Pick of the Brown Bag Special Edition
Regeneration...Or Did Steven Moffat Cheat
The Powers That Be at the BBC introduced regeneration to Doctor Who to free themselves from casting the same type of actor as first Doctor William Hartnell, who due to the stresses of heart disease bowed out of the series.
The germ of the idea to limit regeneration was first introduced years later in "The Brain of Morbius" by Terrence Dicks and Robert Holmes under the pen name Robin Bland. DVD commentaries indicate Terrence Dicks was dead set against the idea of a limit. So we can attribute this troublesome notion to Holmes alone. Admittedly though, Holmes probably thought it unlikely that the Doctor would reach incarnation thirteen. The Doctor was after all still young, only at body number four during "The Brain of Morbius."
In the episode, the Doctor contends with a Time Lord criminal named Morbius; what's left of him. In the climax of the story, the Doctor hoping to overheat Morbius' brain challenges his fellow Time Lord to a duel. The device in the photo is a Time Lord wrestling game. Played for fun, the battling Time Lords force the opposer to reveal his or her former face: "How far back do you go, Doctor?" The game can be misused and result in death. In the end, the Doctor emerges victorious, but not before all his faces and all the faces of Morbius flash.
Fortunately, there are enough unfamiliar faces to defuse any contradiction to the regenerative limit. In truth, these faces belonged to the crew. From their perspective, this exposure just amounted to a fun, inside joke.
"Brain of Morbius" must have inspired Holmes to consider the process of regeneration in the context of the mythology rather than as a mere handy tradition for the series' periodic rejuvenation. As a result, Holmes created one of the best, yet most nettlesome episodes in classic Doctor Who, "The Deadly Assassin."
In this story, the Master having exhausted his lives on trying to kill the Doctor and dominate the universe attempts to regenerate into perpetuity by harnessing the Eye of Harmony--a black hole from which Gallifrey taps all its power. The Doctor naturally defeats the Master, but Holmes establishes in the story that Time Lords can regenerate twelve times. There can only be thirteen incarnations of each Time Lord.
The Master does not die in "Deadly Assassin." He manages to retain his miserable last life and meet the Doctor again in "Keeper of Traken." The title figure in that story wields immense power, and the Master seeks to steal it in order to reboot his regenerative process. Though the Master temporarily succeeds, through the utility of his TARDIS, the Doctor forces him to relinquish his position.
The Master has another trick up his sleeve. He uses the remains of his power to fuse with the body of Tremas, father to fifth Doctor future companion Nyssa. This is not regeneration. It's science fiction possession and solely a function of the Keeper's power.
The Master continues to cross swords with the Doctor. However, in "The Five Doctors," which Steven Moffat references in Matt Smith's final story, "Time of the Doctor," the Time Lords recruit the villain to infiltrate the infamous Gallifreyan Death Zone and help the Doctor defeat a cadre of enemies. In return, the Time Lords promise the Master a new regenerative cycle.
It's no real surprise that Terrence Dicks wrote "The Five Doctors," and that he sought a solution for the Doctor, not the Master. Dicks was the script editor for Doctor Who. He wrote the majority of Doctor Who novelizations for Target Publishing. He was intimately familiar with Doctor Who and remains an arch fan of the series. Dicks simply wanted Doctor Who to continue forever. As do we all.
In terms of mythology, the extension of regeneration was a new development in Time Lord science. "The Five Doctors" offers a moment where Time Lord technology, culture and science begins to advance.
In "Deadly Assassin," Holmes presented Gallifrey as dark, staid and corrupt. Dicks is much more optimistic in "The Five Doctors." Gallifrey is a brighter, shinier place, and although the Time Lords are fallible, their mortality isn't due to any integral stain in their government. The Time Lords are furthermore more tolerant of the Doctor, and you get the sense that they respect him. Some even like him.
The Time Lords give the Master a seal as proof of agency. When the Doctor meets the Master in the Death Zone, the Doctor suspecting trickery pockets the trinket. Believe it or not, the Doctor had this bauble, the same seal Matt Smith's Doctor uses in "Time of the Doctor," since his third incarnation.
Definite proof of the transferability of regenerative energy occurs in the Doctor Who New Year's special from 1996. "Survival," the last story in classic Doctor Who, ruined the Master's shanghaied body. Infected by an alien, feline virus, the Master becomes feral. It is this cat-eyed version of the Master that meets his doom at the machinations of the Daleks in the opening to Doctor Who 1996, but the Master still holds the power of the Keeper and the angry will to live. He takes yet another human body and proceeds with his single-minded goal of acquiring more regenerations.
In Doctor Who 1996, the Master attempts to steal the Doctor's remaining lives. He employs a device similar to the wrestling game and taps the link to the Eye of Harmony in the Doctor's TARDIS. The Master's desperation is evident throughout the episode. Thus once again emphasizing when the clock strikes thirteen, your time is up.
The Doctor's companion Dr. Grace Holloway severs the Master's link with the Eye and prevents the theft and murder of the Doctor's lives. Unaccepting of his fate, the Master battles the Doctor until finally dying in the tidal forces of the black hole linked to the TARDIS.
Doctor Who 1996 is so pivotal to the series. In addition to establishing and reinforcing aspects already discussed in this column, the episode also displayed in no uncertain terms the promise of "The Five Doctors." It as well is a precursor to the Doctor's renewal at the conclusion "Time of the Doctor."
The Time War forces the Time Lords to advance their science to an almost miraculous level. The Master states that the Time Lords resurrected him to fight the Time War. He returns to life the first time with a full regenerative run. The Time Lords also resurrected Rassilon to lead them. It was his tomb the four Doctors visited in "The Five Doctors." So he was dead even longer. We always knew Time Lords were hard to kill, but now it seems every part must be destroyed. Hence the Viking type funerals. Thanks to the advancement of science a Time Lord body holds a treasure trove of genetic information that can be exploited to wreak havoc on the universe.
A less drastic example of regenerative transfer occurs in "The Angels Take Manhattan." When River Song breaks her wrist while freeing herself from a Weeping Angel, the Doctor heals her wound by using his own regenerative energy. Before that, River gave up her regenerative energy to save the Doctor from poisoning.
What's fascinating about these examples is that the Doctor is already at incarnation thirteen. As Moffat said, we miscounted. This would explain River's vociferous protest of the Doctor squandering his energy on her wrist. It also gives a mythological answer for why the Doctor doesn't simply regenerate when poisoned. He doesn't have anywhere to go to. He is now wearing his thirteenth body.
Russell T. Davies when asked, said that he did not believe the tenth Doctor used a regeneration to heal himself when hit by the Dalek extermination beam, but Moffat disagreed, and it makes far more sense. How could that not have been a full blast or regenerative energy? Not only does the Doctor heal himself. He grows a new body from his severed hand. Factoring in John Hurt's Doctor, a doctor Moffat justifiably felt needed to be created, we arrive at the "Time of the Doctor," where the Time Lords humbled by Clara's plea give the Doctor, in his final form, a new regenerative cycle.
This solution as you can see has been around since "The Five Doctors," in the eighties. It's been aggregating strength and accumulating continuity reinforcement since 1996. Steven Moffat didn't cheat. He simply studied the show.
The Doctor gaining a new regenerative cycle isn't all that surprising. The idea of the Time Lords actually doing something nice for the Doctor is the real shocker. Throughout the series, the Time Lords imprisoned the Doctor on earth, sent him on deadly missions, put him on trial thrice, threatened his life on numerous occasions and attempted to execute him.
The Doctor never was a favorite son. Instead, the Time Lords always considered him a misfit, criminal and/or mad man, but finally, the Time Lords know that their very existence is due to the Doctor, and after all these years, they expressed their gratitude. The Doctor has twenty-six lives. Long live, the Doctor.