With Matt Smith announcing his departure, his final episode being the 2013 Christmas special, I started thinking about how the eleventh Doctor will regenerate. What will the story be? Below is my summary of the circumstances surrounding each regeneration, and speculation on how these events or themes might tie into, or influence, Matt Smith’s last Doctor Who episode.
Physical Damage and Age
Matt Smith has already regenerated once before – it was a clever trick, however, and it would be a spoiler for new viewers who have yet to watch Doctor Who to discuss any more details. The key point to think about is that the Doctor is strong, but fragile. Conventional weapons and other hazards can end a Timelord’s life. Fortunately, regeneration kicks in to save them.
The sixth Doctor and the seventh doctor – played by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy respectively – both suffered injuries that caused a regeneration. No other circumstances prompted the change in these Doctor Who episodes (Time and the Rani, 1987 – Doctor Who: The Movie, 1996).
This might be the cause of Matt Smith’s regeneration. A seemingly random accident, however, seems a thoroughly mundane way to send off The Doctor considering the programs immense, worldwide popularity.
Age can also cause a Timelord to regenerate, which has only happened once so far in the entire Doctor Who series.
The first Doctor proceeded to regenerate from old age, having lived a long life (The Tenth Planet, 1966). It would be interesting if Matt Smith’s regeneration takes place after a time jump or flash forward to the eleventh Doctor’s future. To see the Doctor resign to age rather than weapons damage or other hazard would be an unusual step to take.
Coercion and Punishment
Matt Smith has stated that the second Doctor’s story The Tomb of the Cybermen is his favorite Doctor Who episode. Matching the eleventh Doctor’s exit to the second Doctor’s could be a fitting finale. The circumstances were highly specific, however: the second Doctor was coerced into changing his appearance as punishment from senior Timelords. Without this source of authority in the current Doctor Who episodes, a similar story set-up would be difficult.
The Doctor enjoys saving people. What appears consistent from his travels throughout the various twists and turns of the many Doctor Who episodes is a sense of pride in his ability to rescue those in danger.
Making the ultimate sacrifice for a single person, a populated planet, or the whole universe have all been the catalysts for regeneration.
The third Doctor walked through deadly radiation to prevent an invasion of Earth by evolved and intelligent spiders from the planet Metebelis (Planet of the Spiders, 1974)
The fourth Doctor fell from a satellite dish after thwarting a plan by the Master: The villainous Timelord wanted to cause the universe to decay and collapse using a specific transmission. (Logopolis, 1981)
The fifth Doctor succumbed to spectrox poisoning, after using the one antidote dose available to save the life of his companion, Perri Brown. (The Caves of Androzani, 1984)
The ninth Doctor sacrificed his own life, and saved Rose Tyler, his companion who was close to dying following contamination by the time vortex energies encased inside the TARDIS. (The Parting of the Ways, 2005)
The tenth Doctor rescued Wilfred Mott from being irradiated by an overloading reactor – swapping places with Wilfred, and absorbing the radiation into his own body to prevent it spilling out of the core. (The End of Time, 2009)
Half of the 10 actors who have played the character and moved on have done so in a story that involved themes of sacrifice. What happened to the Eight Doctor, played by Paul McGann, is ambiguous. It’s still likely then that the eleventh Doctor will regenerate as a result of sacrifice, since this appears to be a common theme.
What exactly is going to happen will stay unknown until the Christmas special. Events in the upcoming 50th Anniversary could further change the circumstances of the eleventh Doctor’s final hour.