A friend of mine recently succumbed to peer pressure and binge-watched S1. She is now suffering from regeneration.
I feel her pain. The loss of the Ninth Doctor was in some ways especially sad: he was my Doctor, and his time was so short. I have said before, S1 remains far and away my favorite; I could watch it over and over again, and sometimes I do.
Regeneration itself is, of course, a stroke of creative genius. Producers faced with an ailing star accidentally made their show immortal. It probably shouldn’t have worked: who would accept a completely different actor as the same character? Who would accept a character who changed not only his face, but also large facets of his personality?
In fact it worked so well, the show is still going strong 51 years and 11 actors later. (Or twelve or fifteen or however many, depending on how you count.)
There is, of course, no logical barrier to the decision. The Doctor is an alien. Almost nothing is known about his kind. Why shouldn’t he be able to regenerate? Why shouldn’t he have two hearts and a respiratory bypass system? (There may be good physiological reasons, but this is fantasy.) Why shouldn’t he, for that matter, come back as a woman? If he’s happy just to have legs, why would he be bothered by a change in gender?
First Doctor fans watched in awe and terror alongside Ben and Polly as their old friend faded into a stranger. Nothing like it had ever been done before. By now, most fans are at least a little bit prepared. My friend came to the show at least in part for David Tennant and Paul McGann; she had no expectation that Eccleston’s tenure would be a long one. Still his passing left her bereft. Matt Smith’s fans knew his time had come six months in advance, but still they mourned him. The shock may be eased, but the grief remains.
But why mourn, if he’s the same man?
The Tenth Doctor’s era ended in a long run of melodrama. He was sad, lonely, grieving the loss of his world and a string of much-loved companions. He lamented his own impending death. But he wouldn’t die; he would get up and walk away, with nothing worse than a new face. Still, he says, it feels like dying.
It’s true each Doctor is in many ways a whole new person. Each one has different preferences, different ways of being, a different relationship with his friends and his fans. Though the person underneath remains the same, the package varies: mercurial Ten becomes goofy Eleven, goofy Eleven becomes harsh Twelve. In the time it takes to find the man himself again, friends and fans mourn the passing of the person he was before.
I love Ten and Twelve and Four and all the rest; they’re all the Doctor, and every one is wonderful in his way. But still, in the back of my heart somewhere, I’m just a little bit sad I had to give up Nine to get them.