Ten Regenerations

I’m excited about Matt Smith’s debut as Doctor Who, and of course Easter is an appropriate season to introduce a newly regenerated Time Lord. I notice that someone recently made a youtube compilation of All the Doctor’s Regenerations (except for 8->9, which was never filmed). Do watch the clip. Here are my ratings of the regenerations. The top three — four, five, and nine — are near flawless and get extended commentary.

1. Four: Tom Baker–>Peter Davison. 5 jelly babies. The fourth regeneration encapsulates a golden age of Doctor Who and floors me every time I watch it. Tom Baker accommodated more change in the show’s vision than any other incarnation, under Philip Hinchcliffe (three seasons of gothic horror), Graham Williams (three more of light comedy), and then John Nathan-Turner (the last and most talked about season, which reined in the comedy and grounded the stories more firmly in science). Logopolis has a perfect funereal feeling to it and was seen by millions when it first aired. I’ll never forget the way Baker’s final whisper brought tears to my eyes: “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for”. It may not have been as flashy as later regenerations, but it’s by far the most moving.

2. Five: Peter Davison–>Colin Baker. 5 jelly babies. Many believe that the fifth regeneration is the best, but while I agree it’s the most dramatic it doesn’t have the soul or dignity of the fourth. Davison had the luxury of going out as strong as possible, in what is universally hailed as the best story from his period (The Caves of Androzani), and his regeneration is the culmination of all that suspense and adrenaline rush. Best of all is the fact that the new (Sixth) Doctor gets in some beautiful lines at the end, when Peri asks, “What’s going on?” The cold reply: “Change, my dear. And it would seem not a moment too soon.” Poor Peri would get quite a change indeed when this arrogant incarnation went berserk and tried to kill her.

3. Nine: Christopher Eccleston–>David Tennant. 5 jelly babies. Christopher Eccleston’s departure after a single season worked out splendidly for two reasons. For one, he wasn’t the best representation of the Doctor, a gurning manic-depressive, and remarkably ineffectual (though I confess he’s grown on me over time). He took his minimalist character about as far as it could go. But in leaving the series so quickly, he gave newcomers an opportunity to see some Gallifreyan lore in action. And what a regeneration — more flashy than any from the classic period, if lacking some of the soul — leaving us with David Tennant licking over his teeth in bemused wonder. I knew right there and then that he was going to be “the” Doctor of the new series.

4. Three: Jon Pertwee–>Tom Baker. 4 jelly babies. If the fourth regeneration is the most deeply moving, the fifth the most dramatic, and the ninth the most majestic, the third is the most touching. It’s Jon Pertwee’s farewell to Sarah Jane Smith, and played wonderfully by Elizabeth Sladen.

5. Seven: Sylvester McCoy–>Paul McGann. 4 jelly babies. I never liked the Eighth Doctor’s single-episode “movie”, but the seventh regeneration is impressive and creepy on its own right.

6. One: William Hartnell–>Patrick Troughton. 3 jelly babies. By today’s standards it looks pretty lame, but the first regeneration is a landmark and retains its dramatic pull.

7. Six: Colin Baker–>Sylvester McCoy. 2 jelly babies. A half-hearted attempt to cover for Colin Baker’s absence. After being fired Baker (quite rightly) refused to return for a regeneration scene, and so we have the embarrassing spectacle of Sylvester McCoy in a wig regenerating into Sylvester McCoy with his own hair. And it’s too rushed and undramatic.

8. Ten: David Tennant–>Matt Smith. 1 jelly baby. The longest regeneration sequence in the show’s history is weighed down by melodrama, saccharine farewells, and ridiculously overblown stuff that makes no sense (parts of the TARDIS exploding). Russell Davies was clueless by this point, and truth told, he should have handed over the reins to Steven Moffat immediately after Turn Left. It’s a shower of piss, and David Tennant deserved better.

9. Two: Patrick Troughton–>Jon Pertwee. 0 jelly babies. The youtube clip shows the Second Doctor being exiled and told that it’s time for him to regenerate, but this doesn’t really count. We never actually see the the second regeneration. I dislike this scene anyway for Troughton yipping in that girlish voice, “Stop, you’re making me dizzy, no, no, no!”

10. Eight: Paul McGann–>Christopher Eccleston. n/a. The eighth regeneration was never filmed.

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9 thoughts on “Ten Regenerations

  1. Nice rundown, Loren. I love the way you say that McGann to Ecclestone wasn't “filmed” as if it happened but no one was there to capture it — nice.

    Most memorable for me is Pertwee to Baker, as my first. After that Baker to Davison — pretty thrilling.

    Unlike you, I absolutely loved the regeneration into Matt Smith, especially the cry out loud as it happens — and the excitement of seeing the first minute or two of Smith, demonstrating just how great he'll be. I'll put it up there in the top 3.

    Hey, less than two weeks to go! VWORP! VWORP!

  2. Hi Loren. Well, the bad news (for you) is that the Moff wrote the Matt Smith bits of the regeneration, so maybe you'll be Moff-bashing before long 🙂 Seriously — have another look at the cry-out-loud as 10 becomes 11 — it's a superb moment and somehow is how regeneration should be, rather than just a serene, sleepy, face change.

  3. The Matt Smith bits of the regeneration didn't bother me at all. It's the explosive fanfare around Tennant — but even worse, all the self-indulgent melodramatic farewells (which are always counted by fans as part of a regeneration sequence, though in Tennant's case they're way too long to include in the actual clip of the regeneration). From the point at which Matt Smith appears, it's fine. But I'm talking about what the entire prolonged melodramatic sequence adds up to.

  4. I quite enjoyed those. Just what we would expect after the last five years. But what about the cry out loud in the regeneration proper? It's fantastic, especially as counterpoint to 10's agonized, “I don't want to go”.

  5. No, this isn't what I expected after the last five years (or four years, I think you mean, for Tennant) anymore than I was expecting such saccharine overkill after Tom Baker's longer seven-year stint. Or maybe I was expecting something like this from Davies, but I sure wasn't hoping for it.

    What would have been great is if there had been a decent series-four finale (a story completely unlike Stolen Earth/Journey's End), and Tennant had abruptly — suddenly, and completely unexpectedly — regenerated into Matt Smith in the middle of it, so the latter could have capped off the series even before officially starting a new one. That would have been unprecedented and an instant classic moment.

  6. Sounds a bit like you are talking about the episodes as a whole there. I thought they were good fun, more or less what I expected, perhaps a touch disappointing on some of the story-telling. But the regeneration itself, which was the topic — this was brilliantly done. Seriously, the Matt Smith cry-out-loud at the moment of regeneration — *exactly* how it should be, and something that has not happened before. Excellent.

  7. Thanks for these — and yes, this guy feels almost exactly as I do. The Matt Smith part (his “first words”) was okay, though nothing spectacular, and David Tennant's entire string of self-indulgent farewells and whiny “I don't want to go” (his “last words”) were just plain awful.

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