Twelve’s time is over… almost. I felt the two-part finale was strong, powerful and epic. What was essentially an enormous reset button for incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall held two emotional scenes. The first was the departure of Missy who will now no doubt go down as an iconic Master – shot in the back by her previous incarnation (John Simm). This despite the big risk of changing the gender of such an iconic character she’s largely been well-received. I will miss her.
The second was Twelve fighting against his inevitable regeneration. This scene tugged on the heartstrings. Alone, afraid and feeling guilty about not being able to make good on his promise to save Bill Potts, he uses all of his will to stop it happening. Here, we see The Doctor’s unfettered internalised rage for this first time since Tens “I could do so much more!” speech in The End of Time.
Visiting social media over the weekend following this episode I was surprised to see the number of people who just didn’t get what the scene was about. Posters waxed lyrical about the (permanent) return of Matt Smith or David Tennant. All because in his delirium, Twelve expressed two pieces of dialogue: “I don’t want to go!” (Tennant’s last line) and “When The Doctor was me” (Smith’s last night).
I had a heart sink moment, naturally. We’ve been here so many times before. Doctors don’t return except for the occasional special and they won’t (and shouldn’t) return permanently. The show is about moving forward and evolving, not by clinging to the glories of the past. Also, that first line he speaks when he comes to is the same first line spoken by Four (Tom Baker). I can’t see anybody expecting Baker to come back even despite his cameo in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor in 2013.
What That Scene Was Really About
I understand that people would want to see the return of a favoured Doctor, but those who focus on this are missing the point of the scene. This confusion, his anger, the lines are not indicating that he’s going to revert to a previous incarnation. He’s confused and dying and holding off the regeneration process – something that could harm him and it’s affecting his mental state.
What we should be focusing on here is his anger, and his determination to halt the inevitable. He can’t hold it off forever and he knows it. This scene was about The Doctor going through all the emotions he has ever experienced when regenerating – by repeating first and last lines from some of the most iconic incarnations. He’s sick of regenerating. He should be dead, he knows it, and he’s just getting wise to the consequences of the Timelords giving him a new load of regenerations in The Time of The Doctor. This is going to happen another 12 times and he realises that he is going to feel every one – the physical, the psychological and the emotional impact of this biological process should have stopped at twelve, but he’s going through 25 of them. With cause comes effect, with action comes consequence.
The Changing Face of Regeneration
Back in the “Olden Days” of Doctor Who, we rarely get a sense that The Doctor as we knew him was dying. We looked forward to a new casting with excitement about what the new actor might bring to the role. There is still that aspect, but what we rarely had before was the expression of an emotional state of an outgoing incarnation. When Two regenerated into Three, the emotion was at the injustice of The Timelord Council forcing him to regenerate, not the fact that this incarnation was dying.
Ten’s emotional outburst set the bar high and Eleven’s poignant “I will never forget one day of this” speech at his close was moving in completely different ways but there was the sense of the end of something. However, I would suggest that Nine started this. In his incessant blabbering at Rose Tyler – look at that face. Do you not see fear in his eyes? He’s putting on a brave face for Rose but his rambling is a coping mechanism for the fear of what is about to happen right before the moment of acceptance.
Capaldi leaves at Christmas but not before going on a journey with his first incarnation played by the ever-wonderful David Bradley.