The Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration at the end of ‘The Power of the Doctor’ was truly historic, with audiences left stunned and surprised as to who she actually turned into.
Indeed, the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration was just one of a number of firsts for the series. For a start, this was the first regeneration in the New Who era to take place outside the TARDIS. It only took 17 years! (Unless you count Peter Capaldi’s almost-regeneration in ‘World Enough and Time.’)
Secondly (and less pleasantly) the end of the Jodie Whittaker era was disrupted (though not overshadowed) by the global pandemic which had brought TV and film production to a complete standstill, at least for a time. Although we don’t know the original plans for Jodie Whittaker’s third season in the TARDIS, it’s likely that she would have enjoyed a full series of 10 episodes and a special, in the same vein as Series Eleven and Twelve.
But of course, because of COVID, this never happened. Even when it was safe to bring a cast of actors together in a carefully-coordinated environment, the social distancing restrictions meant that filming on the Thirteenth Doctor’s third season was slower than usual. Thus, the episodes building up to the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration ended up being fewer.
The result of this was something of another first – one of the longest Doctor Who stories of all time, which spanned the entirety of Series Thirteen. The six episodes that made up Doctor Who: Flux (some 50 – 60 minutes in length) bring us close to an six hour story, which is considerably longer than the previous record holder ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan,’ or ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ depending on whether you class it as one story or four.
And like all good final seasons, Doctor Who: Flux teased the audience with the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration, with the physical embodiment of Time warning her: “Nothing is forever. No regeneration, no life. Beware of the forces that mass against you, and their Master.” Certainly, this had echoes of the ominous “He will knock four times” prophecy which had plagued the Tenth Doctor in the episodes before his demise.
Another advantage of the curtailed Series Thirteen was that it gave some breathing room for the specials that followed: ‘Eve of the Daleks,’ ‘The Legend of the Sea Devils’ and ‘The Power of the Doctor.’ Jodie Whittaker would be departing the series after three movie-like adventures which featured a plethora of classic monsters, not least the famous Sea Devils, who hadn’t been seen since 1984’s ‘Warriors of the Deep.’
Moreover, one of these specials (the one featuring the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration, no less) would also mark the BBC’s centenary. As such, ‘The Power of the Doctor’ was particularly epic in scale, and not only featured Daleks, Cybermen and the Master, but also (spoiler alert) David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, plus returning companions Tegan and Ace to boot.
And so the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration episode had a celebratory feel which harked back to earlier specials like ‘The Day of the Doctor‘ and 1983’s ‘The Five Doctors’ at an impressive 90 minutes in length. Indeed, ‘The Power of the Doctor’ is one of the single longest episodes in Doctor Who history.
As for the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration itself, for the first time viewers were divided as to what to expect. Ncuti Gatwa had been officially unveiled as the next Doctor, but fans were also aware that the Tenth Doctor David Tennant was returning to shoot scenes for the show’s 60th anniversary specials, which would follow the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration. And one fan rumour suggested that Whittaker would in fact regenerate into Tennant in a surprise twist – a rumour which outgoing showrunner Chris Chibnall addressed in an interview with the Radio Times.
Even so, when the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration did finally occur, it was a huge surprise. Jodie Whittaker didn’t transform into Ncuti Gatwa but David Tennant, as many had speculated. And even more puzzlingly, the Doctor’s clothes regenerated with him. Gone were the Thirteenth Doctor’s rainbow sweater and grey trench coat, and in was the Tenth Doctor’s iconic suited look – albeit in a new colour palette with a suit that (at first glance) appeared to combine a waistcoat. What was going on?
At the time of writing, we still don’t have an answer to that question. The Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration remains something of a puzzle that will hopefully be resolved in the upcoming 60th anniversary specials, although the BBC has since announced that David Tennant is the canonical Fourteenth Doctor, and Ncuti Gatwa is the Fifteenth. So we can expect another regeneration in the near future.
Intriguingly, Ncuti Gatwa did appear in the trailer for the 60th anniversary specials, and it looked as if he was wearing a version of the Fourteenth Doctor’s clothes as he cried, “Can someone tell me what the hell is going on here?!” echoing, no doubt, the clamours from fans nationwide.
But we said that the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration saw a number of firsts, and this was one of them. A former Doctor had never returned as a new incarnation before, although intriguingly this idea was mooted when the the BBC was looking for ways to inject new life into Doctor Who in the 1980s; its co-creator Sydney Newman pitched the idea that one of the past Doctors could return to the TARDIS – namely Patrick Troughton. In the end, though, the part went to the Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.
As for the ratings for the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration, a very respectable 5.3 million viewers tuned in to see her transformation into David Tennant. This may seem like a small figure compared to the dizzying heights of ‘City of Death‘s 16 million, but it ended up being the second most-watched programme of the day and the fifth most-watched programme of the week. This was the show’s highest placement since Jodie Whittaker’s first season back in 2018.
All things considered, the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration was a real departure (no pun intended) which promised to take the Doctor in a whole new direction. Who knows what the “new” Doctor will be faced with when he parks the TARDIS in 2023.
What did you think of the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration episode? And which has been your favourite regeneration story so far? Let us know in the comments below.
Thirteenth Doctor’s scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!