The Regeneration Game

by Chris Morley

‘Doctor Who’? It’s the oldest question in the universe, having lain unanswered for near fifty years. Change is central to his myth- ten regenerations on from his first visit to Earth in 1963’s ’ An Unearthly Child’, the Eleventh is soon to return to our screens for series 7 of the ’ revived’ programme, that is to say, 2005 and beyond- time, then, to hop into our mental Tardis and look back, or should that be forward, at the change, or lack of it, in his battles with his most frequent enemies.

First Doctor ( William Hartnell) For the very nature of the show raises some interesting questions. With time-travel a central theme, is it possible to establish a definite chronology? Certainly, his first appearance takes him back to the Stone Age, as close to a ’ dawn of time’ as he would get (  until the creation of a second Big Bang saves the universe once again ( ’ The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang’ Second Doctor ( Patrick Troughton) But the journey is far from linear. The renegade Time Lord, objecting to his people’s policy of non-intervention in galactic affairs ( unless it suits them, as in the Tenth Doctor’s finale ’ The End Of Time’- ) has visited worlds beyond our imagination, as well as venturing into Earth history and present day, aiding and abetting the human race, robots, and various alien species over the course of his 900+ year lifespan. But is he as different from them as it seems?

Central to this is the idea of ’ regeneration’- a biological process in which his face, body and personality change after a fatal injury ( though the change from Second to Third incarnation is enforced as punishment for the events of ’ The War Games’). The resulting shift in personality ( see here for a quick and handy guide- often radically changes the nature of the show itself, as dictated by lead writers and an ever-changing audience, not to mention internal and external BBC pressures.

But one concern above all continues to dog him, and by extension humanity.- the Daleks, and to a lesser degree their near cousins the Cybermen, harbingers of over-reliance on technology, presciently at the dawn of the computer age.

Created by Terry Nation as an outlet for his own personal exorcism of the horrors inflicted upon Europe by the Nazi regime, these robotic despots have tried to commit universal genocide since their introduction in ’ The Daleks’ , Doctor Who’s second serial. Locked in a war with the humanoid Thals, their total devotion to conquest is quickly established. How they came to be this way is most often attributed to the retrospective Fourth Doctor adventure ’ Genesis Of The Daleks’, which introduces their creator Davros, a terrifying blend of Hitler and Stephen Hawking obsessed with becoming master of the universe and ensuring the survival of his pet project throughout time and space- a quest revisited with and without him in innumerable subsequent episodes. (to illustrate the point, see the following discussion between the Fourth Doctor and Davros- and a restatement of his mission from ’ Journey’s End’ .

What is it about them which has so terrified generations? And what is it about the Doctor and his quest to rid the universe of their menace which makes him the only thing they truly fear, despite a near total lack of emotion? As a metaphor for human dependence upon technology they appear to suggest that the two mix at a terrible price for both - when Daleks are infused with ’ human’ qualities in a bid to learn more of their enemy and resist defeat, as in the Second Doctor’s first full story ’ The Evil Of The Daleks’, they lose their menace, becoming child-like and questioning orders, experiencing freedom at the ultimate cost, while the humans infused with the ’ Dalek Factor’ lose just those qualities, becoming faceless automatons devoid of independent thought, brain-dead slaves to the machines, literally dead in the case of the Sixth Doctor story 'Revelation Of The Daleks’ in which Davros plunders the bodies of dying organic lifeforms in a bid to create a new race of Daleks.

A remarkably similar device is used in the Tenth Doctor two-parter ’ Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks’, as they use the cover of the construction of the Empire State Building for an experiment to create ’ Dalek Humans’, overseen by the elite Cult of Skaro. The only Daleks in existence to be given names and humanised in a bid to think as the enemy does, with their leader Sec sacrificing himself to merge with a victim ( and become the first 'Human Dalek’. Showing regret for deaths caused by their meddling and moved to issue a plea for a better way forward, Sec is quickly ’ exterminated’ by his subordinates- despite support from the Doctor, who acclaims him as ’ the only one who could have led you from darkness’. Dalek Caan transmits a self-destruct signal to rapidly wipe out all 'Dalek Humans’ before making his escape, the fusion of man and machine disastrous to all.

Perhaps a more overt acknowledgement arrives in ’ Victory Of The Daleks’- a face-off with the Eleventh Doctor during ’ the Blitz’ of the Second World War. Prime Minister Winston Churchill is using ’ Ironsides’ ( actually khaki-painted Daleks operating under the cover that they are scientifically-created weapons against the Nazi menace) under the direction of Professor Edwin Bracewell ( actually an android programmed to think of himself as their creator, though it is revealed that they made him what he is, and have implanted his ideas into his mind).

In this case it is the attempt to actually create and maintain an artificial human that proves their undoing, as Bracewell is 'humanised’ by the Doctor and the ideas of his creators are turned against them, forcing them to flee back through time. Though they succeed in convincing the Doctor to allow them to depart without reprisal after reverting to a new 'pure’ form, the new paradigm of Daleks deeming those who set about their creation inferior and 'exterminating’ them is born, with those set to die willingly agreeing for the greater good of their race, another chilling parallel of the German war machine. ( see and  

Cybermen, meanwhile, are seen to be humanoid cousins of the human race, from Earth’s ’ twin’ planet Mondas, created by scientific adviser Dr Kit Pedler. Having replaced much of their organic material with metaphorical and literal steel they become as ruthless as the Daleks, often using  'cyber-conversion’ to force other species to undergo a similar process and become like them, which sets them on a collision course with their near neighbours. Compare and contrast-’ The Tenth Planet’ ( original Cybermen)- with the more recent era- (’ The Pandorica Opens’).

But is the Doctor really that different from his chief enemies across incarnations? He and they seem to change and evolve together and alongside his humanitarian concerns he has at times acted with as little emotion as they, whether it be to save others or forcibly preserve fixed points in time - but does that excuse those actions?

Certainly he seems less of a pacifist than he claims to be at various times throughout his lifespan, when allowing the eruption of Vesuvius to happen (as in ’ The Fires Of Pompeii’, clip here- ) or setting in motion the self-destruction of entire species (see ’ The Vampires Of Venice’ as just one example).

The sheer number of companions who have died for him or as a result of his machinations suggests a certain amount of blood on his hands. He carries their memory across incarnations and is visibly unnerved thinking about them ( , hopping from adventure to adventure across time-streams just as mechanically as his enemies while maintaining an essential façade of humanity, much like the ’ Dalek Humans’ or cyber-converted species and other more organic deviants he purports to save the universe from.

With newspapers full of the supposed detrimental effects of the overuse of technology in the computer/Internet age, perhaps it is worth looking back at this (admittedly not obvious) source of the warning and heeding it before we are all Cybermen and women of a sort, in thrall to technology as opposed to being served by it.

New Paradigm Daleks (with the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith)

The first Daleks

A present day Cyberman

Original Cyberman

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