Regeneration Recollections

Tom Baker’s early days as the Doctor were shrouded in mystery for me, but his regeneration into Peter Davison was not. As a young fan it was a life-changing event for me and the experience would turn me into a proper fan. The arrival of a new Doctor – I thought – would be the most exciting thing I could ever see on TV.

I knew very little about Peter Davison. I certainly didn’t watch him on “All Creatures Great and Small” – that was all vets, countryside and cows’ derrières. I could see, however, that the youthful Davison would be a total contrast to Tom Baker. But I had no idea what to expect. That year’s “Doctor Who Annual” didn’t help. I read a story featuring the Fifth Doctor and Adric. It didn’t enlighten me and wasn’t any good. The author obviously hadn’t seen Davison in action either. 

I was exploding with excitement about the imminent regeneration. I remember ‘Logopolis’ so clearly – the aged and weary Fourth with his mildly irritating companion Adric getting lost in an infinity of Tardises, bolshy air-hostess Tegan coming on board, a chortle-a-minute new Master and then finally the Doctor hanging on for dear life from a satellite dish. He recalled his companions in a gripping flashback sequence, his grip loosened and he fell.

I sat there, mouth wide open, as the Watcher glided into the lifeless body of the Fourth. My eyes feasted on the state-of-the-art SFX as the two merged together and their features became those of the Fifth. Swamped in scarf, Peter Davison sat up. He looked around, dazed and then frustratingly they cut to credits. 

When Peter Davison announced that he was putting away his celery after three years, I was not a happy bunny. I rue the day when he met Patrick Troughton in a BBC car park who advised him to stay in the role for three years only. Didn’t our beloved Second Doctor remember that seasons were much longer in the Sixties? I cursed the writers whose scripts in Season 20 weren’t entirely to Davison’s liking and played a major factor in his decision to leave. I had wanted Davison to break Tom Baker’s seven year record. I really liked Davison. He was my Doctor.

The regeneration into Colin Baker was the first I would experience as a full-blown Whovian, though I didn’t call myself one at the time. If I had known very little about Peter Davison, when he was announced as the Doctor, I knew absolutely nothing about Colin Baker. He was in “The Brothers”? I had never heard of it! 

At his first press call Colin looked most dashing in a white suit, Nicola Bryant at his side. I didn’t want Davison to go but this new guy looked good. But then when I discovered that he was nabbing the end of season story, I felt that Davison was being short-changed. Now he would not even do a full three years. The shortest run ever! 

When Baker finally arrived on screen, I had no issues with the multi-coloured costume. Even Peter Duncan from Blue Peter wore a silly outfit. It was the Eighties after all. I loved the way the Sixth purposefully strode around and dramatically boomed his words in “The Twin Dilemma”. That said, I was occasionally embarrassed by his quirky behaviour and shocked even when he started to strangle Peri. 

There was no pleasing me in September 1987. I’d had it up to here with the BBC and the powers that be. They’d put the show on hiatus, cut the episode count and now Michael Grade had gone and sacked the Doctor. I was hurt that my beloved show could be treated in such a brutal fashion. 

Poor old Sly didn’t stand a chance. They could have made Hugh Grant the Doctor and I wouldn’t have accepted him. It didn’t help that the show rapidly had changed style between “The Ultimate Foe” and “Time and the Rani”. The former was a dramatic culmination of a fourteen week epic. It was made for Whovians, steeped in Gallifreyan lore, featuring arch enemies the Master and the Valeyard and was co-written by the late great Robert Holmes. The latter tale was a runaround romp in a quarry and new boy Sylvester was acting incredibly silly. And that blonde wig he wore for the regeneration… why couldn’t Colin have turned up for the scene? I fully appreciated his reasons, however, for not doing so. 

It wasn’t all bad though. The SFX had undergone a massive improvement. Those lethal bouncing balls were as imaginative as they were visually stunning. Kate O’Mara’s Rani was a delight to watch, especially when she pretended to be bubbly companion Mel. Now in retrospect I see that the episode was a breath of fresh air and fun. But I wasn’t in the mood for fun. 

The smile returned to my face with ‘Paradise Towers’ – I think it was the witty script and Clive Merrison’s performance as the ‘Deputy Chief Caretaker’ that finally won me over. Not to mention the deliciously evil old ladies who had Mel round for tea. Pex too was hilarious. It was impossible to go on sulking with so much positivity thrown my way. Admittedly it wasn’t the Who of old, but this new version of show was starting to grow on me. 

Though my faith had been shaken, I would be won back into the fold. ‘Remembrance’, ‘Greatest Show’ and ‘Fenric’ would have me air-punching with joy. I would become proud of the show again – despite the Kandyman!

In 1996 the worst had already happened. Doctor Who had been axed seven years earlier. With zero expectations and no hope, I now felt trodden on and dejected. 

When it was announced that the Americans were remaking Doctor Who with that dashing young actor Paul McGann and big big money, I couldn’t believe my ears. I would have been happy with so much less. Even Paul Daniels in a time travelling washing machine would have satisfied me. It was that bad.

When the TV movie finally aired, I was blown away by the thumping orchestral theme music, state of the art SFX and of course a charming new lead, at last in suitably Doctorish attire. The fact that producer Philip Segal included a regeneration scene meant so much. 

The transformation itself was done with intelligence in a carefully constructed Frankenstein – Madame Butterfly combo. McCoy’s gurning might have been embarrassing, but somehow it wasn’t. The morphing was top notch – you couldn’t tell the precise moment when McCoy became McGann. I whooped when the Eighth Doctor banged the morgue door down, but cringed when he shouted “Who am I?” I didn’t care for the naff squeaky Daleks at the beginning either. Then as swiftly as it came back, ‘Doctor Who’ went away again….

I pressed the buzzer of the intercom. No answer. I waited and pressed again. In that precise moment my trusty Whovian app “WhoNews” bleeped on my Ipad Mini. What was up? What was the latest on the Whovian scene? I perused the articles, oblivious to the intercom. WHAT? WHAT? MCGANN? NIGHT OF THE DOCTOR? I clicked frantically on the link to take me to this unbelievable news! But in vain. I cursed my fingers for being too big for my tablet. Yet with a slightly gentler and more accurate press, I was swept away onto a crashing spaceship. A girl was screaming at her controls. I watched in awe. Then McGann. The Eighth Doctor. Back. After almost twenty years. Oh my god. I wanted to cry! “I’m a Doctor!”, he chirped, “but maybe not the one you are expecting!” I repeated those words out loud to myself, now laughing. “HELLO? Who’s there?” said the intercom. “Not the one you are expecting!” I said again, shaking my head in disbelief.

Onwards to the next regeneration, a rather incomplete one. We didn’t see the full transformation – just Eccleston’s eyes superimposed over John Hurt’s face. Yet this didn’t stop fans jumping up in excitement, as soon as we realised what was happening. Perhaps there was a collective groan however when we weren’t shown the complete regeneration. Fortunately, folks much cleverer than myself have completed it with their own SFX and posted it on YouTube.

Eccleston’s ‘shock’ regeneration into Tennant had been leaked in the press many weeks previously. I was disappointed that the Ninth was going so soon, but I was glad the show was back on our screens and had been a massive success. I wasn’t worried about his successor. New boy Tennant had already won me over with his cheeky performance in ‘Casanova’ and I was half expecting a comedic “Carry On” Doctor from the actor. 

Eccleston really moved me with his final turn as the Doctor. The Ninth seemed genuinely surprised to be regenerating, but he accepted his fate with grace and humour. Of course I was taken aback to see a regeneration with the Doctor actually standing up – a perfect example of how Nu-Who shook us out of our old preconceptions and reminded us that the show had moved on since the Classic Series. I loved the explosion of fire regeneration effect and the way we could see the Doctor’s features quite clearly morph. Though we saw him but for a few seconds, Tennant’s witty banter and smile won me over. It would certainly be a long wait to his first full episode at Christmas. 

After the Tenth Doctor’s impressive run, my expectations were sky high for his finale. Androzani high! Tennant was a Tom Baker for a new generation of Whovians and as such he deserved the best for his last outing as the Doctor. Did he get it? I hate to be negative, but a comedy-fest of multiple Masters, a video game shoot-em-up over the sea and a soap operatic line-up of past companions was simply not good enough. Radiation was the cause of the regeneration? How does that tie in with the Doctor’s ability to absorb it as witnessed in “Partners in Crime”? The Ood singing to the Doctor to his sleep was, however, beautiful and moving.

Tennant’s final line “I don’t want to go” wasn’t particularly Doctorish. I’d have settled for an “Allons y!” I’m glad Moffat turned the line into a comedy quip in “The Day of the Doctor” and brought back the chirpy Tenth that we all missed.

The Eleventh’s departure brings us up to date. Moffat’s imagination didn’t fail. Using the actual regeneration to destroy the Daleks was a masterstroke and a first. It was a regeneration to save the day! The Eleventh’s final speech and the return of Amy were exquisite. There were tears in my eyes. And then to catch the audience off guard by having the Doctor swiftly “regenersneeze” into his Twelfth incarnation was another stroke of genius. 

What next? Well, I hope not to be writing about the Twelfth’s departure for a very long time…


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