The Vicious Cycle of the Doctors

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Guest contributor Mark McCullough examines how the Doctors set themselves up for their ultimate end.


Pompeii by Bastille, possibly one of my favourite songs of all time, perhaps one I listen to a little too much. However for some reason, now every time I hear it, I associate it with the Doctor. Perhaps its inclusion in the final montage scene of Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide or perhaps it’s the meaning of the words that, for me resonate, with the character of the Doctor.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song, (you really should do something about that if it is the case), there are a few interpretations of it out there. What I like to think it symbolises is the cyclical nature of human society: how it builds itself up only to fall again. However it doesn’t address the roots of the problem, the weaknesses in society, so is destined to fall again. It is doomed to fail without even having a chance, just because of what it is.

You’re probably wondering at this point what this has to do with Doctor Who. Well, I feel that the Doctor, in each of his incarnations throughout the series, since the revival, sets himself up for his inevitable regeneration because of a definable characteristic of that incarnation. A vicious cycle which has yet to be broken, starting with McGann’s Doctor in The Night of the Doctor:

“I was left to my own devices, many days fell away with nothing to show”

Since I am looking at this from a solely New Who point of view, where we didn’t get to see much of the Eighth Doctor, or the War Doctor, so it is considerably difficult to detect a stand out trait for each. For McGann’s Doctor, the only one that springs to mind was his reluctance to be a part of the war, yet his desire to try to save everyone regardless. This ultimately led to his death whilst trying to persuade Cass to travel with him, only for the Sisterhood to let him choose his next incarnation with the elixir.

This gave birth to the War Doctor, the one who fought in the Time War, his low self-esteem cause him to reject the idea that he is the Doctor. Coincidentally, it is only when he accepts himself for what he is that he regenerates. The timing of the regeneration is even more apt, as having saved Gallifrey, the Time War has ended. There is no further need for a War Doctor. Given the purpose of the elixir that created him, it’s probable that this was planned.

“And the walls kept tumbling down, in the city that we love”

Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was rather short lived, but left a lasting impression in the minds of the fans, (especially mine, taking the place of my favourite Doctor), but more importantly cemented the show as what it is today. Such a shame he only stayed for one series. I’m sure you are all well aware of the circumstances of his regeneration, absorbing the time vortex from his companion Rose Tyler.

It’s the events that led up to the regeneration which are more interesting though, the Dalek invasion of Earth and their use of the Gamestation as a smokescreen as they built their army from humanity. Let’s not forget that it was the Doctor’s actions which left the satellite unoccupied, in The Long Game. But why did he do it? It’s quite obvious that he didn’t mean to, it’s just the flaw of this Doctor, always moving forward and never looking back. Who could blame him, given what he believed he had done. Tragically it turned out to have a major cost on him and robbed me of my favourite Doctor.

“But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?”


The notable characteristic of Tennant’s Doctor, was probably his arrogance, he thought he knew best, and he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone who went against him they were wrong. The seed of his destruction was sown as early as in his first full episode, The Christmas Invasion, in his deposition of Harriet Jones. Something which at the time seemed insignificant, but when you look closer at who her successor was: a Harold Saxon, you can see the true consequence of a moment of arrogance. His arrogance is brutally exposed in The Waters of Mars, where it consumes him as the Timelord Victorious, and in The End of Time, where it leads to his downfall, and also shows us what he thinks of both himself and the man he is about to become. The deposition of Harriet Jones also comes back to bite him, as his regeneration is indirectly caused by the Master, who should never have risen to power in the first place.

Another recurring theme in the Tennant era was his love for Rose. This also caused regeneration for Tennant’s Doctor in the closing moments of The Stolen Earth. The Doctor was so ecstatic at being reunited with her that he was unaware of the approaching Dalek and suffered a fatal injury.

“Oh where do we begin? The rubble or our sins?”


In one of my previously published articles I compared Matt’s Doctor to the Star Whale from The Beast Below, mostly posted on this line of dialogue “If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.” At this stage The Day of the Doctor had not yet aired, as you know this episode brought back Gallifrey, with a particular emphasis placed on the children of the planet. Matt’s Doctor is undisputedly the most childish Doctor and this is seen throughout his run especially in his interaction with children. To me, it is the thought of the burning children which drives his decision to change his timeline and save Gallifrey.

Saving Gallifrey ultimately cost this Doctor his life as it made possible the events at Trenzalore, which in turn set up the entire events of his era, explained off as a destiny paradox. Even still when faced with an impossible stalemate, the Doctor decides to stay on Christmas and protect it people and its children. We see him form a particularly close relationship with Barnable, and he also takes on a toymaker role. Ironically Matt’s Doctor, who always acted the youngest dies of old age. I found it particularly heart breaking to witness the old frail body with the young man trapped inside.


So the Doctor’s lives follow the meaning of the lyrics of Pompeii, as a new man walks away from the destruction, but he is doomed to fall himself as all Doctors are eventually.