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The Doctors: One and the Same?

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More than just the same man with a new face? Guest contributor Elliot Thorpe examines.

With the announcement of David Bradley having been cast as William Hartnell for the origins documentary, we have to ask the question will he also be cast again as the first Doctor proper in the series itself?

Surely it would be an opportunity not to be missed? After all, Hartnell’s inimitable original was 50 years ago and the character has been successfully recast before.

So all this news and hopes of old Doctors coming back made me think of something that I had trouble with back in 1983 for The Five Doctors. And this was it:

The 3rd Doctor, on Gallifrey, was nose to faceplate with the Cybermen. And my 12 year old brain, not yet wise in the canonicity and timey-wimeyness of the series, simply couldn’t process what I was seeing. I knew, even then, that in Pertwee’s original 5-year run, he had never battled the Mondasian meanies so how could he have possibly known what they were!

So began my dawning understanding of the concept of regeneration. These five men, splendid fellows all of them, weren’t just five different men who all seemed to have a police box-shaped TARDIS and knew each other enough to snipe and jeer at each other. They were the same man! Which made it all the more confusing for my young mind. You have to understand this in context: while the show was already 20 years old, I hadn’t really started watching it religiously until season 19. I was a relative latecomer to all of this so to think now that it would only last another 6 years before it would be cancelled (1989 for those not necessarily in the know) chills the bone! So think about it: if you’ve only just started watching the show yourself from 2012, then what’s to say that by 2018 it won’t be broadcasting it’s final ever episode? Can you imagine! Nope. I don’t want to either!

But I digress. Like usual.

I was reminded recently by a very good friend of mine of a beautiful scene RTD wrote between Tennant and Cribbins. The 10th Doctor, foreseeing his own demise, spoke to Wilf of regeneration as a process where the current man dies and another, a new man, walks away. It jarred with my friend at the time because he had always considered regeneration as being the same man changing his appearance and character – but the RTD version sounded like it was much more of a full replacement and the new Doctor is almost genuinely a completely new person but with his predecessors’ memories.

Biological what-fors and how-comes aside, it’s the psychological change that interests me when it comes to the Doctor finishing one life and starting another.

The 11th suddenly had a craving for fish fingers and custard (I haven’t tried it so I won’t knock it) and during his first few hours of life we saw a man with a zest for life and a drive to inquire. He found new challenges and fresh approaches to life. He was, by all accounts, a new man but he still remembered who he had been and perhaps who he could be again (his own journey, of course, has yet to end). The change had washed clean the heavy, universe-weary and omnipotent Time Lord Victorious that the 10th had become. In fact, the 10th had become so embroiled in his own loneliness and deity-like standing that there was only one way he could be stopped. He, quite simply, knew his time was up. It was a painful struggle to rid himself of the demons of the Time War and the burden that (we assume) he had taken on while in his 8th persona carried right through his 9th, too.

The 9th and 10th Doctors shared much in common: the 9th swaggered, covering up much of his trauma through grins and quips, in many ways a toned-down version of his 4th incarnation. But, unlike the 4th and 10th, he knew his limits, remembered what it had cost him to survive the decimation of his home planet. Perhaps it was the Time War that made him feel, made him warm (not at first) to those who could give him want he yearned for: a family. And from the moment he accepted Rose, he built one around him like he’d never done since his days as UNIT’s full-time scientific adviser. He saw in Rose the first companion he would willingly and arguably openly fall in love with, someone who was willing to sacrifice everything to save him and everyone and so he could only repay that love in one way – to end his own life.

Wiping the slate clean could be a way to rationale how different each Doctor is. In fan fiction of the 90s, it was generally mooted that the 7th engineered his regeneration from his 6th incarnation, almost as if the 6th was a version of himself he didn’t like and couldn’t accept – effectively wiping his own slate clean!  But what does that make the 7th? Dark, calculating, manipulative and deceitful but only for good. How different from the 6th is that really? The 6th was brash, bombastic and very egotistical  and for one aspect of the same man to want to manipulate those around him, surely that’s an ego worth subduing!

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We can see a pattern with the 9th and 10th Doctors – why they act as they do and so on, but with those before he seems to be more of a wild card, more chaotic in his wanderings. Has age made indeed him more melancholic and, to an extent, settled?

As far as we have been told, the Doctor left Gallifrey in a stolen TARDIS. Was he forced out? Did he leave of his own accord? Was he on the run? There are many takes on this but I hope they never explicitly explain it on screen. I like the idea that my hero is flawed, has a history we should never know. And I think deep down the Doctor himself likes it, too.

Apart from a throwaway line in An Unearthly Child we never heard of his past during his 1st incarnation. It wasn’t necessary to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk about it. It was likely too recent an event so he looked forward, to the future and never on where he was, what he was doing. Oh hang on, that’s Yoda. But you get my drift.

He kept the same outlook into his next body, too, only recalling family when prompted by the innocence of young Victoria Waterfield. But then everything changed. Suddenly, a problem couldn’t be resolved by a kettle and some string. He had to call home. And he knew the consequences. His outlook of enjoying his allowed freedom, his giddy delight, was suddenly hampered by those who he had originally ran from. And from then on, in almost every incarnation that came after, he was looking over his shoulder. It affected him forever.  The Doctor was never the same again. But consistent in one thing.

His contempt for the Time Lords was evident in his 3rd, 4th and 6th bodies. His despair at their corruption in his 5th incarnation was plain. The 7th‘s agenda kept him quiet about his feelings but seeing as he redesigned the TARDIS to include great huge Gallifreyan symbols all over the place means at some point he surely must have come to terms with his people’s pompous sagacity. The 10th, conversely, was terrified by them.

Can a society from which one is born affect you as you exist and grow? I believe so, and not always for the better. But nevertheless, the Doctor (and the Master, hence my point above) has been moulded, whether he likes it or not, by those who bred him. To this end, the Doctor can run and run, and regenerate and adapt for as long his symbiotic nuclei lets him – but he will never change, not one iota. Not until the fall of the 12th.

I have always seen him as a man who has 12 different aspects: one man, different attitudes and conflicting outlooks – until he reaches his 13th and final incarnation – and becomes a Time Lord who has lived 12 lives to become the ultimate version, the true version, of himself. So all who we have seen so far, as I see it, are just forerunners, a series of warm-ups for the main event.

But of course it’s unlikely the storymakers will see it that way. His personality will always be different because of the actors in the role. There’s no such thing as a generic Doctor and writing for the Doctor his impressed upon by the actor about to speak the lines. When I had the good fortune to write for Colin Baker’s Doctor, I couldn’t hear any other incarnation bring voice to the lines I had written for him.

So the Doctor is a different man each time just as much as he is the same. A paradox if there ever was one.

I’m not the same as I was when I was 12. I think differently and I look different. In fact, looking through those family albums some of us have to do from time to time, I can see I stand taller than I used to, have a confidence that perhaps wasn’t there some years ago.

So why should the Doctor be any different? Why should he be the same as he was 300 years ago? But the uniqueness of the Doctor of course is that he just doesn’t only get older, he gets younger too and wiser and sillier and more human and more alien and funnier and compassionate and distant. All these things, no matter what he looks like, makes him the man he is.

So the Doctor is the Doctor, whether he’s a crotchety old man who forgets his companions’ names or a gently-panicking celery-wearing big brother or a floppy-haired young man who walks like a drunken giraffe. We’re all entitled to change, we’re all the servants of change and the Doctor is the biggest example of order to disorder back to order again. And in the middle of such an entropic universe he remains,

Quite clearly, quite uniquely and quite sincerely,

The Doctor.

Step back in time...

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