Episode notes

Hello, my fellow Whovians. I hope you’ve all had a good break. The Christmas episode, of course, had the regeneration of Peter Capaldi’s doctor. What did you think of the regeneration? The 12th doctor talked of kindness in his farewell and with mid-winter in the UK and the new year celebrations, singing ‘ Auld Lang Syne’ (‘add a cup of kindness dear’ ) it was a goodbye from both Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat.  Both were ushering out the old and bringing in the new this year so it is strangely appropriate to consider the whole process of regeneration.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be able to regenerate? This is more than having a bit of a nip and tuck via cosmetic surgery. Visualise having the ability to be able to physically change your body completely. The doctor regenerates such a regular basis now, it’s the unique selling point of the show along with the Tardis within the show but do we really consider  the wonder of the process, the physical and psychological effort during and after the change.? One programme I was engrossed by growing up, besides Doctor Who, was The Incredible Hulk https://youtu.be/XFdWBC9vbHg. The transformation of Dr David Banner into this changed persona, a raging creature out of his control was so fascinating to me. That and also the number of shirts he got through! I liked the mix of comic book superhero green hulk versus the humanity of the central character, searching for a cure and the drama created as he was chased relentlessly by an investigative reporter.

Nature does it

Regeneration is, I was surprised to know, an aspect of the natural world. There are animals that are able to regenerate whole or parts of their bodies as if it’s an everyday thing. The Axolotl is an amphibian salamander of South America whose population has been dwindling due to humans encroaching onto its territories. What is amazing is that it can regenerate a missing limb, parts of its brain, its heart, as well as its lower jaw. The Axolotl is also able to easily create new connections in their brain to support their newly regenerated body parts.

The Alolotl
The Axolotl

The starfish also has the ability to regenerate all five of their limbs as long as the central nerve ring remains untouched. The sea cucumber, also a member of the same family has an extended body will and if cut each part will subsequently grow into a separate sea cucumber much like the flatworm. We saw this demonstrated in Doctor Who quite neatly when the 10th Doctor’s hand was severed in a sword fight for the Earth by Sycorax leader. I’m sure this is the first time this was explored in the series that as the Doctor was within the first 15 hours of regeneration he was conveniently able to grow a new ‘fightin’ hand!

This new hand? It's a fighting hand!
This new hand? It’s a fighting hand!

Renewing the future 

In Doctor Who the ‘concept’ of regeneration was created in 1966 by the writers as it was increasingly apparent that William Hartnell’s health was deteriorating and he was becoming more difficult to work with as his memory worsened.A solution had to be found for the series and Gerry Davis proposed that, since the Doctor had already been established as an alien, the character could die and return in a new body. It was a masterstroke of thinking but also practicality. Script editor Innes Lloyd believed the Doctor could have a “renewal” regularly, transforming from an older man to a younger one when recasting of the role was required. During the serial, The Smugglers, William Hartnell and producer Innes Lloyd reached an agreement that he should leave the role in the next serial The Tenth Planet which would see a handover to a new actor, which would be the first story produced as part of Season 4.

first-doctor-william-hartnell
It was agreed that William Hartnell would leave in The Tenth Planet

When Patrick Troughton took over the role he was roughly twelve years younger and the process he went through as the Doctor in Power of the Daleks was described a ‘renewal’

DOCTOR: Life depends on change and renewal.
BEN: Oh, so that’s it. You’ve been renewed, have you?
DOCTOR: I’ve been renewed, have I? That’s it. I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the Tardis. Without it, I couldn’t survive.

Perhaps the Doctor said he had been renewed because he didn’t want to have to explain about regeneration to Polly and Ben and if it was the first time it happened to him he didn’t know what would happen or who he would become. Is it really a surprise that in an era where youth culture was coming to the fore after the austerity of the 1950’s and the Second World War that the proposal was developed. As a species, we have been preoccupied with renewal since Cleopatra daily bathed in ass’s milk, from 700 donkeys supposedly, for the milk acids which possess anti-ageing and skin-softening properties.  The late 1960’s were represented by a new young generation who had more disposable income to spend on fashion and watch TV programmes created for them and be consumers than their parents ever did. Ben and Polly were introduced as a modern break with the past of alien young ladies in Doctor Who.  The idea of change and ‘renewal’ by choosing a younger actor to replace Hartnell, besides making commercial sense to continue the programme, also seems so appropriate to the time.

A part of timelord life

The term ‘regeneration’ for Timelords took some years to be spoken on TV being first mentioned in the third doctor’s last story ‘Planet of the Spiders’ and not actually spoken by the Doctor but by another time lord, K’anpo the doctor’s mentor, to explain the process.

K’ANPO: Indeed. I regenerated and came to Earth, to Tibet.
SARAH: Regenerated?
DOCTOR: Yes. Yes, when a Time Lord’s body wears out, he regenerates, becomes new.
K’ANPO: That is why we can live such a long time.

Theories of regeneration

There have been different theories as to how regeneration became a part of Timelord physiology. Rassilon was chiefly an engineer and architect so it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a hand in the implementation of regeneration for the Timelords. He was far too intelligent to let the Timelords age and die as with humans. I’ve highlighted a few interesting ones from audio, prose and TV

One theory is that that it was the result of a deliberate infection with a virus from the Great Vampires, or Yssgaroth, that they obtained regenerative abilities. The Great vampires were seen in “State of Decay” as an ancient foe fought by the Timelords.

Theory 2: that Rassilon tried to find a method of regenerating decayed and diseased tissue via a series of self-replicating, biogenic molecules.

Theory 3 Time Lords had a triple-helix DNA the third Strand of which to enable regeneration was added by Rassilon.

Theory 4: According to Madame Vastra in “A Good Man Goes to War” the Eleventh Doctor theorised that exposure over billions of years to the Untempered Schism contributed to the Time Lords’ ability to regenerate.

There are other theories out there but not one definitive answer so depending on which medium you consider canon take your pick,

I have been ‘reborn’

I recently rewatched ‘The Lazarus Experiment’. What do you think of it as a story? It seems a little unloved although let’s face it David Tennant does rock a dinner suit like no other doctor!   Seriously though, If I ignore that the CGI monster here is rather overblown and on-screen way too long and it has been my abiding visual memory of the story, then the underlying story of a professor seeking to prolong his life is a solid sci-fi idea dealing with the societal ‘obsession’ for extending our lives.  The professor says ‘I am Richard Lazarus. I am seventy-six years old and I am reborn!’ Isn’t that what the doctor does each time he regenerates? I quite like the parallels that you don’t know what you will get from the metamorphosis that occurs for Professor Lazarus.

I do enjoy that Professor Lazarus wants to take everything from the opportunity that losing forty-odd years from his actual age gives him. I understand how he is haunted by what he went through in the destruction of the Second World War ‘When the sirens went, we’d go to the cathedral there. We used to shelter in the crypt. The living cowering among the dead.’ his sheer determination to conquer death becomes an irony that he dies in the same place where he took shelter as a boy.

Whether he deserves to be the first human to undergo the rejuvenation process is debatable as Richard Lazarus relishes in the cruelty to his wife and killing her without a second’s thought. I do wish that the role of Lazarus had been written as slightly more compassionate as his determination to survive talks so much about the human spirit, but he is written as plagued with a streak of arrogance. Modern doctors work so hard to make people better to enable them to live longer and Lazarus believes that living longer is better although the doctor disagrees. The doctor’s view is that a longer life is only meaningful by what you do. It can be a curse but that some people will do more in twenty years than others will do in eighty and it depends on the person. It is an argument to remember to really live each day

The 10th Doctor doesnt think a long life is necessarily a good life
The 10th Doctor doesn’t think a long life is necessarily a good li

In the next part of this subject I will look at whether humans could regenerate and consider whether regeneration is worth it as well as picking my favourite regenerations seen on TV but what do you think of the idea of regeneration? Is there a theory of regeneration you prefer? What are your thoughts on the Lazarus Experiment? Post your thoughts on here or on Twitter. Let’s talk.

Maria Kalotichou

Maria is a 4th and 5th Doctor fan who grew up through the JNT classic era years. Her favourite classic stories are Robots of Death and Earthshock, well probably, but don’t make her have to choose only one. In her grown up life she currently works in HR.

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