I’ve been tossing this idea in my head and I’ve mentioned it in passing but I have strong feelings about the differences between Tennant’s Doctor and Smith’s. I find Ten to be a little selfish, for all his saving of the world(s). Most people are a little selfish, and that’s okay. Without some level of selfishness, we wouldn’t have survived as a species. I figure that if you’re hundreds of years old and can behave like a god, you probably deserve a little more selfishness than the norm, because of all the saving of the world(s) and all that. Smith’s Doctor, though, regularly goes out of his way to help people, even on the small scale. He genuinely cares about each individual person he meets. This seems to be in stark contrast to Ten, who often seems like he just wants them to go away.
I read somewhere, and I can’t remember where, I’m very sorry, the suspicion that the Doctor can somehow control his regenerations and become the man who’s needed in his next iteration. My suspicion, admittedly based only on Nine, Ten, and Eleven (sadly, I have not gotten to the old Doctor Who on Netflix, I’m struggling through the last two seasons of Dexter) is that while the needs of the Doctor seem to be met in each generation, I suspect it’s not within his control, per se, but a result of his interactions with both the first person he meets after the change as well as the last person he saw before it. This seems particularly discernable with the transition from Tennant to Smith. It seems fairly obvious he imprints on Amy; the child, Amelia, fairly mothers him, feeding him and whatnot, and Candygram Cop Amy holds him hostage and brings him his first new adventure. Besides, he seems to really want to be a ginger. So here he finds a ginger who feeds him and he bonds to her; even when she makes a pass at him, he doesn’t push her away (emotionally), unlike with Martha, whom he holds at arm’s length for her entire tenure. I can understand brushing Martha aside, he was in love with Rose and she was gone, and he probably didn’t really want to connect with anyone – he just had to. He’s essentially social but wants to be a recluse. It’s a hard line to follow, probably more so because it appears his regeneration was tailored specifically to Rose.
Rose loved the Doctor, I don’t think she minded about how much older he seemed with the Ninth (I know I didn’t mind Eccleston’s Doctor’s appearance At All) but Tennant was far more swashbuckly and youthful. Rose is the person he spends the most time with after his regeneration, and let’s face it, she can be a little selfish, but mostly in terms of not wanting to live the life others have set out for her. Her mother and Mickey want her to stay with them but she wants a bigger life. A person could say that Rose’s decision to leave her home behind is selfish, and in a way, they’d be right, but it takes a strong person to allow themselves to leave behind everything they know for the chance at a better life. Not everyone can do it. Fan antipathy toward Rose is often, in my opinion, found in those without the courage to make the changes necessary to have a better life. Far simpler to stay where you are. Perhaps you’ll just have to stay here, secure and a little bit miserable, till the day you drop. Better than trying and failing, eh? Rose isn’t perfect – like everyone – but she makes the jump, selfishly or not, because she doesn’t want to remain a little bit miserable forever.
Anyhow, it’s harder to see with the effect I’m discussing in the transition from Nine to Ten because it’s Rose before and Rose after. She’s both the last person Nine sees and the first major person in Ten’s life. Rose’s love for the Doctor is reciprocated, and he wants to be the right man for her. With the move from the very adult Eccleston to the more fun loving, sneaker wearing Tennant, the Doctor becomes more the right man for Rose. I mean, the last thing Nine says to her is “You look like you need a Doctor,” so he gives it to her. Rose is a caring person but willing to leave her life behind to find a better one and this is incorporated by Ten. Ten and Rose are so wrapped up in each other, everyone else feels on the outside. They are temperamentally far better matched than she was with Nine, but when Ten loses Rose, he has a far harder time connecting with people; he became the man she needed, and without her, who is he?
The pre-regeneration imprinting is more apparent with the transition from Ten to Eleven. In The End of Time, in that café where he’s talking to Donna’s granddad, Wilf, about regeneration, he describes how he’ll die, and some other man will saunter away. Ten tells Wilf that he doesn’t know who he’s going to be, but none of us do; we have to grow and change as we go along. Ultimately it’s the relatively unimportant Wilf who leads to Ten’s end, where the Doctor complains about how much more he could do, but sacrifices himself for Wilf anyhow. Wilf believes in the Doctor because the Doctor changed Donna for the better. This belief in the Doctor, in his kindness, strongly affects this regeneration. While Eleven often comments about Amy’s being the first face he saw, I believe that Wilf’s generous, kind, and selfless nature affected the transition from Ten to Eleven just as Rose’s personality affected the previous change. Ten’s begrudging decision to save the essentially unimportant Wilf at the expense of all the things he could still do, leads him to become the kinder hearted man we see in Eleven, a man who seems to go out of his way to make perfect strangers feel good about themselves in a way that was simply not apparent with either Nine or Ten. In over 900 years, the Eleventh Doctor has never met anyone who wasn’t important. I’m not sure Ten would ever have made that statement.
The Doctor remembers things that have come before, he remembers what he’s done and who he was, and he became a different man because of his previous actions, but also because of the people he’s known. If we forget who we were before, we don’t know who we are now. Sometimes we have to stand in the darkness to see the light. Ten’s relative darkness and selfishness are gone in Eleven, but he became a kinder man because of his pre-regeneration imprinting on Wilf. I also believe that the this is deliberately conveyed with the Eleventh Doctor is through his passion for a red fez. That fez looks remarkably like the red winter hat worn by Wilf. The fez is the way he pays homage to the exceedingly kind man who helped make the Doctor the man he became.
We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. The Eleventh Doctor’s caring and empathy for everyone around him, his childlike openness and lack of guile combined with a steadfast loyalty to friends and an almost casual, but complete, kindness on the small scale, while still saving the universe echoes back to Wilf, and will be hard to replace. Like all the best science fiction, Doctor Who tells us about ourselves, about who we are, who we want to be, and who we can become. We should all look at the world through those eyes.