The departure of the Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi was a historic moment in the history of Doctor Who, and perhaps the most controversial regeneration of all time.
Peter Capaldi had been playing the Twelfth Doctor for nearly three years when it was quietly announced, in early 2017, that he would be leaving the show. In some ways, this came as no surprise; he had been playing the Twelfth Doctor since 2014, and the departure of showrunner Steven Moffat was also on the horizon. Many had expected the new showrunner to come in with a clean slate.
Fans could, however, look forward to a full season of adventures with the Twelfth Doctor in 2017, as well as a new companion in the form of Bill Potts played by Pearl Mackie. Also joining the regular TARDIS team was Nardole played by Matt Lucas, who had first appeared in the 2015 Christmas special ‘The Husbands of River Song.’
Obviously, fans were going into Doctor Who Series 10 with the knowledge that the Twelfth Doctor would soon be regenerating, and this fact was teased a few times throughout the series, and in the trailers leading up to it. One such moment was when the Doctor started to regenerate in ‘The Lie of the Land,’ an episode which came mid-season. This was triggered by his companion Bill, who shot the Doctor after she thought he had betrayed her.
Of course, all was not as it seemed. The Doctor had not betrayed Bill, and neither was he regenerating. The bullet in the gun was a blank, and the Doctor merely faked the regenerative process in order to make the whole scenario seem convincing. In hindsight, this event doesn’t entirely make sense, but it made for a couple of exciting trailer moments, with the Twelfth Doctor being shown with regenerative energy pouring out of his hands.
And so, understandably, fans were a bit suspicious when the Twelfth Doctor was, once again, shown regenerating in the opening moments of ‘World Enough and Time.’ But as it turned out, this regeneration was the real deal; viewers would later learn that the Doctor had been electrocuted by a Cyberman and had indeed been ‘killed.’ But in a historic move for the series, the Doctor was actually resisting the regenerative process – something that he managed to maintain throughout the subsequent episodes ‘The Doctor Falls’ and ‘Twice Upon a Time.’
However, in the latter episode, it transpired that the Doctor had indeed resisted a regeneration before. ‘Twice Upon a Time’ saw the Twelfth Doctor encounter his first incarnation in the closing moments of ‘The Tenth Planet,’ and both Doctors went through the story resisting their respective regenerations together.
And in another landmark moment for the series, ‘Twice Upon a Time’ actually saw two Doctors regenerate in the same episode. Towards the end of the story, the First Doctor returned to the TARDIS and reunited with his friends Ben and Polly before collapsing on the floor and changing into Patrick Troughton. The Twelfth Doctor then followed, and exploded with regenerative energy after wistfully uttering the words, “Doctor, I let you go.”
But who was his successor going to be? Well, for the first time in the series’ history, the BBC took the decision to cast a woman as the eponymous Time Lord. And the reaction to this news was explosive, to say the least. Some vowed never to watch Doctor Who again. Some championed it as one of the most exciting decisions they’d seen in a long time.
Now, Doctor Who regenerations are often controversial (there had been a huge backlash after Matt Smith was cast, for example) but this one was perhaps the most fiercely-debated in the series’ history.
This time, the incumbent Doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker, who had previously worked with Chris Chibnall on the hit ITV drama Broadchurch. Her casting was revealed in a specially-filmed scene which was broadcast after the 2017 Wimbledon Championship’s men’s finals on the 16th July.
“After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls and a lot of secret-keeping, we’re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor,” said new showrunner Chris Chibnall. “I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman, and we’re thrilled to have secured our number one choice… Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role.”
Celebrations, debates and all-out rows followed this reveal, and Whittaker’s casting was perhaps one of the first times that Doctor Who and cancel culture had crossed paths, with those who were unsure about Whittaker’s casting (for whatever reason) being hounded off the internet by a digital mob. The Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, for example, was forced to close his Twitter account after receiving a torrent of abuse from fans.
“All this toxicity about a sci-fi show has been sobering, so I’m calling it a day,” said Davison in his final tweet. “@PeterDavison5 used to be fun. Now it’s not. Must Dash. xx”
He added: “For the record I didn’t say I had doubts about Jodie. I said ‘she’s a terrific actress and will do a wonderful job and we need to open it up.’ I also urged uncertain fans to be supportive about change. It was a caveat about role models in an otherwise positive answer.” (Davison was referring to an earlier tweet in which he’d expressed concern that Whittaker’s casting would mean a loss of a role model for boys.)
None of this would change anything, though. The Twelfth Doctor was on the way out, and the Thirteenth Doctor was here to stay.
And now, in 2021, we await the reveal of the Fourteenth Doctor. It has been confirmed that Jodie Whittaker will be leaving the show in 2022 after five years and 31 episodes. And with former showrunner Russell T Davies returning to oversee Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary and beyond, who knows what the future has in store for Gallifrey’s most famous Time Lord.
How did you feel about the departure of the Twelfth Doctor in 2017? Let me know in the comments below.
Check out the next post: The story behind the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration.
Thirteenth Doctor scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!