Spoiler alert, but at the end of the Time of the Doctor Matt Smith actually regenerates into Peter Capaldi. I know, they kept that one quiet.
It was a well acted, heart destroying scene that managed to draw on elements from The 11th Doctor’s entire run but never felt drawn out or overplayed in a way that David Tennant’s final moments were (controversial).
It got me thinking about The Doctor’s other regeneration scenes, since thanks to Day of the Doctor, we’ve now got ’em all. There have been some dodgy ones, and some pretty disappointing ones. As you may have guessed from the title though, these are what I reckon are his best ones.
Peter Davison to Colin Baker (Caves of Androzani)
Okay, so it may have heralded in the beginning of Doctor Who’s decline into not very goodness (through no fault of Colin Baker) but this is a strong, emotional scene that tops off one of classic Who’s best stories.
While it has it’s problems, such as Davison’s great death bed acting being somewhat overshadowed by Nicola Byrant’s cleavage (or is that a problem? Depends who you ask) or the kind of cheesy spectral return of his past companions (God, who does that these days?), Davison and Byrant still deliver an incredibly strong, quite unsettling scene.
It gets even better when you realise that The Doctor was actually holding off his regeneration for pretty much the entire story, just so he could get shit done. Say what you will about The 5th Doctor, but he was a stone cold badass.
William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (The Tenth Planet)
Granted, The Doctor doesn’t bow out for the most heroic of reasons (old age) but the first regeneration of the series deserves a spot on this list because the ingenious idea of The Doctor being able to change his face has ensured that Doctor Who can still be going strong fifty years on.
It’s done remarkably well for the time too, with Hartnell glowing a milky white and seamlessly becoming Troughton. You seriously barely notice it happen. You’ve got to wonder what the hell viewers thought was going on at the time.
Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant (The Parting of the Ways)
The first regeneration of New Who must have been as much of a shock to younger viewers as The Tenth Planet was for everyone else.
Eccleston delivers a brilliant speech while Rose looks on, absolutely terrified. Here, regeneration is clearly quite sad, but still cause for optimism, as it should be since no one is actually dying.
And no longer does The Doctor konk out on the floor in a slightly feeble manner. For the first time, he throws his arms up and explodes with energy, which is much, much cooler (and also allows for Matt Smith to destroy an entire fleet of Daleks).
Paul McGann to John Hurt (Night of The Doctor)
YES. Just because we thought we’d never see the day, this regeneration gets a place on the list. What does this regeneration scene get done?
Well, it lets McGann showcase his fantastic range as The Doctor (rage, acceptance, flippancy), it gives us more time with PAUL MCGAN AS THE DOCTOR and perhaps most importantly of all, it makes his Big Finish audio adventures unarguably canon.
Paul McGann though guys, amiright?
Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker (Planet of the Spiders)
So even though the regeneration effect itself is a little rubbish, and the hovering monk man of exposition land always terrified me on a personal level, this scene has Lis Sladen and Jon Pertwee absolutely acting their hearts out (while The Brigadier watches on vaguely bored by the proceedings).
Fun fact; this is the first time the process is actually called Regeneration. There, we’ve all learnt something and I can’t think of anything else to say.
As if it could really be any other story for Tom Baker. Of course this isn’t to say that Baker hasn’t had his fair share of classic tales (his era is still looked upon as the pinnacle of Who by many) but this is a defining story for both The Doctor and his greatest enemies, possibly the most iconic alien life forms in modern culture, The Daleks.
For the uninitiated, Genesis of the Daleks is basically an origin story for Skaro’s metal monsters. The Time Lords send the 4th Doctor, Sarah and Harry on a mission to destroy the Daleks before they’re properly created (fun fact: this move has since been referred to as the first shot of the Time War).
What follows is a stone cold classic adventure, apart from the giant clam (yes, really). This was early on in Tom Baker’s tenure as The Doctor and an encounter with The Daleks was a defining moment for a Doctor even back then. He’s on top form here, all wide eyes, mad grins and complaining to military officers about the lack of tea or coffee.
Harry and Sarah Jane are two fantastic companions that, with The Doctor form the strongest trio in the shows history, Ponds be damned. Unfortunately, Sarah spends the majority of this story apart from the others, climbing up missile silos and befriending mutants.
But what’s most important here is the brilliance in which we find out how Daleks became Daleks. Terrifyingly, they once looked human. Called Kaleds, (imaginative) they were locked in a devastating war and even before they jumped in pepperpots to destroy the galaxy, it’s clearly established that they were horrible nazi bastards.
Of course, this episode also introduces us to Dalek creator and king prawn lookalike, Davros. Pretty much an equal to The Doctor, the fact that he was batshit crazy and power mad was absolutely terrifying. Think Hitler crossed with a really angry Dalek and you come close to what Davros is.
Does the Doctor destroy the Daleks, like the Time Lords asked? Well, considering all subsequent Dalek tales you can guess not. In one of the most important scenes in Who history, The Doctor is given the chance to wipe them out forever and chooses not to. He reasons it will make him no better than a Dalek. Nearly four decades on and people still debate the Doctor’s choice in this episode.
A murky moral area, an unbeatable Doctor/Companion combo and a chilling origin story for Doctor Who’s most popular enemies makes this an absolutely iconic story. If you like Doctor Who, you need to watch Genesis.
SPOILERY SPOILERS OF A SPOILING NATURE.
Well the score may be suffering from a slight bias because Paul motherf**cking McGann is finally back playing The Doctor on our screens. A moment I have waited for since 1996 personally.
While five minutes isn’t nearly enough for McGann (a web series will do nicely, thank you) he still manages to exude a charm and exuberance, now topped off with a massive dollop of cool because he isn’t stuck with a ridiculous costume or stupid wig.
Clearly tired and changed by whatever’s happened with the Time War so far, we’re afforded a nice insight into how awful things are. The Doctor’s would be companion claiming there’s no difference between Daleks and Time Lords anymore sums it up and justifies why The Doctor would essentially give up being The Doctor (a very unsettling moment).
There’s also a handful of nice references to McGann’s Big Finish adventures (rightly so) as he namedrops Charlie and Lucy, among other companions.
And of course we finally have an official name for Hurt’s Doctor; The War Doctor. The glimpse of him here shows him to be a much younger man. I imagine the implication is that he’s been in that incarnation for a long old time.
Night of The Doctor sets up the 50th anniversary bash in an intriguing way, but most importantly, it let the 8th Doctor have another hard earned crack at the whip. About time.
Watch it here, baby.