Which Doctor’s Regeneration was the best?
Guest contributor Liam Duke gives his thoughts, then vote for your fave at the bottom of the article.
Doctor Who is all about change, and the first one that changed the show forever came in 1966 on the date that The Tenth Planet, Episode 4 aired. We saw the Doctor (William Hartnell) collapse after the Cybermen’s defeat, and suddenly transform in a flash of light into a new man (Patrick Troughton). This process was later known as regeneration, and has happened ten times to the Doctor over the past fifty years. To celebrate the 50th Anniversary year, I want to look back at the regenerations; their impact, emotion and execution. Is there a possible way to decide if one is better than the others? I highly doubt it, but I’ll share my thoughts anyway!
Note: I watched a video of all of the regenerations one after the other immediately before I started writing, so they’re fresh in my mind.
William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (1966)
In The Tenth Planet episode four, the Doctor collapsed in the TARDIS, where the companions rushed to his aid. Suddenly, after a flash, a new man appeared where the Doctor was. Imagine watching that when it originally aired! Talk about a cliffhanger! The genius idea of regeneration had been introduced, and it was vital in making sure Doctor Who reached 50 years and beyond. Obviously, the effects were never going to be as good as more recent regenerations, but the transition from Hartnell’s to Troughton’s face, I thought, worked really well. It is slick, well edited and actually is rather effective for what it is. It must have been a confusing thing to watch as a fan of the show, but the very first regeneration is a stand-out moment for Who, whether you’re a fan of it or not. It defined a big aspect of the show as we know it!
Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee (1969)
The War Games episode 10 saw us bid farewell to the 2nd Doctor when the Time Lords forced him to regenerate and exile him to Earth. This is one of my dad’s favourite regenerations because he firstly thought Troughton’s expressions were brilliant, but also because it saw Jon Pertwee’s introduction (Pertwee is dad’s favourite Doctor). One aspect that I like is the voice over from a Time Lord- “The time has come to change your appearance and begin your exile!” However, some of the effects, like seeing the Doctor spin around, seem a bit silly to me. Maybe that’s because it is a more modern time nowadays, but I still chuckle when I see this regeneration. I also like the 3rd Doctor falling out of the TARDIS, but I wish we saw the physical change a bit more to really show the end of one era and the beginning of another.
Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker (1974)
“A tear, Sarah Jane?”…gets me every time…
Definitely the saddest regeneration of the first three, Pertwee’s departure in Planet of the Spiders episode 6 had a great emotional impact. His final words were beautiful and Jon Pertwee gave a fantastic performance in the way he said goodbye to Sarah Jane, while telling her and the audience “don’t cry”. The actual regeneration is a simple transition effect and isn’t quite as effective as it could’ve been, but the emotions make up for it. Also, I love the Brigadier’s comments as he braces himself for change. In terms of effect, Hartnell’s departure wins so far. Emotionally, it goes to Pertwee. Sorry Pat, I’ll give you the award for facial expressions, okay?
Tom Baker to Peter Davison (1981)
Tom Baker was and is a very popular Doctor, so when he departed in Logopolis episode 4, it had to be done well. I think they succeeded. Tom was the longest serving Doctor, and still is to date. His regeneration scene was filled with emotion and Tom deliver’s his final lines beautifully. I love how he says, “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.” It was also nice to have flashbacks of his companions. In terms of effect and emotion, I think Tom’s has clinched it so far. The transition effect freaked me out when I was younger, and it is rather odd, but for some reason it just works. Peter Davison’s smile at the end is classic, too! While Logopolis isn’t a brilliant story, it does have one of the best regenerations.
Peter Davison to Colin Baker (1984)
When Doctor Who reruns were on when I was little, few of them actually had me engaged in what was happening. That is, until I watched The Caves of Androzani. I loved the story and still love it; Sharaz Jek is creepy and the darker tone of Davison’s final outing was fantastic. Episode four ends with the Doctor giving Peri the cure for the disease they both were infected with. It was a worthy, heroic way to depart, and I must say while we don’t see a physical change on screen, the execution of this regeneration is superb. Seeing cameos from all the companions whizzing round the screen, only to be overshadowed by the Master telling the Doctor to die was wonderful, and is very effective. Colin Baker’s first line at the end is also brilliant.
‘Colin Baker’ to Sylvester McCoy (1987)
In Time and the Rani episode 1, the TARDIS is attacked and crashes with the Doctor and Mel inside. We then see the ‘6th Doctor’ transform into the 7th. However, Colin Baker didn’t film his final scene, and the last we see of the 6th Doctor is actually Sylvester McCoy in a wig. Sylvester McCoy regenerates into…Sylvester McCoy. The effect isn’t that great and with Baker’s refusal to film the scene, the execution is poor. Sorry, Colin, it just didn’t work out- or should I say sorry Sylvester?
Sylvester McCoy to Paul Mcgann (1996)
The TV Movie saw McCoy look like he had the biggest sneeze ever about to arrive, and then became Paul McGann. It was quite a gruesome regeneration, and it still makes me feel uncomfortable watching it today. The transition is actually very good, and the Doctor’s eyes being shown in the small patch of light looked very effective. I only remember this one because it freaked me out so much.
Paul McGann To Christopher Eccleston (?)
We never saw this regeneration, and we probably never will. I imagine the Time War is what caused the regeneration, but we don’t know, so I have no more to say. It’s just wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff.
Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant (2005)
I was very shocked when I saw my first Doctor seemingly spontaneously combust then become a new man, but my dad soon explained regeneration to me. Christopher’s final speech to Rose in The Parting of the Ways is wonderful, and Chris really did shine in this sequence, quite literally. Emotionally it was very good, but I felt it would’ve had a bigger impact and I would have been even sadder if Chris had stayed for longer. The effects are very good, and the transition works well. I like the style of regeneration in the new series, and I like how every Time Lord regeneration looks similar to link it all together. Overall, 9’s regeneration into 10 was “fantastic!”
David Tennant to Matt Smith (2010)
I really didn’t want David to go. I was so sad and I was so close to tears when The End of Time Part 2 aired. It was full of emotion and to this day seeing 10’s last line, “I don’t want to go”, breaks my heart. David shines in his final farewell, and the whole effect looks even slicker compared to the regeneration five years earlier. The way the sheer force made the TARDIS fall apart also looked good, bar the polystyrene pillar. Matt also had quite a comical entrance, and while I wasn’t keen on it at first because it takes away from some of the impact of 10’s goodbye, it did show Matt was a capable replacement. Matt is wonderful, isn’t he?
In fact, they’re all wonderful. Every single one of them. They all made the character memorable, and they made it their own. Some may say Blink was 10’s best moment, but I think it was the end credits of Love and Monsters, and others say Tom Baker was the best Doctor, but each of the Doctor’s exits had something different to offer. When it is effective visually and emotionally, you know you’ve got a cracking departure on your hands.
What do you think? Which is your favourite? Vote below and thanks for reading!