‘The Time Of The Doctor’ gives us another opportunity to explore what happens during a regeneration, especially as the 11th Doctor talks Clara through the process. How regenerations are presented have also changed drastically since the 7th Doctor’s.
Previously the regeneration effect was presented with a blurring of features, accompanied by a bright light (to cover the transition). The 7th Doctor’s regeneration into the 8th Doctor was accompanied with an electrical discharge perhaps due to the manner of his death.
From the 9th Doctor going forward there is a burst of energy, increasing exponentially at each regeneration. The 10th Doctor’s regeneration is enough to damage the TARDIS (forcing it to repair itself) and the 11th Doctor’s regeneration is powerful enough to destroy a Dalek mothership.
This released energy appears to be the same kind that the 11th Doctor uses to heal River Song in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’. We can assume it is part of the revitalising energy that heals a Time Lords body but it could be damaging to non-organic material. Possibly if a Time Lord regenerated near others they’d also be healed by the release of excess energy.
The amount of energy released could be based on the life of a Time Lord. The 10th Doctor lived a significantly longer time than the 9th and the 11th Doctor lived much longer than that.
This makes sense as it could be that their body needs to recharge after a regeneration. Over their lifetime they build up the required energy to successfully regenerate. Regenerating an old body could require more energy than just repairing wounds so that build up is necessary.
Triggering too many regenerations in close succession could be very dangerous, as there might not be enough energy to complete the transformation. It would also limit just how much it can heal and change the body. This could explain why the 2nd and 3rd Doctors are roughly in the same age bracket and the much longer lived 4th Doctor regenerates into the very young 5th Doctor.
Most of the Doctor’s attempt to regenerate in or near their TARDIS. It is likely then that the TARDIS can store some of this energy, helping the transition. It is also possible, given that the Doctor frequently puts the TARDIS in flight before he changes, that this energy can be drawn from the vortex itself.
It is possible for a Time Lord to slow the regeneration, but not stop it, before or after the burst of regenerative energy. The 10th Doctor is able to spend quite some time revisiting past companions and the 11th Doctor is able to have a conversation with Clara after his explosive release.
The first stage of the regeneration is a reset, restoring them to how they began their current incarnation (give or take 4 years). If this could be combined with the 10th Doctor’s ability to hold back the change for awhile it could allow PC Time Lords to have 1 or more adventure in the prime of their life.
The 11th Doctor is aware that everything that makes him will be gone in a moment. The 10th Doctor spoke of something similar, that it is another person who gets up from the regeneration.
This makes it clear that it isn’t just within the real world that another person takes over the role but within the fiction. They’ll still be the Doctor but it will be their own interpretation of the role. They might be inspired by previous incarnations or display some of the same characteristics but they won’t have a sense that it happened to them but a previous incarnation.
This can be important for players when their Time Lord PC character regenerates. They might have a shared history but this is a different character and should be played as such.
The Doctor is accepting of his regeneration, saying that times change and so must he. The various Doctors do have different approaches to dealing with situations and they can even regret how they did things before (as they did with the War Doctor). A regeneration is not only a renewal of physical form but a chance to approach things differently. Again, this is a chance for players to try a different sort of character, to mix up their personality traits and see how things turn out.
What he does try to do is remember this incarnation when he regenerates, swearing that he won’t forget when he was him. This could be an attempt to hold over the traits of this personality that he thinks worked and made him a better person.
In his final moments the Doctor hallucinates both Amelia and Amy (in addition to seeing the TARDIS covered in children’s pictures). This is similar to the 5th Doctor’s visions of previous companions. While this might indeed just be his brain misfiring as it regenerates but it might also be something more.
The 2nd Doctor spoke of how his family slept in his mind. Since we know that both the Doctor and the TARDIS can form telepathic links to the minds of his companions could his mind have a simulation of their personality?
Not only would this help him predict their behaviour it could provide an accurate representation of what they’d say or do in a given situation. We’ve seen before that the Doctor does need the guidance of his companions to keep him grounded so this would be a one way to do that.
As his regeneration approaches his mind brings forth these brain prints, allowing him to speak to them or hear their farewells. This does raise the possibility of having companions continue to interact with a Time Lord after their death, through his memories of them.
When the change does occur for the 11th Doctor it is very quick, presumably because his body was getting ready for alterations. All the adjustments are in place and it just needed to flick from one state to the other.
This appears to be a traumatic experience for the new incarnation, their sense bombarded with new sensations. It is difficult to gauge how accurate the 12th Doctor’s assessment is that he has new kidneys or that he can tell what colour they are.
Most troubling of all is if this new incarnation has forgotten a vital skill, such as how to pilot the TARDIS. This can be used to create amusing and tense situations in your own campaigns.