Do you have a favourite Doctor Who regeneration? I have an “in at the ground floor” affinity for the original change from William Hatnell to Patrick Troughton. It was left of field, weird, and set a precedent for periodically renewing and refreshing the show.
As a device, the purest artifice, it could also be emotional and dramatic. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor dies before a little push triggers the change into a comatose Tom Baker. Caves of Androzani just sizzles its way through deadly cliffhanger after deadly cliffhanger before Peter Davison transforms into a troubled and uncomfortable Colin Baker.
Time was, the regeneration episodes were a bookend, an epilogue and prologue between a changing of the guard in the never-ending story of Doctor Who.
But with Peter Capaldi’s departure looming, does that transition point have the same weight?
The last few years we’ve had regenerations coming out the wazoo. Does familiarity breed contempt? Was the General’s sex-swap change a blow for a equality or a jokey nail in the coffin?
There is a challenge to staging a decent regeneration, Doctor Who The Movie manages a nice little twist in that the gunshot wounds aren’t what doom Sylvester McCoy, it’s the surgical attempt to save his life that does the damage.
Eccleston’s departure waltzes through the process a little too easily, but generally it is a serviceable exit. When we eventually get to the moment, David Tennant goes off like triple-sized roman candle. I keep thinking that if we rewrote the Pertwee-Baker regeneration along those lines Sarah-Jane would have been decapitated in a pyrotechnic discharge and the Brig would have been lucky to get away with third degree burns.
Then we get Time-Head Baby Melody Pond dispatching Nazi troops with her excess regeneration energy and the nuclear blasts of Matt Smith’s renewed regeneration cycle demolishing an army of Daleks and presumably the inhabitants of Christmas alike. For such big blasts there is surprisingly little oomph in the occasion.
The 50th anniversary had a touch of tying up loose ends, but the brief excitement of McGann’s Red Button Special just reminds how he, and more importantly, we the audience, got short changed on the Eighth Doctor. Oh look, he’s just picked up a poisoned chalice.
I’m not convinced that the regeneration of John Hurt’s Doctor added anything to the ongoing story. It’s just another firework moment.
So I wonder if Peter Capaldi’s Doctor will get a send off that tugs at the heartstrings and heralds an exciting start for the next chapter of the story? (Caveat, I feel Colin Baker’s best episode is Caves of Androzani. Am I being cruel?) It might not need to do any of those things, but my gut tells me it will be better if it does have an emotional and dramatic presence. Perhaps Capaldi should just dematerialise in the TARDIS, allowing an unfettered and mysterious start for the next inhabitant of the role? Currently the bookies favourite is Ben Wilshaw while others are touting Olivia Coleman. Who knows Billy Connolly and Alan Davis might be in the mix?