Did we just see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who regeneration?

Fans were given a surprise sneak peek of what appeared to be the Twelfth Doctor’s last stand

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This week’s episode of Doctor Who opened with something no-one saw coming – the much-teased regeneration of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, generally assumed to be taking place in this December’s Christmas special when Capaldi is leaving the series, along with head writer Steven Moffat, to be replaced by an as-yet-unknown actor.

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However, in a shock move the programme makers elected to tack what looks like a sneak preview of Capaldi’s regeneration on to the beginning of this week’s episode, with the pre-credits sequence for World Enough and Time showing what could be the Doctor’s final stand. Notably, the scene was originally withheld from journalists’ previews of the episode to make sure it remained a surprise for fans on the night.

In the sequence a noticeably ragged and battleworn Doctor stumbles out of the Tardis on a barren and icy world, falling to his knees as the tell-tale glow of the regeneration process begins to consume his hands.

“No….no….no!” he cries as the glow spreads to his face, all while the ominous sound of a ticking clock appears to bring us closer and closer to discovering the next incarnation of the Time Lord.

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Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor begins the process of regeneration

After the opening titles we see the Doctor back in his adventures with Bill, Nardole and Missy, with the regeneration not referenced in the rest of the story, so it seems like this was intended as a sneak peek of what we can expect from the Doctor’s final hours this December. 

But was it really the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration? After all, this series of Doctor Who has already given us one fake-out regeneration, when Capaldi’s Doctor was seen to begin the process in some trailers only for it to be revealed as nothing more than a trick to test the loyalty of Bill (Pearl Mackie) in eighth episode The Lie of the Land.

Accordingly, we have to treat this new regeneration tease with some suspicion – but it does have some points in its favour. The scene seems to have been filmed later than the rest of World Enough and Time based on Capaldi’s noticeably longer hair (his locks are somewhat less luxuriant in the story proper – although extensions are always a possibility), while the secrecy surrounding its inclusion suggests that this is actually a plot development the production team wanted to keep under wraps (as opposed to the other “early” regeneration, which was deliberately teased in trailers for the series).

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Peter Capaldi’s Doctor appears to regenerate in the snow

The scene could also go some way to explaining why Capaldi told various outlets that he’d already filmed the regeneration long before the Christmas special started filming, with this sequence possibly shot in the same block as part of series ten with the intention of matching it up with the festive episode later on. And frankly, we’re not sure if fans would forgive Steven Moffat for pulling the same gag twice in one series – would he really have two fake-out regenerations before the real one?

Still, we never take things at face value when it comes to Doctor Who, so we’d advise that viewers prepare themselves for some twists and turns when it comes to Doctor Who’s big change. The scene seems to show the Doctor resisting his regeneration, so it could be that this is only the start of the process before he manages to hold it off for a while (as David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor did in 2010, before changing into Matt Smith’s incarnation), or it could be that the regeneration will have some sort of complications that put it off for even longer. 

Still, for now we’d say there’s a pretty solid chance that we have just watched the last moments of the Twelfth Doctor onscreen, a whole six months before we expected. Trust Doctor Who to get all timey-wimey with our viewing experience.

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Doctor Who series 10 concludes on BBC1 next Saturday, 1st July