Many will think how can someone do a Best of List to a holiday that had only one special episode ever? But what is celebrated on Easter? In Christian mythology Easter is the day when someone died and came back to the living. So what is the Doctor Who equivalent? Of course! The plot device, which enabled the show to live that long. So I present the Top 5 Regeneration episodes.
As a special gift this is not my personal list, but the list by all the members of the German Facebook group “Doctor Who Deutschland”, the Facebook group “Doctor Who missing Episodes” and of the biggest German Forum under drwho.de/forum. It’s their list, all I am doing is saying what I think of the episodes and above all about the departure of the Doctor. And because of the participation of the missing episodes Group, I will write this Top 5 in English as well. So thank you to everyone who voted without knowing what for! More proof that we are the best fandom out there! Have fun.
5. Parting of the ways (s01e12+13 NW)(10 Votes)
Team: 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman)
The first regeneration of the new Series was kind of surprising to me. Although I already knew that the Doctor renews himself from time to time, I didn’t know that the new Doctor only had one season. This was the time before I was part of the fandom, so I didn’t know that it would happen. And I really liked Eccleston’s Doctor.
Suddenly the Doctor finds himself in a reality show, without knowing, how he got there. It is clear, that this is not a harmless show, like Big Brother or the Weakest Link; at the end the losers will lose their lives. Rose and Jack are trapped in these deadly game shows too. When the Doctor realizes that it is no coincidence they are all trapped this way he succeeds in finding an escape out of his deadly show. Jack can shoot his way out of it too. Only Rose was the Weakest Link and lost her game. But she finds that she is not dead. The losers are not killed after all; they are teleported onto a Dalek ship. The Emperor Dalek survived the time war, built a cult around him and uses human organisms as the basis for building his new Dalek army.
The Doctor can save Rose, but there are now millions of Dalek soldiers attacking the satellite station that they are on. Many people lose their lives during the attack. Even Jack dies. In the end the Doctor is left only with the choice of destroying the satellite, the Earth and the Dalek fleet with them. He sends Rose back to her home together with the TARDIS. But the companion can’t sit at home calmly knowing, that the Doctor is in grave danger. She accidentally succeeds in breaking free the Time Vortex held inside the TARDIS which grants her almighty power. She travels forth in time and scatters every particle of the Dalek fleet across time.
She saved everyone but can’t hold the power of the Time Vortex anymore. She is on the edge of dying. The ninth Doctor takes the Time Vortex in order to save his companion. He succeeds in saving her, but even his body cannot handle the power so he will die. Rose who can’t comprehend what is going on watches the Doctor regenerate.
Many elements from the previous episodes form a picture here. The news satellite 5 has a comeback as the main location of the story. The deeds of the Doctor didn’t make everything better, but made everything even worse. The episode Dalek – arguably one of the best New Who episodes – ensured that from a 21st Century viewer’s point of view even these laughable looking monsters are threatening; especially with such a huge fleet.
The pacing is flawless. The Doctor finds himself in a position mysterious for him as well as for us. Slowly we discover the bigger picture and by the time we have all the information the situation is out of control already. The cliffhanger was well placed in particular. Together with the dialogue by the Doctor it was a good ending for the first episode.
“Our heroes” performed on a high level. Christopher Eccleston was brilliant with his sheer hatred towards the Daleks and the despair need to save his companion superbly portrayed. The conflict of destroying another planet to get rid of the Daleks finally was well suited for this Doctor. After viewing the events of the War-Doctor these scenes gain even more depth.
Even Billie Piper, who I didn’t like in this role much, gave a very good portrayal behaving introverted and aloof as required.
In the end the Doctor has to sacrifice himself with a smile on his face and the viewer is wondering what will come next with this strange person in the TARDIS. This Doctor died as he was shown in his era; with a ton of humor and a strong will. He knew he would regenerate and accepted his fate without any hesitation or whining. This episode is a worthy farewell to this Doctor whom we saw not enough of.
Although I genuinely like the episode there are things to criticize. The biggest is the “Story Arc” about the word Bad Wolf. It was completely irrelevant for the story. It had absolutely no meaning. It could have been anything else, it wouldn’t have changed anything. The episode was good, but not a good story arc. One could argue if it was a story arc even. Until the last episodes the word had absolutely nothing to do with anything.
Also the tradition was born that the Daleks had one survivor creating billions and billions of Daleks, all of them getting destroyed by a coincidence, creating one survivor. Listen and repeat. That becomes rather ridiculous after the third time. But this is more a continuity problem and not the fault of this episode alone.
All in all parting of the ways is a good episode, with a very good Doctor. The companions also perform well. Rose’s emotions for the Doctor are portrayed well by Billie Piper. This is a worthy goodbye for the ninth Doctor, with myths and theories around it.
4. Night of the Doctor (Minisode 2013 NW)(11 Votes)
Team: 8th Doctor (Paul McGann)
I was undecided whether I should put this Minisode in to the Top five. These roughly seven Minutes are undoubtedly not a full episode. In the end I decided in favour of it, mainly because there is not much else to see of the eighth Doctor (though plenty to hear), but above all because this regeneration closed the gap between the classic episodes, or the TV movie at least, and the new series. Besides that, McGann is my favorite Doctor and this is my list.
The damage due to the time war is tremendous. Collateral damage is spreading and the Time Lords are at least hated as the Daleks, their enemies. The Doctor detects the distress signal of a spaceship. He finds the last remaining crewmember desperately in need of help. When she discovers the TARDIS and therefore finds out that her savior is a Time Lord, she refuses to come with him. In the end the ship is crashes onto the planet. This planet is Karn and the sisterhood already expected him.
Even the Doctor dies, he is restored temporarily. Moved by these recent events the Doctor decides that the war has taken long enough so he decides he wants to join the war to finally end it. With the help of the sisterhood he regenerates into a new incarnation who discards the name of the Doctor in order to do everything to stop the Time War.
Paul McGann showed the huge potential of his Doctor here. Or at least for the people who didn’t listen to the Big Finish Audios. It is sad, that the reboot in 1996 didn’t happen. The new costume is brilliant and fits perfectly into the time and the personal state the doctor is in. You can clearly see the Edwardian gentlemen but also the events he was going through.
The other props and costumes were also excellent, as well as the actors. With the sisterhood of Karn we got a fitting reference to the classics, especially as a part of the 50th Anniversary special. It was a very good minisode, above all for the fans of the eighth Doctor, who was the longest reigning Doctor, but with the least screen-time.
3. Caves of Androzani (s21e06 CW)(28 Votes)
Team: Fifth Doktor (Peter Davison), Peri Brown (Nychola Bryant)
“This time it feels different”. The Mr. Nice Guy of the Doctors takes his hat. Many think he is boring, too passive. In this episode he was able to show his loyality and determination, although his plot was more a sidestory. It is more personal. The Doctor does not try to save mankind, defeat a villain or destroy a battle fleet. He just wants to save the last person left in his life, by sacrificing himself.
The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Androzani Minor. During the exploration of a mine he finds a dead soldier while Peri was infected herself with the substance Spectrox. The Doctor helps her got infected too. The result is, both are deadly sick. Furthermore they have been convicted for the murder of the soldier and shall be shot for being rebels. The leader of the rebels, Sharaz Jek, fell in love with Peri and saved both time travelers. Jek has been disfigured by a mining accident and is wearing a mask since then. He wants revenge and free all workers, to give them what they deserve. Meanwhile the Doctor tries to find a way through the caves to get the milk of a queen bat, the only known antidote for a spectroxpoisoning. While he has to fight against the soldiers, the side effects are getting worse.
Jek is losing himself more and more, while Morgus killed the president to take control over Androzani. A confrontation of both is inevitable. It ends with the death of both. Jek is shot and with his last strength he is able to kill Morgus.
The doctor has to mobilize his last power to get back to Peri. He got the milk. But only enough for one person. He gave her the antidote and collapses. The confused Peri watches while the doctor regenerates.
The short version may be not sound like an epic tale, but writing down all events would have taken a complete page. In my opinion this was the most complex regeneration episode since War Games. The characters of Jek and Morgus were brilliantly power-hungry and fantastic insane. Jek is just creepy and makes you shiver. His grotesque character reminds heavily on phantom of the opera with his theatrical appearance. On the other side we’ve got Morgus, who could be – to make a modern reference – a game of thrones character. The main plot is only about these two characters and how they try to compete against each other.
The probs were fitting. The typical who-quarry is here, but the Design of the labs, mine and the offices are very nice.
The Doctor only has a side story here, which makes this regeneration episode to something special. The only impulse is to save the life of Peri and his own. Something he will sacrifice his life for in the end. He did not care for the war around him this time. He did what he had to do. The fifth Doctor, who is more passive, had a more action oriented approach. And the doctor looks good with it. The end is also fitting to this incarnation. There had been only three Doctors willingly sacrificing himself for somebody else. And only one cried about it. And it wasn’t the sensitive Davison Doctor. He was glad to save Peri.
Unforgotten is the first scene with his predecessor Colin Baker, who first disciplined Peri and then openly declared that the next years will be completely different.
What I totally missed in the recap has been the Magma monsters. Those were just unnecessary and looked like crap. It is a riddle why they put them into the script in the first place. Maybe the team thought that a proper Doctor Who episode needs a monster. Something we can still see in today’s semi-historicals.
The poisoning of the Doctor had surprisingly little effect on his behavior. Even if the sickness reaches a new level in every episode, you can only see it in the last part. Before that it is talked much, but nothing is shown.
Peri just goes completely damsel here. She has nothing to do then being frightened by Jek or she is lying somewhere. There could have been more with her; something active to do for her own rescue. Nichola Bryant appears very boring especially besides the almost overacting Jek.
The episode itself is very good. But as a last episode of a Doctor there should have been a bit more Doctor. The plots is completely separated and does not care much for the search for an antidote. Especially as a farewell for a main character.
What remains is a strong episode, with minor setbacks.
2. Time of the Doctor (Christmas Special 2013 NW)(29 Votes)
Team: 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman)
The swansong of Matt Smith is actually something special. Not only because it is part of the anniversary storyline (Night…, Name…, Day of the Doctor), but it involved many important plots and events from past seasons: The crack from the fifth series, the in-himself-regeneration of the tenth Doctor during the fourth series and the rescue of Gallifrey in Day of the Doctor, to make a Titan of an episode. Everything heads towards the last confrontation with the worst enemies the Doctor ever met.
During Christmas Eve the TARDIS lands in front of Clara’s flat who is celebrating Christmas with her family. The Doctor takes her to a Cult who guard the planet projecting the oldest question, whom nobody is normally allowed to visit. The answer to the oldest question, “Doctor Who?” it is said, will give infinite power, so every race wants it for itself. The Doctor begs to enter the town called Christmas on the planet and which, is unknown to him at the time, under siege by the angels. Because it is indirectly the Doctor’s fault and he can’t escape fate anyway, the Doctor decides to defend the town of Christmas and sent Clara home unwillingly. Now it becomes obvious again that the TARDIS does not like Clara. It does not let Clara in. Only because of her personal need to save her friend the time machine grants her access.
Although Clara needed only a few minutes, the doctor aged 300 years and looks like an old man. In shock she is wondering, why he just doesn’t regenerate to become younger. Now the Doctor admits that he can’t. He used all of his regenerations. But when the next encounter in the battle comes the Doctor knows that his time has finally come. Only the conversation with Clara gives this senile old Man the confidence to go into his ultimate end.
The only hope left is the Time Lords which are deep in debt by the Doctor. Through the cracks Clara can talk with them and she makes clear that now is the time they can payback their favors. They grant the Doctor a whole new regeneration cycle and the energy of this first regeneration is enough to destroy all of the battle fleets attacking. Yet the Doctor can’t be found after he strikes this winning blow.
In the TARDIS the now, for a short time, young again Doctor has his final farewell with Clara. A last goodbye before a new, highly confused Doctor stands right in front of a not less confused Clara.
Everything that has happened ended. This last special of Matt Smith brought us a new Doctor and ended the problem of having no regenerations left, after the tenth Doctor used one extra for himself (I have a vanity problem, nice one). Additionally we got a ton of hints to previous episodes from the last two seasons. The cracks in time and space were linked with the anniversary special and the Room No. 11 came back. The regeneration ended with stripping off the bow tie, which was so characteristic fort the eleventh Doctor. Generally speaking Matt Smith showed us what he can do. His old man scenes were brilliantly acted and if you compare his acting now with his acting from the fifth series, one can see how the youngest Doctor continuously grew in his role. He delivered a performance spot on for his role; clearly the highlight of this episode.
The farewell from Clara was very emotional with strong visuals and the sentimental aspect of this ending hating incarnation was told very visual with the return of Amy. Emotionally a deep episode that gives this Doctor the icing on the cake finale. The town of Christmas on the other hand is very clichéd Christmassy. But that is okay for a Christmas special. It is a special for Christmas so nobody should be surprised.
Capaldi’s first scene should be mentioned. The most irritating minutes of a new doctor ever. We never had such an irritating but threatening view of a new Doctor.
On the other hand, the episode is epic in intent. Like in the other Moffat finales all the Doctor’s enemies had to appear to make the threat big. This makes every enemy individually unimportant. Although the montages telling the different invasion attempts were executed very nicely, the plot itself was a pure side-story. It’s no wonder that every threat could be solved within seconds. The order from the 6th series is re-established too quickly for just one episode. One gets the impression that everything had to be mixed together so that every plot-hole of the last series was made to make sense.
The so-called “regeneration-flak” was too bombastic, but it was the only way to get out of this corner the story had painted itself into.
So we keep a good farewell story, which loses out in detail. Nevertheless it’s a good Regeneration episode with an intriguingly obscure new 12th Doctor.
1. War Games (s06e07 CW)(32 Votes)
Team: 2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazier Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)
War Games. The length alone is daunting. Of course the longest serial till then brings reservations. Is it too long? Is there enough plot there to keep your interest? Won’t you lose patience after a while? I’ve got a similar history with this story. War Games was the first episode I ever watched. Even before the New Series. And it was just too much, so I stopped. Years later I watched it until the end. It is not only a worthy farewell to the beloved Doctor played by Patrick Troughton, in my opinion it is one of the best serials ever made
The Doctor lands on a planet he assumes to be Earth during WW1. But something is wrong. Nothing fits. Roman soldiers, as well as Outposts from the First World War are there. Slowly it becomes clear, that an alien warrior has mixed all eras of mankind together to find the perfect soldiers for its army. The whole battlefield is separated in different warzones each with a different era. There are deep forests as well as industrial cities. In every surrounding the warriors have to fight for their lives. Every Zone is overseen by a war lord, who is responsible for this era of the experiment. Only a small of rebels are able to see through the brainwashing done by the War Chief, a Time Lord and the person who enabled time travel for the war lords.
The war lords don’t want to share their army with the War Chief of course. And with the arrival of another Time Lord they became paranoid and think that the War Chief wants to destroy all the war lords with the help of the Doctor. After the War Lord, leader of all war lords, fails in forming an alliance with the Doctor, he does what he has to do. He kills the War Chief.
The Doctor can see that he is way over his head here, so he calls for help. The Time Lords. These want him to return to Gallifrey. And for the first time, we can see the home planet of the Doctor.
It is not a utopia of technology, but a rather dystopian world with a totalitarian Leadership. The War Lord and his men are found guilty and convicted for their crimes. Their punishment is being dematerialized in every time period. As if they had never existed.
But the Doctor is tried too. He is charged with stealing a TARDIS and the breaking of the most important law of non-interference. He too is found guilty and punished. His companions are sent back to their own times and the Doctor obliged to regenerate, being exiled to earth.
This episode is a milestone. The actors have all done a good jobs and considering the sheer mass of characters this is quite a feat. The story was never boring despite the length, there was always something important happening. The Doctor as portrayed by Patrick Troughton was a wonderful character, who showed his love for slapstick and humor. The character interaction is flawless. The roman legionnaire as well as the skeptic soldier or the interaction between the war lords with the War Chief. Zoe and Jamie prove that they earned their places on board the TARDIS.
But the one thing that makes this episode very special is continuity. For the first time we are able to see the Time Lord society. It is implied why the doctor fled from Gallifrey. Why he puts his nose where it doesn’t belong so often.
The episode benefits greatly from the excellent historical props the BBC could provide. It seems like they just grabbed every costume of the last twenty years they could get their hands on. The scenery is especially wonderful and looked very real for its time. The Sonic Screwdriver gets his second use and time to shine as a futuristic tool.
The fall of the second Doctor is not only a good serial itself and not only a very good regeneration episode; it affected the coming seasons and storylines for the next several years and even decades. Here begins the exile of the Doctor. Something the third Doctor has to live with the next two seasons.
Furthermore, the unofficial season “6.B” starts. In which the Doctor wants to avoid his exile by working for the CIA (Celestial Intelligence Agency) of the Time Lords as a punishment for his interferences, without being forced to regenerate. Decades later this is how he comes to the encounter with the 6th Doctor in “The Two Doctors”.
The only negative point I can bring up is the sheer length of this serial, that could be too much for many viewers. Everyone else gets a well told, thrilling, and on the right occasion’s funny serial, that defined the whole show like less before.
Day of the Doctor (50th anniversary Special 2013)
Team: Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), War-Doctor (John Hurt), Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman)
Here is the second candidate I thought about excluding from the list. On the one hand we clearly had the regeneration of a Doctor (closing a gap of the New Series). On the other hand he was written for this episode only. Furthermore the episode was not around the regeneration or his way to it, like every other episode in this Top 5. But this amazing appearance of a science fiction legend just deserves a mention. Besides this, his doctor was just kicking ass.
The special itself was very good. It lived from the chemistry between Matt Smith and David Tennant. Hurt brought the tradition that the predecessors are not quite satisfied with their replacements. In general the episode was one big reference to the classic show. And for a surprise we got a very special guest in the end. A must see for every fan. And finally we got some answers around the time war, the big myth of the New Series.
So this has been my or better our Top 5 regeneration episodes. Which would have been your personal choices? Happy Easter and please by all what is good don’t follow the white rabbit!