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How much control do Time Lords have over the form of their next regeneration?

Initially it seems fairly random, or if there is any pattern, then it is chosen subconsciously (for example, the 12th Doctor’s face).

However, it seems the Time Lords have some control over regeneration, for example the 10th Doctor was able to regenerate into himself, the Master chose to regenerate into a younger body in Utopia and the Sisterhood of Khan seem to be able to control regeneration.

I was wondering to what extent a Time Lord choses regeneration. Is there any information about this in the classic series or extended media etc? For example, could a Time Lord regenerate into any form that they chose?

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  • Purely given his (apparent) age, it was likely that the Master would regenerate into someone younger, no? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regression_toward_the_mean – tardigrade Aug 29 '20 at 9:22
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    @tardigrade Yes, that is an interesting point, as it is almost guaranteed the master would become younger, however he says it with such certainty that he will become young like the Doctor, that it made me think he had some control over his appearance. – Jamminermit Aug 29 '20 at 9:46
  • Ah, fair enough. It has been a while since I watched it... – tardigrade Aug 29 '20 at 9:56
  • I'm not sure how much "extended media" you're considering, but I vaguely remember in one of the eighth doctor books some fairly senior Time Lord has recently regenerated into a spotty teenager and is annoyed by how much less respect he's getting, suggesting this wasn't deliberate. However, I suppose it's possible it was deliberate and he didn't consider that consequence, or it was subconscious, or something, and anyway I can't remember which book (he was a minor character so it'd be a pain to find without rereading them all). – tardigrade Aug 29 '20 at 10:00
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    I think that they have as much as is needed to satisfy the plot. The Doctor always seems surprised by their new body, except when the 8th Doctor was offered a catalogue of choices en route to becoming the War Doctor, when the Tenth Doctor deliberately became the Tenth Doctor again (creating the meta-crisis hybrid), or when the Caretaker implied that he had deliberately chosen a former face. – Graham Lee Aug 29 '20 at 10:12
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It's inconsistent

Most instances appear to be indicate that the outcome of regeneration cannot be controlled. On each of the Doctor's regenerations, at least up until Peter Capaldi, the Doctor spent time after regenerating exploring his new physical form and in some cases personality, sometimes disappointed by certain aspects (such as not being "ginger").

When Mel regenerated into River Song in "Let's Kill Hitler", she was clearly happy but surprised by the details of the outcome.

The counterexample is the regeneration of the Time Lord Romana in "Destiny of the Daleks", where she flounces in and out of the room trying on different appearances before settling on the form of Princess Astra (Lalla Ward). In the book of the episode, it was stated that the Doctor was jealous of Romana's superior ability to control her regeneration. However, as the comments in the linked article note, Romana's regeneration was seen as inconsistent with all other examples observed.

In short, the in-universe answer is that some Time Lords can control the outcome of regeneration better than others. The out-of-universe answer is that the physical process and details of regeneration depend on the SFX budget, storytelling requirements and availability of previous actors.

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  • When Mel regenerated into River Song in "Let's Kill Hitler", she was clearly happy but surprised by the details of the outcome. --although she was also clearly attempting to influence it (there's a line something like "shut up, I'm concentrating on a dress size"), which implies it's possible albeit potentially difficult; perhaps the Doctor simply doesn't usually bother... – occipita Nov 28 '20 at 14:22
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Several Doctors have made comments that show they have no conscious control over regeneration.

The Fourth Doctor examined his new face in the mirror and said "have to take the rough with the smooth". When the Eleventh Doctor met the Tenth Doctor in The Day of The Doctor the latter compared regeneration to a lottery. The Thirteenth Doctor showed surprise when she saw her reflection and said "oh, brilliant!" Nearly all Doctors have examined their physical characteristics in some way after regeneration. The Sisterhood of Karn also told the Eighth Doctor in Night of The Doctor that Timelord regeneration didn't have to be "random" - as their own regeneration science was more controlled.

However, other comments have demonstrated that there may be some subconscious influence over the outcome. In particular, the Twelfth Doctor subconsciously took the face of someone he had met before.

In Deep Breath, just after regeneration, he said:

TWELVE: Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It's like I'm trying to tell myself something. Like I'm trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can't just tell myself what I'm thinking?

He later realises, in The Girl Who Died:

TWELVE: I know where I got this face, and I know what it's for.
CLARA: Okay, what's it for?
TWELVE: To remind me. To hold me to the mark. I'm the Doctor, and I save people.

Evidently, this regeneration wasn't random, but entirely a subconscious choice. There is also the inference that he took an older face to clarify his relationship with Clara ("I'm not your boyfriend").

Arguably, the Sixth Doctor's personality may have been similarly chosen on a subconscious level. After regeneration, he commented that the change had come "not a moment too soon", and went on to say that he didn't like his previous generation's "feckless charm".

There was also the inference in Day of The Doctor that Ten and Eleven may have been younger and more child-like (in personality as much as physical appearance) as a way of not dealing with the horrors of the decision they made in the Time War ("Do you have to talk like children? What is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown-up?")

So it would seem there is some control over the process, but it is at a subconscious level rather than a conscious decision. Having said that, we have seen a future incarnation of The Doctor in the form of 'The Curator', who said that it was possible to revisit "favourite" faces, but the fact he had to explain this to Eleven suggests that this is a privilege he did not yet have.

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Quite a lot actually

While the Doctor demonstrates only subconscious control over his regenerations, the other Time-lords and Ladies we see seem to have rather more influence.

There is for example an extended sequence in Classic Who where Romana tries half a dozen different bodies before settling on the form of Lalla Ward.
It's played as a "Women and Clothes" joke, but the implication is that not only do you not have to be Near Death, but you can make very deliberate choices about the form you take.

This was long before the idea of there only being 12 regenerations came about. (not that that idea stuck when it came time for 13)

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