Doctor Who regenerations look kind of painful don’t they? Considering that what’s going on is essentially a rebirth, it’s remarkable how wince-inducing the transition from one Doctor to another can appear.
For a long time too, it appeared that the Doctor had almost no control over his future appearance and character. The Fifth Doctor even admits this himself, saying “That’s the trouble with regeneration, you never quite know what you’re going to get.”
And yet, in recent years this seems to have changed. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor realises he has “chosen” the face of a Roman rescued during David Tennant era episode The Fires of Pompeii.
I know where I got this face and I know what it’s for,” he says. “To remind me. To hold me to the mark. I’m the Doctor – and I save people!”
It’s a subconscious control, but a control nevertheless. So where does it come from?
Well, this Reddit theory from MontyPythagoras gives us something new to go on.
Think back to 50th anniversary mini-episode The Night of the Doctor: Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor is given an elixir by the Sisterhood of Karn to allow him to choose his next appearance. A controlled regeneration, just for him.
“On Khan, the change doesn’t have to be random,” he is told.
The Doctor eventually agrees, telling the Sisterhood, “Make me a warrior now.” He becomes, of course, John Hurt’s War Doctor.
Now of course, the Doctor has only had this power to consciously choose his next regeneration once. This level of control was not seen in subsequent Doctors.
But what, as MontyPythagoras argues, if the elixir has “bigger consequences than ‘only’ influencing the next regeneration?”
Think about it. From Eight to Nine to Ten to Eleven, the Doctor becomes increasingly younger. Is this an example of greater regenerative control? It could be a subconscious attempt to recapture a lost innocence, following the apparent terrible decision the War Doctor made to end the Time War.
It is only after the events of The Day of The Doctor, when the Eleventh Doctor realises that the Time Lords have been saved, that Eleven can ‘grow’ into himself once more, and assume an older, more responsible form.
Capaldi’s Doctor displays even more control over the regeneration process when he agrees to donate some of his regenerative power to the ‘dying’ Davros. Both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s Doctors have displayed this ability too – another example of the elixir’s lingering effect?
And if this is so, will the Doctor have even more control over his next regeneration? Capaldi’s Doctor appears to have greater knowledge of the process than anyone of his predecessors, so unless he reaches a particularly traumatic or sudden demise, perhaps he will choose his next face.
And if that is so, then the Doctor has a very interesting decision to make. “Man or Woman?”