Julien Neaves – Editor
Almost 55 years ago, October 29, 1966 to be exact, the final part of the First Doctor story The Tenth Planet aired. In that episode the First Doctor (played by William Hartnell) collapses and regenerates for the very first time (though it was not called “regeneration” yet) and he turns into the Second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton.
It was a way to continue the show with a new actor but have the change in appearance and character traits be an actual plot device. It was ingenious and is one of the main reasons the show has been able to last for more than five decades.
For this (reduxed) list we will be counting down all of the Doctor regenerations from worst to first. I will limit the list to regenerations where the Doctor actually changed his appearance so the Tenth’s Doctor regenerating back into himself in Journey’s End did not make the cut. At this point I would say SPOILER ALERT but it should be pretty obvious. So Allons-y, Geronimo and here we go:
#13 Sixth to Seventh (Time and the Rani)
The Sixth Doctor does not usually get a lot of love from fans but he did have his moments. His regeneration into the Seventh Doctor, however, was not one of them. In the most ridiculous of scenes, with some of the most awful special effects, the TARDIS gets blasted by a laser beam and crashes. The Doctor hits his head and regenerates. The End.
Behind the scenes Colin Baker had been fired from the role and refused to appear for the regeneration scene, so they put poor Sylvester McCoy in a blonde wig.
#12 Seventh to Eighth (Doctor Who Movie)
There are some people who are fans of the 1996 Doctor Who movie. I am not one of them. I think it is a heaping pile of crap barely redeemed by Paul McGann’s charming performance.
For this regeneration we go from Seventh Doctor to Eighth when McCoy is shot by gangsters, and then killed in a botched surgery because the doctors are unfamiliar with his Time Lord physiology.
He is put in a morgue and while a guard watches the movie Frankenstein, the most obvious of allusions, we see McCoy’s face twist and contort like something out of a B-horror movie. Then there is electricity and McGann comes crashing in, literally. It is all very over the top and quite ridiculous and not befitting of Doctor Who.
#11 Second to Third (The War Games)
I am a big fan of the Second Doctor but I am not a fan of his regeneration scene. Firstly, some context. So the Time Lords finally catch up with our renegade Time Lord and as punishment for mucking around in time and space they exile him to Earth and force him to regenerate.
But unlike the previous, and at the time only other regeneration, we do not see Troughton face morph into Jon Pertwee. Instead we see Troughton’s disembodied head making circles and him repeating “no” a lot. It’s not sad, it’s not funny, it’s not interesting, but it is just strange. It also leaves the door open for the Ruth version of The Doctor to be inserted between Troughton and Pertwee, but that discussion is for another time.
#10 Fifth to Sixth (The Caves of Androzani)
The Fifth Doctor’s regeneration scene starts off all well and good. He gives companion Peri the only antidote from the bat milk for their Spectrox poisoning and therefore sacrifices himself. But as he is lying on the floor dying he has visions of his previous companions calling out to him and the Master taunting him.
All the floating heads are just distracting and take away from the pathos of the moment. And then he turns into the Sixth Doctor who is immediately rude and condescending, which does not help matters at all. Somebody regenerated on the wrong side of the floor.
#9 First to Second (The Tenth Planet)
The very first regeneration is straightforward and lacks any frills. After battling those dreaded Cybermen the Doctor collapses, with exhaustion and age presumably, and regenerates to the shock of his companions. No muss, no fuss, but effective. We had a retconning/expansion of this regeneration with the Twelfth Doctor finale Twice Upon a Time (more on that later) and we learn The Doctor was actually resisting regenerating. Who knew?
#8 Fourth to Fifth (Logopolis)
After an unprecedented and still undefeated run of seven years it was always going to be difficult seeing Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor go. Following yet another run-in with the Master he plummets from a tower and is forced to regenerate.
Like the Fifth Doctor he sees images before the end, both of former foes, like the Daleks and Davros, and former companions like Leela and Sarah Jane Smith. He merges with the mysterious Watcher, some sort of spectral incarnation of the Doctor, and becomes the Fifth Doctor. The line “it is the end, but the moment has been prepared for” is infinitely memorable and touching.
#7 Third to Fourth (Planet of the Spiders)
After being exposed to the lethal radiation on Metebelis III, The Third Doctor returns to Earth and companions Sarah Jane and the Brigadier. It is less flashy than some of the other regenerations on this list but the emotion from Elisabeth Sladen and her beautiful moment with Pertwee elevates the scene. That monk dude is still odd though.
#6 War Doctor to Ninth (The Day of the Doctor Special)
The regeneration from the War Doctor (which fans did not know existed previously) to the Ninth Doctor was a wonderful surprise. It is basic and we do not get to see Christopher Eccleston’s full face (he declined to return for the special) but the late John Hurt’s delivery is so masterful that it rises above other regenerations on this list.
#5 Twelfth To Thirteenth (Twice Upon A Time)
Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi was always one hell of a speech maker (see the Zygon Inversion got ample evidence) and for his swan song he does not disappoint. After resisting regenerating and being effectively suicidal for an entire episode, chatting with his first incarnation (pre-Timeless Children), and saying goodbye to simulations of his companions, he has a heart to heart (get it) with himself. He resigns himself to the fact that, though very weary from all he had suffered, the world still needs The Doctor. He stresses the importance of being kind and not eating pears. It is touching, funny and just lovely.
After his explosive regeneration we have the resonant image of his ring falling from his hand, and then the haunting theme from the Tenth Doctor era. Jodie’s new Doctor does not have much to do other than say “brilliant” and fall out the TARDIS in a slam bang of a cliffhanger. If only series 11 could have lived up to that set-up. More’s the pity.
#4 Ninth to Tenth (The Parting of the Ways)
Now we go from the most recent regeneration to the first in Modern Who, Ninth to Tenth, Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant. After kissing Rose and taking the Time Vortex from her into his own body he is forced to regenerate. His lines about both of them being “fantastic” is classic Ninth Doctor and a great way to go.
And then he transforms into David Tennant who injects a burst of energy into the scene, letting the audience know fun times are ahead. And they definitely were.
#3 Eighth to War Doctor (The Night of the Doctor Special)
So we are down to the top three people. The regeneration of the Eighth Doctor was one we fans were not sure that we would ever see, but thanks to previous showrunner Steven Moffat that story was told. McGann is absolutely fantastic in this mini-sode and shows off quite a range. With the Sisterhood of Karn we learn about how regeneration can be manipulated and the Doctor chooses to become a warrior aka The War Doctor. He also gives a shout out to some of his companions from the Big Finish audio productions which was a great addition.
#2 Eleventh to Twelfth (The Time of the Doctor Special)
It was not easy choosing between these two but a decision had to be made. After getting super old and granted a new set of regenerations by the Time Lords, the Doctor is saved but has to regenerate again. The Eleventh Doctor’s final speech is one of the most moving and beautiful scenes in all the five decades of Doctor Who. And then they cap it off with him having a vision of Amy. Just cut my heart out with a spoon why don’t you?!
His transformation to Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi, which does look like a sneeze, is fun and full of lots of manic energy. Kidneys!
#1 Tenth to Eleventh (The End of Time Part 2)
And finally the regeneration of all regenerations, the Tenth Doctor to the Eleventh. In three years Tennant had become many people’s favourite Doctor (he’s number two after Tom Baker in my book) and emotions were always going to be high. After getting blasted with radiation to save Wilfred he travels around to his former companions, saying goodbye without saying goodbye. And then, alone in the TARDIS, sweeping music playing, he uttered the line that stabbed fans in the heart – “I don’t want to go”. We didn’t want you to go either! I’m not crying; you’re crying!
Then he explosively regenerates into Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith. Our new Doctor is like a wind-up toy that was just released, bouncing all over the place and checking out his body parts. After the grief of losing the Tenth Doctor our hearts soar with his last shout of Geronimo as the TARDIS plummets to Earth! And it is that wonderful emotional roller coaster that makes this regeneration the best of the lot.
So that was my list. Now it is time for you to vote:
For my Top 13 Doctors ranking you can click here.
Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel but dreams of being Batman. Also loves creating board games and is an aspiring Caribbean sci-fi author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. You can follow my Movieville Facebook page here.