It’s that time again…
It’s happened before and it will happen again. The lead actor in the longest running science fiction franchise is leaving the show. Peter Capaldi has announced that season ten (relative to the 2005 relaunch) will be his last and he’ll be leaving as the Twelfth Doctor with head writer Stephen Moffat.
As a longtime fan, I always find this a bittersweet moment – saying goodbye to one Doctor and wondering how good the next will be. The same thing happens every time. I thought the Ninth Doctor couldn’t be outdone. Then I watched the Tenth Doctor and found him to be great. Then the Tenth Doctor left and I thought no one could beat him – only to find the Eleventh Doctor was fantastic.
When Matt Smith left the role to Peter Capaldi, I was trepidatious again, but Capaldi was awesome. Now he’s leaving and I have to wonder again – Who will be the next Who?
The Doctor is dead – long live the Doctor.
Doctor Who has a unique casting strategy that has worked for over fifty years. It came when William Hartnell, the First Doctor, could not continue as the Doctor. The producers needed a way to replace him. Canceling the show was not an option. The ratings were too good.
When the show’s writers came up with “regeneration”, Doctor Who could continue without missing a beat. Hartnell’s role passed to Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor.
All thanks to regeneration.
In a nutshell, here’s what it’s about. The Doctor is an alien. When he’s about to die (through old age or a near-fatal injury) he can regenerate every cell in his body completely. It’s a neat trick. He can do it twelve times in a life cycle.
Recently, the Time Lords of Gallifrey gave the Doctor a new life cycle with twelve more regenerations. It’s like getting a “Get out of death free” card in a board game. This Twelfth Doctor (actually thirteenth including the War Doctor) is the first of the new cycle. He’s used one already when he went from the Eleventh to the Twelfth.
Don’t do the counting. It will only confuse you.
Regeneration is a random thing. The Doctor never knows how it will turn out. It’s a lottery. He literally becomes an entirely different person. What’s more, his personality changes in the process. All of his old memories remain, but in every other respect, he is physically and psychologically someone else.
The good thing is that with this, actors can experiment. Each can contribute something new to the part.
Regeneration also works as a neat contract negotiation tool for the BBC producers. Power plays can’t happen when the producers can write an actor out with a regeneration plot. This happened when the BBC was unsatisfied with Colin Baker’s performance (as the Sixth Doctor). They dismissed him in favor of Sylvester McCoy, making him the Seventh Doctor. Peter Capaldi, while a fan favorite, is just another great actor in a line of great actors in a role that began in 1963 with William Hartnell.
I am not going to speculate on who will succeed Capaldi. No one ever gets it right. It is rare to see the part go to an A or B list actor. The résumés of each Doctor rarely are well known prior to being cast. There are exceptions to this rule, like Peter Capaldi and Christopher Eccelston, but for the most part, each has been waiting for his big break. Most of the time, after they finish their stint as the Doctor, their careers improve dramatically.
Now that a new Doctor is coming, it’s more important to think about what the Doctor will be rather than who the Doctor will be.
Lessons to be Learned
From a story point of view, when the Doctor regenerates, he usually turns into the person he subconsciously feels he needs to be. As part of the character’s evolution, each new version serves as a lesson to and from himself.
It’s like watching a jilted lover vow never to lose his heart again and, as a result, becomes colder and more unfeeling. Whereupon it is that emotional trauma which irrationally leads him down the wrong path when he doesn’t let go of bad baggage. That experience only becomes a scab covering a painful wound. However, like most scabs, after it flakes off, a scar remains.
Much of “moving on” is “letting go”.
However, the Doctor’s evolution is more than that. The transformation is akin to the last twenty minutes of A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge, realizing he’d spent his entire life as a rotten selfish bastard, figures out it’s only through love and kindness (and keeping the spirit of Christmas in his heart) that he can move forward with his life. The consequence to NOT doing it was death – just as it is with the Doctor that the consequence of NOT changing is also death.
In the Doctor’s case, it’s a physical manifestation. The life-ending trauma is physical, not just emotional or intellectual. We saw this when he chose to be the War Doctor. The Eighth Doctor, a contentious objector in the Time War, realized the road ahead would be difficult. It would call for someone who could not be THE DOCTOR. He chose to be a warrior. When he needed to be strong, he chose the concoction that made him mentally prepared for a long terrible war. He knew the change would be painful, but he knew it was necessary.
Each regeneration builds upon the last.
The Eleventh Doctor summarized some of his earlier changes. He spoke about his forgotten regeneration as the Tenth Doctor during Journey’s End due to “vanity issues”.
The War Doctor (between the Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor) had made a comment to the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor in Day of the Doctor about their immaturity. He said the following:
“We might as well get started. It might help pass the timey-wimey. Do you have to talk like children? What is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown up? Oof! The way you both look at me. What is that? I’m trying to think of a better word than dread.”
It wasn’t until the War Doctor undid his Time War war crime, that the Doctor could forgive himself. He could not forgive himself until he remembered how terrible the choice was. Once he did, the Eleventh Doctor – the physically youngest of all the Doctors – accepted his regeneration as an older man like the Twelfth Doctor. He learned to not run away from maturity. He learned maturity and gravitas are good things that should be embraced. The stigma of age was removed.
When the War Doctor finally found his body “wearing a bit thin” (a reference to the First Doctor’s regeneration due to old age), he did not remember the events of Day of the Doctor. His new body was forged by his loss and survivor’s guilt. He’d lost everyone he’d ever known in the Time War and now he needed to heal. Christopher Eccleston portrayed him that way. The Ninth Doctor had abandoned all of the foppishness of his previous Doctor incarnations. He wore simple black clothes – as if he were in mourning. By the time his end came, he had to learn to love himself. He wanted to remember he was always “fantastic”.
This desire to be a better man created the vanity of the Tenth Doctor.
It was the same with the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration to Eleven.
The Tenth Doctor was a ladies man. There was Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Queen Elizabeth. The vanity he’d wished for as the Ninth Doctor became his obstacle. He loved who he was so much that he did not want to go. In his mind, he knew there was so much more he could give. It wasn’t until he saw his vanity standing in the way of him saving Wilfred Mott’s life, that he knew it was wrong. It was that and his hubris when he broke laws set by the Time Lords and declared himself “Time Lord Victorious” in The Waters of Mars, that made him more humble as the Eleventh Doctor.
When he turned into the Eleventh Doctor, he was a man haunted with blood on his hands and did his best to distract himself with traveling and thrill seeking. His personality was shaped not only by the actions of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors but the War Doctor as well. He was an old man in a young man’s body – being both old and young at the same time.
There were other things the Eleventh Doctor took with him that shaped his change to the Twelfth Doctor.
In The Girl Who Died, his face hearkened back to The Fires of Pompeii where, as the Tenth Doctor, he saved a family. He had the face of Caecilius and it reminded him to save people.
Amy Pond’s Scottish-ness came along with a “no apologies” attitude. The Twelfth Doctor’s tactlessness is a direct result of discarding the Eleventh’s need to be liked. As he felt he had nothing to prove to anyone, he became a curmudgeon.
However, as cranky as he is, there is still a lot of youth in his personality. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor went from being a cranky old man to being an old rebellious rocker who could jam with the kids.
“What do we know about the Twelfth Doctor?” When we know the answer to that we’ll have a better idea of where his regeneration is heading.
As a fifty-one-year-old man and child of the seventies, I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. When men get older, they don’t crave acceptance. A mature man lives in his power, gravitas, and experience. Older men have fought their battles and won their wars. To most people, the Twelfth Doctor seems to be irritable and there’s a reason for that.
He is irritable.
When most men reach middle age, they’ve heard it all before. That’s why the Twelfth Doctor’s tagline is not “Fantastic!”, “Allons-y!”, or “Geronimo!” – it’s “SHUT UP!”
Shut up! Shut up! Shuttity up-up-up!
In his mind, all he hears is people saying stupid things. That’s why he calls so many people “pudding brains”. He is cross. He is Scottish. He is old school and works with a blackboard and chalk. He has “attack eyebrows”. He is totally against bantering. This Doctor is a steampunk doctor. He is totally against hugging. Children bother him. He has to read tactful answers written on index cards so he can remember what he’s supposed to say.
He is not touchy feely.
Depending on whether these things are positive or negative will determine what kind of person the next Doctor will be.
We need to watch season ten of Doctor Who to make a good prediction. Will these quirks be in line with the Thirteenth Doctor’s new personality? The Doctor, himself, will judge whether or not he needed to discard things from this life or take them into the next one.
The next Doctor might be more diplomatic and probably more nurturing. He, after seeing what his pride had created with Ashildr, might realize that some fates are best left to be ended. Perhaps they’d be better seen as a woman. After all, he spent so much time with Clara, Amy, and River; perhaps he feels he needs to know more about the other sex.
Once again, each regeneration builds upon the last.
What has the Twelfth Doctor conquered and has yet to learn? I think we’re going to see something very new this time. The Master became “Missy”. The General on Gallifrey regenerated into a woman, too. The Sisters of Karn said the Eighth Doctor could be fat or thin, young or old, man or woman – even Peter Capaldi thinks the next Doctor should be female. If the Doctor needs to be more compassionate, perhaps he’ll need a maternal instinct.
Perhaps, it’s time for something different. Someone like Idris Elba could bring a new dimension to the character. Perhaps, the Doctor could be someone like Howard Charles, Adil Ray, or Luke Pasqualino? Were we to look at the Doctor as a soul on a Buddhist path, he’d need to experience many paths on the road to enlightenment.
Still, the questions we ask may not be the ones the BBC is asking. Who do they see as the next Doctor? Who will get them their ratings? Who will make for more interesting stories? Who will inspire people to push themselves to where they need to be?
Who is the Doctor? The Doctor, as the Master says, is the man who makes people better.
What we know is somewhere inside of him will always be the silly man who stole a TARDIS then ran, and ran, and ran.
He’s the daft old man who stole a magic box.
He’s a madman in a box with everywhere he can go in all of time and space. Next stop? Everywhere! One more stop. One more trip. Always going to where he needs to be. He is the man who stops the monsters.
He’s the Doctor and he saves people.
So what will it be? Fast or strong? Wise or angry? Male or female? What does the Doctor need to be now?