Doctor Who

Doctor Who: A Regeneration FAQ

Assuming that we Whovians aren't being faked out, this Christmas will see the end of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, and Peter Capaldi assuming the role as the Twelfth. It's sure to be an emotional set-up considering that we generally only get a new Doctor when the previous one dies. Who among fans doesn't tear up when we think about Nine sealing his fate with a kiss, dying only after telling Rose she was fantastic? Or Ten as he fatally irradiated himself to save Wilf, visiting all his companions one last time before leaving on a tearful, "I don't want to go."

Painful and sad as each regeneration is, it's undoubtedly one of the things that has enabled the show to survive for so long. "Life depends on change and renewal," said the Second Doctor moments after rising from the floor after the death of the First. The process itself, though, is still very mysterious. Just what is regeneration, anyway?

I took to some forums to allow people to ask questions, hoping to clear up everyone's understanding of the mysterious way the Time Lords cheat death.

See also: Doctor Who Slap Fight: Battle of Classic Doctors in Modern Stories

What is regeneration?: The short answer is, "A clever solution by the writers." In 1966, William Hartnell was ready to be done with the show. He was aging, often injured on the set, and disheartened at the departure of producer Verity Lambert. The BBC was also happy to be rid of Hartnell, whose salary was by far the largest involved in the show, but still wanted to keep the popular program growing. This was born the idea of regeneration, or renewal as it was called.

When a Time Lord is fatally injured, poisoned, or otherwise driven close to the point of death he or she can channel an energy source that essentially reboots every cell in their body. Everything from height to hair color to personality can become completely different. Essentially, regeneration is a "patch" to damaged code that overrides the previous program. Memories are maintained through incarnations, but not always completely. The Eighth Doctor experienced almost total amnesia, whereas the Second actually viewed his previous self as a different person entirely at first.

Can it fail? The ability to regenerate does not make Time Lords immortal. They can still be killed, though obviously this is much more difficult. Some simple dangers that would kill a human are also fatal to Time Lords, such as drowning and an overdose of some common Earth anesthetics. Simultaneous stopping of both hearts can also work, as can exposure to acid.

There are certain weapons specifically designed to counteract the regeneration ability. The Time Lords themselves developed stasers, which can kill a fellow Time Lord in one shot. The Daleks also perfected Retro-generator radiation which can retard, though maybe not entirely stop the process. Contagious diseases which affect two-hearted species such as the Gallifreyans can be deadly. Chen-7 is an example. The poison from a Judas tree also inhibits the renewal.

A Time Lord can also simply not regenerate by will.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner