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.