The First Face This Face Saw

[crossposted at]

I know that most of us are thinking REALLY HARD about The Angels Take Manhattan right now, but I wanted to step back for a moment and talk instead about a thought that emerged from the previous episode, The Power of Three.

“The first face this face saw,” the Eleventh Doctor said to Amy, explaining why it is that he has been so very emotionally attached to her, and by extension, Rory, over the last several hundred years. Much like “I always took you where you needed to be” from The Doctor’s Wife, this one line throws the whole history of Doctor Who into a new light.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the Ninth Doctor was freshly regenerated in “Rose,” and that he went off to have a bunch of adventures in that instant before he and the TARDIS came back for her and he upped his offer: “Did I mention it also travels in time?” Not only is this a nice thought because it means he got to have a bunch of adventures on his own, but it allows him to appear at various points through history in his leather jacket, thereby catching the attention of Clive.

But Rose could well have been the first face that his Ninth face saw. At least, the first non-Auton, non-dead face. The first person he talked to, the first person he told to “Run.” Extending this thought further, this could be why he came back for her at the end of the episode, once he thought of something new to tempt her with. And maybe even that “run” was the first word he said, also imprinting itself upon the destiny of his incarnation of the Doctor.

Yes, I’m arguing that the Doctors set their own themes in the first moments of life. Bear with me.

I know that many fans are annoyed by the perceived “specialness” of Rose, while others love her best and most above all others. Well, she is special. Because she may well be the only person whom the Doctor saw first in two incarnations. With the Ninth, it’s arguable, but it’s definite with the Tenth. He regenerated in the TARDIS, and the first face his face saw was Rose, crying and angry and bouncing emotions off the walls. Rose, who loved him.

Yep, this explains a lot about the Tenth Doctor.

But does the theory hold up into the Classic series? I had a long walk this morning, which always does ferocious things to my brain, and I’m here to tell you that maybe it DOES.

Some are drawing a longer bow than others, I’ll admit. The first face the Eighth Doctor saw was that of a morgue technician screaming at him for being alive. But the surgeon who killed him, Grace Holloway, certainly can have had an effect on who he was as a Doctor. Did he see her through the anaesthesia? Does his grogginess explain the weird hallucination about being half human?

The Seventh Doctor is a way better example. The first face his face saw was his old enemy the Rani, pretending to be his companion Mel. No wonder he spent his whole incarnation as a sneaky, suspicious and manipulative dark version of himself! Apart from the whole spoon-playing phase which was obviously caused by the strobing effect from Mel’s psychelic apricot striped outfit.

The Sixth Doctor tried to kill the first face his face saw, the argumentative Peri, and his incarnation was certainly characterised by bickering and violence.

The Fifth Doctor saw three young people he barely knew: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and spent the rest of his regenerative crisis freaking out and impersonating his former selves. I have no idea what effect this had on his personality. But it does explain why he and/or the TARDIS failed so utterly to return Tegan to her workplace over and over again, despite her stated wishes.

The first faces the Fourth Doctor saw were Sarah Jane Smith and the Brig. Interesting then that he set out to distance himself quickly from UNIT and his previous life on earth. A born contrarian? Still, there’s no denying that he remained more closely attached to them both than almost any other companions of the classic era. He sent Sarah a K9, after all, and he always came back for Alistair Gordon.

The first face that the Third Doctor’s face saw was a random squaddie who shot him. He then spent five years living with and working for the military, despite the fact that this was dramatically against anything established for the character previously.

And finally, the Second Doctor. His very first regeneration, and the first people he saw were Ben and Polly. There was nothing particularly special about them, though it is worth noting that he spent his entire incarnation with companion pairs of a boy and a girl, except for the one time that Jamie stowed away.

The first faces that the first regenerated Doctor saw were human, though. And in fact, apart from Nyssa, Adric and the Rani, every first face his faces have seen have been human. No wonder he’s so attached to us all, to the humans who live on Earth. The First Doctor despised humans, and if he had any control over the TARDIS, would not have chosen to land on Earth nearly as often as he did. But the later Doctors… every one of them called Earth his home away from home.

And there we are, proof that I think about this stuff way too much.


  1. Liz W says:

    Nonono, there is not such thing as thinking about this stuff too much. I’m especially glad that you posted this, because the same question had occurred to me and I was wondering where on earth I was going to find the time to research it! And now I don’t have to, so thank you!

  2. L says:

    This kind of blew my mind. In a good way.

  3. Neowhovian says:

    I really enjoyed this – very thoughtful! :) I’ve shared it on my blog’s FB page, too, because I’d love to hear more people’s thoughts on it. The point about Rose influencing both Nine and Ten was particularly insightful, IMO.

  4. James says:

    I can’t remember whether I’ve shared my theory about the 8th Doctor being half human on here, so apologies if I’ve inflicted this on you before. All the other Time Lord regenerations we see – all the other Doctors and the Master – take place either in the Tardis, on Gallifrey or with some kind of Time Lord influence. Perhaps to regenerate, a Time Lord’s body needs to download data to determine the form of the new body. For the McCoy to McGann regeneration, the Tardis is miles away and the only other Time Lord anywhere within reach is the Master, who has hijacked a human body. So the Doctor’s body uses data from the last person it came into contact with before death – Grace, when he pulled her mask off and touched her face. Hence, he is half human for this regeneration. If there’s a range of “off the peg” downloads, then this explains why the 6th Doctor looks like Commander Maxil and also how the Time Lords can give the 2nd Doctor a choice of what he might regenerate into.

    Thoughts? (Other than that I spend too long thinking about this kind of stuff…)

    • That is an awesome theory.

      It’s fun to see how modern technology can affect our reading of past science fiction. They didn’t really have the language for digital downloads in the 70’s but that’s almost certainly what’s going on with Romana in Destiny of the Daleks – switching between a variety of desktop settings.

    • George Dayton says:

      The problem with theories about the Eighth Doctor’s statement that he was half-human is that we do know Matthew Jacobs intended it to be a true statement when he wrote the script. In his original draft, a huge element of the plot was the discovery that the Doctor was half-human and that the Master was his pure Time Lord half-brother. It would have put a new spin on their rivalry as well as the Doctor’s relationship to humanity. Jacobs was forced to tone down the discussion of the Doctor’s human ancestry and entirely remove the idea of the Doctor being the Master’s brother. There is, thus, little hope of finding some hidden clue in the movie as to why the Doctor made the statement if you want a theory which leaves the Doctor a pure Time Lord. Jacobs’s explanation was that the statement is true and he left a rather tricky hurdle for us in explaining it away, the Master’s apparently independent deduction of the Doctor’s mixed birth from examining the Doctor’s Eye of Harmony. While the Master is a liar, he has no real motive to lie to Chang about the Doctor’s heritage. The impression he gives is that of discovering an explanation for what he believes to be the Doctor’s character weaknesses. Unfortunately for Jacobs, the movie did not lead to a rebooted series and the fanbase, including Davies and Moffatt, generally hated the idea of a half-human Doctor. There are loads of theories trying to explain it away from the the idea that the Doctor was just making a joke to the idea that the Eighth Doctor, but only the Eighth Doctor, was half-human. None has quite explained away the conversation between the Master and Chang about the Eye of Harmony and most don’t discuss it, preferring to treat the Eighth Doctor’s statement to Grace as the only thing requiring explanation. Thus far, showrunners seem to have adopted the practice of just not bringing it up again but have not explicitly denied it on screen, although they did have the Doctor deny he was the Master’s brother when Martha Jones asked about it in The Sound of Drums.

  5. Ritch Famous says:

    I think you’re thinking of episode 2 of Spearhead from Space. I think in episode 1 he has an incoherent exchange about shoes with a nurse, though he may not have really looked at her, but then he had his first proper conversation with the Brigadier.

  6. I think that also explains why the first incarnation was the least Human of all of them. Whether Ian and Barbara were the Humans he encountered remains to be seen, but he certainly spent the majority of his first life on Gallifrey.

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