The Blogtor Who readership have been voting and we now have our list of the best Doctor Who regenerations ever! Now it’s time to crown your winner!
In the days since The Power of the Doctor, and Jodie Whittaker stepping out of the TARDIS and passed her role as the Doctor over to the next in line, Blogtor Who has been running a Twitter poll to find your favourite Doctor Who regeneration story. You cast hundreds of votes were and now Blogtor can being to reveal the results! Who has won the title of best ever regeneration story.
Across four groups every regeneration from Tenth Planet to Power of the Doctor fought for their place in the final. In the end, those finalists were Patrick Troughton’s epic ten episode swan song The War Games, Peter Davison’s bleak and dramatic goodbye The Caves of Androzani, Christopher Eccleston’s fantastic finale The Parting of the Ways, and Jodie Whittaker’s newly minted classic The Power of the Doctor. But which would be named best of all?
Fourth Place – The War Games
In the end, The War Games came fourth overall, with 15% of the vote. It’s one of the longest Doctor Who stories ever mounted. And the ten episode, four and a half hour, epic remains one of the Doctor’s most dramatic regenerations. It begins with the TARDIS bringing the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to a No Man’s Land of barbed wire and World War One soldiers. But the residents of the trenches have strange memory gaps and the generals on both sides wield a hypnotic influence. Meanwhile a strange mist menaces the borders of the battlefield. Before long the Doctor, his companions, and their new friends, discover a Roman legion beyond the mist. Things are not at all what they seem…
In many ways, The War Games would provide a template for a subgenre of Who stories that endures today. The Doctor discovers the ‘War Chief’ is a fellow Time Lord that he used to know on Gallifrey. But while the Doctor wants to explore the universe, this rival wants to rule it. He’s allied himself with an alien race and their ruler, the War Lord; providing them with time travel technology while they provide the muscle. But neither side entirely trusts the other. Their scheme is to abduct soldiers from wars throughout human history to fight to the death. They aim to produce a super-army of the best of the best, but their alliance continually threatens to unravel. It’s a formula that would become standard practice for the Master for years.
The final episode puts the Doctor on trial, resulting in one of the Time Lord’s most traumatic ever regeneration
The War Games also introduces the Time Lords and their as yet unnamed home planet. We’d previously seen the Doctor’s own granddaughter Susan and the mischievous Monk, of course, but this was the first time we’d seen the rulers or the planet itself. It’s such a huge moment that it often overshadows the rest of the story. It’s only in Episode Nine that the Doctor realizes the task of returning thousands of people to their different correct points in space and time is beyond him. He calls in the Time Lords using a psychic message cube as later seen in The Doctor’s Wife. And then he runs. Because, it turns out, he’s a wanted criminal among his own people. A thief who stole a TARDIS and ran away, merrily breaking their most sacred law of non-interference everywhere he went.
The Time Lords capture the Doctor and his friends early in Episode Ten and a trial begins. A trial in which it’s clear his very life is at stake. Instead, after a passionate defence of his actions by the defendant, the tribunal sentence him to exile on 20th century Earth “to remain there for as long as we deem proper.” They also disable the TARDIS and remove his knowledge of how to repair it. But worst of all they sentence him to a forced regeneration: although they offer him some options, it’s the Time Lords who choose his new body and force him to regenerate into it. Its nature also makes it one of the most traumatic of all the Doctor’s regenerations. He spirals away into the dark, his last words being a long stream of panicked and horrified cries of “No! No! No!”
Third Place – The Power of the Doctor
Doctor Who’s most recent episode finished in third place overall, with 24.4% of the vote. As a regeneration story, The Power of the Doctor threw absolutely everything into it. The Doctor faced an unholy union of the Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen. There were cameo appearances from no less than six other Doctors. 1980s companions Tegan and Ace returned to join the fight alongside UNIT, and other companions going back as far as 1963’s Ian had cameos too. The fizzing cocktail of elements of an episode that wasn’t just Jodie Whittaker’s curtain call performance. It also served as part of the BBC’s celebrations of a century on the airwaves.
But it’s a very personal story. Of all our finalists, it’s the one most about regeneration. Not just about the mechanics of the changeover from one actor to another, but how it affects the Doctor themselves, and how it impacts on their companions. Above all else, it’s a script about saying goodbye. Companions saying goodbye to the Doctor, and the Doctor saying goodbye to themselves. Graham’s companions support group is all about dealing with how you can actually move on from having such an extraordinary person in your life. The choice of Tegan and Ace as our focus isn’t just because writer Chris Chibnall’s from the 80s generation, either. It’s also because they never got to say goodbye properly onscreen. And thanks to the masterstroke of the Doctor’s AI generated self, and its fluid form and personality, they finally got those goodbyes with their Doctors.
Jodie Whittaker’s final scenes provide an upbeat, optimistic view of renewal and change
But we also got to see the dramatisation of what the Eleventh Doctor had previously only put into words – that the Doctor never forgets all of the people that they used to be. They’re all still there, part of them, deep down in their consciousness. But each Doctor also needs to say goodbye to being the Doctor. To let go, as the Capaldi incarnation put it; to not “spoil it for the next one,” by overstaying their time; to diminish and become a Guardian of the Edge, bickering good naturedly with their other selves for the rest of time.
This episode also gives us, technically, but incredibly, three regenerations for the price of one. First the Doctor regenerates into Sacha Dhawan, and then back into Whittaker, and then into David Tennant. For people pondering the official numbering, it raises an interesting question – is the new Tennant incarnation actually the Sixteenth Doctor, and Ncuti Gatwa’s the Seventeenth?
Some regenerations have struck a tragic tone, and others a hopeful one. But the forced regeneration at the midway point is the first since The War Games that feels like a violation. And it provides a strong contrast to the special’s final scene. With everything she’s learned about herself, the Thirteenth Doctor’s real final moments are a celebration of the sprawling tapestry of the Doctor’s life and that positive power of change. “Tag, you’re it.”
Second Place – The Caves of Androzani
That The Caves of Androzani made it to the final is no surprise to anyone, nor that it made it to the final two. Indeed, the only thing likely to raise eyebrows here is that, with 29.1% of the vote, it didn’t win. For decades The Caves of Androzani has been regarded as one of the very best Doctor Who stories of all time. Perhaps even the best of all time. But, in the eyes of Blogtor Who readers at least, it was pipped at the post to take the silver medal.
The Caves of Androzani is unusual for a regeneration story in that the Fifth Doctor’s actual cause of death is both right near the start and also the result of casual carelessness. There’s no grand ‘knock four times’ prophecy here, or vast army of all the Doctor’ enemies. No, his companion Peri simply steps in some alien gunk in a cave and he wipes it off with his hand. Only later do they realize it was actually incredibly toxic and they’re both dying. Unless of course, they can find the antidote in time…
The story avoids the usual Doctor Who pattern, with the Doctor simply trying to disentangle himself from events so he can find the antidote
Androzani breaks almost all the rules of a regeneration story. In fact, it breaks most of the rules of Doctor Who generally. The Doctor and Peri find themselves on the planet Androzani Minor in the middle of a turf war over the supply of a rejuvenating substance that, hysterically, the script lightly suggests doesn’t even work. Billionaire Morgus and his corporation will stop at nothing to keep their monopoly running smoothly, while Sherez Jek, one of the earlier victims of Morgus’ ruthlessness will stop at nothing to get his revenge… no matter how many dead bodies it takes.
But the Doctor couldn’t really care less: he just wants to untangle himself from all their petty drama so he can find the cure for himself and Peri. While, far from being his usual catalyst for change and upheaval, the Doctor is seen as an irritant or possible tool by the big players. Insofar as he drives the plot at all, it’s because everybody assumes he’s secretly a spy for everybody else, and takes action against each other based on that misunderstanding.
By sacrificing himself to save his companion, Davison’s incarnation showed himself to be the Doctor and his finest
The regeneration itself, however, brilliantly sums up the character of the Doctor, and specifically the Davison iteration. He actually gets the first regeneration pangs in Part Three, but fights them off, determined to find and save Peri. He finally secures the antidote and runs across the exploding plains of Androzani Minor towards the TARDIS with Peri in his arms, in a scene Power of the Doctor would later echo and invert. And then, because he can’t be sure of the dose, he gives it all to Peri. He ensures his companions survival at the cost of his own certain end.
Even more powerfully, he’s not even sure if he can regenerate from spectrox toxima or, if he’s really dying for good this time. But he saves Peri anyway. It’s a selflessness and quiet heroism that defines this Doctor. As does his final thoughts, lost in the fever dream of regeneration, returning to his one great failure. The boy who died. “Adric?”
First Place – The Parting of the Ways
And so our ultimate winner is revealed. The best regeneration story of all time, as decided by you, the Blogtor Who readers. It’s The Parting of the Ways with 31.5% of the vote! The 2005 classic represented the climax of Russell T Davies’ innovative resurrection of Doctor Who as, after thirteen episodes, the Ninth Doctor finally faced his trauma, found a place of healing, and said goodbye. As the first regeneration of the revival it was also uniquely to surprise and delight viewers, who had no idea what was going on, why the Doctor had changed faces, and who this skinny guy with the new teeth was supposed to be. Now seventeen years old itself, it carries its own nostalgia for which this was their first time experiencing the heartbreak and rebirth of an era ending.
The Ninth Doctor is faced with a moral dilemma that reveals his true character
Despite it only becoming clear during the filming of Series One that Christopher Eccleston didn’t intend to stay for a second series, The Parting of the Ways provides a fitting final word to his time in the TARDIS. This Doctor wore his regret heavily, beneath the thin mask of a merry smile and goofy disposition.
Fresh from the hell of the Time War, he had seen and done terrible things and spent the series trying, with Rose’s help, to find his way back to the man that he used to be. The two parts of Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways bring that all into sharp focus as he’s forced to confront his wartime nemesis, the Emperor Dalek, once again. And as he’s forced into what’s implied to be a repeat of the same impossible choice he faced before. He had destroyed Gallifrey in order to bring the Daleks down with them. But could he bring himself to do the same to the Earth?
The conclusion of the Ninth Doctor’s journey towards forgiving himself makes The Parting of the Ways a uniquely powerful regeneration story
“Never cruel, never cowardly,” had been the totemic creed applied to the Doctor since the 1970s. But what if he had to choose? The Parting of the Ways answers the riddle as the Doctor ultimately can’t bring himself to be the one to wipe out the Earth even if he will only buy it minutes before the Daleks destroy it anyway. “Coward, every time.” Davies’ script also pulls off a superb narrative switch as the plan the Doctor has been working towards all episode is abandoned, and Rose’s parallel attempts to simply get back to him prove the key to defeating the Daleks.
But victory comes at a price. With Rose dying to have absorbing the space/time vortex from the heart of the TARDIS, the Doctor chooses to take that energy into himself. He saves Rose, but soon he notices a strange yellow glow pulsing through the veins of his hand. On the cusp of regenerating he forgives himself. “You were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I.”
No wonder then that the Blogtor Who readership voted it the best regeneration ever. Whether it was your first time seeing the Doctor change, or an older fan being introduced into a new, dynamic and emotional way to say goodbye, it’s an outstanding story and a brilliant farewell to a much loved Doctor.
It’s the end…
And that’s the end of our epic post-Power of the Doctor competition to name the best ever regeneration story! Thanks to everyone who voted and congratulations to Parting of the Ways, Caves of Androzani and Power of the Doctor for taking the gold, silver and bronze!