Top 11 Regeneration Stories

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Guest contributor Daniel Massey ranks the regeneration stories.


“Even if I change it still feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… And I’m dead.”

So here we are, at the end of the Doctors 1st cycle of regenerations. Really this should be a top 12 list, but I don’t count ‘The Stolen Earth/Journeys End’ or ‘The Day of the Doctor’ as regeneration stories. Also, there are twelve Doctors, so eleven regeneration stories should make sense. I shall be judging the episodes based on the quality of the regeneration and the story itself.

So let’s begin the list with…

11. Time and the Rani

“Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice.”

Poor Colin. Literally everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong with his era, and this story is just the icing on the cake. Dying from a bump to the head in his own TARDIS! Not only is the regeneration itself dreadful, but the following story is quite possibly one of the worse episodes in Doctor Who ever. I decided to watch all 11 of these stories again for this article, and I struggled to get through this one. Terrible pacing, a totally hammy villain, and some truly awful special effects (RAINBOW TARDIS!!!) really don’t help.

10. The TV Movie

“Timing malfunction! The Master! He’s out there. I’ve got to stop… Him…”

The TV Movie gets much less credit than it deserves, not only is Paul McGann brilliant but the regeneration itself is very good. The Seventh Doctor is the mastermind, the manipulator, he always has a plan up his sleeve, but he dies helpless on an operating table at the hands of humans while the Master is on the loose. A sad, but strangely fitting, ending for a brilliant Doctor.

9. The Tenth Planet

“Ah, yes. Thank you. It’s good. Keep warm.”

I’m not a big fan of this as a story, I find it quite repetitive and boring, but it needs to be given credit as the first ever regeneration. The First Doctor dies of old age, and while he’s not the focus of the story (in fact, he spends most of the episode unconscious), just imagining what it must’ve been like back in 1966 when this story first aired is truly magical. It’s the idea that made the show immortal and this was when it started.

8. The End of Time

“I don’t want to go”

For quite a while I hated this story. I really did, after the amazing cliffhanger at the end of ‘The Waters of Mars’ it felt like this episode just threw the lot of that out the window. I especially hated David Tennant’s last line, but I’ve warmed to it recently. I still don’t exactly like it, however it’s not as bad as I thought it was. The story is appropriately silly and fun, much like a lot of the RTD and Tennant era, while still having enough emotional moments to make you cry. The scene with Wilf on the Vinvocci ship is one notable example, and the story as a whole just feels very fitting for Tennant. He finally regenerates after exposure to radiation, and visits all of his old companions. I actually found his encounter with Verity Newman to be the best part of the episode, as it references one of my favorite stories of all time. And the “I don’t want to go” line has grown on me, especially after ‘The Time of the Doctor’. Now we know why Ten has a reason to be scared of regenerating, as he knows this is his last life, so it sort of is like dying.

7. Logopolis

“It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for.”

As someone who actually loves Maths, I can safely say that I enjoyed Logopolis. It was a fitting end to the fourth Doctor, a larger than life character who died saving the whole universe from certain destruction. There were some very interesting ideas going on here, such as the theory of entropy and the TARDIS landing inside itself, and I always found the Watcher a very eerie and effective villain. The Fourth Doctor dies from falling off a radio telescope, and the scene of him falling is easily one of the tensest scenes of the entire classic era.

6. Planet of the Spiders

“A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don’t cry. While there’s life, there’s…”

The Jon Pertwee era is a personal favorite of mine, and Planet of the Spiders encompasses everything that made it so great. UNIT, crazy chases in wacky vehicles, the Third Doctor punching people. It had it all! The spiders are good, with the Doctor dying from large amounts of radiation while stopping the Eight Legs. But the best thing about this story is the surprising levels of emotion it actually contains. Three dies not from saving a life, not from saving the universe, but from atoning for a mistake. Here we see him realize and acknowledge his faults, and pay the price for them. A truly moving a brilliant exit for Pertwee.

5. The War Games

“No! Stop, you’re making me giddy! No, you can’t do this to me! No, no! No, no, no, no, no, no! No, no, no, no!”

This was the first Patrick Troughton story I watched, so bearing in mind that I know nothing about any of the characters or companions, I found this to be one of the saddest regeneration stories. The Doctor is forced to regenerate, will be exiled on earth by the Time Lords, and his companions are forced to forget about him. It’s like Donna Noble but doubly worse because there’s two of them. The story itself is good to, a 10-part adventure spanning multiple time zones. It’s really does feel epic, and I never felt bored once, despite the length.

4. The Night of the Doctor

“Physician, heal thyself.”

This was easily one of my TV highlights of 2013, as I’m sure it was for many Whovians. We finally saw Paul McGann’s regeneration, something we’ve all been longing to see since 2005. McGann is brilliant, and his death so fitting to his character. He can’t let someone die -- someone who he’s literally only just met and actively despises him. He can’t let her die alone. I believe I could easily make the case for Paul McGann being the best Doctor through one word -- growth. Look at him in the TV movie, then look at him in this. He’s a broken man, and I urge any of you who haven’t already listened to his Big Finish audio adventures to do so, especially since they’ve been made canon by this. Too bad it was 40 minutes too short…

3. Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

“Rose! Before I go, I just want to say you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I!”

I’m sure Nine was many of our first Doctors, and therefore many fan’s first regeneration. This story was a fitting ending to Christopher Eccleston’s tenure, giving us a satisfying ending to all of the themes established over his series. It’s a truly epic story, with hundreds of thousands of Daleks and plenty of epic moments. The scene when the Doctor is about to activate the Delta Wave is one of the greatest of the entire series, and him choosing coward over killer totally explains exactly what the Doctor is about. In the end he dies from absorbing the Time Vortex and saving Rose’s life, a fitting end to a fantastic Doctor.

2. The Time of the Doctor

“I will not forget one line of this. Not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

Matt Smith is my Doctor, and seeing him go was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen on television. The story was a fitting end, wrapping up all of the overarching plot threads that I honestly thought Moffat had just forgotten about. The emotional core of this episode, for me anyways, comes from seeing the Eleventh Doctor age into an old man. The Doctor who couldn’t talk without waving his arms about, the youngest of all of them, was reduced to an old man who struggled to open a Christmas cracker (that scene, by the way, is one of the few times TV has made me cry). In the end he dies from old age, with his last speech being one of the greatest regenerations speeches ever. I truly will miss Matt, and I honestly think this was the best possible way for him to go out. Bring on Capaldi!

1. The Caves of Androzani

“Feels different this time… Adric?”

And here we are. One of the best Doctor Who stories ever made, ‘The Caves of Androzani’ encompasses everything the Doctor is about. Everything he stands for, everything he believes in. The Fifth Doctor doesn’t die from saving the universe, he dies from saving the life of one person who he’s literally only just met, who was caught in the middle of a war that had nothing to do with her and really wasn’t over anything good or important. Sharaz Jek is one of the best standalone villains in Doctor Who history, and who can forget the revolutionary directing from Grahame Harper? The episode looks amazing, with some of the best cliffhangers ever. The regeneration is still the best one to date, as the Doctor and Peri fall to spectrox toxaemia, a deadly poison. The Doctor desperately needs to find an antidote, and he goes through so much to get it -- but not for him, for her. He doesn’t care about saving himself, all he cares about is saving his friend. The image of him running with Peri in his arms, desperately trying to get to the TARDIS is one of the greatest images ever in Doctor Who, and it stuck in my mind for weeks after watching it. I could talk about this story for hours and it wouldn’t do it justice, it truly is the Doctor personified.

So that’s it. It’s been a fantastic first regeneration cycle and 50 years for the Doctor, here’s to the next 50! Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and please do feel free to leave your lists in the comments below.