“Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon.”
So said the Sixth Doctor after his regeneration – that drastic transformation of both physical appearance and personality. But it isn’t just the Doctor who undergoes change. Change is a clear – almost blatant – theme running through Series 22. Every story features at least one major transformation, a physical metamorphosis into a different state.
At the very beginning of the season we witness a major change – perhaps more major even than regeneration, as this one’s never happened before in 22 years – as the Doctor gets the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit working again. And while this doesn’t last long, the police box soon returning, it acts as a herald for what lies ahead.
No fewer than three stories this season feature people being turned into monsters. The Cybermen have always been a terrifying concept, but their scariest aspect – that they were once people like us – is rarely dwelled upon. It’s taken a long time to actually witness the full horror behind the mechanical men. ‘I brought them as gifts for you to turn into Cybermen,’ Lytton says of his colleagues, chillingly, before we see him transformed in turn and begging for death.
Daleks, too, were once people, the outer casings designed to house mutated Kaleds, and in Revelation of the Daleks Davros has found a new method of creating Daleks: conversion of humans. Davros considers this the gift of immortality. The half-transformed Stengos, however, like Lytton before him, begs for death rather than continuing life as something other than what he perceives as himself. ‘I think you’ve done me a favour,’ says a mutant, early on in the story, as he dies. ‘You wouldn’t think I once looked like you.’ But it isn’t just his appearance that’s changed, his reactions are more like those of a wild animal than a human.
In The Two Doctors, we meet an Androgum who’s been augmented to become a genius (and, incidentally, lose that embarrassing excess eyebrow hair too). Then the Second Doctor is transformed into an Androgum, a change which threatens to overtake his later incarnation too. (And what of those in the middle? Did the Third Doctor put down his cheese and wine and start to nibble on an Ogron instead? Were jelly babies and celery suddenly no longer enough for the Fourth and Fifth Doctors?) Perhaps it’s a blessing that regeneration is so swift: in this season it’s shown how traumatic it is for a character to be aware of his own gradual metamorphosis.
The transformations inflicted on Peri and Areta in Vengeance on Varos are revealing – a disturbance of molecular structure shaped by latent power in the victim’s mind. It’s like a more drastic version of an Internet meme. Do you: A. Secretly see yourself as unworthy? B. Secretly wish to fly away from trouble? Or C. Want to dig better? Mostly As: you will become serpentine or reptilian. Mostly Bs: you will become a bird. Mostly Cs: You will become a more efficient miner, don’t worry too much about the fur and claws.
Mark of the Rani has a subtle transformation theme – the Rani’s victims are perceived to be Luddites, resisting the changing world caused by the Industrial Revolution – and then it goes and underlines it with the just slightly more noticeable ‘Geordies into trees’ metamorphoses. In a counterpoint to the Dalek and Cybermen transformations elsewhere, Luke Ward remains a nice person after he’s transmogrified. Which is worse, becoming a Cyberman who doesn’t care what it used to be, or turning into a tree, forever aware of your fate (and possibly having to put up with squirrels living inside you)?
In Timelash, the Borad and a Morlox he was experimenting on get merged in a spontaneous tissue amalgamation resulting in a combined mutant. For the first time this season, a character sees their mutation as ‘a glorious transformation’, but he’s probably just putting a brave face on it (not that he lets anyone actually see his face). Poor old Peri almost becomes half Morlox too. If the villains this season had had their way, she’d be a feathered Morlox who could nest in her own branches by now.
There’s rarely been a season with such a clear-cut, consistent theme. But does it actually mean anything? Is it any more relevant than noting that in Season 16, at least one character in every story wears a hat (yes, this is a fact. Check if you don’t believe me)?
It should have done. But, ultimately, it didn’t. Because the biggest transformation, the one that should have been born in this season, never happened. This Doctor was to start out unlikeable but, over the course of several years, metamorphose into a traditional hero. As with Lytton and Stengos, death came before the transformation was complete. And although the Sixth Doctor we knew was a magnificent, majestic, multicoloured caterpillar, it was a shame we never got to meet the butterfly.
1. ‘And cut it… now.’ (Sil laughs, theme tune.) The governor directs the editing of the Doctor’s death scene and provides a very effective Episode One cliffhanger at the same time. Vengeance of Varos Part One
2. ‘Don’t move, Peri! Don’t move! The tree won’t hurt you!’ Is there any programme other than Doctor Who that could get away with the line ‘The tree won’t hurt you’? (‘When Lumberjacks Go Bad’ excepted.) Mark of the Rani Part Two
3. ‘Avaunt thee, foul-fanged fiend!’ Can you blame Herbert for waving a crucifix at the Doctor? It’s actually surprising that more people don’t react in the way he does here. Timelash Part One
4. ‘This is a highly directional, ultra-sonic beam of rock and roll.’ Your parents told you loud music could damage your health. Sadly for the Daleks, they ignored this sound advice. Revelation of the Daleks Part Two