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As you’re probably aware, the internet was abuzz recently when the BBC announced that Jodie Whittaker was cast as the Thirteenth Doctor, the titular character in their hit series Doctor Who. Whilst many have praised the decision, the fact that Whittaker is the first woman in the role has drawn outrage from some, and confusion from people who aren’t as familiar with the show. Why is the central male character turning into a woman? And why are there so many different versions of the Doctor? Well, it’s all because of one innovative, fictional process: regeneration.
The Regeneration Game
Regeneration is a complex concept in the world of Doctor Who, so let’s focus on the basics. Firstly, Time Lords such as the Doctor are the ruling inhabitants of the planet Gallifrey, who have the ability to regenerate/heal themselves in their dying moments. The show is unclear as to whether Time Lords altered their bodies to regenerate or that they naturally evolved this way, but what is clear is that Time Lords can survive for hundreds of years before they have to regenerate, which they can do twelve times – yup, they can live for a very long time indeed.
But regeneration can be a pretty jarring process for Time Lords; as their bodies are renewed, they involuntarily gain a whole new face and personality. Not only that, their race (and even species) can change, along with their gender and – especially in the Doctor’s case – fashion sense. As a well-traveled Time Lord, the Doctor has got into several scrapes over the years, and has been forced to change many times; so what sets each version apart? And what caused our hero to change? For your convenience, here’s a handy guide to every incarnation (and death) of the Doctor so far!
1. The First Doctor
Played By: William Hartnell (1963–1966), Richard Hurndall (1983) & David Bradley (2013 & 2017)
Cantankerous and critical of others, the First Doctor was difficult to handle and just as mysterious as his future selves. But as he travelled more and more with his granddaughter Susan and an increasingly crowded TARDIS, the Doctor became more accommodating and his heart of gold became more apparent as he matured.
Cause of Regeneration: After defeating the Cybermen in Antartica, the first Doctor collapsed from both exhaustion and extreme old age, thus triggering his first regeneration process.
2. The Second Doctor
Played By: Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
Though he maintained a similarly dapper — albeit scruffier — dress sense akin to his predecessor, the Second Doctor sported a new bow tie and a fresh, scrappier energy. With a newfound fondness for playing the recorder, the Doctor was wittier than before, but his light exterior often belied a more calculating mind.
Cause of Regeneration: As punishment for breaking their rules of non-intervention, the Time Lords exiled the Doctor to Earth and forced him to regenerate again.
3. The Third Doctor
Played By: Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
The baggy clothes were out and the capes and frilly shirts were in! The Third Doctor certainly cut a dashing figure as he confronted the Master (Roger Delgado) for the first time onscreen, along with many other foes. Railing against his exile on Earth, he was an adventurer who, in contrast to many of his fellow incarnations, enjoyed hand to hand combat. The Third Doctor also had a particular fondness for gadgets and vehicles; after all, it was he who championed the use of the sonic screwdriver.
Cause of Regeneration: Whilst saving the universe from the Spiders of Metebelis III, the Doctor was exposed to lethal levels of radiation, but he still managed to travel to Earth before the change begun.
4. The Fourth Doctor
Played By: Tom Baker (1974-1981)
Instantly recognisable thanks to his hat and long scarf, Doctor number four was widely seen as the quintessential Doctor — until the Tenth version showed up, that is. Disapproving of authority yet intensely moralistic, the rebellious Fourth Doctor truly was an oddball; sombre and pensive, these traits were intercut with predilection for childish humour and a seemingly insatiable appetite for jelly babies.
Cause of Regeneration: Scuppering the Master’s (Anthony Ainley) plan to hold the universe hostage so that everyone would bow to his every whim, the Doctor fell to his death from the Pharos Project's radio telescope antenna.
5. The Fifth Doctor
Played By: Peter Davison (1981-1984)
The Fifth Doctor was a keen believer in justice, which caused him to become indecisive on some occasions when the situation wasn’t simple. Kindly and mild-mannered, the Fifth Doctor saw the character at his most sensitive, and he often liked to travel with a full TARDIS.
Cause of Regeneration: On the planet Androzani Minor, the Doctor and Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant) contracted a deadly disease called spectrox toxaemia. After acquiring the antidote, the Doctor used the only dose to save Peri’s life before he succumbed to the illness.
6. The Sixth Doctor
Played By: Colin Baker (1984-1986)
The contrariety between the Fifth and Sixth Doctors couldn’t have been greater. Forthright and single-minded, Six came at a troubled time for the show and he’s regarded as the least popular Doctor, which is both unfortunate and unfair. Sure, he wears an eye-wateringly colorful coat and is arguably the most unlikable incarnation — initially at least — there's still a lot to love about this Doctor. He did eventually thaw into a more considerate person, and there are still plenty of good stories in his run.
Cause of Regeneration: Thanks to troubles behind the scenes, the circumstances of the Doctor’s death were never fully depicted. But whether it was radiation poisoning or a huge bump to the head, a fatality occurred when the TARDIS came under attack from villainous Time Lady, The Rani (Kate O'Mara).
7. The Seventh Doctor
Played By: Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996)
The Seventh Doctor may have come across as a bungler who had wandered into the wrong situation, but he was still a deeply intelligent, friendly Doctor, one who often used these mannerisms to outwit his enemies. Even though he was still the same compassionate person, the Seventh Doctor was also a dark manipulator, and a master of sleight of hand.
Cause of Regeneration: As soon as the TARDIS touched down in San Francisco in 1999, he was shot by a gang of unwitting thugs. Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) managed to remove the bullets, but (understandably) confused by his two hearts, her attempts to save him ultimately caused the Doctor to regenerate anew.
8. The Eighth Doctor
Played By: Paul McGann (1996 & 2013)
Passionate, romantic and sometimes absentminded, the Doctor was at his most optimistic in his eighth life, even as the storm clouds begun to gather. Relegated to mostly audio adventures during the show’s hiatus, we’ve seen very little of the Eighth Doctor on our screens outside of the 1996 movie and The Night of the Doctor special; as such, Whovians are still clamoring for the BBC to chart his adventures in greater depth.
Cause of Regeneration: Refusing to leave a woman called Cas (Emma Campbell-Jones) on a crashing spaceship, the Doctor was crushed in the ensuing impact. He was revived by the Sisterhood of Carn who persuaded him to use their elixirs to regenerate and fight in the Time War in a more warlike incarnation.
9. The War Doctor
Played By: John Hurt (2013)
Initially shunned by his predecessors due to his hostile and absolutist tendencies, we meet the War Doctor in the end days of the Time War when he’s filled with the utmost self-loathing. Grave and weary he may have been, but he was still the Doctor we know and love. Thankfully, the War Doctor eventually found redemption in The Day of the Doctor, when he met the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.
And this is where things get a little bit tricky. Yes, the War Doctor is the ninth iteration of the Doctor, but because he was retroactively written into canon (and he also shunned the title of the Doctor), the War Doctor isn’t identified as a numbered incarnation. Hence why the Ninth Doctor is still referred to thusly instead of being called the Tenth Doctor, and so on.
Cause of Regeneration: Stepping back into his TARDIS after saving Gallifrey, the Doctor’s long years had wrought their work upon his body, causing him to once again require a new one.
10. The Ninth Doctor
Played By: Christopher Eccleston (2005)
Tough and intimidating the Ninth Doctor may seem, but in reality he was haunted by the events of the Time War and struggled to let go of his warrior instincts. Though he was mercurial, the Ninth Doctor was perhaps the least idiosyncratic of his fellow incarnations. Having said that though, Nine could certainly serve up the sass when required.
Cause of Regeneration: After Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) uses the time vortex to return to the Doctor and destroy the Daleks, he draws it from her to save her life. As a result, the immense power kills every cell in his body.
11. The Tenth Doctor
Played By: David Tennant (2005-2010)
Still as intensely popular as he was when he appeared on our screens, the Tenth Doctor was warm, garrulous, and a pleasure to be around. However, he was as guilty and troubled as his predecessor was, and had an egotistical and vicious streak which saw him severely punish several of his enemies. Even so, this was trumped by his overabundant enthusiasm and compassion, and he’s unanimously known as the “most human” of the Doctors.
Cause of Regeneration: Unlike the other Doctors, the Tenth iteration used up two stages of his regenerative cycle. The first instance was after being shot by a Dalek in The Stolen Earth; rather than changing his appearance, the Doctor healed himself and redirected the surplus regeneration energy into his severed hand (long story), inadvertently creating a human copy of himself. But the second time, the Doctor was not so lucky, and he suffered a prolonged death after absorbing 500,000 rads of nuclear radiation, saving Wilfred Mott from a malfunctioning Vinvocci control room.
12. The Eleventh Doctor
Played By: Matt Smith (2010-2013)
It was always going to be hard to live up to the widely loved Tenth Doctor, but the youngest “hipster” Doctor managed to do so — and then some! Eleven is probably the wackiest, and quirkiest of his compatriots, with a love for fez-snatching and tweed jackets, but you still wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.
Cause of Regeneration: After fighting off hordes of his enemies on Trenzalore for hundreds of years, the Doctor’s old age caught up with him again, but as he prepared to die for the final time, the Time Lords granted him a new regenerative cycle.
13. The Twelfth Doctor
Played By: Peter Capaldi (2013-2017)
The Doctor’s change into his twelfth persona saw him at his most-self conscious, even if his decorum was at its most abrasive and alien. Cynical and acerbically witty, the Twelfth Doctor may have seen him at his prickliest but he was still capable of showing great affection for Clara (Jenna Coleman) and tenderness to those in need.
Cause of Regeneration: Defending the remaining humans on the Mondasian colony ship, the Doctor took on the Cyberman army himself. Triggering an explosion to eliminate their forces, he was caught by the blast after taking several of their energy bolts as well; yet he was weary of always having to change, so the Doctor begun to fight to suppress the regenerative process.
13. The Thirteenth Doctor
Played By: Jodie Whittaker (2017 - ?)
It's taken a long time to get here, but for the first time in the #DoctorWho's near-sixty years of history, we have our first female Doctor! Even so, the mystery of the new Doctor remains. We know nothing about her personality, who will be her companions, or what her costume and TARDIS interior will look like. Doctor "Who" indeed! Be that as it may, make sure you keep checking back with Movie Pilot for all of the latest details!