No two Doctor Who regeneration scenes are alike.
An unexpected element of this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time,” was the First Doctor joining the Twelfth in being opposed to regenerating at the end of his current life. After all, he’s a lot younger (despite appearances), and if First doesn’t live on, there will be no Twelfth. But the retcon here isn’t really a retcon — as the First Doctor was originally supposed to be reluctant to regenerate for the first time.
“Twice Upon a Time” opens with scenes from William Hartnell’s final episode as the Doctor, “The Tenth Planet,” before morphing deftly into David Bradley’s modern portrayal of the original version of the character. After a collage of grainy, black-and-white clips from 1966, Bradley and other actors, now in living color, re-create important scenes from back then on faithful sets to set up the story so far: After facing the terrifying Cybermen of Mondas, the Earth’s lost twin, the Doctor succumbs to exhaustion and leaves his companions Ben and Polly behind.
Outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat said he took inspiration from unused material from “The Tenth Planet” script that referred to the Doctor resisting his regeneration. That becomes a core theme of “Twice Upon a Time,” as two Doctors struggle with a life or death decision with consequences beyond just their personal existence.
By the end, before Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi’s emotional and explosive transformation into Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, we transition back to the ’66 footage of an unconscious Hartnell quietly morphing into Patrick Troughton so the silly Second Doctor’s adventures can begin.
The fourth and final episode of “The Tenth Planet” is famously one of the “missing” installments of the classic British sci-fi series, with only the regeneration sequence itself remaining, and this is one of the classic Doctor Who stories to have been reconstructed through animation.
It’s a rarely seen Doctor Who regeneration, and cannot compare to the special effects spectacles of the newer series, as director Rachel Talalay addresses in the behind-the-scenes video below.
But, placed in context here as a loving tribute to a show that’s always redefining itself, the very first Doctor Who regeneration stands proudly among the flashier Doctors’ big finishes that would follow it.