A trip in the TARDIS

Documents regarding Doctor Who in the BBC archives have today been made public, and show that most new Doctors have been unfavourably compared to their immediate predecessors, which in itself is hardly a revelation. Of rather more interest is a memo from 1966 suggesting how the Doctor’s first regeneration should be portrayed, a descent into “hell and dank horror” as the Doctor relives his darkest moments (intriguingly there’s a reference to a “galactic war”, decades before RTD built up the mythology of the Time War). Essentially, the memo likened the process to a bad LSD trip. Which left me wondering: exactly how trippy have the Doctor’s regenerations been. Let’s take a look:

WILLIAM HARTNELL TO PATRICK TROUGHTON (1966)

Hmm. Quite trippy extension of the TARDIS sound effect in the background, but otherwise a fairly basic regeneration (although let’s not forget it was the first). The trippiest thing is that not only is the Doctor’s body changed but so – not that you can see from this clip – are his clothes. Post-regeneration, he has a funny five minutes before putting on a stovepipe hat and dealing with the Daleks.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 3 out of 5

PATRICK TROUGHTON TO JON PERTWEE (1969)

Well, not exactly – the actual physical transition between the two is not seen (the first we see of Pertwee’s Doctor is him staggering out of the TARDIS at the beginning of his first story), but once the Time Lords have stopped droning on it becomes a serious bad trip, in a year when the 1960s dream really did seem to have crumbled.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 4 out of 5

JON PERTWEE TO TOM BAKER (1974)

Once we’ve got past a creaky exchange between the Brigadier and Sarah Jane, a delirious Doctor rambles on about facing his fears before a little man in a pointy hat (think Peter Gabriel in Genesis circa 1973) gives him a “push” and he transforms into his most iconic incarnation. Mind you, small wonder Sarah isn’t sure she can take any more.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 4 out of 5

TOM BAKER TO PETER DAVISON (1981)

Whilst a fall from a great height didn’t finish off a subsequent incarnation, it did for Tom. It was the end. But the moment had been prepared for. Before the fall comes a vision of some of his foes – then after, a vision of his past companions. Perhaps what finishes him off is being surrounded by a strident Australian air hostess, a girl wearing a pair of curtains. And Adric. Then the Watcher. He was the Doctor all the time, you know.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 4 out of 5

PETER DAVISON TO COLIN BAKER (1984)

With Peri’s cleavage observing from above, the Doctor sees lots of swirling heads before a technicolour vortex (accompanied by a crescendo clearly inspired by A Day In The Life) explodes into his most volatile incarnation. Who then undergoes an extreme post-regeneration crisis, donning a truly hideous outfit and attempting to strangle his companion. “Hell and dank horror”, indeed (not least for the viewer, who had to endure The Twin Dilemma).

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 5 out of 5

COLIN BAKER TO SYLVESTER MCCOY (1987)

Or rather, Sylvester McCoy in a blond wig to Sylvester McCoy without a blond wig, as the sacked Baker understandably refused to return to do his regeneration. Following the campest TARDIS landing ever, the Rani invades the ship fresh from an episode of The Colbys, utters her immortal directive, and some swirly visuals do the rest. The remaining story involves killer bees, death bubbles and the Rani impersonating Bonnie Langford. So in this case it’s not just the regeneration that’s a bad trip – it’s the entire story.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 5 out of 5

SYLVESTER MCCOY TO PAUL MCGANN (1996)

Less a regeneration, more a gurning contest, with cutaways to Frankenstein for the benefit of the less intelligent American viewers who the production team were trying to impress (they didn’t). The new Doctor then goes on to suffer an existential crisis, staggering about wearing just a bed sheet and observing his reflection in broken glass.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 3 out of 5

PAUL MCGANN TO CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON

Not yet depicted, but presumably the Time War has something to do with it. And given how tortured Eccleston’s Doctor was, there was probably plenty of hell and dank horror involved.

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON TO DAVID TENNANT (2005)

After absorbing the Time Vortex and babbling on about Barcelona and having no head, the Doctor explodes in a burst of light and transforms into a man who has problems with his new teeth. Probably the least trippy regeneration of all, albeit the most spectacular.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 2 out of 5

DAVID TENNANT TO MATT SMITH (2010)

After a farewell sequence to all his friends that lasts longer than most acid trips, things finally pick up when Ood Sigma appears one more time to sing the Doctor to his sleep, a gentle glow bursting into an inferno that destroys the TARDIS console room before the present incumbent emerges and is immediately preoccupied with his limbs. A bad trip, mainly in the sense that the lead-up could’ve been an awful lot shorter.

TARDIS TRIP FACTOR: 3 out of 5

So most of the Doctor’s regenerations have been fairly trippy, one or two have been very trippy and there’s been a fair amount of hell and dank horror. The trippiest one of all? Has to be the one involving the Rani and the wigs. Leave the LSD, it’s the meow-meow I want…

Chris

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