Regeneration is one of the traits that have made Doctor Who stand out in the vast world of sci-fi tv. It wasn’t planned that way.

Did you know that the Doctor’s regeneration was created so William Hartnell could be replaced as The Doctor due to his health and issues with the production team?

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Some things are simply done because they make things easier. Like how the transporter in Star Trek was developed to save money on special effects, the regeneration of The Doctor had come about in a similar fashion.

Here is what Wikipedia has on the origin of regeneration.

The concept of regeneration was created in 1966 by the writers of Doctor Who as a method of replacing the leading actor. The role of the Doctor had been played by William Hartnell from the programme’s inception in 1963 but, by 1966, it was increasingly apparent that Hartnell’s health was deteriorating and he was becoming more difficult to work with. Producer John Wiles had, following several clashes with Hartnell, intended to have the actor replaced in The Celestial Toymaker; during two episodes of that serial, the Doctor is invisible (owing to Hartnell being on holiday during the recording). Wiles’ plan was for the character to reappear played by a new actor. This proposal was vetoed by Gerald Savory, the BBC’s Head of Serials (and Wiles’ superior), which led to Wiles leaving before The Celestial Toymaker was produced.[1] However, it was apparent that it would not be possible for Hartnell to continue for much longer.

On 29 July 1966, production concluded on the final episode of The Smugglers, the last serial recorded in the third production block.[2] During production, Hartnell and producer Innes Lloyd had reached an agreement that he should leave the role, having starred in one more serial that would see a handover to a new actor, which would be the first one produced as part of Season 4. Script editor Gerry Davis proposed that, since the Doctor had already been established as an alien, the character could die and return in a new body. Lloyd took this further by suggesting that the Doctor could do this “renewal” regularly, transforming from an older man to a younger one; this would allow for the convenient recasting of the role when necessary.[3] The process itself was modelled on LSD trips with the experience being like the “hell and dank horror” of taking the drug.[4]

At the conclusion of The Tenth Planet, the First Doctor collapses from apparent old age and exhaustion, having commented earlier that his body was “wearing a bit thin”. Then, before the eyes of his companions Ben and Polly, and of the viewing audience, his features shift into that of the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. In The Power of the Daleks, the Second Doctor’s first story, the Doctor draws an analogy between the renewal and a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.[5]

The article on William Hartnell goes into more detail and says that Hartnell suggested to the producers that Patrick Troughton should replace him.

Hartnell’s deteriorating health (he suffered from arteriosclerosis, which began to affect his ability to learn his lines), as well as poor relations with a new production team on the series following the departure of Verity Lambert, ultimately led to his leaving Doctor Who in 1966.[14][17]

When he departed, the producer of the show came up with a unique idea: that since the Doctor is an alien, he can transform himself physically, thereby renewing himself. William Hartnell himself suggested the new Doctor, stating that “There’s only one man in England who can take over, and that’s Patrick Troughton”.[18] In the fourth episode of the serial The Tenth Planet, the First Doctor regenerated into Troughton’s Second Doctor.[19]

While his health was the primary reason for his departure, there were other things going on at the time. During production of Series 3 Hartnell began to take issues with the way the show was being run and the direction it was going in, during a time of change in production leadership. From the BBC’s Guild to Season 3...

Verity Lambert, although credited as producer on the first two stories of the new season, was in the process of handing over to her successor John Wiles during the making of Galaxy 4 and had almost completely relinquished her responsibility for the series by the time that Mission to the Unknown went into studio.

Wiles quickly developed a good working relationship with story editor Donald Tosh, himself a relative newcomer to the production team. The two men found that they had very similar ideas about the direction in which the series ought to be steered: both wanted to see it becoming more adult and sophisticated. The fruits of this approach can perhaps be best appreciated in The Myth Makers and The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, although the epic The Daleks’ Master Plan - a carry-over from Lambert’s time - was also unusually grim and horrific in content, making a marked contrast to the Daleks’ previous major outing in The Chase.

William Hartnell - who had always regarded Doctor Who as primarily a children’s series and, as the only one left of the original team, saw himself in some ways as the guardian of its true spirit - greatly disliked this new approach. This resulted in a number of clashes between actor and producer. Indeed, Wiles seriously considered having Hartnell written out and replaced after scenes in The Celestial Toymaker in which the Doctor becomes invisible for a time. In the end however Gerald Savory, Donald Wilson’s successor as Head of Serials, renewed Hartnell’s contract against Wiles’ wishes. Wiles resigned shortly afterwards; and, in what Wiles would later describe as an unnecessary act of loyalty, Tosh decided to go as well.

One development during that season would be the hiring of scientific advisor Dr. Kit Peddler. It was in 2013 during the work on the biogrpahy of Dr. Pedelr, The Quest For Pedler, that an original shooting script for “The Tenth Planet” was discovered, one that did not contain the regeneration scene.

Dr. Pedler wrote the episode along with Gerry Davis. Michael Seely is the author of Pedler’s autobiography.

Michael Seely

As I looked through it, I realised it was the first draft Gerry Davis prepared when Kit fell ill in June 1966.

The structure is more or less the same, though a lot of the dialogue is different. Some things were cut, especially involving the Cybermen. For example, the Cybermen planned to convert Polly and the Doctor into Cybermen towards the end of the story, and kept them prisoner in what they described as a waiting room. The most eye catching difference is what didn’t happen at the end of the episode.

The relevance of this early draft, and the date it was prepared goes some way to illustrating the hasty nature of Hartnell’s departure:

Gerry Davis and Innes Lloyd were always very diplomatic and tactful in their interviews. Both died in 1991, long before ‘warts and all’ interviews became the norm. We know that William Hartnell was being persuaded to give up the role he loved over the summer of 1966, and that they were sounding out replacements. He only decided to leave in the middle of July, the month after this draft was written.

I wonder what might have happened if Mr. Hartnell had not had that condition that required him to leave the show. I don’t know if i can picture Doctor Who without the regeneration. It’s such an important part of what makes the show what it is. So there it is, another delicious drop of knowledge. I will leave you with the video of the scene where we say goodbye to one dear friend and hello to a new one, for the first time.I wish you all a wonderful day, and I will see you tomorrow for another Fact Of The Day.

Fact Of The Day is the daily column where RobGronkowski’sPartyBusDriver shares some random tidbit of science fiction, fantasy or horror knowledge. If there is a show or movie you would like to see done, leave a note in the comments below. You can see the full archive of past columns here.


Wikipedia Sources:

  1. “Classic Episodes: Season 3”. BBC Doctor Who. BBC. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  2. Sullivan, Shannon (2005-05-02). “The Smugglers”. A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  3. The Tenth Planet at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
  4. “LSD inspired Doctor regeneration”. BBC News. 12 April 2010.
  5. “BBC – Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide – The Power of the Daleks – Details”. Retrieved 1 December 2007.
  6. http://www.doctorwhonews.net/2013/09/origin…

14. Doctor Who. “A Brief History of a Time Lord.”. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 July 2013.

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17. Haining, Peter (1983). Doctor Who: A Celebration. London: W.H. Allen and Co. ISBN 0-491-03351-6.

18. Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1993). Doctor Who: The Sixties. London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 0-86369-707-0.