Doctor Who: Why Eleven’s Regeneration blows Ten’s Out of The Water
AKA finally following up on that thing I said I’d do over here. AKA another excuse to rant about ‘The End Of Time’. Let’s go.
PART ONE: I DO Want To Go
The most obvious virtue of Eleven’s regeneration is that the Doctor himself (exempts?) it with open arms. The line “I Don’t Want To Go”, uttered by Ten as his last words, has been picked apart and made fun of by Whovians for almost five years now.
The simplest reasoning for this criticism, is that it makes Ten seem like a total sissy, essentially turning the audience against Eleven, before he even has the chance to do anything.
Most people know that Ten is my least favorite incarnation of the Doctor. The biggest reason for this is because the Tenth Doctor fails at having a consistent, narrative driven character, and nowhere is that better exemplified than in this scene.
At the risk of going on a tangent, let me bring up another regeneration scene; Eccleston’s. In terms of raw emotion, context is key when it come to Nine’s regeneration. He’s been a brooding, guilt-ridden wreck for nearly his entire tenure, and half (if not more) of his episodes ended with him in some kind of funk. It speaks volumes that the one completely happy ending he got had him utterly ecstatic.
So when the time comes for him to go (after yet another long trip through the emotional wringer) he views the chance to change as a blessing, as a way to cleanse himself of his past hardships. Having seen some of these hardships, it’s much easier for the audience to sympathize with him.
The Tenth’s change is the polar opposite of this, in that context, it’s what ruins it. The Tenth Doctor had a tenure four times the length of Nine’s, and in that time he;
* Ruined a woman’s career because he disagreed with her, and by extension, prevented England from becoming much more technologically advanced and inadvertently got her killed.
* Grew close to and lost four potential romantic interests.
* Created an autonomous human as part of a disguise before basically killing it.
* Fought his childhood friend / worst enemy twice and watched him die both times.
* Got a clone daughter and watched her die.
* Got possessed and nearly thrown to his death, by the species he tends to idolize.
* Had to erase all memory of himself, from his best friend at the time, so she wouldn’t die.
* Went utterly batsh*t insane and declared himself God before driving a woman to suicide, and finally;
* Witnessed the return and death of his species for a second time in like twelve minutes.
Where am I going with this? With all the turmoil that Ten had been through, in his relatively short life, he should see the regeneration as a chance to put it all behind him, embracing it like Nine did. The idea that, after all he went through, he would steadfastly refuse the chance for a fresh start is simply bad character writing.
The context of the narrative is that Ten needs release from his past as much as Nine did, but when the time comes for that release he rages at it because… he’s too handsome, I guess.
PART ONE POINT FIVE: Is he actually dying or not?
Whilst writing that whole spiel up there, I totally forgot to mention another level on which that final line totally fails.
Follow my reasoning; when Ten first brings up regenerating to Wilfred, he says that it “feels like dying”. Keep in mind that, throughout the shows history, there have been quite a few other Time Lord characters, and Ten is the first to ever express this sentiment. He says that even then, the change is a best case scenario, and this adventure may very well end with him actually dying for really reals.
So after jumping out of a spaceship a couple thousand feet high in an attempt to avoid death (when a fall of a few stories was enough to kill the 4th Doctor and a bad knock on the head enough to kill the 6th), Ten stops the bad guys and expresses relief that he’s “still alive”. When he realizes he’s going to have to suck up a boatload of radiation to save Wilfred, he goes ballistic and actually contemplates not doing it.
It’s only when he actually does step up that we get to the really stupid part.
After saving Wilf, he says “It’s started”. We know now, that he knows he’s not actually dying. And yet:
It was revealed in the ‘Sarah Jane Adventures’ episode “Death of the Doctor” that before regenerating, Ten went out of his way to visit all of his companions. Not just his RTD era companions, all of them.
Keep in mind that at this point there had already been around fifty of them, and THOSE were only the ones we saw on television. This would have taken days worth of time on The Doctor’s part, while he’s still full of radiation and undoubtedly in great pain.
My simple question is: why?
Was it really such a cool idea to push the whole Messianic Archetype thing even further, despite it making no god damn sense for Ten to do? Why is he giving himself a final goodbye when he’s not actually dying? Why would he visit people who have never even met this regeneration if he views it as a separate entity from the other Doctors?
If he doesn’t view himself as a separate entity, why does the line “I don’t want to go” even exist?
I realize I’ve made these two points WAY too long and they aren’t even the entirety of my argument. But the fact is, Russell T. Davies wrote a terribly structured, poorly thought out, series of events that compromised an already shaky character, just so that he could speak through him.
And that’s terrible.
Let’s move on.
PART TWO: Timing Is Everything.
The Tenth Doctor’s regeneration is long. Like, really long. Even ignoring the “Farewell Parade of Death”, the scene directly transitioning Ten to Eleven takes longer than any regeneration before it.
Starting from when the regeneration begins to obscure the actors’ features, nearly 50 seconds pass by. Thus, the transition from Ten to Eleven takes by far the longest out of any of the previous ones, where the average transition lasts about 14 seconds.
(note: The argument could be made that Elevens regeneration actually takes longer than Ten’s, if you start timing it when his hand starts glowing. I personally don’t count it this way because the effects aren’t present for the rest of the scene. Even if this is the case, the fact that Eleven is speechifying to Clara keeps it from feeling like empty space.)
Forgetting for second that it saves screen time for better things, the jarringly quick transition from Smith to Capaldi forces the audience to immediately accept him as new head honcho. The drawn out nature of Tennant’s exit kept a lingering image of him as the end all, be all in the eyes of the audience. I’m actually not going to blame Russell for this, since this timing thing seems like the kind of mistake that is made by the director.
PART THREE: The Big Fix
Thankfully, this point is shorter, because it really is a simple thing, rather than the complex train crash of the last point and a half.
In both Ten and Eleven’s regenerations, the process begins with The Doctor’s body being healed of its aging and injuries. My immediate reaction is to question why, a process meant to create a new body, would bother “resetting” the current one. In ‘The End of Time’ we never get an answer, but at least in ‘Time of The Doctor’ we get an implication that this is a side-effect of having a new regeneration cycle. The fact that we’ve never seen a similar circumstance on-screen before means we can’t really complain.
This whole bit may seem relatively petty when compared to the others, yet I can’t help but feel that both times it was done solely for the actors to be photogenic during their last on-screen moments. Even if it is just a throwaway line, it would be nice to have such a seemingly shallow move be explained on screen.
PART FOUR: Tone
The very moment where The End of Time becomes intolerable for me, is after the Vinvocci Space-battle sequence. The simple reason is that it’s the last moment of FUN in the episode. After The Doctor jumps out of that ship, we’re subjected to 15-20 minutes of straight melodrama which doesn’t let up until the very moment Matt Smith appears.
The Master dies… again, The Doctor dooms his entire race… again, then rages against the most likable character in the episode, for no actual reason, before spending several minutes being broody and foreboding, infecting everyone around him with his dourness.
If there’s one thing a show should never do (especially this show), is maintain a tone this dark for this long. Though it ran the risk of creating some serious Mood Whiplash, Time Of The Doctor pulls this off better by immediately preceding the regeneration with a very triumphant and upbeat victory. Aside from the fact that The Doctor has to change, there’s really no tragedy to be found. For arguably the first time in decades, we have a regeneration that’s coupled with an objectively happy ending.
It’s very comforting to know that the Doctor’s leave doesn’t always have to come with some external loss.
And finally PART FIVE: Prophecy
I feel that the root of all the previously mentioned problems with Ten’s change is that RTD decided to have his “death” be prophesied, prior to the episode. I can’t help but feel this was all part of RTD’s attempt to “epicify” the conflict, by giving Ten just as much knowledge of his departure as the audience.
In contrast, ‘Time of the Doctor’ plays out like a relatively simple, front-to-back adventure, without much foreboding until late in the second act. The (which one?) Doctor doesn’t open the episode knowing he’s going to die soon, creating some nice Dramatic Irony, while also not straining any credulity (like a random, psychic, black lady knowing that the Doctor would die for some reason).
This also means, that the upcoming regeneration doesn’t dominate the story. Ten’s foreknowledge meant the whole story boiled down to his internal conflict, which, as we established before, is stupid.
Because Eleven doesn’t know his end is coming, the story is able to focus on its elements, as opposed to writing itself around the emotional aspect and nothing else.
EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that Eleven’s regeneration totally DID have an element of prophecy to it, that being the first mentions of Trenzalore by Dorium in “The Wedding of River Song”.
I feel legitimately stupid for forgetting that aspect, but my incredibly shallow excuse for forgetting is this is that A) I haven’t watched that episode in over a year, and B) the “Fall of The. Eleventh” aspect of Dorium’s warning was largely glanced over in favor of the “Question” aspect. I know that’s not an actually excuse for forgetting a detail that essentially destroys one of my points, but there it is.
Besides, I’m sure there’s an easy way to twist this fact in favor of my argument. Like the fact that Ten and Eleven both having foreknowledge makes Ten’s total wuss moments even worse in comparion? Maybe.
So there’s my disjointed attempt to explain why, ‘Time of the Doctor’ was ultimately a refreshing breath of competence and a good example of how to pull off a change in actors as well.
Agree? Disagree? Discuss in the comments.