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“Doctor Who and the Degeneration of the Doctor” – Could it Work?

Recent rumours have surfaced about the possibility that Peter Capaldi will be leaving Doctor Who at the end of Series 10 (surprise, surprise) but with it a cunning twist: Matt Smith will be his replacement. Some of you may be wondering to yourself “how this could possibly happen” or “this story is a load of old rubbish” and yet this is happening people and I am here to tell you that we have ourselves a possibility of seeing our beloved Doctor degenerating.

Usually when The Doctor gets himself mortally injured, or is on the verge of death, he uses the old Time Lord trick of regeneration in which he forms himself a new body. Never before, however, has he ever reverting back into the form of previous incarnations. I suppose this is because the show is always about moving forward through extensive evolution. It could also be that actors have never wanted to return to the show before (beyond special reprises), or that the BBC have never wanted to opt for this idea. You would have thought that after bad ratings during the 80s that the BBC would’ve tried bringing back Tom Baker in order to grab the general public’s interest again through a popular face.

It is a little hard to say with certainty whether or not the idea of “Degeneration” will work or not. It has its pros and cons. The pros are that it holds potential in storytelling. We’ve obviously had stories where The Doctor meets past selves but never has he become his old self right before his very eyes. The closest we’ve got is The Tenth Doctor opting to remain the same between incarnation eleven and twelfth. Imagine The Doctor going to regenerate only to turn back into his older self, that would certainly be a shocking twist. What would The Doctor himself think about this situation? Would he be confused, shaken up or would he simply adjust like he always does? Perhaps he might like this form of process more, especially if he returned to a face he cared much about.

The cons of course are the back-stepping. Instead of the show moving forward it essentially moves backwards and tries to rekindle something from the past. We wouldn’t get a brand-new incarnation with new traits and behaviour but instead a Doctor we have already known and loved. Plus I suppose it would ruin their regeneration story because they have now returned, making you realise that they can now have an extended life which ultimately takes away from their poetic farewell. And there is the problem with whether or not the returning face was popular or not. You could essentially be having an actor returning that wasn’t popular to begin with and now they are back on the screen for however many series ahead. It could go the other way and fans could be excited by the return of a certain actor, but again, their return runs the risk of overstaying their original warm welcome.

If we were to look at this scenario from a continuity stand-point then the possibility of “Degeneration” is extremely plausible. It has already been noted by Romana within “Destiny of the Daleks” that a Time Lord can choose the face of their next regeneration. In the opening scene to Episode One Romana is seen trying on several bodies before finally settling with the body of Princess Astra (played by Lalla Ward). Of course the most recent example was within “The Day of the Doctor” through the presence of The Curator. This character was teased to be a future incarnation of The Doctor, an incarnation that had learnt to pick his new body, but not only that, but also pick bodies from his past which he likes to call “old favourites”. So the law is already there, it simply awaits a show-runner to take the next step.

I myself stand sort of in the middle for the reasons stated above. As much as I’d love to see Smith return to the role, because he played one of my favourite incarnations (as you may know by now), it would be a shame to miss out on a brand-new actor taking up the mantle. But I suppose when it comes to creative ideas in order to take the show forward in a new direction, this does appear quite promising. There has been a lot of talk over recent years about reimagining but this has strayed heavily towards (what I would call) fan-fiction ideas. I speak of course about having a female Doctor. I’ll be honest, this idea to me is just horrid and doesn’t hold any real merit, nor will it really add anything new to the show other than turn our protagonist female, but that in itself is a cheap gimmick. I feel giving Capaldi the helm, thereby giving us an older Doctor again, proved much better at shaking things up.

These, of course, are just my opinions but I am very protective over Doctor Who as a life-long fan and also wish for the show to retain its unique formula. I feel as though “Degeneration” has a place within that formula. There is also another thought provoking aspect to consider: would the face The Doctor reverts back into naturally act the same as before? It’s possible that Smith is brought back but he isn’t the same incarnation, per say, but simply the same face. That could be another interesting dilemma seeing a familiar face but he is undergoing the usual regeneration procedure as if it were a new body. I guess not being an expect of being a Time Lord and regenerating it is very hard to judge how the procedure works but with all the theories there are to discuss, the possibilities are endless with the “Degeneration” concept.

To round things off I would have to say that if this rumour became true I’d be totally on-board because it’s a fresh idea that I would love to see explored, but at the same time I would be totally up for the usual regeneration method if the rumour is proven false. Good old middle-ground. Safe and boring.

Never mind about my opinion, what is your verdict on this rumour? Are you up for The Doctor degenerating or would you prefer tradition to take its course and have a new incarnation? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on our Twitter page!

About the author

John Hussey