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‘It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror.’
It’s been over a month since Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor bid farewell, with a poignant speech about the inevitable nature of change. Having expended the last of his regeneration energy during the events of “The End of Time”, the Eleventh Doctor was granted a whole new cycle by the Time Lords in “The Time of the Doctor” to facilitate his thirteenth regeneration.
Eleven’s last piece of dialogue was a philosophy on the ever changing nature of life. Regeneration is analogous of this, and the symmetry of it was the centrepiece of his speech. But whilst the Doctor has often partially dismissed any impact of change that his regenerations entail (apart from with the Tenth Doctor’s), this time the prospect of change seemed all the more profound for him.
Maybe it was because the Doctor had spent so long in this eleventh incarnation (some one thousand years), a flipside to the comparatively fleeting amount of time he spent in his tenth, but I believe it can be attributed to the new regeneration cycle granted to him, and what that process engenders for a Time Lord.
‘We all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives.’
His final monologue, apart from being an extraversion of the fourth wall in some ways, wasn’t just about the Eleventh incarnation, or Matt Smith himself, but all of those incarnations who’ve preceded this one. A Time Lord’s existence is a very abstract concept. During the regenerative process, every single cell of their physical form is rewritten, so that nothing of the previous, bar their memories, is retained. But the energy that enables regeneration, which depletes with each and every use, remains; lessened, but intrinsically unchanged in its form. It is the only constant of their physical existence.
A Time Lord’s existence could therefore be perceived to be, in its most basic construct, nothing but this raw, regenerative energy, which just assumes a humanoid form. In that sense, they can almost be likened to the Gelth. The Time Lords essentially deplete a portion of their very essence whenever they are forced to regenerate; always emerging a bit less than they were. Thereby, equilibrium is established; regeneration is a survival measure that disburses a Time Lord’s life force, invariably taking them one step closer to a death they cannot avert under normal circumstances.
‘You gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.’
This is why Eleven’s final line carries so much weight, especially from this perspective: ‘I will always remember when the Doctor was me.’ It’s not just referring to Matt Smith, or the Eleventh incarnation, but Doctors 1-11, who were products of this Time Lord’s original essence; a metaphor for his soul, if you will. With a new cycle granted, the Doctor’s existence is fuelled by an entirely new energy that retains the memories and cognition of the original only through the processes of regeneration between physical forms leaving all of this intact.
We’ve seen twelve conventional regenerations of the Doctor’s outward form. But this is a regeneration of the Time Lord essence that harbours within, and Eleven’s speech was, perhaps, among other things, a testament to that. Regeneration isn’t death; after all, it is life in its purest, most unbridled form. And when that crack opened in the skies above Trenzalore, what came through was a whole new life; a whole new Time Lord to perpetuate the Doctor’s semblance.
This is further evidenced if we look at Eleven’s final words not from the perspective of how applicable they are to the human race, but instead as a Time Lord attempting to console himself, as the last remnants of his original essence diminish with the approaching transformation. Time Lords are a multitude of different people through their lives, but if the regenerative energy is deemed to be an allegory for their spirits or souls, then the Doctor is experiencing the departure of his, which has guided him throughout his centuries upon centuries of travelling through time, as a new one takes hold in its stead.
‘I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear.’
Change, whilst remaining fundamentally the same is what Doctor Who uniquely excels at, and though, from the point of view I’ve posed so far, this is the most monumental change for the Doctor, on a very personal basis, the quintessence of the Doctor’s character will still be maintained as a natural result of the regeneration process.
In other words, the Twelfth Doctor will be no less the Doctor, despite the fact that the essence of his predecessors has been supplanted, because the inherence of the Doctor, as with anyone, is due to the sum of his experiences more than anything else.
‘I will always remember when the Doctor was me.’
I don’t imagine Moffat had all of the above in mind when he wrote this sequence. This is nothing more than a mere interpretation of what was presented, which is probably miles off the mark (‘I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.’) But the notion struck me heavily during those final scenes, and it’s something that enhances, for me, what is already a fantastically poignant adieu for the Eleventh Doctor.