This post is from the archives of my old blog. It was written halfway through Season Ten, so some updated thoughts may be posted soon.
I make no secret of the fact that I absolutely love Doctor Who, both Classic and New. My parents also love it. I was pretty much raised on it. The Doctor is one of my favourite fictional characters. He’s been with me for most of my life, and he’s changed a lot. We have the obvious changes of each regeneration, but through all of it, he’s the same character and we can see that too.
For this post, I’m just going to talk about the New Who Doctors to date: Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve and the War Doctor—and I’ll refer to them as such. I’m going to give an overview of how I think they show the development of one character, and then talk about which regeneration is my favourite and why. I also have a comment section down below and I’d love to hear from you on the matter! I love an excuse to talk about Doctor Who.
So, preamble done, let’s talk about the Doctor! Spoilers aplenty below.
The Ninth Doctor
“Everything has its time, and everything dies.”
This Doctor had the hard job of reintroducing the show, and introducing Doctor Who and the Doctor to a new audience. And he did a wonderful, wonderful job.
The Doctor is a tragic character in a lot of ways. With Nine, we really see this. Nine is fresh out of the Last Great Time War. The weight of what he did is new to his shoulders. And Nine’s not a young man playing at maturity like One, or an old man playing at being young like Eleven. He’s fallen in the middle. In fact, Nine probably doesn’t know who he is. He’s new to ignoring the existence of the War Doctor. He’s rediscovering who he is as a person. He’s full of guilt.
Ten is the Doctor people know as being in love with Rose Tyler, but Nine is the Doctor who falls in love. While more recent seasons have taken the valid route of exploring how the Doctor differs from humanity, Nine got to explore how he’s similar. With Rose, Nine got to go through the process of discovering that he could still be the Doctor. And he’s sassy. He’s funny. He’s charming when he wants to be. But he can also be outwardly cold and callous. He’s full of bitterness that he can’t keep down.
The Time War is just over his shoulder at every moment. He was always ready for just as tragic a battle scene to return. Remember Dalek? Not only was there the scary moment when the Doctor tried to kill the Dalek, but think of the fear in the Doctor’s eyes when he realises that a Dalek is still alive. Then, later in the series, when he sees an army of them and realises his actions may have been for nothing.
It’s actually really interesting to think about the set up created with this Doctor. We have an old character, but he’s learning who he is all over again. He’s full of memories and old pain, but also a whole new side of himself that makes him a very different man. This was a strong way to reintroduce the Doctor. Though, given everything, his existence was so short.
The Tenth Doctor
“There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive …Wormhole refractors … You know the thing you need most of all? A hand to hold.”
Ten appears far more jovial than his predecessor. He’s usually friendly and charismatic. But sometimes, it becomes clear that this is largely a facade to hide his guilt. The Doctor doesn’t want people to know the monster he believes himself to be, and so hides this monster behind liveliness and cheer.
His younger appearance is interesting when we consider what we learn in Twelve’s first episode: he wants to be accepted, and his appearance reflects this. This too might have something to do with It makes him far more approachable.
Ten shows a tendency to really feel the hit of a lost friend, maybe because of just how difficult the loss of Rose truly was. And while Nine was able to leave people behind—Adam, who he disliked, being one example, and good friend Jack Harkness being another—Ten struggled a lot more with this. When he rejects a request to travel with Christina, he does so with obvious pain.
And it has to be mentioned, doesn’t it? We got hints of Nine’s darkness, but Ten is the only Doctor who managed to scare me. When he lost it, he really lost it. Perhaps all that work hiding that darkness only served to strengthen it. It seems like suppressing it does him no good. I agree with the line of argument that the tearful “I don’t wanna go line,” wasn’t the best exit for Ten, but it’s what we got. And he’s so overwhelmed by his own dark side that, regenerating in a moment of pure fear, he suppresses it even further.
The Eleventh Doctor
“I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”
Oh, Eleven. I do love Eleven. While many agree that Moffat can be a little hit and miss (did you really need to make us feel like we were watching an entirely different show, Moffat?) his era has given us some wonderful character development for the Doctor.
It’s definitely noteworthy that the first person Eleven encounters is a child. Eleven is childish! He’s fun and bouncy. Full of energy. Rushing everywhere—running to things, but also away from them. He looks even younger than Ten did. Trying to blend in? Trying to be accepted? Yes, but he’s taking a different approach. In being quirky and outlandish and someone you’ll definitely remember running into, he can be a fun presence and an awesome friend. But he creates distance, too. We have to accept that he’s, well, a little different.
Let’s just think about the layers to this regeneration—the last in his original cycle, and as far as he knows his last ever—for a moment. It’s easy to see how playful and energetic he is, but he’s also quite calculating. As I said above, he’s distant. He takes long breaks from seeing his companions, and this is often a tactical move for their safety. He engages in operations, let’s call them, that last centuries and it’s because his fearsome reputation was coming back to haunt him. Think of the Silence, and their purpose. Eleven is a childlike man, full of wonder, but he’s also the most feared thing in the universe.
Eleven is also the current Doctor during Day of the Doctor. Though the special received mixed responses, it gave the Doctor a chance at redemption in his own eyes, even if he may never believe that he’s a good man. At least, he accepts that he didn’t stop being the Doctor, and for him that’s important. And I don’t believe that saving Gallifrey took away so much guilt from him that he lost his darkness because he’s exactly the man who hangs onto every loss of life. “Everybody lives!”, really only just this once, was back with Nine.
But the Doctor is starting to accept himself, starting to find trust anew. Eleven, after all, falls in love again. And by his death, he’s accepted that he is an old man who would always change and yet always have the same core. It’s sappy to put it that way, I know, but Eleven’s regeneration into Twelve is my favourite regeneration scene so far.
The Twelfth Doctor
“Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.”
Now it’s interesting that the Doctor seems to accept himself and then go right to denying his elderly appearance, but Twelve is a cantankerous fellow isn’t he? And as Madame Vastra explains, it’s a trust thing. Unconscious. Actually, so is a lot of stuff I’ve discussed so far.
Twelve appears older though he’s the first in this cycle. Arguably, he’s like One in that way. And Twelve may be rid of the guilt that was consuming him, but he’s coming to question his morality overall. He doesn’t know if he’s a good man. He has a rough attitude. He can be cold, and his inability to recognise emotions, while often funny, doesn’t help. He often antagonises. He has his kind and funny side. He’s still the Doctor. But, it’s not until after Clara’s departure that the light and dark parts of him reconcile.
Twelve spends a great deal of time away from his companions. He doesn’t have the tendency of earlier iterations to travel with them full time. But, despite questioning his morals, he’s clearly grown enough that he’s able to spend this time alone now. He also dedicates a great deal of time to causes. He mourns River, but it doesn’t overwhelm him in the same way that it would Ten. And he often misses when he’s insensitive, but that doesn’t mean he’s not self-aware about it.
The War Doctor
“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”
This is the Doctor who existed during the Time War, and is otherwise known by names such as the Warrior and the Renegade. Believing himself unworthy, he’s dropped the name of Doctor. He considers himself nameless. He exists for the purpose of being a warrior and has detached himself from anything else, perhaps only partly deliberately.
This is the Doctor who, unbearably sick of the death and destruction around him, and expecting it to spread throughout the universe, considers using the Moment to wipe out Daleks and Time Lords both in order to end it. That’s the act that sparks the guilt we’ve seen sit with the Doctor for so long. That’s the act so unspeakable it sparks a frenzy of desperate heroism.
But it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t call himself the Doctor. As Ten said, he’s the Doctor more than any of them. I’ve already talked about the Doctor’s darkness driving him to the edge, almost making him to something terrible. And here, it’s the same thing. Because in the end, he doesn’t do it. In the end, he can’t kill those Time Lords. In the end, he is the Doctor again. (And I hate to ruin the mood, but I’d love to write about how inconsistent the Doctor’s morality on genocide is when we switch from Davies to Moffat.)
So, who’s my favourite?
“He’s the same man, always.”
– Steven Moffat
This is going to be fun. As you can see, I ran a quick Twitter poll for feedback on which Doctor is people’s favourite and the results were pretty much what I expected. People love Ten.
I will say before I continue that I really do love this character, so picking one regeneration over another may not mean a great deal as I love every one of them. And I have to say that I’ll always have a sentimental attachment to Nine. He was my first Doctor. Can you replace that? However, not my favourite overall.
So, which Doctor is my favourite? This beauty:
I acknowledge some weaker episodes, but some of my favourite episodes were Twelve episodes. Heaven Sent is the perfect example. And that episode is something of a Doctor character study. I love the way that this Doctor examines himself and his morality. I love the way he manages to maintain faith in himself. I love that we’ve got some dark episodes with him. And I love that this Doctor brings a side to the Doctor that we haven’t seen before.
I really appreciate all this moral and societal exploration with Twelve. If you stick around to read more of my content, you’ll learn that I live for that. Also, I have to say that as an autistic person who grew up using this show as a coping mechanism, seeing some of my autistic traits portrayed by this Doctor is quite a validating experience. That’s more of a personal one, but I think it stands.
Twelve is witty. Twelve is wise. Twelve is loving. Twelve is kind. Twelve is callous. Twelve is cruel. Twelve is all the little bits of the Doctor brought to the surface and I love him for it.
And he punched a racist.
Before You Go…
I know this was quite a lengthy post, but I have a comment section down below. I loved the information that the poll provided, but I’d love to hear in more detail which of the Doctors—and you’re more than welcome to go Classic—is your favourite, and why. I could talk about this show forever.