Doctor Who: Twelve Is the Limit
Hi, Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that will not be held back by arbitrary plot devices.
Just a little bit of business before we get moving on. Part 7 of my Doctor Who story, The Nemesis Who Stole Time, is planned for next week. There may be some stuff 'n' junk involving real life so I may have to delay it. I hope not; I'm anxious to see what happens next. (I have no idea!)
Still, we are going to post something Doctor Who related but first, let's talk about Star Trek.
In Star Trek, one of the most ingenious inventions of the series was the concept of the transporter. It solved a lot of problems for the producers: it saved money on special effects for spaceship landings and the transporter looked science-fictiony for relatively little money. Another benefit of the transporter was on the stories themselves; characters could get to the action faster so the story could move along.
But with the ease of getting a character into a story, there was a drawback: it could also get a character out of a story pretty fast too. But where’s the drama when we know at any minute, Capt. Kirk could flip open a communicator and say, “Scotty! Beam my ass out of here!” So all sorts of counter-plot devises would come in to play: energy storms, magnetic fields, lost communicators, nigh omnipotent god-like power, the ship is under attack and there’s no power to spare.
But I think sometimes the writers of Star Trek just didn’t bother to come up with anything to block the transporter. Yes, there are episodes where it seems our Star Trekkin’ explorers have forgotten they can just beam back to the ship. You want to yell at the TV, “Hey, Spock! Use your superior Vulcan brain to remember you have a transporter!”
OK, this is Doctor Who Saturday, not Star Trek Saturday so let me bring this around to our favorite Time Lord, the Doctor.
Now we can discuss the TARDIS as a plot device that can go anywhere. And yes, like the transporter on Star Trek, it's a function that gets the Doctor and his companions into an adventure almost anywhere but it also could get them out of that adventure if things get too hairy. So again, technobabble is employed to come up with some who-si what-sis to keep the TARDIS from doing just that: can't cross the time lines, some random part exploded, the TARDIS has been stolen and so forth and so on.
But the plot device I want to discuss is the one that is really ingenious but has it's share of pit falls.
Whoever came up with this idea, they are the most brilliant person ever! OK, it wasn't called "regeneration" at the beginning but the idea that a TV show could carry on with it's lead character still present even if the actor had moved on AND that the next actor did not have to look, sound or even act like the previous guy BUT we're supposed to believe it IS the same guy...genius! Pure genius!
Perhaps there were other solutions to address the departure of William Hartnell.
Replacing the Doctor with a new character to run the TARDIS, perhaps known only as The Scientist? No, I don't think so.
Cast a replacement to keep playing the Doctor in the same look, voice and manner established by Hartnell? That MAY have worked...in the short term. But eventually the show would have run out of steam, forced to conform to a pattern established from the beginning but unable to change.
The regeneration of the Doctor not only keeps the character going but it reinvigorates the show. A new actor, a new outfit, a new demeanor...all of this can affect the tone of the show. The show, much like the Doctor himself, changes and reinvents itself even has it remains part of something wonderful that has lasted 50 years.
But the downside of regeneration is that it can have the effect of undermining the drama of whatever peril the Doctor might find himself in. How can we worry if the Doctor is going to face mortal danger is we know he has that "get out of death free" card called regeneration?
So occasionally someone lamp shades this by tossing in a line like "the second blast will kill the Doctor before his regeneration cycle can complete". But for the most part, this element of the Doctor's nature is just not mentioned except at "actor change over" time.
Still, one of the most interesting brakes to be put on the regeneration deal was created by Robert Holmes for the 4th Doctor adventure, The Deadly Assassin. Time Lords are restricted to 12 regenerations. So the Doctor has these chances to extend his life but not an infinite number. This returns a sense that the Doctor just can't count on swapping out faces and bodies to escape death, at least not forever.
The thing is that next year we're about to get our 12th Doctor. And when Peter Capaldi figures his time is up, then that change to the 13th Doctor will be the last one.
Some fans actually worry about this. I've seen posts from Whovians who fret that when the actor playing the 13th Doctor decides to leave, that's it for Doctor Who.
Yes, executives at the BBC are going to say, "You know, Doctor Who has made millions, maybe even billions for the BBC. But we must stop making Doctor Who. It seems Rupert Grint*, the 13th Doctor, has decided to move on to other things. And since Robert Holmes back in the Fall of 1976 decreed that Time Lords only get 12 regenerations, we will immediately cease all Doctor Who operations and forego any more of that enormous wealth the show earns in order to comply with a plot point."
*Yes, I'm just messing with you here.
There is the occasional theory that the 12 regeneration limit is not necessarily a given; it may in fact be a Time Lord law or tradition that the Doctor, as the Last of the Time Lords, is not bound to follow.
In the Sarah Jane Adventures episode, Death of the Doctor, the 11th Doctor tells Clyde he can regenerate "507 times". The writer of the episode, Russell T Davies, confirmed that was a joke.
In a recent interview, Steven Moffatt acknowledged the 12 regeneration limit. Now what "acknowledge" means is open to interpretation (as is most of what the Moff says). He either accepts this concept has existed but he chooses to ignore it or the 12 regeneration limit is still a solid part of the Doctor's mythos and someone will have to work that out when Rupert Grint leaves.**
**Seriously, just messing with you, okay?
Me, I hope the 12 regeneration limit stays and hangs over the Doctor. Often he has given his life to save others and fight evil but always with the knowledge that even though it's not a sure thing, he might regenerate. But for the 13th Doctor, there are NO cards left in that deck. When the end comes, it will be the end. The Doctor has absolutely no reason to believe otherwise.
Then the day comes. The 13th Doctor faces an impossible choice, an unsolvable dilemma. Except there IS a choice; there IS one solution. But it will cost him his life.
So he takes a deep breath and brushes out of his eyes a lock of the red hair that he was finally able to get with his last change. Then with his sonic screwdriver in hand and an expression of resolution on his face that could shatter worlds, the Doctor goes forth.
The day is saved. Suns burn and worlds turn but the price has been high. The Doctor is dead.
Inexplicably, the Doctor's body starts to glow and within that glow his features begin to morph as the glow grows brighter and brighter.
Then in an explosion of light, the Doctor arises, stunned, confused. That death was to be the last one, the final one. No more second chances, no more cheating death.
The Doctor looks down to assess what new form this most unexpected regeneration has brought.
Why is the Doctor still alive?
Yes, that's what SHE wants to know.
Fade to black.
Doctor Who lives on!
Next week: another Doctor Who Saturday.