The first Doctor Who regeneration I ever saw came as a huge shock. I was watching the Patrick Troughton episodes on Saturday night reruns with my family, and as far as I knew, there was one, and only one, Doctor. I loved him and his panicky nature and his musical voice and his companions Zoe and Jamie. He was like no hero I’d ever seen before, defeating the bad guys with his brain instead of his guns, holding power while still sharing it with his companions, and keeping a delicate balance between authority and childishness. And then the Time Lords got hold of him and changed him into this whole new face and body. He was going to change back, right? Wasn’t he?
I held out hope, and the next week, when the show was on, I grabbed on to the TV for dear life. (I mean literally. It was the only TV in our house, and my dad wanted to watch something on a different channel, and I physically blocked him from doing it. He brought in my mom for backup, and she suggested I videotape it to watch later. So I set up the VCR to record and then kept watching, just in case.) I watched the first twenty minutes of the Jon Pertwee Doctor for hints that he might just change back. And no, he never did.
Unfortunately for me, this was the very first time I had ever videotaped Doctor Who. You know what that meant? I didn’t have any copies of the Patrick Troughton Doctor Who to watch. And no, they didn’t have any DVDs or videotapes or youtube videos. This was the olden times, remember. The kind of times where we had to walk to school uphill both ways. I had to wait until our local PBS station played through all the Doctors and then rolled back through the beginning. I waited patiently but with longing for my first Doctor — the one who, for me, epitomized the character. And yes, absence makes the heart grow stronger.
Unfortunately for me, after the time the PBS station got through its run, it skipped the first two Doctors and went straight back to Jon Pertwee. What was a girl to do? I took extreme measures. To make a long story short, in order to get my hands on those episodes, I had to become the president of the local Doctor Who club for a while. And that led to storing a full-size replica of the TARDIS in our family shed.
So that was my first experience with a Doctor Who regeneration. Traumatic.
I’ve coped well with all the regenerations since then, to the point that I was nearly shouting at the screen for David Tennant to stop crying, for heaven’s sake, and just get on with it! But this Matt Smith regeneration hit me hard. He’s the closest to Patrick Troughton so far, even more than Sylvester McCoy. Also, and some people are going to look at me quite strangely for this, I find him the sexiest. I’ve been mourning him for months. So, knowing that the Christmas special was going to be the regeneration one as well, I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with it.
But when the regeneration actually came around, I was touched. The Doctor got to live his “happily ever after” life and grow old. He took out a Dalek fleet with one part regeneration energy and one part pure, unadulterated joy. And then he went, without fear or sorrow, like the last fizz of sparkly champagne or the last spoonful of a delicious custard. A good send-off for him.
It’s sad, but I am a grown-up now. (Technically.) I can handle it. I have the Verity podcast episode, which I have a feeling I will be listening to more than once. Most importantly, I have the DVDs. Matt Smith is not leaving my house.
Forward to the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi! I was really apprehensive about this one. In the back of my mind, I’m always worried that somebody will come along and destroy the Who-ishness of Doctor Who, as defined by me, with Patrick Troughton as the touchstone. I like my Doctor to save us from the monsters without omnipotence. I like him to panic and get into trouble he doesn’t know how to get out of, and then, despite all the odds, to win. Using jelly babies and jammy dodgers, and with the help of Daleks who make souffles out of imaginary milk and eggs.
Why do I like that so much? Because we’re all in quite a bit of trouble we don’t know how to get out of. Global warming, nuclear meltdowns, austerity, endless war, you name it. I like to imagine someone crashing down from the sky, as confused as we are, to save us from our own monstrosities.
Luckily, the Christmas special got it right. Matt Smith regenerates, Peter Capaldi appears, gives Clara a long intense look that could mean anything (aggression, fascination, confusion, nearsightedness), makes a comment about not liking the color of his kidneys (eww, gross!), and then says,
“Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”
Sigh of relief! It’s my Doctor, all right.