Warning: This blog post will be full of spoilers from the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special 'The Day of the Doctor' and the minisode 'The Night of the Doctor'. If you haven't seen them yet and don't want to read spoilers, STOP READING NOW.
There, now that's out of the way, I can express all the thoughts that have been percolating in my Whovian fangirl brain since seeing 'The Day of the Doctor' on November 23rd (and again in 3D on November 25th).
The first issue I want to address is the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor in 'The Night of the Doctor'. It's a pity Paul McGann's first appearance onscreen as the Doctor since 1996 had to be a regeneration story, but at least now we know how the Eighth Doctor regenerated.
Except, the Eighth Doctor doesn't regenerate into the Christopher Eccleston Ninth Doctor. Instead, he regenerates into an incarnation of himself better suited to being a warrior, to fight in the increasingly desperate and terrible Time War. As we learn in 'The Day of the Doctor', this new version doesn't consider himself the Doctor anymore, feeling he isn't worthy of the name. But that isn't what's most important to my current thoughts. What's important here is that when Eight regenerates into the "War Doctor" (or the Other Doctor, as he's already being referred to online), the version of actor John Hurt we see replacing Paul McGann's face is much younger than the man who appears in 'The Day of the Doctor'.
During the events that take place in 'The Day of the Doctor', Doctors Ten and Eleven end up spending some time in a cell with their previously unmentioned predecessor - I'm going to call him Other for ease of identification. Ten at one point proclaims that he's 904 years old. When asked, Eleven states that he's 1200, but he sometimes gets confused, or maybe he's lying. This leads me to feel that not only have we been numbering the Doctors wrong ever since the series rebooted in 2005, but that the Doctor is quite a lot older than he tells us he is. When we first meet the Other Doctor, he looks older than he did in the regeneration scene because he's presumably spent centuries fighting in the Time War. Admittedly fighting in a war could age a person rapidly, and fighting in a Time War doubly so, but I still feel it's likely that Other was around for a very long time before he met his two successors. How long, we'll probably never know. Is Eleven's claim of 1200 years incorporating that time? I think not. I believe the figure of 1200 indicates that Eleven has spent 300 years in his present form, adding on to the 900 or so years he claims as Ten. So he is lying, because he's leaving out the time he spent as the Other Doctor. So, how old is the Doctor, really?
Back in 'The Deadly Assassin', we were told that a Time Lord could only regenerate twelve times, thus one could have only thirteen different versions of him/her self. The episode didn't explain whether this limitation was a biological, legal or social limit. If we renumber the Doctors to accommodate this previously unknown one, that means the upcoming version of the Doctor to be portrayed by Peter Capaldi will actually be number Thirteen. I'm not too bothered about bending or eliminating the Rule of Thirteen, since we've already seen that this rule could be waived for the Master - which makes it seem likely that it was a self-imposed limit and not one of Time Lord biology. Since the Doctor undoubtedly doesn't want to stop gallivanting about the Universe having adventures, and there aren't any other Time Lords around to enforce the rules, the Doctor can keep on regenerating as long as someone is willing to keep producing the show. And since the Time Lords he saved in 'The Day of the Doctor' may remember what he did even if he himself doesn't, they might even reward him by relaxing the regulations for him - assuming they ever manage to get out of the pocket universe he put them in.
I read a blog a few days ago in which the blogger theorized, based on the events that occurred in 'The Name of the Doctor', that Matt Smith's Doctor is actually the last Doctor, and Peter Capaldi's Doctor will precede him rather than follow him in chronology. (Unfortunately I can't find it now, but if I locate it later I'll add a link.) That will certainly give a big headache to the people who are worried about accuracy of numbering. It's an interesting theory, and the author proposed some compelling evidence to support it. I'm a bit dubious that Stephen Moffatt will go that far in messing with the chronology of Doctor Who, but it would be thought-provoking. I don't know how the script would handle that we saw David Tennant turn into Matt Smith.
In addition to thinking a lot about what this new Doctor means to the history of the character, I've also naturally been thinking a lot about the forthcoming regeneration when Matt Smith leaves the series with the upcoming Christmas special. Regeneration is the core of Doctor Who. The Doctor always changes. I've come to look forward to it. I'll miss Matt Smith, and I'd be equally happy if he decided to continue for another year. But I'm excited to see who the Doctor will be next. What will his personality be like? We've had Nine who was melancholy and guilt-ridden, always seeming like a man who was trying to fight off depression; and Ten who had some of that mingled with a more eccentric and playful attitude; and now Eleven who is aptly described as "a madman in a blue box". Even though we were told he wouldn't remember what happened in 'The Day of the Doctor' (apparently crossing your own time stream does that), I wonder if the next Doctor won't be a bit less eccentric, a bit more "grown-up" in his behavior. Not too grown-up, I hope. There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes.
Of course we know what the next Doctor is going to look like, at least
what his face will look like, but we don't know yet how he'll get
there. The new version of the series has a pretty consistent
regeneration style, with golden energy pouring out of him as his face
morphs into its new form. But his last two regenerations have been
under duress. Nine had to absorb the energy of the TARDIS from Rose
Tyler's body. Ten suffered radiation
poisoning to save Wilfred Mott from the same fate. But the Other Doctor
regenerated as he had done the very first time he did so, when the
First Doctor regenerated into the Second: his body was simply worn out.
He actually seemed happy to change, in stark contrast to Ten's protest
of "I don't want to go". What will cause Eleven to regenerate? Will he be happy about it or fight against it? Will he do it to save someone else, or to save himself?
And once he's in his new form, what will he wear? Recent iterations of the Doctor have dressed less eccentrically than some of their predecessors. The costumes worn by Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant could have passed on any present-day street as ordinary attire. Matt Smith's costume started out to be fairly mundane as well, though his recent switch to a velvet waistcoat and frock coat are bit less "normal". Will Peter Capaldi's costume follow that trend? As I was contemplating these questions, it occurred to me that the Doctor has shown a fondness for frock coats or long overcoats throughout his lives. Only his Third, Seventh and Ninth selves have elected to wear shorter jackets. Will his newest self follow the long coat trend? (I like the long coats, so I hope he has one.) What kind of costume-choosing scene will we get? Those have varied widely over the years. Several times the Doctor has essentially stolen clothing from someone else when no other option was available to him (Third, Eighth, Eleventh), while his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh selves took a great deal of time deciding what to wear from the TARDIS wardrobe. I like a costume-choosing scene, but could do without some of the sillier ones (Fourth, Seventh). I just want to see him making a choice, and preferably some more TARDIS interiors.
The TARDIS tends to adapt its appearance to the changes in its occupant as well. Sometimes the Doctor redecorates without regenerating. Will it take on a new appearance for its new man? Does the TARDIS remember things the Doctor doesn't? We saw that the Other Doctor's TARDIS console room had the white "round things" that hearken back to the pre-reboot TARDIS decor. I'd be delighted if that design element continued into the new Doctor's version of the TARDIS. But even if it doesn't, I know the set designers will come up with something interesting.
That's what's so special about Doctor Who. There's always something new to look forward to.