Why I Love the 11th Doctor’s Regeneration
Guest contributor Garrett Castello provides some thoughts.
It won’t be long now before Peter Capaldi graces our screens as the Twelfth Doctor. So, in honor of that, I feel that it’s time for me to express my feelings on the scene (and episode, by extension) that officially introduced Capaldi as the Doctor.
The Time of the Doctor gained a polarizing reaction from the fandom from the very second the end credits rolled. It appears that fans either deem it as an abomination of an episode or as one of the best episodes of Matt Smith’s tenure. What’s my opinion? I enjoyed it. It’s certainly flawed and I can understand some of the grievances people have with it. My biggest problem with it is its pacing and how it tried to shove too much into a 60-minute special. If it had been 75 minutes like The Day of the Doctor or a two-parter like The End of Time, I feel there would have been enough room to properly organize all of the plot points and truly make it something great. But, in the end, I still really enjoyed it and it remains to be an episode that I like more and more each time I rewatch it.
What saves it for me is its terrific performances, satisfying answers (in my opinion, anyway) to the remaining plot threads of Smith’s era, its overall success at being a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to Smith’s era, and its final scene (which is the focus of this article). Say whatever you will about the rest of the special, but I will defend the regeneration scene until the day I die as one of the best regeneration scenes of the entire show, if not the best.
A lot of people seem to feel that the transition between Smith and Capaldi should have taken place at the clock tower. Personally, I’m extremely glad that this wasn’t the case. As I watched the special and saw the Eleventh Doctor gradually age, I was honestly a bit depressed by the fact that I would last see the Eleventh Doctor as a Hartnell-like, old man. So you can imagine that I felt a great wave of relief when I saw him regain his youthful body at the very end before the final transition. I’ve noticed that a lot of people were confused by this but, to me at least, it makes complete sense; and, heck, it’s even explained by the Doctor in that very scene. The Doctor’s body was reacting to gaining a new regeneration cycle and thus a reset occurred. His body was taking a slower time than expected to adjust to the new set of regenerations so the healing aspect of regeneration took place before the transition (this will come up again later).
Now let’s talk about the farewell speech. It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect. The Eleventh Doctor’s final words to Clara (and the audience, by extension) were the best final words of any Doctor in the history of the show thus far. They not only show the Eleventh Doctor’s acceptance of his oncoming change and his satisfaction of his time as that incarnation but they’re also a wonderful speech about change in both the show and real life.
“We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
Change happens but, as long as you remember how things used to be, everything will be okay. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who got a pretty meta vibe from this. Matt Smith was literally telling his fans that everything’s going to be okay. He won’t be the Doctor anymore but, as long as they remember when he was the Doctor and give Peter Capaldi a chance, everything will be just fine. Now, Matt Smith wasn’t my Doctor. I became a fan of Doctor Who back in the summer of 2012 and the very first episode I watched was Blink (once again proving that episode to be the perfect Whovian converter). And while David Tennant remains to be my favorite Doctor, Matt Smith comes in a close second as I not only really enjoyed him as the Doctor but he holds a special place in my heart as he was the current Doctor when I became a Whovian. At that time, there were just eleven Doctors and Matt Smith was the end of the line. There was no one after Smith; but now there is: Peter Capaldi. This was the first regeneration I saw in sync with the rest of the fandom and I’ll admit that a few tears were shed when I had to say goodbye to the man who had been at the helm when I became a fan.
The cameo appearance by Karen Gillan as Amy Pond also received polarized reactions. Many people felt that it was a disservice to Clara and that it shoved her, the girl who had helped save the Doctor’s life, to the side. I, however, didn’t see it like that. I saw it as a beautiful moment with the Eleventh Doctor remembering his most cherished companion. Yes, he and Clara were best friends and Clara knows more about him than any previous companion to date. Clara is really important to the Doctor. But Amy was most important to the Eleventh Doctor. She was his mother-in-law, his family, the first face he saw as the Eleventh Doctor. It makes perfect sense that he would remember her in his final moments as that particular incarnation. In those few seconds, he was taken back to a time where it was just him and the Girl Who Waited. No Rory. No River. No Clara. Just the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. His hallucination of Amy and his discarding of the iconic bow tie acted as representations of his satisfaction of his life as the Eleventh Doctor and his readiness to move on. Also, the choice to use Murray Gold’s “Infinite Potential” from The Rings of Akhaten during this scene was a fantastic choice. It’s a wonderful piece of music that helped show the infinite potential (see what I did there?) of the Doctor’s future from here on out.
Now let’s talk about what’s gone on to be the most controversial aspect of this regeneration scene: the snap (or sneeze) transition. I’ll admit that it caught me a bit off guard when I first saw it but I soon found it to be very fitting after thinking about it further. Firstly, I think it was a welcome breath of fresh air after the montage of “hold on exploding hands and face” effect we’ve gotten throughout New Who. Not to mention that we saw three of those in 2013 alone with the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration, the War Doctor’s regeneration, and the beginning of the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration on the clock tower. So I personally found it to be a welcome change from the expected regeneration effect. And, hey, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due: nobody saw it coming.
Secondly, it actually makes a lot of sense. Earlier, I said how the healing aspect of the regeneration had already taken place in response to the new regeneration cycle (which caused the Eleventh Doctor to become young again). So you can imagine that not a whole lot of energy was needed to make the final transition. Thirdly, if you look back throughout the history of the show, the regenerations became longer and more violent as the Doctor reached the end of his cycle. Now that the Doctor is at the beginning of a new cycle, it seems fitting that the regeneration would take less time. The big regeneration explosion on the clock tower before that was, as I explained earlier, simply the Doctor’s body reacting to obtaining a new regeneration cycle.
If there’s anything I didn’t like about this regeneration scene, it’s how little time we got with Capaldi before the credits rolled. But that’s mostly just a nitpick as I loved his first few seconds and lines as the Doctor. I’m definitely looking forward to what his Doctor has in store for us in Series 8!
So, in conclusion, everything about the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration just clicked perfectly into place for me. The performances, the music, the transition, Amy’s cameo, the final speech, and Capaldi’s official debut. It all combined into one beautiful farewell for the Eleventh Doctor. If the rest of The Time of the Doctor had been as good as this scene, it would have easily become one of my favorite episodes. In the end, it may not have been a perfect episode as a whole but (in my opinion) it sure ended on quite a perfect note.