The Doctor’s most harrowing regenerations
The concept of regeneration is integral to the Whoniverse, allowing the show to live as long as it has. While the regeneration process itself is unexplained, the time when one Doctor effectively dies and – as the Tenth Doctor puts it – “some new man goes sauntering away” is always a harsh time for fans. Yet regardless of the fans’ reactions to regeneration, I often wonder what regeneration is like for the Doctor himself, especially considering that some of his transformations have been disturbing to say the least. In this post, I offer a countdown of the most harrowing regenerations between Doctors: not necessarily for the fans, but which I think would have been worst for the Doctor himself. I offer a warning at the beginning, that this post has spoilers for Doctor Who’s entire 52-year history, up to and including Peter Capaldi’s run as the Twelfth Doctor.
Also, there is some content in this post which could be considered triggering.
12) William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton – First Doctor to Second Doctor
The Tenth Planet (1966)
The first regeneration is quite easily the most peaceful of all of the regenerations. The Doctor is not – like he is in all of his other incarnations – killed in some way; his body merely gives out due to old age and he graciously transforms from his first incarnation into his second.
11) John Hurt to Christopher Eccleston – War Doctor to Ninth Doctor
The Day of the Doctor (2013)
We only see the War Doctor in three TV appearances (if one counts the minisode The Night of the Doctor) but, out of all of the Doctor’s incarnations, the War Doctor seems to gain the most closure at the end of his life. He is safe in the knowledge that Gallifrey has not been destroyed, the Time War is over, and he no longer needs to fight. He accepts that his skills as a warrior granted to him by the Sisters of Karn are no longer needed, and he even cracks a joke on his way out. He, more than anyone, accepts his regeneration and is almost glad to pass the torch on to the next incarnation of the Doctor.
10) Colin Baker to Sylvester McCoy – Sixth Doctor to Seventh Doctor
Time and the Rani (1987)
This is probably one of the most abrupt regenerations. Yet, for the Doctor, it was probably one of the most seamless. This is the only time when the Doctor has regenerated while unconscious, and so he probably didn’t even notice what was going on.
9) David Tennant to Matt Smith – Tenth Doctor to Eleventh Doctor
The End of Time Part 2 (2010)
The Tenth Doctor’s regeneration is often held as the most emotional – and it certainly was, for the Doctor. He ‘doesn’t want to go’, despite the fact that he, out of everyone, gets the most compensatory regeneration of all. He is afforded the opportunity to go back and visit all those whom he loved – even Rose, despite her being trapped in an alternate universe – something which no other Doctor gets to do. (I know the Eleventh Doctor got to see Amy again, but that was a hallucination. And we’ll get to that later…)
8) Tom Baker to Peter Davison – Fourth Doctor to Fifth Doctor
Falling from a great height is a crap way to die. Yet, much like the First Doctor, the Fourth Doctor is surrounded by loved ones when he regenerates, and seems accepting and peaceful of what is about to happen.
7) Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker – Third Doctor to Fourth Doctor
Planet of the Spiders (1974)
The Third Doctor essentially sacrifices himself, dying so that he can ‘face his fear’. Radiation poisoning is a long, drawn-out and painful way to go, but this isn’t the only time that radiation will be the end of the Doctor, and the two other times that this happens have already been included in our list. What makes this version worse than the Sixth Doctor’s dealings with radiation is that not only was he awake, but he was delirious and confused for three weeks while lost in the Time Vortex before he made it back to a familiar setting; and what makes it worse than the Tenth Doctor’s is the loneliness that accompanied this drawn-out demise – while Ten got to spend his last moments with his friends and being sung to sleep by the Ood, the Third Doctor was offered no such comfort until the very end.
6) Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant – Ninth Doctor to Tenth Doctor
The Parting of the Ways (2005)
Much like his predecessor, the Ninth Doctor accepts his impending regeneration with graciousness. While, unlike the War Doctor, the Ninth Doctor’s purpose had not been fulfilled, he still keeps a brave face for Rose’s sake, and sucks down the sadness he so obviously feels in order to ease the burden on her.
5) Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi – Eleventh Doctor to Twelfth Doctor
The Time of the Doctor (2013)
The Eleventh Doctor’s entire regeneration scene defines it as what it is: the end of an era – the End of the Eleventh. If hallucinating about the ‘first face he ever saw’ wasn’t enough, the Doctor who hates endings more than any other incarnation is faced with his own end, and the rage which flowed through this entire incarnation – particularly when it came to loss and sadness – is calmed.
4) Paul McGann to John Hurt – Eighth Doctor to War Doctor
The Night of the Doctor (2013)
The Eighth Doctor’s regeneration is centred around a personal failure and the realisation that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot escape the Time War ravaging the entire universe. When he fails a young woman who he so desperately tried to save, the Doctor essentially commits suicide to become the warrior that the universe needs.
3) Sylvester McCoy to Paul McGann – Seventh Doctor to Eighth Doctor
Doctor Who (TV Movie) (1996)
This regeneration, more so than any of the others, came out of nowhere. While the audience was expecting it, the Doctor certainly wasn’t – stepping out of the TARDIS and immediately getting caught in the literal crossfire isn’t something that even the Doctor is used to. On top of that, he is rushed to a hospital and operated on against his will by doctors who don’t understand Time Lord anatomy, effectively being killed by Grace. And not only that, but when he wakes up from the regeneration process, he has been unconscious for so long thanks to the anesthesia that he is now suffering from amnesia.
2) Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee – Second Doctor to Third Doctor
The War Games (1969)
In The War Games, the audience is introduced to the wider Time Lord community for the first time, and that they are – if you will excuse my language – dicks. The Second Doctor is put on trial for interfering where he shouldn’t have been, and then executed and exiled to Earth in the 1970s.
1) Peter Davison to Colin Baker – Fifth Doctor to Sixth Doctor
The Caves of Androzani (1984)
The Fifth Doctor’s regeneration into the Sixth Doctor was the very first Fifth Doctor moment to which I was introduced. When the Doctor collapses to the floor, unable to save himself, the first words that came into my mind once the regeneration process began were, “Oh, that’s horrible!” While the Doctor is being told by all of his friends and companions that he must live, his oldest friend and biggest enemy is shouting over and above them all and insisting that he must die. Fortunately, he doesn’t listen, but that is still surely a horrible thing to experience during the process of regeneration.
That is my ordering of the regenerations to date. Do you agree? Do you think any of the regenerations would have been worse for the Doctor than I have said?