Steven Moffat, regenerations and revelations

Andrew takes his sword to the Gordian knot that is Steven Moffat's recent pronouncement on the Doctor's regenerations...

Contains spoiler-y discussion of all things Doctor Who.

As reported yesterday, Steven Moffat has been teasing people again. As an ex-teacher, you’d hope he’d know better, but we know now that he’s a dreadful flirt, and not to be trusted: ‘I’ve been lying my arse off for months.’

Rule One: The Showrunner lies. But he lies so much that when he says he lies, we aren’t sure if he’s lying.

So when Moffat talks about regeneration, and says “He can only regenerate twelve times,” and “I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There’s something you’ve all missed”, there’s an inevitable mixture of frustration, excitement, and suspicion.

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The simplest possible explanation is that he’s lying. This is unlikely. Moffat plays these mind-games with us, like a cross between Councillor Goth and Old Gregg, to stir up speculation, get some column inches, and also because he knows that we enjoy the detective work. Lying would only produce false expectations that would mainly lead to disappointment, so hinting at the truth is more likely. It’s still worth taking with a pinch of salt though, because no-one wants to show their hand too early.

So, given that we don’t know how much of this is true, and that he might just be trying to drum up sales for the new release of The Tenth Planet, what could Mr Moffat mean?

Two Doctors were never seen to regenerate. The Eighth Doctor only features in one film, and we don’t even see the events leading up to his regeneration. Speculation has been focussed here. We all know that there is a gap, and we all know that regeneration cycles can by biologically augmented (the Master is offered a new cycle in The Five Doctors). Back at this point where there were Time Lords, could the Doctor have been offered new lives? More than that, if it was the Eighth Doctor who fought in the Time War – which is still unconfirmed, but suspected – then obviously the Time Lords would want to give themselves an advantage (even if they were doing incredibly stupid things like putting loads of Daleks into handy, travel-sized prisons during the conflict).

However, when Moffat says it’s something we’ve all missed, there was already existing speculation that the John Hurt version of the Doctor was a missing incarnation between the Eighth and Ninth, and was the Doctor who fought the Time War. A theory I haven’t seen (though it might well be circulating around somewhere) is that the Eighth Doctor dies.

As in no-regeneration. The end. Dead.

We know, however, that the Master was resurrected for the Time War by his own people, so why wouldn’t they do the same for the Doctor? This potentially covers The Brain of Morbius issue (other incarnations are shown on a screen, and it’s unclear whether these are the Doctor or Morbius, though later dialogue would suggest it wasn’t the Doctor) and also explains how Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is now younger than Sylvester McCoy’s (900 years old, as opposed to 953), and gives us a fair few more incarnations to play with before the twelve regenerations limit is up.

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Even in the wake of The Name of the Doctor, featuring Ol’ Sixie merrily striding past Clara, it’s hard to see how something so reliant on continuity will make it into an anniversary special. Applying Occam’s Razor again, it’s most likely that the Hurt Doctor will be a missing incarnation and that one of the previous regenerations won’t have counted (for reasons that can be rattled off quickly with one line of exposition).

So, what of past regenerations? Well, there’s still some vagueness over the first two. As the term ‘regeneration’ wasn’t coined until Jon Pertwee’s finale in 1975, the term ‘renewal’ is used in The Power of the Daleks to explain the sudden arrival of Patrick Troughton. However, the idea that the Second Doctor is merely a younger First Doctor has been printed in Doctor Who Magazine, and is hardly unspoken. Less commonly examined is the change from Troughton to Pertwee: a punishment from the Time Lords referred to as ‘changing your physical appearance’. However, it is clearly a change of personality as well. If it’s not a regeneration, then it’s not really much of a punishment is it? It somewhat diminishes the godlike power of the Doctor’s people in The War Games if their sentence is ‘Exile, and a slightly annoying amount of explanation to people you’ve already met.’

Also, dialogue in The Five Doctors explicitly states that these are regenerations. It’s almost as if canon is an enjoyably contradictory mish-mash of disparate ideas that were being made up as they went along. The Fifth to Sixth regeneration is very definite. Sixth to Seventh… well, maybe the Sixth Doctor was just Sylvester McCoy in a wig all along?

Seventh to Eighth might not be a regeneration either. It might simply be that the Doctor was yawning oddly when the wind changed direction.

The figure of The Watcher – who was the Doctor all the time, as Nyssa so helpfully yet vaguely pointed out to us – is another possibility. The Valeyard, likewise, is some form of the Doctor that hasn’t been fully explained and therefore has potential. The third demi-incarnation who could crop up is the Metacrisis Doctor who goes off to live with Rose. Could these figures have found permanent form? The Metacrisis Doctor is probably the easiest to work into the plot, with Rose and the Tenth Doctor appearing, but does anyone else find the idea of an old alternative-version of the Doctor turning out to be the one who goes back in time and does unspecified wrongdoings just a bit long-winded and dull?

Likewise there’s possibilities around the regeneration energy that River Song uses to save the Doctor’s life. While this is more recent, it requires a more convoluted explanation than the alternate incarnations (it doesn’t intuitively explain the Hurt Doctor). Either way, it’ll require some excellent exposition to sell it to casual viewers.

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To further complicate matters, as I am typing this a further snippet of Moffat has surfaced over on SFX where he says the ideal past-Doctor to have for the anniversary would be the First, so he can look fully at what he’s become. So, some version of this idea created the Hurt Doctor. Could he be, then, set before the First Doctor? One that he doesn’t want to talk about and therefore hasn’t? Could the regeneration we’ve missed be because it happened before we even meet the Doctor?

Ultimately, the Moff is clever and cunning, and deceitful above all things. Who can understand it? As ever, there’s enough info to tantalise but never to confirm. We can appeal to parsimony all we like but it’d be like cutting up a bacon lardon so everyone gets an equal share.

No, all parsimony tells us as this:

Steven Moffat is pure evil.

You know that bit in The End of Time when the Earth is plagued by nightmares of the Master, laughing maniacally? That’s based on Moffat at a tone meeting. That’s what will be in your dreams tonight.

For Steven Moffat is evil.

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Evil from the dawn of time.

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