This morning I was inspired to write a letter of appreciation to the late, great William Hartnell. One of my only complaints with the original series was how flippant they treated the regeneration of the Doctor. I can understand wanting to get it over with, it was an unprecedented move in sci-fi and one that probably had a lot of people worried each and every time that the show was going to end. I wrote this little story because I felt the first Doctor needed a better farewell. It’s not as emotionally heavy as I wanted it to be, but I am proud of how well I believe I nailed the Doctor’s dialogue. Enjoy, Who fans!
LAST OF THE FIRST
The Doctor leaned his weary frame against the TARDIS control panel. He could hear Ben and Polly banging on the doors but it all sounded so very far away. His body ached all over and the blood pumping in his ears made it hard for him to think. All he wanted to do was lie down and let it end but he had a responsibility to his companions to get them home. The Doctor knew he should let them in, but he needed a moment to think, to clear his cluttered mind and try to regain control over his weary body. A Time Lord could stretch a minute into eternity if it were needed and he was sure that in just a moment he would feel like himself again.
“It’s time.” A female voice said.
The Doctor looked up, squinting his eyes to see the woman who stood there before him, inside his ship. No one could get in, it was impossible. Who was she?
“Time. Time, it’s always about time, isn’t it?” The Doctor said weakly. He used both hands to steady himself, he was afraid if he moved he would fall and it would all be over.
“Always and forever.” The woman replied, soothing him like a child. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he felt the muscles in his body relax. The tightness that gripped his chest began to release slightly and he was able to breathe again.
“Who are you?” The Doctor demanded. “How did you get in here?”
“I live here, Doctor. I’m always here and I’ll always be here.”
“For what purpose?”
“For you, silly.”
“I don’t understand.”
Suddenly the central core of the TARDIS began to wheeze as the clear cylinders began to move up and down.
“I’ll ask you again miss, who are you?”
“I’m many things. I’m sexy. I’m the big bad wolf. Today, I’m your nurse, nothing more. I’m here to help you, my young friend.”
“Young? Why my dear I am many things, but young is not one of them.”
“Not in your mind, perhaps, but you are not even three hundred years old yet. You are but a boy taking his first steps into manhood.”
“No, no, no. This is the end for me, I think. Not the beginning.”
“You’ve fought it long enough, Doctor. It’s time to regenerate.”
“I don’t want to.” The Doctor said. He turned away from the strange woman whose features he could not seem to distinguish clearly and kept his eyes on the blinking lights of the control panel.
“It is the way of your people, the Time Lords, to die and be reborn.”
“What do you know of my people? The Time Lords! As if the Time Lords can never be wrong! Why, throughout time and space they are renowned for their logic and intelligence, yet what do I know of this regeneration process, hm? Indeed, I know nothing at all of it, except that it was created by Rassilon himself!”
“And of course, you distrust him?”
“As I should, given our history! Why, I see nothing but trouble ahead for Gallifrey, that is why I left and took the TARDIS with me.”
“Yet the Time Lords are not completely unreasonable. You did convince them to ban the miniscopes.”
“Indeed I did!”
The Doctor wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, trying to focus on the blurry features of the woman in who stood just over his shoulder. The pain had eased but the affects had not, he could not seem to shake the haze that hovered over him. It was the shadow of death, he knew that for certain and his sight it seemed would be the first to go. His strength failing him, the Doctor’s knees buckled but he was caught in the arms of the Nurse. She seemed to remain out of eye sight at all times, even holding him in her arms with his face turned away from her.
“Just relax, let it happen. It’ll be fine, Doctor, trust me.”
“No.” The Doctor said, struggling to his feet. Stubbornness and anger forced him to his feet again and he weakly adjusted his suit and coat, restoring a sense of control.
“Doctor, if you do not regenerate, you will die.”
Ben and Polly continued to pound on the door outside but they could wait. The Doctor had a stranger in his TARDIS and he was going to get to the bottom of this strange mystery. He straightened his back and stood as straight as he could. Pain shot through the core of his body but he ignored it.
“Death is natural. Everything must have an end, nothing can last forever, nor should it. Death is good enough an end for most species in the universe, what makes Time Lords so special that we should be exempt from the natural laws of the universe, hm?”
“You’re scared, Doctor. I understand that. But it is not your time, not yet.”
“No, not yet. I have to return those two young people out there to Earth and then I will find a spot, perhaps beneath a tree somewhere on Earth, or in a museum at the far end of time and there I will breathe my last breath and say goodbye to this universe forever.”
“And what about the others?” The Nurse asked, her voice heavy with emotion.
“What others? Susan? That Chestington boy and Barbara? They’ve moved on.”
“No, not the companions from the past. The companions from the future. What of them?”
The doctor scoffed and waved his hand about.
“Ridiculous! I am not responsible for those I’ve yet to meet! I should not be held accountable today for what is to come tomorrow!”
“You’ve been dying since the day you left Gallifrey, Doctor. You can’t hide it, not from me anyway. It’s why you’re body has aged so much isn’t it? A young man, afraid to move onto adulthood, trapped inside a frail old body.”
“I’ve heard enough of this nonsense. Get out of my TARDIS!” The Doctor turned back to the controls, flipping switches in the hopes of expelling this strange intruder. He felt her anger now, pressing against his back like a wave.
“Doctor, I AM THE TARDIS.”
Of course she was, he knew it but he was denying it, just as he denied the truth of her words. He could not run any longer, nor could he lie, not to her. Not anymore.
“DOCTOR! OPEN THE DOOR!” Polly shouted from outside. Time was still moving forward it seemed, but ever so slowly for those outside the TARDIS.
“When a Time Lord dies,” The Doctor said, his voice quivering, “the cells of the body are repaired, yes, but also the mind is restructured as well. The biogenic molecules decay with each reincarnation, leaving you less of who you were than before. That is not life, this is a mockery of life. With each regeneration more of who I was will be lost, my great intellect will eventually fade away like words in an old book.”
“You’re wrong, Doctor.”
“No, no I don’t think so. What good is it to be someone else, hm? What point is there in continuing if it is not ME that is going forward? No, no, I think it best for it to end here, with me. So that all I have done will be remembered.”
“Is that why you’ve held on so long? To protect your legacy? Your reputation?”
“And why not? What if the man or woman I become unwittingly causes more pain than good? What if they take this ship and use it for the wrong purposes?”
The Nurse placed her hands on the Doctor’s shoulders.
“My dear silly boy. You will not become evil, or do evil. Not ever. This I can tell you for certain. All that is good in you will continue.”
“You can’ be certain of that. I don’t wish for another man to wear my accolades, thank you very much. Please, leave here by whatever means you came and let me rest.”
The sounds of the two companions outside the TARDIS had grown silent and the doctor wondered if perhaps the ship had moved through time and space on its own.
“Let my companions in and off with you, woman!” The Doctor said, puffing out his chest.
“There is someone I want you to meet first.” The Nurse said.
Turning around to face her, he saw another woman had appeared in a wheelchair. Unlike the lady in white, she was not blurry at all, the Doctor could see the old, frail woman clearly. Her hair had become white but her eyes were blue-grey and still sparkled with youth and beauty.
“Hello Sweetie.” The old woman said, giving him a mischievous smile.
The Nurse seemed to disappear and the Doctor walked closer to the old woman.
“I’m beginning to think none of this is real.” The Doctor said. How did this woman in the wheel chair come from and where had the Nurse disappeared to?
“It is real, in its own way.” The old woman said.
“And who are you?”
“I can’t tell you that. I can’t really tell you anything about me.” The old woman shrugged her shoulders and lifted her hands up. The Doctor noticed her nails were painted a beautiful dark blue color.
“Spoilers.” She said with a grin.
Wheeling herself closer, she took the Doctor by the hand. He curled up his nose at her but did not pull away.
“In the future you will have many difficult and painful choices to make. The entire universe will hinge on these decisions but in the end you will do more good than you ever do harm. You will lose friends and loved ones and sometimes their loss will break your heart. But listen to me very closely now Doctor.”
She leaned forward in her chair, pulling him closer. She smelled lovely, like a beach on an alien shore he recognized but could not yet name.
“Every person you meet will be the better for it. You will show people things they never could have seen without you, you will help people grow into better, more caring and thoughtful people. Even those that will be lost will have lived just a little better for having you in their life. Do you understand me?”
The Doctor only nodded. The emotion she spoke with, the empathy and knowledge in her words, left him without anything to say.
“You need to stop fighting your destiny! Changing who you are is the hardest thing anyone can do but you have to, Doctor. For all the people who are depending on you, you need to have the strength to let go.” For a moment neither of them said a word.
Finally the Doctor spoke and his voice seemed to echo in the empty ship.
“The man I am will be gone. Forever.”
No, no, no, no. Don’t you see? The body you wear will change, but the man you are will carry on through all your reincarnations, from the beginning of time to the end of it, there will only ever be one Doctor. I’ve met those men Doctor, as have you. They deserve a chance to live and love and be as glorious as you have been.”
“And what if they outshine me, eh? What if I am forgotten, replaced by these dandies and clowns?”
“Never, Doctor. Never will you ever be forgotten or overshadowed, for you are and always will be the First Doctor.”
The Nurse appeared again and began to wheel the old woman away. He wondered what the old woman might have looked like in her youth, before her hair lost its curl and its color. The Doctor turned back to the TARDIS core, watching it move silently up and down.
Then the Nurse was behind him again, her words soothing him.
“A doctor will fall but a doctor will rise in his place.”
“Yes, but Doctor Who? Who will wear these clothes tomorrow?”
“You will. You are the Doctor, you always will be.”
It was true, he knew it. From the moment he’d taken Susan and the TARDIS from Gallifrey he’d been running from his own death, keeping it at bay as long as possible. Fighting his regeneration had taken its toll on him; it had aged his body until there was nothing left inside him. It was time to move on, he knew that, he’d known all along but he’d wanted to keep pushing for one more day. One more day as himself was all he’d ever wanted and he’d had them. He’d had years of adventures, far more than he’d ever deserved.
“If you don’t regenerate soon, you’ll still be gone, Doctor. But you’ll kill the man you’re destined to be.”
“Who are you?” The Doctor said. As he breathed out, the energy within him was expelled. The regeneration process had begun.
“You’re oldest and dearest friend.”
“Will I see you again?”
“One day, I shall come back. Goodbye my dear.”
The Doctor closed his eyes and he could swear he felt the press of lips to his forehead, then she was gone. The controls on the dash seemed to move on their own, the lights blinking their farewell.
“It’s getting cold in here.” The Doctor said, but there was no one there to hear him.
Using the last of his will, he forced his hand onto the lever and opened the door of the TARDIS. Ben and Polly rushed in, their eyes full of fear and confusion. The Doctor collapsed to the floor, the pain and overwhelming exhaustion leaving him like a haunting spectre. He could hear the TARDIS singing to him with the voice of the Nurse, sweet and patient and eternal.
Now it’s time for the first to bow,
And accept what he must do,
The time of the First is over now,
The clock is striking two.
He could hear Polly shouting his name, but the sounds were fading away. It was fine, he would see them again soon.
“Ah, yes. Thank you. It’s good. Keep warm.”
You can see the official version, the regeneration of the first Doctor right here on YouTube: