The 13th Doctor is one I’ve sort of been looking forward to for a while now. I think that there is a brilliant story to be told with this incarnation.
Barring The End of Time, regeneration has never been portrayed as a death. The Doctor is, essentially, always safe – he can risk his life in ways others can’t because it’s not the same risk for him, not quite. He can run in front of that Dalek because… well, if it does exterminate him, he’s going to come back from that. (It’s because of this we have jokes like the one in The Curse of Fatal Death, where the Doctor wastes four regenerations or so in one go)
So, obviously, someone who’s never quite had to be afraid of death in quite so literal a manner is going to have quite a shock when it is a permanent fixture of their daily life – particularly when living a lifestyle like the Doctor’s. For comparison, I suppose… if someone lived their life never getting ill, and never really believing that they could, their first sneeze would be petrifying.
It’s because of this I think the Thirteenth Doctor would be such an interesting one. For the first time, cliffhangers really do hang in the present tense. Where does one go with this in the narrative? What this is, essentially, is asking a character who’s spent thousands of years as an undying traveller to face up to their own mortality.
Who does the Doctor become? Never cruel or cowardly is wonderful to aspire to… but sometimes, you’re going to fear for your own life. The Doctor would learn to pick his battles, perhaps. Maybe… maybe he doesn’t run in front of that Dalek. If he dies saving that one person, he can’t save a thousand people later on.
Would the Doctor become even more arrogant? Does he stop taking on companions, because it’s going to be that bit more difficult to protect them?
Is this what the Valeyard is borne out of? “I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them” said Ian Fleming once. But… what if you’ve started to believe your days are worth their weight in gold? This isn’t wasting days, it’s investing them, surely?
Someone once described the Thirteenth Doctor as “a man dressed for his own funeral”.
If that doesn’t sound a fantastic opportunity for a nuanced, and new, story, then I don’t know what would.
Slight spoilers for The Time of the Doctor follow…
Now, this is counting John Hurt, and presumably Tentoo as well. Little bit odd, but okay. (If there’s anyone particularly well versed on Gallifrey reading this, I have a question about regeneration limits. I’d always understood it to be, more or less, a psychological limit rather than a biological one – the problem was that a Time Lord would go crazy after thirteen lives, because of cluttered personalities in their heads? I suppose since the Time Lords are genetically engineered it’s related to the biology anyway but…)
Right, yes. Eleven as Thirteen.
I think this is a mistake. Essentially because we miss out on all stories, all the possibilities, the ideas that I spoke about above. We don’t get that because Matt hasn’t been the last from the start – he has become the last.
Now, obviously, it’s impossible to know what Steven Moffat was thinking. Maybe he was impatient, and just wanted to tell a particular aspect of that story as soon as possible.
Or maybe he’s gone in a completely different direction, and came up with something great – a perfect regeneration for Matt, that relies on the idea of a final death. (Again… after Tennant.. okay, struggling to see an upside to Matt as 13, but I’m biased because I’m quite so invested in the Thirteenth Doctor being a developed storyline.)