Here at the Tour we’re fond of talking about pivot or inflection points, junctions in the program’s history which defined or changed the way in which Doctor Who was either perceived or produced. Well, there can be no more important pivot point than than the one which occurred 50 years ago today (or as of this writing) day when the first regeneration between Doctors occurred at the end of episode four of The Tenth Planet.
In one, perhaps more clinical, aspect, this was merely a transition–even a recasting–for a new lead in the program. Some shows, soaps immediately come to mind, do this and with little fanfare. It’s impossible to know 50 years and more than a continent away if the Hartnell to Troughton transition was low key, but it most certainly cannot be anymore.
Regenerations, as should be obvious to anyone, are the most important aspect to Doctor Who’s amazing longevity, but they are also deeply personal things. Although they can’t happen, as RTD foolishly hoped in 2005, in secret, the first Doctor a fan connects to, when they regenerate, is almost always moved by the experience. For this fan, when we were all playing catch-up in 80’s in the US, it was still affecting when Tom Baker exited in Logopolis.
But even then, in the mid 80’s, any inquiring fan could find out when the end for a particular Doctor was coming. But perversely that only adds to the suspense as to the how and the why of it all. It would be until the 1996 TVM when this fan saw the Doctor regenerate with the rest of the world. The Enemy Within may have had it’s problems, but the regeneration, which any reasonable fan had no right to expect in that particular production, wasn’t one of them. And it was sad, as any regeneration is. But it was also hopeful, for the anticipation of the new-yet-familiar. Another era of Doctor Who was at hand. And what could be better than that?
By the way, there was one regeneration which did come as a surprise. The Night of the Doctor as part of the run-up to the 50th Anniversary came out of nowhere and wonderfully filled in the gap between the eighth and ninth Doctor. That one wasn’t sad. It was an unexpected delight.