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'The Doctor' 'regenerates' in "The Impossible Astronaut"
'The Doctor' 'regenerates' in "The Impossible Astronaut"
‘The Doctor’ ‘regenerates’ in “The Impossible Astronaut”

As we will probably come to discover over the course of this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” regeneration is a curious affair, and quite hard to define by human standards.

There are times when it seems clear that it should only happen when a Time Lord has worn out his current physical incarnation, whether that’s by pushing it until it snaps (the First Doctor would be a good example, or John Hurt’s incarnation at the end of “The Day of the Doctor”), or via a fatal injury.

And yet there are other occasions where these things don’t work out in that classic way. And here are five examples:

Note: Let’s not get into a row over the numbering of Doctors. We all know who we mean.

The Doctor is regenerated (“The War Games”)

At the end of “The War Games,” the Second Doctor faces a stern ticking-off from the Time Lords. He’s been a rogue and a meddler and they don’t like that. So his punishment is exile to Earth, with a broken TARDIS.

When the Doctor complains that this will be humiliating as he knows people on Earth, the Time Lords get around this by offering to change his appearance. He’s offered a few choices, rejects them all, and ends up being forced to look like Jon Pertwee.

But if you follow the idea that Time Lords only get twelve regenerations, isn’t a forced regeneration somewhat harsh? His life expectancy has been significantly reduced, merely on a matter of social discomfort. Isn’t that like cutting off a finger?

No wonder he ran away.

The Doctor changes personality (“The Night of the Doctor”)

Leaving aside for a moment the idea that you only get to be counted as a Doctor if you do Doctor-ish things (there have been moments during every Doctor’s lives when he could be considered to be no longer worthy of the name, that’s part of what makes him such a compelling character), the idea that you could regenerate just to become a more fighty version of yourself is another short-sighted use of your allotted twelve goes, isn’t it? It’s a bit like buying a suit of armor for battle, then deliberately leaving one leg off.

That said, there’s something hugely appealing about the idea that you can order certain personality attributes with your next regeneration. I’d quite like to have a go on “dumb, but happy,” just to see what it’s like.

The Doctor is shot by a Dalek (“Journey’s End”)

We’ll be hearing more about this situation, no doubt, but as it stands, the idea is that the Doctor was shot by a Dalek, and he staggered into the TARDIS to regenerate, only to divert the regeneration energy into his own severed hand from “The Christmas Invasion.” This used up another of his 12 regenerations, but allowed him to remain himself.

It also resulted in the creation of the Meta-Crisis Doctor, a version of the Tenth Doctor grown from the stump of his old hand, that was also half-human, thanks to some help from Donna Noble.

So while a regeneration definitely took place, all the healing energy went to two different places, into the Doctor and into the other Doctor, therefore no new faces or bodies needed using up. This plays havoc with the counting (see note above).

The Doctor is shot by River Song (“The Impossible Astronaut”)

Well it wasn’t really the Doctor, was it. The body so carefully burned by River, Rory and Amy was actually a (probably quite expensive) shape-shifting android full of tiny people. One of whom is the actual Doctor. I expect he got them all out in good time, and maybe even bought them a new robot, who knows?

The Doctor is poisoned by River Song (“Let’s Kill Hitler”)

Relationships are complicated things, aren’t they? One minute it’s all “hello sweetie” and the next you’re putting on Time Lord-killing lipstick, before finally handing all of your remaining regenerations (which you got because you were conceived in the TARDIS) to the man you’ve only just met, in order to save his life.

Or as the Doctor put it: “She did kill me, and then she used her remaining lives to bring me back. As first dates go, I’d say that was mixed signals.”

But oddly, in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the Doctor uses his own regeneration energy (which was originally River’s regeneration energy, that she got from his TARDIS), to fix her broken wrist. So it’s anyone’s guess how much regeneration energy he actually has now.

And, as this is all about impossible numbering, here’s the sixth example:

The Doctor becomes The Curator (“The Day of the Doctor”)

First of all, congratulations are due on the continuing use of a Time Lord-ish name, but secondly, the future hinted at by this enigmatic arrival at the end of “The Day of the Doctor” is hugely perplexing.

Does the Doctor, somehow, no longer end his days at Trenzalore, instead becoming an advisor to UNIT again, and revisiting some of his old faces? That’s the implication, and it’s a rather appealing one. So it’s not that, say, the Twelfth Doctor will regenerate into the Fourth Doctor, it’s just a kind of reshuffling of the pack. Is that it?

Whatever the truth of the matter is, it’s unlikely that any one explanation will satisfy all enquiries, which means only one thing:  a lot more debating for everyone, forever!

See more:
Steven Moffat Adds Further Twists To The Regeneration Riddle
‘Doctor Who’ A Hit At The U.S. Box Office
Five British Sweet Things The Twelfth Doctor Could Carry In His Pocket
‘Doctor Who’: The 13 Best Callbacks and References in ‘The Day of the Doctor’

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Filed Under: Doctor Who, Regeneration
By Fraser McAlpine