Castrovalva premiered in 1982, 19 years after Doctor Who was born and 16 years since the first regeneration. Castrovalva brought a new Doctor to our screens played by Peter Davison. But before he could take the TARDIS for a game of cricket, he had to heal from a difficult regeneration. He tells his companions that he needs time in a (never-before-mentioned) “Zero Room”. As Matt Smith might have put it, he was “still cooking” and needed time to set. The Zero room is a room that filters out external stimulation; it gives a Time Lord time to finish “cooking”.
Doctor: “When the synapses are weak they’re like radio receivers, picking up all sorts of jumbled signals.”
Tegan: “I get it. The Zero Room cuts out all interference.”
This is important because, as we learned during David Tennant’s first story, The Christmas Invasion, he has 15 hours from regenerating before the process is actually complete.
All of this information is critically important to the series, but we mustn’t forget: Doctor Who was notorious for having many writers and being terribly ill-equipped for anything resembling continuity over its long lifespan. And yet, it appears the writers and creators got somethings very right possibly by sheer lucky chance…
The first time the Doctor regenerates, he goes from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton. He clearly didn’t see it coming: “I’ve been renewed, have I? That’s it. I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the Tardis. Without it, I couldn’t survive.” He doesn’t have, or at least know about, the Zero Room. This Doctor is more youthful. I’m not just talking physically! He’s far more playful. He’s still as sharp as ever but he’s more witty, curious and a bit confused, and occasionally frightened. Because a lot of this time period is lost, we don’t have that much evidence to support this theory, but take a look at Ben and Polly. They are young; products of the 60s. Resourceful and intelligent, curious and occasionally frightened, they mirror the Doctors attitude in many ways. Or to be more accurate, the Doctor mirrors them. The “radio receiver” is on and picking up the “noise” of those he is surrounded by. And from there, Troughton is established as the Doctor.
The second regeneration brings us Jon Pertwee and a good deal more evidence to support the regeneration theory. This Doctor is a man of action, and a bit of a know-it-all, perhaps even slightly a bully. The Doctor is without the Zero Room and his brain is like a receiver, again. And who is the Doctor surrounded by during his first 15 hours? The Brigadier, UNIT and Liz Shaw. His personality is a mirror of those traits. He’s a bit of a bully (and maybe with some reason, having been trapped in one place and time) but that also goes along with the personality that formed by being around military personnel. There is a bit of the cold, clinical, “get it done” attitude that comes across with this Doctor. Unsurprisingly, that same demeanor can be found with the paramilitary organization, UNIT, and its leader, Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart!
The third regeneration introduces Tom Baker. He’s helped by Cho-je who “give[s] the process a little push…”. Cho-Je is a monk; he has studied peace, but the Doctor is still surrounded by Unit, Sarah and Harry. It’s no wonder he’s quirky. He’s more alien than we’ve seen him in quite a while, but he’s also been helped along by one of his own kind so it’s no surprise. He’s still a man of action but with more respect for people, less condescending but he still contends with the know-it-all attitude that undoubtedly was the result of the Brig. His own alien nature would make sense that it came out most strongly here since this is his first time having one of his own people to help him during a regeneration!
Next, Peter Davison arrives. Davison’s Doctor was smart but his most notable trait is always “vulnerability”. His companions include 3 orphans. Tegan is lost and her aunt has just been killed. Nyssa lost her father. Adric lost his brother. Who is more vulnerable than someone who lost a family member? All three companions are smart in their own ways, but that is overshadowed by the loss they each deal with. This Doctor is also vulnerable; more than we’ve ever seen before.
(Bear in mind, though he finds the Zero room, he doesn’t get to use it fully and it is jettisoned from the TARDIS at this point!)
Colin Baker come next. He nearly dies because he has to give his companion an antidote and doesn’t have enough for himself. His companion is a wreck; emotionally always on the brink. Lovely though Nicola was, her rendition of Peri was always on the threshold of a nervous breakdown. It’s no wonder that the feedback loop created between them leads the Doctor to try to strangle her. (I’m not condoning it, but it makes sense in context!) In future context, David Tennant tells Wilf that no matter what, regeneration is like dying and a new man is born from the process. Knowing his death was entirely avoidable, Colin’s Doctor starts off upset and confused which causes him to lash out. It’s not until the end of the first adventure that he declares “I am the Doctor; whether you like it or not!” Presumably the first 15 hours have elapsed and we get the first taste of what his finished product will be and maybe after spending time with his Gallifreyan friend, that helped him be more mellow. (Maybe not enough, but to some extent!)
Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is slightly befuddled and once again more mysterious than his predecessors. He has a darkness to his Doctor. His regeneration is not even complete when the Rani has him taken to her lab. He spends time in the care of one of his own race; an dark, twisted genius. When Mel is around, she’s utterly confused by what changed him. And who knows what impact it has by being on a planet with all the universe’s greatest geniuses. It’s no wonder he’s befuddled at the start. But his personality takes shape, it is evident he has a dark side now too. And once again I point out: his first interaction is with the Rani!
For people who complained about the first kiss on Doctor Who, it’s little wonder that McGann kisses Grace. (We have to ignore just what an absolute delight Daphne Ashbrook is for this analysis!) He comes out of the hospital and she’s attracted to him. She thinks he’s good looking and her boyfriend just broke up with her. So, it’s not unfair to assume she’s feeling something for him. Is it strange that he would kiss her? He’s picking up on the emotions she exhibits; it’s no wonder he responds in kind! (And good for both of them!)
Now I’m only skipping the War Doctor because the Sisterhood of Karn had everything to do with that. He was made into a warrior to deal with a war and that’s what we see – but that had more to do with their “elixir of life” than the regeneration process. He was a made-to-order Doctor and doesn’t even take the name in the end!
Moving on, Christopher Eccleston: we have little knowledge of in his first days until he meets with Rose, but we know he’s upset because he ended the war between his kind and the Daleks and believes he committed genocide TWICE in the process. We know he’s had time without Rose having been at Krakatoa and on the Titanic but we don’t know how much time. (And can we really be sure that was without Rose? From a strict progression from cause to effect, yes but as we know, time is wibbly wobbly, and those images could have come from the Doctor and Rose’s future!! When he sees his reflection in the mirror in Rose’s apartment, his comment implies it’s the first time he’s seeing himself… A subject for a later discussion, perhaps!) The main assumption is that his tough guy attitude came about because he had just brought about the destruction of his own people and probably spent some time alone after regenerating.
Tennant shows up on the scene. He’s “rude and not ginger”. He starts with a slight weakness in the wrist (and then has that hand lopped off and a new one grown). But most of all, he’s surrounded by Rose (who has a crush on him now), Jackie (who has also developed a bit of a liking toward him), Mickey and Harriet Jones. This Doctor is the first to be truly in touch with his softer side. He’s more inclined to kissing and being in touch with his sexuality. (“Yep. Still got it!”) He’s still strong of will, like Harriet – “it is defended”. And he’s a bit silly; not unlike Mickey. He’s an amalgam of all his friends that are present during those first 15 hours.
Matt Smith makes his appearance with a child; little Amelia Pond. Smith is by far the most childlike Doctor. He’s silly, playful, unsure what he likes to eat. He is a kid at heart. Then he meets the older Amy, who is an adult in age, but mentally much the same as she was when they first met, still having emotional scars from losing her imaginary friend. But she’s grown up believing in a fairy tale hero. And what is the most marked observation of the Smith era? Children’s fairy tale…
Which brings us to the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Capaldi may have chosen his face as a reminder that “I’m the Doctor, and I save people!” but his personality is stuck in a feedback loop with Clara. Clara is intent on impressing the older Doctor. The Doctor thus tries to one-up Clara. Clara is a know it all, willing to lie and manipulate to prove she’s learned how to “be the Doctor”. How does the Doctor combat this? By mirroring it. He ends up being the same thing to her and it nearly destroys them both. In many ways, it’s two teens hanging out that are both bad for one another, always challenging one another to do more dangerous things. It’s not what the Doctor was about, but could it be helped? It’s not until he escapes her, whether by choice or not, that he breaks the cycle and starts a proper relationship with Bill, but that’s another story entirely.
And now we are on the cusp of another regeneration. Jodie Whittaker is coming. But the Doctor is traveling alone and has no one to mirror. There’s no Zero Room. We have a blank slate to determine what this Doctor will be. It’s anyone’s guess.
Who knows what’s coming… ML