Disclaimer: This is not intended as a read grab kinda article, I've just been thinking about it a while and need to write it down somewhere.
Right let's get down to it, Doctor Who is just great, plain and simple. Doctor Who has been a cornerstone of my life for a good decade now after I was introduced to the revived series and ever-since I've fallen in love with the new stories and old. It's beloved by millions and has graced the screens for 52 wonderful years today and we all hope we can have it for 50 more.
But the thing is, I, as a fan, have a problem. My problem is that in shows and movies I can't stand-by and watch inconsistencies, I hate them. They always get under my skin and my response is to basically fan theorise my way into fixing them. With Doctor Who this inconsistency is regeneration. In real terms this is all because of special effects and different writers but they rarely explain anything in-universe. So this is my cover of what regeneration is (explaining all the plot holes).
Please tell me if there's a hole in my theory. I want to make this as streamlined as possible.
Firstly I'm Just Gonna Summarize What Will Be Explained:
- Why the Doctor's regeneration effect changes
- Why Rivers is the same as the revived series
- Why the Master had a weird electric body
- How Time Lord's can choose a face
- How a Time Lord can be given more regeneration's
- Why 11 had a 'reset'
- Why only Time Lords and not Gallifreyans can not regenerate
This is gonna get confusing. Regeneration isn't a power, or an ability at heart it is a survival reflex. It is triggered that when a Time Lord is dying the process gets triggered. Now the exact origin of regeneration is unclear but two main ones are stated in the series and for this I'm gonna have to assume both are at least in part true, not necessarily fully due to the Chinese-whisper effect of telling stories. The main parts are 1) Rassilon created regeneration through biological research 2) The Time Lords developed it over billions of years exposed to the Untempered Schism. These seem to be highly contradicting statements but I've tried to combine them. To do this I'm gonna have to show you Time Lord physiology.
If we look at the second statement it's saying that the environment influenced regeneration, that the time vortex is directly influencing the planet Gallifrey, which seems to suggest that there is a connection between them like the Rift in Cardiff but on a much greater scale. This is presumably what the Untempered Schism was before it was refined and controlled like we see here:
So before it was controlled I imagine it almost acted as a sort of radiation, a source of power poisoning the creatures surrounding it (or the early Gallifreyans) and effected their biology, mutated them. This mutation lead to two things: A second heart mutating, and a new gland being produced behind the two hearts. This gland served no purpose, it was another defect, a possible attempt at a third heart but the body couldn't handle it. However, this gland was connected to the two hearts and therefor had access to the blood and the entire body.
The Gallifreyans evolved into a thriving civilization pretty quickly (maybe their intelligence was increased due to the exposure) and knowledge was at an all time high. This was the time of Rassilon, he was a genius, managed to create a series of self-replicating biological molecules which regenerated (not THE regenerated yet) decayed and diseased tissue. It was a breakthrough however he knew he couldn't keep taking a serum to keep himself alive and instead researched how it could be administered. This is the point he turned to the useless gland, what if he his DNA so that when triggered the gland released the molecule through the blood stream to every cell creating total body regeneration. It still didn't work the way he needed it to so he worked it out like this: When given synthetic hormone the gland would work 12 times, each time producing certain biological molecules and releasing them throughout the body, he'd only give this hormone to the Gallifreyan Elite, the ones that had already master time travel: The Time Lords. If they were lucky enough those Time Lords could be given another dose of the hormone and therefor another 12 regeneration's as was offered as a reward to the Master and was being given to the 11th Doctor in this scene:
The biological molecule worked like this: There are two kinds the Designers and the Fixers. When released there's a Designer about 1 in a 1000 and the rest are Fixers. The Fixers are the first to act and as a process of rapid healing basically release chemicals that destroy a cell and then recreate the cell immediately. But they don't know how to make a cell, or how everything's organised, and they can't keep memories, this is where designers come in. Designers store information, they give out signals telling the Fixers what the body should look like and temporarily hold the memories until the brain is restored (since the brain is changed so does the personality quite often).
Since the Designers can't fully make up what the Time Lord will look like it takes it's design from one or multiple memories depending on whats on the persons mind, indicating why many Time Lords can choose their appearance by deliberately focusing on a particular memory/ person/ guidelines for an appearance (or accidentally in 12's case). To do this as painfully as possible Rassilon designed the process to diffuse the chemicals carefully and only last a few seconds (which was the look we got in the original series):
Now to explain the changes in regeneration. The 7th Doctor regenerating into the 8th is quite grotesque, I mean have a look:
I suspect that's because whilst the human doctor's were treating him they messed with the gland causing all the Fixer molecules being produced to be damaged making the process much different. Then when the series was revived we get treated to this kind of regeneration:
Now what is happening here is that once the Time War started and Rassilon was brought back he changed the formula for regeneration, so that instead of the careful diffusion previously performed by the Fixers, the Fixers now exploded with the chemical energy.
Basically it meant for Rassilon that every time a Dalek killed a Time Lord they would explode and then still not be dead. A perfect weapon. Now application of this was difficult as the time travel got very confusing around the Time War and as to when a Time Lord witnessed it. So Rassilon used a machine similar to the one the Master uses to create his 'Master Race'
He syncs the machine up to the Time Vortex and uses it to apply the genetic alterations to every Time Lord at the appropriate point in their time stream. This is the reason River's regeneration never looked like the classic series, because the Time War (in her time stream) happened before she was born. (On a side note the only reason River can regenerate at all is because since she was conceived in the TARDIS she was born with the gland, and then Madam Kovarian was able to replicate a version of the hormone from a sample of the Doctor's blood).
Now why was the 11th Doctor's main regeneration on such another level. Why did he get young again and why did he sneeze into 12. Well in case you need reminding the two scenes went like this:
Well that first regeneration I'm making out like this: The gland basically went defunct again, it had ran out of juice for regeneration's and shut down, no more to come, then out of nowhere it gets kicked back into life with more energy than its had in centuries so starts very rapidly producing all of these Fixer and Designer molecules. The thing is that Fixer are a lot easier and quicker to create so the Doctors body produces a huge amount before any Designer cells have started leading to the biggest regeneration yet, healing every single one of the cells and returning it to it's prime state (please enter young looking Matt Smith), now this state isn't maintainable, it's why Rassilon had to create the Designer cells because the body is almost working as short term memory, its temporarily recreated them as they were but the cells are in such a volatile state because they don't know what else to do, if the body stays like that it will eventually fall apart so new data is needed. By this point the Designer cells have been produced and are ready which is when they hit with a quick BAM then it's over. No time is wasted on the healing because it's already done.
Now I also promised why the Master looked like this for a bit:
This was after the Master was sorta resurrected since last time we met him he died. Now this dying thing is interesting because it links back to what I said at the start that regeneration is a reflex, like most reflex's some people can train themselves out of it. So the Master stopped his regeneration reflex but that didn't stop the molecules being produced, they were released, they built up, built up and built up but were never used. This cause them to denature and somehow transformed the chemical energy into electrical energy so once he was brought back he looked like this.