The Changing Man
“There’s this process... this thing that happens, if I’m about to die...”
Ask someone who doesn’t watch Doctor Who what they know about Doctor Who and you’ll tend to get the same familiar list. He’s a Time Lord, he travels through time and space in a Police Box that’s bigger on the inside called a TARDIS, he fights Daleks and Cybermen, he has attractive female assistants and a robot dog called K-9... and he has the ability to change his appearance.
It’s one of the fundamentals of the series. Whenever there’s a magazine article about the series, you can guarantee it will bring up the fact that eleven actors have played the Doctor over the years, and here’s a list of their names, in order. It may even go on to mention that Time Lords can only ‘regenerate’ twelve times; that their thirteenth life, or ‘incarnation’, will be their last.
It seems to be one of those things that everyone knows; but exactly what do we know about regeneration? All sorts of myths and assumptions have built up around the process as fans have tried to make sense of the various rules the series has stated, often relying upon episode guides and other secondary sources for their information. But if you go back to the actual stories, at what we’re told and shown on screen, you’ll find that the truth is often not quite as simple as it may appear. Do we know how regenerations happen – and why? What really are the rules governing the process – and can they be broken? Do we even know what the terms ‘regeneration’ and ‘incarnation’ mean?
Of course, the real reason for the Doctor changing his appearance is to do with behind-the-scenes logistics; either the actor playing the part wanted to go or somebody else wanted them to. It was producer Innes Lloyd who came up with the idea, an approach unprecedented in television at the time as it meant that not only could they keep the show running even if the lead actor was no longer available, but they could use it as an opportunity to tweak the show’s format whilst at the same time maintaining the integrity of its fictional universe - avoiding the usual credibility-stretching methods of replacing an actor (either by getting a new actor to play the part without explanation a la EastEnder’s Sam Mitchell, by getting a new actor to play an uncannily similar replacement a la the two Robin Of Sherwoods, or by introducing a plot-line involving reconstructive surgery). Compare this to the James Bond movies, where a hundred pub debates have revolved around whether or not they’re supposed to be the same James Bond or whether it’s merely a codename.
(I should also make clear that in this article I’ll only be referring to concepts established in the TV series. The spin-off media, the novels in particular, have come up with all sorts of intriguing notions but if I were to include them this article would be ten times longer and twenty times more confusing.)
To begin with, what is a ‘regeneration’? We know from The Twin Dilemma that it involves every single cell of the body being ‘displaced, changed, renewed and rearranged’. This results in a change in appearance – although whether this is compulsory, we don’t know; at the conclusion of The Doctor’s Daughter Jenny appears to undergo a regeneration which doesn’t alter her appearance. The change is, however, irreversible. It requires ‘regenerative energy’, a sort of wispy yellow vapour produced from within Time Lords, which can be used as a source of power (as sought by the ‘pilot fish’ of The Christmas Invasion).
The change of appearance isn’t restricted to facial attributes. It affects height, build, even the ring-size of the fingers and the length of the fingernails (see The Power Of The Daleks). On each occasion the subject has acquired new teeth (‘That’s weird!’) and a new hair colour and style – even new sideburns. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be any waste material – we never see clumps of left-over hair or spare teeth on the TARDIS floor – suggesting that any surplus is dissipated which might account for the accompanying burst of light.
The fact that the process results in a mature adult with pre-grown hair, teeth etc suggests that the resulting body might not be a spontaneous creation but might be drawn from some sort of template, or even be based upon someone with whom the subject has recently encountered. After all, Romana chooses to adopt the body of Princess Astra in Destiny of the Daleks. We also see the Doctor being presented with a choice of prepared physiognomies in The War Games. This might even explain why the sixth Doctor resembles Commander Maxil from Arc Of Infinity – could ‘the Colin Baker look’ be the Time Lord equivalent of an off-the-peg suit?
A regeneration also results in an alteration in speech patterns; for instance, the ninth Doctor having a Northern accent. Indeed, with each regeneration he’s moved further away from the upper-class received-pronunciation of the first Doctor. This doesn’t seem to be the case for Time Lords who remain on Gallifrey; could it be a side-effect of the Doctor spending so much time on Earth? We know that Time Lords are prone to picking up local accents - Drax of The Armageddon Factor developed a London brogue after doing time in Brixton. Maybe the tenth Doctor’s own ‘mockney’ is due to his previous incarnation’s visits to the Powell Estate? Maybe he picked up his accent from Jackie Tyler?
Another difference is in the apparent age of the subject, though there isn’t any hard-and-fast rule to how it works. Using the ages of the actors as a guide, most of the Doctor’s regenerations have either left him about the same age as before or fifteen years younger (though the gaps have been getting smaller). The only time he gained in years was in The Caves Of Androzani – could this have been a consequence of a particularly hazardous regeneration?
The main shift, though, is in the personality - and the Doctor seems unusually prone to radical transformations of character, most notably in the switch from the fifth to sixth incarnations, where the Doctor switches from ‘feckless charm’ to ‘Unstable, unstable, unstable!’. By contrast, Romana’s regeneration seemed to make her merely more playful, whilst each new Master has been ever-more camp and unhinged than his predecessor. But the most radical change we’ve witnessed was that of Borusa, who graduated through a series of pompous windbags before turning into a megalomaniac. The process of regeneration has numerous physical and psychological side-effects; euphoria, paranoia, manic depression, self-pity, arrogance, violence, black-outs... and that’s just the first episode of The Twin Dilemma. Again, the effects may be more severe due to the traumatic nature of that particular regeneration, although many symptoms are common to other regenerations; an initial period of lucidity followed by a period alternating between fatigue and hyperactivity. The reason for this would seem to be that regeneration of the brain is a more complex and protracted process than of the body; in The Christmas Invasion the Doctor’s synapses still have yet to heal after 15 hours, during which time he complains of a ‘neural implosion’.
During this initial period, the Doctor may also find his muscles to be a ‘bit tight’ (in The Power Of The Daleks), inexplicably weak (such as his dorsal tubercle, in the 2005 Children In Need special) or even abnormally vigorous (karate-chopping a brick in Robot, smashing a morgue door in the TV Movie). This may explain why he seems to exhibit a penchant for broad physical comedy.
There’s also a period where the subject adopts their new personality, as their ‘super-ego’ finds itself surrounded by an unfamiliar ‘ego’. In several stories the Doctor begins a new incarnation by referring to himself – or his previous self – in the third person, unaware of his own identity. He may have the mannerisms of previous incarnations, repeat dialogue from previous adventures (Robot) or even, rather tiresomely, mix-up proverbs and the names of his companions.
It’s as if the Doctor is searching for his ‘new self’, and in each regeneration story, the same two significant moments of that journey have been played out. Firstly, the moment where the Doctor first sees himself in a mirror and fails to recognise his new face – but then familiarizes himself with it. It happens in every regeneration story – in The Power Of The Daleks we even watch the scene from the Doctor’s point of view, as he momentarily glimpses his former incarnation – and the fact that there’s a similar scene early in Rose (‘Look at the ears!’) suggests that the ninth Doctor has only recently regenerated. It’s a key stage of the recovery process, establishing a sense of identity, of creating an idea of ‘this is who you are’. It’s no coincidence that in The Twin Dilemma Peri fends off the Doctor’s psychotic attack and returns him to temporary sanity by confronting him with his own reflection.
The second key stage is the scene where the Doctor selects his new clothes. We see him literally casting off his old self (even unravelling his predecessor’s scarf in Castrovalva) and establishing the new. The Doctor tries on a variety of outfits as he rejects the identities of earlier incarnations, until eventually he settles on a new appearance. Watching each Doctor’s introductory story with this in mind, you’ll find that the moment he adopts his outfit marks an end to his crisis of identity and is the moment he becomes to be comfortable in his new skin. It may be that selecting clothes is an after-effect of having come to terms with their identity, but it seems to helps cement the process too; the one exception being The Twin Dilemma where it could be that the Doctor’s choice of brash, clashing garments serves to further destabilise his state of mind.
There doesn’t seem to be any consistent time-scale to the process; in The Christmas Invasion the Doctor is still in his ‘regeneration cycle’ after 15 hours, and has enough residual cellular energy to re-grow his right hand, whereas in other instances – such as the Master in Utopia or Romana in Destiny of the Daleks – the process is swift, painless and unfussy. It appears the Doctor is unusually susceptible to debilitating side-effects; this may be partly due to the circumstances, though even his change of appearance in The War Games – a regeneration you would expect to go smoothly - was not without its difficulties.
The Doctor’s also unusual in that he’s the only Time Lord unable to influence the outcome of his regenerations; until he looks in a mirror, he has no idea whether he is ginger or not (though it’s possible the third Doctor may have decided to push for ‘teeth and curls’ in Planet Of The Spiders based on Sarah-Jane’s description of his future self in The Five Doctors). Compare this to Destiny of the Daleks, where Romana tries out different bodies and imitates the appearance of Princess Astra (and can even ‘take the arms in a bit’ – suggesting that, like the Doctor in The Christmas Invasion, she is in the part of her regeneration cycle where limbs can be remoulded) and Utopia, where the Master seems to consciously will himself into a ‘young and strong’ body. That said, if Time Lords can decide upon the results of regeneration, some of their choices have been quite perverse, such as Borusa repeatedly opting for the body of an old codger. Perhaps he felt he would get more respect that way.
Another interesting thing about regenerations is that they’ve never happened quite the same way twice. Not just in terms of the causes or how the process has played out, but in how the moment of change itself has looked. Now obviously the real-life reason for this is because the production team were trying out new pieces of effects kit, but could it be that what we were seeing were also different forms of regeneration, just as different illnesses present with different symptoms? Maybe a regeneration due to natural causes in a peaceful environment is a relatively sedate affair whilst one due to violent events in hostile surroundings is more prolonged, painful and perilous? In the TV movie, is the ‘morphing’ effect a reaction to the surgical probe in his heart? And in The War Games, are we seeing how Time Lords ‘force’ a regeneration upon an unwilling subject?
Uniquely, in The Caves Of Androzani we observe the regeneration from the Doctor’s perspective; a trippy battle for survival with revolving companions. Up until recently, all regenerations took place lying down (except Romana’s); now they take place standing up with light streaming forth from the subject’s head and sleeves – I feel obliged to mention at this point the wit on the internet who wondered what would happen if the Doctor regenerated with his flies undone.
The other curious thing about regenerations is the idea of ‘watchers’, such as the one that turned out to be the Doctor all the time in Logopolis or Cho-Je, a projection of K’Anpo’s future self that dispenses zen wisdom in Planet of the Spiders. The ability to send a version of yourself into your own past to interact with yourself and even influence the circumstances of your own destruction, is mind-boggling and has all sorts of repercussions regarding pre-destination. Does the Watcher guide the fourth Doctor to his death in Logopolis or is he merely informing the Doctor that his time is drawing to close without detailing the exact circumstances?
Which brings us onto the matter of what regeneration actually is. The process isn’t even named until Planet of the Spiders; before then it’s described as a ‘renewal’ or ‘change of appearance’. In The Five Doctors the different Doctors identify themselves by their regeneration – when asked what regeneration he is, the fifth Doctor says he is the fourth – though, confusingly, when the Time Lords search for the Doctor they find he no longer exists ‘not in any of his regenerations’, suggesting it can also be used as a synonym for ‘incarnation’ (a term which isn’t used in the series until The Twin Dilemma). ‘Regeneration’ not only means the process of change itself, but the lifetimes resulting from it; in Mawdryn Undead Mawdryn is intent on stealing not only the Doctor’s ability to regenerate eight more times but also his eight ‘remaining lives’.
Mawdryn Undead provides other clues about regeneration. Despite what the Doctor claims in The Twin Dilemma it doesn’t appear to be an entirely ‘natural metamorphosis’ but one resulting from Time Lords’ technology. In Mawdryn Undead the Doctor states that without the ability to regenerate he would no longer be a Time Lord, so regeneration is either a prerequisite to becoming a Time Lord or a product thereof; indeed, it could be that acquiring the ability is what makes a Time Lord a Time Lord. Another clue that regeneration is an artificial enhancement rather than a naturally-occurring gift is in Underworld, where the Minyans – like Mawdryn – have co-opted Gallifreyan technology to permit them to regenerate, albeit into the same actor sans ageing make-up.
If it was developed by Gallifreyans, what was it for? As a means of prolonging their lives or as an insurance policy in case of near-fatal injury? According to the second Doctor Time Lords ‘live forever, barring accidents’ – but we know from The Deadly Assassin and elsewhere that they are limited to twelve regenerations (i.e. thirteen lives with the thirteenth being effectively mortal).
As Time Lords seem to regenerate as part of the normal process of aging (Romana in Destiny Of The Daleks, K’Anpo, Borusa) that would suggest that regeneration was not developed as a means of avoiding death through injury but as a way of extending their life-span – with the ‘get out of death free’ card being a lucky side-effect. This is made clear in The Last Of The Time Lords, where, after having aged the Doctor, the Master then suspends his ability to regenerate – turning the Doctor into the small, wizened 900-year-old Gollum the House Elf he would’ve become had he not had nine regenerations. That little creature isn’t supposed to be a nine-900-year-old David Tennant; it’s a 900-year-old William Hartnell.
Time Lords don’t seem to visibly age at the same rate as humans – in School Reunion the Doctor claims that Time Lords don’t age at all, and the loss of ten years in Rise Of The Cybermen has no effect on his physiognomy, while in The Last Of The Time Lords and The Leisure Hive we see the Doctor aged by centuries when his visible age is increased by only fifty years or so. Bearing this in mind, and bearing in mind that Romana regenerates at the age of 140, it suggests that Time Lords regenerate every 100-150 years as part of their normal aging process, and that the Doctor’s claim to be middle-aged at 749 in The Pyramids Of Mars is about right. Reaching his eleventh regeneration at about 910 years old means the Doctor has been using up his lives at a slightly faster than normal rate – although, as we’ve seen in The Leisure Hive, the Doctor’s age can go down as well as up. Presumably something happened between Time And The Rani and Voyage Of The Damned to cause him to knock 50 years off his age - if he can donate years of his life to the TARDIS power cells, maybe the reverse is true? Maybe the Doctor has lived for over a thousand years... but is only 900 years old? That certainly sounds like him.
Is regeneration is a conscious or an automatic process? In both The Tenth Planet and The Caves Of Androzani the Doctor is unsure about what is happening– ‘I might regenerate, I don’t know’ whilst other regenerations have taken place while the Doctor was unconscious or even ‘dead’, suggesting it is involuntary (in the TV Movie, the Doctor even says the process nearly didn’t happen due to the anaesthetic in his system). From The War Games we know it’s a process that Time Lords can initiate without consent; in Planet Of The Spiders the Doctor wouldn’t become a new man were it not for Cho-Je giving the process a ‘little push’. Romana’s (and possibly Borusa’s) regenerations seem to have been intentional, and in The Twin Dilemma Azmael ultimately kills himself by attempting to regenerate when he has no more regenerations left. So it’s an automatic response but one which can be induced by an effort of will – and also resisted by an effort of will, as in the case of the Master in The Last Of The Time Lords.
If regeneration is a Time Lord trick of cheating death, as the Doctor describes it in The Parting Of The Ways, then how does that work? After all, the Doctor has been in numerous near-fatal predicaments which haven’t necessitated a regeneration. He’s been frozen, asphyxiated, crushed, possessed, drugged, electrocuted, knocked-out, poisoned, irradiated, dehydrated, mind-probed, gassed, robotized, exposed to a vacuum and been shot on various occasions, including by the Master. We know there are other options available; he has a respiratory bypass or he can self-induce a healing coma. Whilst in this coma, the Doctor may only have one heartbeat (The Christmas Invasion) which neatly explains all the occasions where the first two Doctors were knocked out and had their heartbeat checked without anyone noticing anything amiss. We also learn in Destiny Of The Daleks that Romana not only has the ability to alternate between her hearts (“One for casual, one for best”) but that she was taught how to stop both of them at once – which is non-fatal but gives the appearance of death (possibly because Romana is still within the 15 hours of her ‘regeneration cycle’ at this point?). This would’ve later been picked up in Shada, had the BBC managed to finish it, where Professor Chronotis uses his heartbeat to communicate via Gallifreyan Morse Code.
Clearly Time Lords are difficult to kill – the Master’s survived being burned alive, exterminated and possessed by the planet of the Cheetah people, while Morbius managed to live on as a disembodied brain in a jar. But if Time Lords don’t always need to regenerate to avoid death, what about those occasions where Time Lords have died without getting the opportunity to regenerate?
On most occasions where we’ve seen Time Lords killed, it’s been as a result of their own weaponry (‘Impulse laser?’); in The Five Doctors the Castellan is murdered with a staser. The War Chief in The War Games is also shot using an energy weapon he may have helped develop. However, we know from The Mind Of Evil that a Time Lord could be killed by a bullet through each heart, and from Forest Of The Dead that he would die if he were to be connected to the Library’s data core. It seems that regeneration is only an option if the cause of ‘death’ has not been so thorough as to rule out reconstruction (which might explain why Time Lords opt for ‘vaporization’ in ‘dispersal chambers’ for executions), if the surroundings are conducive and there is sufficient time. After his mental duel with Morbius the Doctor is left close to death and unable to regenerate, whilst in Turn Left we see a tenth Doctor who, possibly due to drowning, failed to survive the climactic events of The Runaway Bride.
When the Doctor has undergone a regeneration, it’s usually because he’s in a near-death situation (indeed, in the TV Movie he claims to have been ‘dead’). The effect doesn’t just repair cells which have been damaged by crystal rays, bullet wounds or trauma; it can also expel malignant forces or infections, such as the Time Vortex or Spectrox Toxaemia; in The Twin Dilemma Azmael attempts a thirteen regeneration as a way of exorcising Mestor from his mind. We can only guess at what must have happened prior to Time and The Rani to have left the Doctor close to regeneration whilst leaving Mel unharmed.
Regeneration is not a trouble-free process; there is the risk of a regeneration ‘failing’ – the consequences of which seem to be gruesome, given the corpse-like condition of the Master in The Deadly Assassin and the TV Movie and Mawdryn’s undead state. Perhaps the Doctor wasn’t joking when he said he was worried he might end up with two heads or no head in The Parting Of The Ways? In The Runaway Bride he claims his human appearance is ‘optional’ – maybe the Master isn’t the only one who can do the gloopy snake trick?
The oddest regeneration of all takes place in Journey’s End, where the Doctor is caught in a Dalek extermination ray – not enough to kill him outright, but almost. A regeneration is precipitated, giving the Doctor enough ‘regenerative energy’ to heal himself – but then, rather than go through with the process, the Doctor diverts the energy into a (literally) handy bio-matching receptacle. Does this mean the Doctor has ‘used up’ a regeneration – or do regenerations only count if they are completed? It might be the former, as he expels enough energy for an ‘instantaneous two-way biological metacrisis’ resulting in a new human Doctor grown from Donna (causing Donna to become DoctorDonna). But might this be a viable way of creating new Time Lords? Can new bodies be generated out of pure regenerative energy?
The Time Lords developed various facilities in case of regeneration failure; the ‘metamorphic symbiosis generator stolen by Mawdryn, plus the ‘Zero rooms’ with which each TARDIS comes equipped We’re told in Castrovalva that a Zero Room isolates the subject from ‘the rest of the universe’ and that, in its absence, the Time Lords favour ‘dwellings of simplicity’ – so in the event of a failed regeneration your best course is to get away from technology and other distractions; this may be why, subconsciously, the Doctor yearns for a life as a hermit on a ‘craggy knob’ in The Twin Dilemma. We also know from The Brain Of Morbius that the Time Lords have been known to use the Sisterhood of Karn’s ‘Elixir of Life’ to assist with problematic regenerations; given that we later discover that Time Lords can be healed by the ‘infusion of free radicals and tannin’ found in tea, perhaps it’s not totally unreasonable to suspect that the ‘Elixir Of Life’ might be nothing more than a stash of Typhoo? (Albeit one that tastes of ‘nectar, stewed apricots and custard’). It might even explain the number of times the Doctor’s recuperation has been accompanied by a cup of tea, if it is an even more potent restorative for Time Lords than for humans.
All but one of the regenerations we’ve seen has taken either inside or in close proximity to the TARDIS. In The Power Of The Daleks the Doctor says his renewal is ‘part of the TARDIS’, suggesting it functions in a similar way to a ‘metamorphic symbiosis generator’ – smoothing the process in some way. That’s why the Doctor is so desperate to get back to the TARDIS in The Tenth Planet – he doesn’t want the regeneration to start outside its sanctuary – and why he attempts to return to it in Spearhead From Space. Most intriguingly, in The War Games we see the Doctor undergo a regeneration Gallifreyan-style; his body dematerializes, only to reappear on the screen used to give evidence during his trial. It’s as if the Doctor has been transported into a special Time Lord virtual reality, a special place for regenerations to occur. We’ve seen the Argolins develop something similar in The Leisure Hive, but as it’s Gallifrey it seems reasonable to assume that it’s the Time Lord Matrix.
Keep that in mind as I move onto the last thing we know about regenerations; that there is an upper limit of twelve. It’s stated, unambiguously, in The Deadly Assassin, The Trial Of A Time Lord, The Five Doctors and the TV Movie. The irony is, though, that in each of these stories we are also told that it’s possible to break the limit; that’s what the Master, the Valeyard and Borusa are all attempting to do. The only time the rule has been mentioned without someone pointing out that it can be broken is in Mawdryn Undead – but in that story, as in Underworld, we’ve seen races utilising Gallifreyan technology to give them unlimited regenerations. It would seem to be not so much a hard-and-fast-rule of nature but an artificial cut-off-point which has been built into the process.
Can we even be sure of the number of regenerations the Doctor has had? We know that the first Doctor was ‘renewed’ into the second, and the second had a ‘change of appearance’ to become the third – but were these regenerations or some other process? The Five Doctors is the first time it’s specified that the fifth Doctor has undergone four regenerations. Before that, the Doctor claimed to have regenerated ‘two or three’ times in Underworld – it’s odd that he isn’t sure of the exact number... and if the Doctor can’t be certain then neither can we.
The big source of contention is in The Brain Of Morbius where, during a mind-wrestle with Morbius, we see projected images of the Doctor’s face regressing back through his third, second and first incarnations... and then we see eight more faces as Morbius growls ‘How far, Doctor? How long have you lived?’ Now, clearly, what this scene implies is that there were eight Doctors before William Hartnell, each wearing an outlandish outfit and a variety of interesting hats (and it’s a fact that, as you go back through the regenerations, the Doctor becomes more and more of a ‘hat person’). If there were eight more Doctors before William Hartnell... that means Tom Baker was the twelfth and Peter Davison was the thirteenth which might provide the reason for his uncertainty regarding whether he would regenerate in The Caves Of Androzani?
On the other hand – and it’s a big hand, such as might be found during an instantaneous biological metacrisis – there’s all the other evidence that the William Hartnell Doctor was the first. He’s the earliest Doctor the Daleks reach with their mind-probes in Day Of The Daleks and Resurrection Of The Daleks, he claims be ‘the original’ in The Five Doctors and is described as the ‘earliest Doctor’ in The Three Doctors. But if we’re going to worry about what happens when the Doctor is nearing his twelfth regeneration, we need to be sure which regeneration he’s on now. Which brings us to the Valeyard.
In The Trial Of A Time Lord the Master informs the Doctor that the Valeyard is ‘an ‘amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation’. Now, it’s important to get the wording right, because this raises interesting possibilities. Note that it’s the Master telling us this and not the Valeyard. Note also that the Master doesn’t say ‘thirteenth’ – he says ‘final’. Could it be that this is all the Master’s supposition? After all, he knows the Valeyard is planning to steal the Doctor’s regenerations, so he can assume the Valeyard is from a point nearing the end of the Doctor’s life-span, but not quite the very end. It seems more likely that the Master’s statement is an inference rather than something the Valeyard told him.
So the Valeyard isn’t necessarily the Doctor’s thirteenth incarnation. He could be the Doctor’s twentieth incarnation for all we know. Similarly, we can’t be sure that he is a real ‘incarnation’ at all; he’s described as an ‘amalgamation’, a ‘distillation of all that is evil’ – suggesting he is some intermediate state or a projection, like the Watcher. Maybe he is the product of another biological metacrisis – one which made a new Doctor from the worst parts of the old?
We learn in this story, and the TV Movie, that it’s possible for a Time Lord to gain regenerations by having another Time Lord forfeit them. However, it’s also the case that Time Lords can bestow regenerations without need for a donor; consider the offer presented to the Master in The Five Doctors and then consider what has happened to the Master since.
We know the Master, in The Deadly Assassin, was on his final regeneration (or at least his final incarnation). To prevent his death, he possessed the body of Tremas... then, some time later, he occupied another body which was exterminated by the Daleks on Skaro. He then take over another body, Bruce, which fell into the TARDIS’ Eye Of Harmony.
But that wasn’t the end of the Master. In The Sound Of Drums we find that he was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War. And not just that – they created a Master who was a continuation of the previous Masters (we hear their voices when Professor Yana opens his fob watch) but who now had the ability to regenerate! He transforms effortlessly into John Simm – and if he wished, he could have survived the bullet fired by Lucy Saxon by regenerating again. (Or maybe he knew he would survive anyway, by some other means?)
But if the Time Lords resurrected the Master after he’d fallen into the Eye of Harmony, where did they get him from? Did they pull him out of the Eye of Harmony? Did they go back to an earlier point in his time-stream? Neither of these sound much like resurrection. Or did they simply create a new body for the Master?
We know from The Deadly Assassin that the Matrix on Gallifrey contains the minds of all expired Time Lords. It’s the place where Time Lords go when they die. Bearing in mind what I said earlier about the Matrix being utilised by the Time Lords as a place for regenerations to happen, and the idea that they have a selection of ‘templates’ bodies, and that with sufficient regenerative energy a new body can be created... then maybe that’s how they brought the Master back. They used the Matrix to give form to a brand new Time Lord with a full set of regenerations – but with the old Master’s insane mind inside it.
Now take this one step further. Maybe this isn’t the first time they’ve done this! Maybe there was another Time Lord who also ran out of regenerations, who had to be offered a new body. A new body which might still be considered ‘the original’ or ‘the earliest’. Maybe that accounts for the faces we see in The Brain Of Morbius? Maybe David Tennant isn’t Doctor number ten – he’s Doctor number ten Volume Two.
Unfortunately this isn’t much help to the Doctor now, as Gallifrey and the Time Lords have all been destroyed. However, their technology is still out there – and as the Doctor observed in The Deadly Assassin, they were not even the most sophisticated race in the galaxy. And if the Master can now be on his fifteenth incarnation (and his eighteenth body) then there’s no reason why the Doctor should stop at thirteen.
‘Behold... The Miracle Of The Time Lords!’
The reasons behind the Doctor’s regenerations...
First – Old Age.
Even the Doctor isn’t sure about the cause of his first change of body. It’s possibly kick-started by energy-absorption by the planet Mondas, but also seems to be a natural part of the growing-old process.
Second – Tough Justice.
As part of the Doctor’s punishment for violating the Time Lords’ law of non-interference the affairs of other planets, he is forced to undergo a change of appearance... before being exiled to another planet, ironically enough.
Third – Metebelis Crystal Rays.
Having faced his greatest fear in the Great One’s Cave Of Crystal, every cell in the Doctor’s body has been devastated. Fortunately Cho-Je, a fellow Time Lord, is on hand to give the regenerative process ‘a little push’.
Fourth – Hitting The Ground.
The Doctor has fallen from the gantries of a radio telescope after having quite literally pulled the plug on the Master’s mind-bogglingly audacious scheme to trigger the heat death of the entire universe.
Fifth – Bat Guano.
After coming into contact with some raw spectrox (a lethally toxic substance deposited by bats in the blowholes of Androzani Minor), the Doctor discovers he only has enough remaining anti-toxin (the milk of the Queen Bat) to save his companion Peri...
Sixth – Crash Landing / Keep-Fit.
The TARDIS has been forced down onto the planet Lakertya by the villainous Rani using a ‘guidance system distorter’. In the confusion, the Doctor seems to have fallen off his exercise bike. To his death.
Seventh – Surgical Blunder.
Having sustained three gunshot wounds, the Doctor’s hearts have gone into fibrillation - but it’s not until Dr Grace Holloway attempts to insert a probe into his brachiocophalic artery that he actually suffers a life-threatening injury.
Eighth – Time War?
We don’t know exactly what caused the Eighth Doctor to regenerate but it seems to have taken place shortly before Rose and may possibly have had something to do with the Dalek attack on Gallifrey. Or possibly not.
Ninth – Time Vortex.
To save Rose the Doctor has absorbed all the energy of the Time Vortex, but in order to save himself he has to use a ‘little trick’ to change every single cell in his body...
Tenth – To Be Revealed.
We can be certain, though, it will be huge, spectacular and inconsolably heart-breaking. And that it’s highly unlikely to involve the Doctor falling off an exercise bike.
Taking The Curse Off Fatal Death
We all know that Time Lords only have twelve regenerations, which means that if the Doctor reaches his thirteenth incarnation and dies, that’s it. Or is it? The series has already provided us with several handy get-outs...
1. Use The Eye Of Harmony
In The Deadly Assassin the Master attempts to gain the power to regenerate by drawing upon the power of the black hole at the heart of Time Lords’ power. Admittedly his plan backfires, and Gallifrey no longer exists, but in principle it’s a good idea.
2. Become The Keeper Of Traken Then Steal Someone’s Body
The Master’s next scheme was to exploit the awesome energies of the Source, a tactic which proved to be very nearly successful as it afforded him enough power to take over the body of the Consul Tremas. Admittedly Traken no longer exists either, but again, the theory is sound.
3. Become Younger
We’ve been shown various methods of turning back the clock, from regeneration technologies of the Minyans and Argolins to the experiments of Professor Lazarus. Even if the Doctor can’t regenerate as such, there’s no reason why he can’t keep on going indefinitely.
4. Do The Time Lords A Favour
In The Five Doctors the High Council of Time Lords offer the Master ‘a complete new life cycle’ – so we know that they can, in exceptional cases, re-set the regeneration counter. Though again, the problem is that the Time Lords have all been wiped out...
5. Steal The Regenerations Of Your Former Selves
Bit of a mad one this, but this was the strategy adopted by the Valeyard, an ‘amalgam of the Doctor’s darker side somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnation’. Quite how this would work in practice, thankfully we never found out.
6. Get Exterminated, Turn Into A Snake, Then Steal Someone’s Body
Only a temporary measure, but it worked for the Master in the television movie. Somehow he not only managed to regenerate after the events of Survival but he also gained the ability to withstand extermination by transforming his remains into a transparent glue-like substance – turning into a snake which could then possess the bodies of any passing ambulance drivers.
7. Use The Eye Of Harmony To Steal Another Time Lord’s Regenerations
The Master’s plan in the television movie was to steal the Doctor’s remaining regenerations using the Eye Of Harmony (which had by now found its way into the TARDIS cloister room). The last we see of the Master, he’s being sucked into the Eye, though it can’t have been fatal because...
8. Get Resurrected By The Time Lords
...by the time we see the Master again in Utopia, he’s not only found a new body in Professor Yana but he’s transformed himself into a human. But what’s interesting is that when he uses the fob watch to turn back and is shot by Chan Tho he seems to have regained the ability to regenerate!
9. Grow Another You
Induce an ‘instantaneous biological metacrisis’, and make sure you’ve got a human donor (or Donna) nearby and a piece of your body which has been lopped off ‘to hand’, and you can generate a second version of yourself. A human version, admittedly, but nobody’s perfect.
10. Become Immortal
We know that Rassilon discovered the secret of ‘himmortality’, and even if it means spending eternity lying in a tomb in the middle of the Death Zone it’s got to be better than nothing. And in a universe where it’s possible for Captain Jack to become immortal it surely can’t be out of the question for the Doctor to be given another thirteen lives?