. He hallucinates all of this incarnation’s companions, as well as several villains, before the weird intermediate incarnation The Watcher blends with him and Peter Davison’s smiling face slowly slides into view.
7. David Tennant into himself
The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, 2008
“He’s dying, and you know what happens next!”
Captain Jack Harkness
Yes, I remembered to include this one! The cliffhanger to The Stolen Earth is one of those Screaming At The Television moments that Doctor Who has always done so well: Distracted by the presence of his beloved Rose (sigh) the Doctor fails to notice a lone Dalek and it costs him his life when it exterminates him. Luckily he has Captain Jack Harkness on hand to shoot the Dalek dead, he and Rose then carry the dying Doctor inside the TARDIS where they and Donna watch on in horror as he begins to regenerate. Then, after a week of speculation, Journey’s End pulls the rug out from under us as he shoots off the regeneration energy into his spare hand and doesn’t change. A bit of a cop-out? Yes. An underwhelming resolution to the cliffhanger? Yes again. But who cares? This totally catches you off guard and remains one of the show’s most shocking moments to date – not bad for a show then in its 45th year!
6. Sylvester McCoy into Paul McGann
Doctor Who: The Movie, 1996
“Oh my God! God, no!”
Pete the morgue attendant
This regeneration was easily the most impressive-looking one the series had ever done up until this point. The Doctor’s face twists and morphs uncomfortably as Sylvester McCoy morphs into Paul McGann and the Eighth Doctor is born. We probably didn’t need to have it happen here and thus alienate the intended audience but it is a wonderfully realised moment and always gives me a thrill to see it. We probably didn’t need it to be all Americanised (I’m spelling that with an “s”, the irony of that isn’t lost on me) either, with the over-the-top use of lightening and the presence of Frankenstein on TV, but it all comes together to make the Eighth Doctor’s debut moments stand out.
5. Paul McGann into Sir John Hurt
The Night of the Doctor, 2013
“You’re dead already! How many more will you let join you?”
Far and away the most tragic regeneration of the lot, The Night of the Doctor begins with the Eighth Doctor surprising everyone by showing up again after 17 years of absence… only for him to almost-instantly die in a crash landing. The Sisterhood of Karn bring him back to life for four minutes; long enough to coerce him into choosing to fight in the Time War, rejecting his previous stance as a conscientious objector, and he regenerates by choice into a warrior. The Doctor rejects his own principles in order to fight a greater evil and save the universe. As the Doctor dies, the Warrior takes his place.
4. Jon Pertwee into Tom Baker
Planet of the Spiders, 1974
“Well then... here we go again!”
This is the first time that the Doctor dies in battle! Having faced down the giant spiders of the title, the Doctor falls afoul of radiation poisoning and begins to die. He returns “home” to Earth to comfort his two friends Sarah and the Brig, but dies before he can finish with Jon Petwee’s acting being some of his best in the role. Deathly pale, quiet and still, he collapses dead. Then his friend and fellow Time Lord Cho-Je shows up and helps him finish the process. The effect as Jon Pertwee fades into Tom Baker is nice and fast; a fitting end to the action hero Bond-esque Doctor that is best watched with a box of tissues handy.
3. Peter Davison into Colin Baker
The Caves of Androzani, 1984
“Is this death?”
The Fifth Doctor
Why is The Caves of Androzani so frequently cited as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time? Short answer: Because it’s a perfect script flawlessly acted. But getting back on topic, it’s also a beautiful swansong for the Fifth Doctor. At the story’s opening moments he and Peri brush with poison that slowly begins killing them both. The four episodes that follow show the Doctor’s struggle to get to the only available cure. He finally, against all odds, gets a hold of enough for them both and carries an unconscious Peri back to the TARDIS. The only reason he has to regenerate at all is because of a last-second stumble that spills some of it leaving only enough for one dose. He doesn’t even know if he will be able to regenerate but is willing to sacrifice himself to save his friend. His regeneration lets us have our first glimpse into the Doctor’s mental state during the change as he sees visions of his companions urging him to go on living while the Master (presumed dead at the time) taunts him. It’s without doubt the trippiest regeneration sequence of the lot and Peter Davison completely nails it despite there being some other things trying very hard to upstage him. Then we get our first glimpse of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, defining what his Doctor will be like from the word go with his obvious self-satisfaction making a delightful change – and it would seem not a moment too soon.
2. Christopher Eccleston into David Tennant
Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways, 2005
“You don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand, you say ‘No!’, you have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away!”
This was the moment that would be make or break for 21st Century Doctor Who: The first regeneration of the revival. After only a single season, just ten stories, we hardly knew the Ninth Doctor yet here he is leaving us so soon. His departure, however abrupt, was a good one though! After sending Rose away to save her from the Daleks he accepts that this is the end for him. Then Rose returns with all the powers of the Time Vortex flooding her body as The Bad Wolf Entity (whatever that is) to save him from the Daleks and destroy them. The Doctor’s death comes not at the hands of the Daleks but by his own choice – Rose has saved him, now to return the favour. With a kiss from the Rose he takes the Time Vortex into his own body, knowing full well this will kill him, and then sets off taking Rose back home. In the TARDIS she can only watch as the Ninth Doctor talks his usual unique brand of nonsense with a huge smile on his face before disappearing in a flash of golden light and giving way to a younger model with an unconvincing English accent and new teeth (“that’s weird”).
1. Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi
The Time of the Doctor, 2013
“You've been asking a question, and it's time someone told you you've been getting it wrong. His name: His name is the Doctor; all the name he needs, everything you need to know about him. And if you love him, and you should, help him!”
The supposedly-impossible thirteenth regeneration! The Eleventh Doctor, having been given new regenerations by the Time Lords, goes to his TARDIS where he awaits Clara’s arrival. There he eats fish fingers & custard as he hallucinates the presence of his first companion Amy Pond bidding him goodbye. Then he symbolically removes his bow-tie and lets it drop to the floor (making me bawl like a little girl), before the Twelfth Doctor bursts in out of nowhere, comments on the colour of his kidneys and immediately proves Peter Capaldi was the perfect choice. This scene leaves me simultaneously crying my eyes out at 11’s death and giving a big infectious grin as 12 arrives. If that’s not how the Doctor regenerating should make the viewers feel then I don’t know what is!
So that’s my favourite regeneration sequence. Agree, disagree? Let me know yours in the comments below.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.