Following a Cybermen attack, the Doctor is weakened. He makes his way back to the TARDIS and, on a snowy planet, is forced to regenerate. This sounds like a description of the episode “The Doctor Falls,” the recent DOCTOR WHO finale, but it also describes the First Doctor episode “The Tenth Planet.” This First Doctor episode marks the first appearance of the Cybermen, but more importantly, it is the first time the Doctor regenerates into a new incarnation.

The initial regeneration was more out of necessity than for creative purposes. William Hartnell, the original actor, had been dealing with health issues and could not continue in the role. The Doctor is of an alien species, so it became part of DOCTOR WHO lore that the Doctor could “regenerate.” Instead of dying, he is reborn as a new person. For dramatic purposes, regeneration in the series is often treated with the same gravity as death. The Doctor may be the same person with the same memories, but with regeneration comes a new identity, philosophy, and personality (and next year, a different gender).

In this year’s Christmas special, Steven Moffat will end his tenure as showrunner by teaming up the current and the original Doctors. Here, we will see the “oldest” version of the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) teamed with his “youngest” self (David Bradley) in an episode that takes place during the events of “The Tenth Planet.” By returning to the first regeneration, Moffat can expand on the thematic ideas behind regeneration that have been present throughout the Capaldi years of DOCTOR WHO. “The Tenth Planet” introduced regeneration and the Cybermen but also laid the foundation for elements of the series for the next 50 years.

Piece By Piece

Regeneration was initially treated as a cosmetic change rather than a drastic moment in the Doctor’s life. When Hartnell regenerated into Patrick Troughton, the Doctor’s cause of “death” was merely exhaustion. When Troughton regenerates years later, it is played for laughs. He comically complains about the choice of new bodies that the Time Lords are selecting for him, even though he is essentially about to be executed.

It would not be until the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) that the regeneration of the Doctor is given dramatic stakes. This regeneration episode, “Planet of the Spiders” has the Doctor facing a decision from his past that leads to his death. With its Buddhist overtones, the episode plays the Doctor’s regeneration as a dramatic sacrifice resulting in a reincarnation. “Planet of the Spiders” may not be a perfect episode, but it is hard not to get weepy at this great goodbye.

From there, the series would try to one-up itself, to varying success, whenever the Doctor regenerates. In the original series, regeneration was usually the result of a heroic sacrifice. The new series of DOCTOR WHO would begin to explore the psychological effect this cycle of rebirth could have on a person. A perfect example being the tearful goodbye of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor.

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When it came time to regenerate the 11th Doctor, Steven Moffat told a centuries spanning story of the Doctor spending years protecting one planet. Moffat then explored the Doctor’s psyche after experiencing so many lives in the 12th Doctor’s first episode “Deep Breath.” In that episode, the Doctor battles off a ship of automatons who hold themselves with whatever scraps they could find in Victorian London. The Doctor confronts the head automaton by saying:

“You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again, There’s not a trace of the original you left. ”

The Doctor says all of this while gazing at a reflection of himself. Here Moffat compares the Doctor’s existence to the ship of Theseus. Philosopher Plutarch once posed a thought experiment about the ship Theseus used as he sailed to Crete. As the planks of the ship decayed, Theseus and his crew mates would replace the planks with new wood. Eventually, the ship no longer had any of its original pieces.

Plutarch asked whether or not this ship could still be considered the same ship that Theseus initially set sail upon. This same existential question plagues the Doctor: after being changed so many times over so many years, is the Doctor the same person? It is appropriate then that “The Tenth Planet introduces both regeneration and villains based around the idea of replacing pieces — the Cybermen.

Rise Of The Cybermen

Tenth Planet

Cybermen are that existential question of existence personified. What makes us truly human? Is it our fleshy exteriors or something less tangible? The Cybermen’s origin has been tweaked throughout the series, but their desire to perfect themselves through technology has been a constant.

In “The Tenth Planet,” the Cybermen come from a planet called Mondas, a “twin” of Earth. When the Doctor arrives in the far off future of 1986 (the episode originally aired in 1966), Mondas and the Cybermen have made their presence known to the people of Earth. They explain that they were once like humans, but they purged themselves of weakness by replacing each part of themselves with machinery. Mondas is more than Earth’s twin; it is a dark forecast of an unchecked reliance on technology.

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In “The Doctor Falls,” the Doctor explains what creates the Cybermen:

They always get started. They happen everywhere there’s people: Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus. Like sewage, smart phones, and Donald Trump, some things are just inevitable. People get the Cybermen wrong–there’s no evil plan, no evil genius, just parallel evolution. People plus technology minus humanity. The internet, cyberspace, Cybermen. Always read the comments, because one day they’ll be an army.

The Cybermen are the inevitable outcome of an industrialized society. An “upgrade” into a metallic form at the expense of emotions. The Daleks represent mankind’s cruelty and capacity for genocidal bigotry. The Cybermen, on the other hand, do not represent cruelty but indifference.

They are no longer recognizably human in their metal forms. However, it is not their appearance that makes them inhuman, it is their lack of emotion. Cybermen believed emotions were a weakness and deleted them in their upgrades. They do what they do without malice or hate, which makes them even more terrifying. Their murderous actions, to them, are logically correct.

Time For Change

Tenth Planet

When the Cybermen explain that Mondas is planning to drain Earth of its resources and turn everyone into Cybermen, they present their plan as what’s best for the people of Earth. Who would not want to be immune to disease or age? All it will cost is emotions. This is what outrages the Doctor the most. At its core, DOCTOR WHO is a show about how our emotions can be our greatest weapon. The Doctor will always defend the weak and the innocent because the Doctor’s greatest power is limitless compassion.

However, the Doctor was not always that way. In his original incarnation, the Doctor was selfish and callous. The Doctor more or less kidnapped his initial companions, Ian and Barbara, when they stumbled upon the secret of the TARDIS. One of the cliff hangers of the original episode “The Unearthly Child” ends with the Doctor about to brain a caveman with a rock. The Doctor was much more of an impish trickster than a caring hero. Hartnell’s incarnation would evolve as the series went on to become more heroic. He became defined in opposition to enemies like the Daleks and the Cybermen.

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That evolution is on full display in “The Tenth Planet;” here, the Doctor is far more concerned with the well being of the humans around than ever before. He fights to protect them from the Cybermen, but he also shows compassion for his enemies. When mission control plans to use a Z-bomb, a supercharged version of the atom bomb, on the Cybermen he insists there must be a better way.

It is ironic then that “The Doctor Falls” ends with Peter Capaldi refusing change. He has become worn out by the mercurial nature of his life. He no longer wants to change. It’s important than that he meets his former self. Here, he will see just how much he has grown and evolved into the hero of time he is now. 

By confronting his original self, and the emotionless Cybermen, the Doctor may find his answer as to whether or not he’s still the same person who stole the TARDIS all those years ago. With that answer, Moffat will give the 12th Doctor the perfect send off.

We, however, already know the answer to that question. As “The Tenth Planet” established, no matter the age, race, or gender, if the person in the TARDIS fights for justice, shows compassion, and treats every species with kindness, then they will be the Doctor.

One Comment

  1. Chuck Kahn (@chuckkahn)

    August 7, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Impressive analysis — managed to pull the history of Doctor Who into a cohesive thematic whole. The contrast of Daleks to Cyberman and both to the Doctor was neatly done.


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