Regeneration and trans possibility in Doctor Who

Damien Hagen

University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, Maryland, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In the long-running BBC series Doctor Who (2005–), the iconic character of the Doctor is able to avoid death through a process of regeneration. Long before the ability of the Doctor to change gender during regeneration was made canonical by the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, transgender fans had interpreted the Doctor's regenerations through a trans imaginary. Trans fans of Doctor Who have been drawn to the series by its heavy thematic utilization of movement, change, liminality, and transformation. Trans fans of Doctor Who have utilized the series as a tool for imagining trans possibility, self-exploration, and viewing gender affirmation and euphoria as possible. The series offers trans fans a way of being in which transformation can be not only possible but lifesaving.

[0.2] Keywords—Fandom; Liminality; Regeneration; Trans imaginary; Transgender studies

Hagen, Damien. 2023. "Regeneration and Trans Possibility in Doctor Who." In "Trans Fandom," edited by Jennifer Duggan and Angie Fazekas, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 39.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In the long-running BBC series Doctor Who (2005–), the iconic character of the Doctor is able to avoid death through a process of regeneration. When faced with death, the Doctor regenerates, or transforms their body into an entirely new one. Through each physical transformation the Doctor undergoes in their regenerations, the Doctor remains, generally, the same person. The Doctor's core personality is largely consistent (clever, brave, impulsive, eccentric, and confident), but each transformation brings with it different personality traits, quirks, interests, habits, and aesthetic tastes. The Doctor's regenerations are similar to the process of moving homes. After a few thousand years of life and adventures, the Doctor's collected a lot of stuff. They (note 1) move into each new body with all their previous experiences, histories, loves, and losses. However, like in most moves, they also get rid of some things they realize are no longer serving them, that maybe aren't working anymore. Likewise, they get some new decorations and things that do work with the new space. Every regeneration provides the Doctor with the change they need to keep on surviving. The Tenth Doctor loses loved ones and carries so much heartbreak that he regenerates into Eleven, who does his best to be carefree and far more childlike. The Twelfth Doctor almost decides to refuse to regenerate because he feels he has lived long enough and is weighed down by loss but then regenerates into Thirteen, who is full of hope. The Doctor shows the viewer that change is essential to survival. Nothing stays the same for long in the Doctor's universe—companions, characters, location, the Doctor themself. Even the lore and rules of the series are inconsistent and often changing; as Thirteen explains, "my rules change all the time" (Childs 2018a).

[1.2] Despite consistently taking on a humanoid physical form, the Doctor isn't human and is part of an alien (at least from an Earth human perspective) species called Time Lords. In spite of the androcentric name, there have been multiple references to the ability of Time Lords to regenerate into different genders over the course of the series (note 2), as well as indications that they can choose a nonhuman form (note 3). The ability of Time Lords to change gender during regeneration was made the most canonically explicit with the casting of Michelle Gomez as Missy/The Master (note 4) and Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Regardless of official canon or gender even being discussed in the series, the ephemeral essence of the series and the emphasis on change and movement has long drawn many trans fans of Doctor Who to interpret the Doctor's regenerations through a trans narrative (Bigelow 2013; Wiggins 2015; Lachenal 2016).

[1.3] Many trans media scholars have provided insight into the way themes and aesthetics of movement, malleability, change, and liminality can invoke a trans reading of non-explicitly trans objects (Leung 2010, 2012; Keegan 2013, 2016a, 2016b, 2018; Straube 2014; cárdenas 2015; Vena 2017). I suggest that the themes trans theorists have utilized in reading trans-ly mirror the reading strategies of many trans fans. While I would certainly not argue that all transgender or nonbinary people interpret media in the exact same way, many trans fans have developed, either together or individually, distinct interpretive strategies of reading trans-ly (Eastwood 2014; Keegan 2016a). As an interpretive community—a group of people who interpret and "make meaning of a text in similar or related ways" (Jenkins 2018, 16)—trans fans have utilized themes of malleability, liminality, and change to interpret non-explicitly trans objects, narratives, and characters through a trans lens. The experiences of the trans fans I address showcase a shared process of reading and experiencing the constant emphasis on change and liminality within the series Doctor Who as invoking a trans imaginary.

[1.4] Combining autoethnography and fan-produced content, I argue that many trans fans of Doctor Who have utilized the series as a tool for developing an understanding of themselves, for imagining that gender affirmation and euphoria are possible, and for providing a way to envision their transness as lifesaving and affirming despite the world of violence trans people can face. Trans studies has at its foundation emphasized the importance and legitimacy of experiential knowledge (Stryker 2006). In this vein, I use myself as a subject of analysis through autoethnography. My own lived experience is woven into conversation with the experiences of other trans fans to examine the ways some trans fans have utilized Doctor Who in their own lives to survive, heal, and find happiness (note 5). I place myself within this discussion for both the evidence that my own experience may provide and to frame how I have come to this topic. As both an acafan and a transgender person, I am deeply invested in the topics I address, which have also shaped my focus of analysis. My investment is in the survival and thriving of trans people, and with that, I center trans joy in my analysis. I draw on Ian Khara Ellasante's (2020) call for trans studies to "do love" and healing work that continues to center the embodied knowledge of trans people.

[1.5] With this being said, I am not interested in whether or not the character of the Doctor is canonically or intentionally trans. The representation of explicitly or canonically transgender and nonbinary characters is certainly important; however, much of the trans and nonbinary representations offered so far in popular media are created through a cisgender imaginary of trans and nonbinary people. Trans fans have responded to the void of affirming or relatable trans and gender nonconforming representation in media by imagining ourselves into stories and characters that were not created with us in mind but that nonetheless invoke a trans reading. Media objects that are not explicitly trans but hold a trans capacity can potentially be more reflective of trans and nonbinary people's lived realities or identities than explicitly or canonically trans characters (Keegan 2016a, 28; Cavalcante 2018). David Getsy (2014) defines transgender capacity as "the ability or the potential for making visible, bringing into experience, or knowing genders as mutable, successive, and multiple" (47). While I do take a relatively optimistic perspective, I do not believe that any arguments or analyses I make are necessarily an intentional part of the series or something that makes Doctor Who in itself visionary, radical, or subversive—it certainly is not. Rather, I suggest that the transgender capacity within the series of Doctor Who has manifested in the lives of trans fans in material and affectual ways. Inspired by José Esteban Muñoz's (1996) framing of ephemera as evidence, I am interested in what the series has provided or done for trans fans rather than what the series explicitly says or shows. It is the process of meaning making by trans and nonbinary fans that I offer as evidence of the series' trans capacity and potential to impact trans lives. How have trans fans of the series interpreted and utilized the series to understand their transness? What affectual work has the series done for trans fans? Guided by these questions, I explain how the use of and engagement with the series Doctor Who can act as a powerful survival strategy for many transgender fans.

2. Becoming possible

[2.1] I was in my mid-teens when I happened upon a VHS of Doctor Who episodes my father had taped off TV. They were in no particular order, clearly having been taped whenever he happened to find the show airing, and their disorder meant that I quickly saw two different actors portray what I thought was supposed to be the same person. When I asked my dad why this was happening, he responded by simply saying "he changes faces." I loved this. While I was drawn to the show for the aliens and adventures, what made me a fan of the series was the process of regeneration. Before I understood myself as transgender, there was something about the Doctor's ability to transform in the face of death that called to me. I longed to transform like the Doctor.

[2.2] Experiences of gender regulatory violence would lead me to many years of denial and self-loathing out of fear that I would again be targeted for violating cisnormative and heteronormative gender expectations. These years of attempting to perform as cisgender culminated in a suicide attempt in my early twenties. Later, while attempting to escape my emotional pain in a world of speculative fiction, I found myself watching the Tenth Doctor absorb a fatal dose of radiation before evading death yet again by regenerating. As I sat there crying heavily over the (still painful) loss of David Tennant as the Doctor, I realized part of my tears and pain were caused by my refusal to allow myself to regenerate. While the Doctor's body attempts to regenerate instinctively, the Doctor has shown on multiple occasions their ability to prolong or resist the regeneration process, at least for a limited amount of time, and the pain experienced in doing so. Like the Doctor, part of me knew instinctively what I needed to do to save my life, but I had denied that part of myself to be heard. I related to Ten's fear of regeneration, of what might result from such a change, and like Ten, my regeneration was inevitable if I was to survive.

[2.3] The Doctor, as well as Time Lords in general, has represented for many trans fans what Cáel M. Keegan (2016a) refers to as a "trans media object." Keegan (2016a) defines a trans media object as one that while not being explicitly "transgender" still offers "an aesthetic space in which the subject might feel a way forward through the closed phenomenological horizon of binary gender" (27). While popular media generally relies on the ability of a media object to conjure personal and cultural feelings (Jenkins 2007, 4), trans media objects invoke a specifically gendered possibility that aids many trans people in imagining and bringing our own selves into being (Keegan 2016a). Trans media objects do not need to be, and perhaps usually are not, canonically or explicitly transgender subjects, objects, or narratives but nonetheless produce a transgender affect or feeling for the trans subject by providing "a normally unseen transfer between seemingly irreconcilable points" (Keegan 2016a, 27). Building upon Sara Ahmed's (2006) concept of queer objects—objects that make the touching of bodies or lives that are not intended for touch possible—trans media objects describe the moment of possibility that occurs when the trans viewer experiences the potential to move from one gender to another.

[2.4] The regeneration process of Time Lords provides a site to envision such a seemingly impossible transfer. Doctor Who didn't make me trans, but it did make the possibility of transness tangible for me. The regenerations weren't about gender, but my nascent transness felt them as such. Within a cisnormative paradigm, gender is immutable. Watching the Doctor's body completely manifest into a new form made the potential of physical transformation a possibility. Doctor Who helped call me into being, and I am certainly not alone in this experience. In a blog post describing her experience as a trans fan of Doctor Who, Anna Wiggins (2015) explains the first time she experienced the show invoking a trans becoming: "On screen, Romana (a character I like a lot) is trying on different bodies…the idea of trying on a new body is amazing. In the most secret part of myself, I wish I could do that. I wish I could look like princess Astra." Wiggins's description of this scene, this spark of possibility, mirrors my own early experiences watching the Doctor. Both Romana's regeneration for Wiggins and Ten's regeneration for myself shimmered a sudden possibility that without being explicitly about gender was phenomenologically trans. It provided an imaginative possibility for a type of bodily transformation that was thought to be impossible. Understanding that this moment sparked a possibility for herself that she hadn't fully understood before, Wiggins (2015) later states the potential of the more recent Missy/The Master regeneration storyline to serve as a similar moment of possibility for young trans people: "[Missy] means that somewhere, a little trans girl might watch Doctor Who and think 'maybe I can do that too.'" Wiggins shows that in addition to providing her own moment of trans possibility, the series has also provided her with a certain optimism or hope for the lives of other trans people.

[2.5] To imagine otherwise is essential for trans people to make ourselves possible. In a cisnormative society that enforces a gender binary, often violently, to imagine other gendered possibilities is itself a form of speculation. Judith Butler (2004) argues that "the thought of a possible life is only an indulgence for those who already know themselves to be possible. For those who are still looking to become possible, possibility is a necessity" (219). By evoking trans possibility, the Doctor has acted as a conceptual tool for trans viewers to project their own self-exploration and envision alternatives to coercive, nonconsensual binary gendered categories. Trans people have long had to "craft imaginaries" in which living as a trans person is possible in order to survive (Keegan 2018, 3). Trans fans' reading of change and rebirth in the Doctor aids many of us (trans and nonbinary fans) in viewing not only our gendered selves as possible but that we are able to determine who we want to be and what lives we want to live. Beyond the possibility of transness, the Doctor inspired me to imagine what a livable life would be.

3. I create myself

[3.1] Throughout the first season of the Doctor Who series revival (note 6), the Doctor and Rose Tyler (note 7) find the phrase "Bad Wolf" in random places during their travels across time and space. The phrase appears in graffiti multiple times in their journey across Earth: as a television station broadcasting the Face of Boe, as the name of a military helicopter, as a media corporation, and it additionally appears in both German and Welsh (note 8). The continued, repeated reappearance of the phrase throughout season 1 foreshadows the eventual season finale. In the final episode, the Doctor learns that the "Bad Wolf Corporation" is a front for the Daleks (the Doctor's biggest enemy and big fans of genocide) who are, yet again, attempting to take over the human race. Knowing the threat the Daleks pose, the Doctor sends Rose (against her wishes) home to Earth in the Tardis (note 9) in an attempt to save her life, as he plans to sacrifice his own to protect the humans from the Daleks. Rose, refusing to have the Doctor tell her what to do with her own life, forces open the central heart of the Tardis and in gazing into it, absorbs the power of the Time Vortex that fuels the Tardis. Rose then uses this power to return to the Doctor at Bad Wolf Bay. When the Tardis door opens, we see Rose glowing with the power of the Tardis. She then states, "I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words; I scatter them in time and space. A message to lead myself here" (Ahearne 2006). We, the viewers, watch as Rose takes the words "bad wolf" from the Bad Wolf Corporation sign and sends them out across the universe. All the foreshadowing and signposting of the "Bad Wolf" throughout the season acted as messages future Rose sent to her past self, leading her to this moment. Rose goes on to use the power of the Tardis to destroy the Daleks and bring pansexual hero Captain Jack Harkness back to life. The arc ends in one of the most painfully cheesy, eyeroll-inducing moments of the series: with the power of the Tardis/Time Vortex being too much for a human body to handle, the Doctor absorbs the power by kissing Rose, leading to his own death/regeneration into the Tenth Doctor.

[3.2] Despite the ridiculous ending of the Bad Wolf arc, it has remained one of my favorite storylines of the series to date. Over the years since its airing, I find myself consistently using the phrase "I create myself" when discussing my own transition. It is not simply the clear parallel between the phrase and the process of physical and social transition, although there is that, but the process of Rose laying a path for her past self to find her way to her future that gives the phrase meaning to me. Like Doctor Who providing moments of possibility for trans fans, Rose sends moments of possibility to herself. I like to imagine the many moments in my life that sparked a questioning of gender and sexuality norms, even when I didn't realize them as such, as moments sent by a future me to help guide me to myself.

[3.3] Beyond simply provoking the possibility of transness, Doctor Who tells trans fans that they can create themselves. It has provided an "intermediate space" (Duffett 2013) for many trans fans to explore and understand themselves through their interpretation and experience of the series. Outside of the confines and dangers of gender transgression in the real world, the escape offered by the series can act as a safer, imaginative place in which the trans subject can work through a process of self-excavation. Using the character of the Doctor as an imaginative agent onto which I could project my own self-exploration, I felt the series expanded my sense of who I could be, aiding in my own development of a slightly more coherent identity.

[3.4] When the Doctor regenerates, there is almost always a period of adjustment for them and their companions. For the Doctor, this can be getting used to a new body along with a bit of mental fog as their brain settles into its new form. For the Doctor's companions, this can often mean adjusting to the fact that the person they knew now looks entirely different and may have some new quirks or traits for them to learn. Oftentimes, the newly regenerated Doctor struggles with their companions not seeing them for who they are. The Doctor's regeneration from Eleven to Twelve provides a particularly poignant example of this: After the Doctor regenerates, Clara—the Doctor's current companion—struggles to see this new man standing in front of her as the same friend she knew before. In an impassioned plea for recognition, the Twelfth Doctor states, "You can't see me, can you? You look at me and you can't see me. Have you any idea what that's like? […] I'm right here, standing in front of you. Please, just…just see me" (Wheatley 2014).

[3.5] Writing for the website The Mary Sue, Jessica Lachenal (2016) describes how this particular moment of the series felt deeply impactful and representative of her own gendered experience: "Most days are a struggle just to be seen as the woman I am…It's enough to make me feel invisible sometimes…I'm still seen as something I'm not…'Please,' comes my silent plea to the people I love and want to love me back for who I am. 'Just see me. Just see me for me, please.'" The Doctor's loved ones failing to see them for who they are draws a direct parallel to the experience of trans people, who consistently face moments in their lives where their internal understanding of themselves does not match the way others read or interact with them.

[3.6] The imaginative potential of the series can have tangible, material effects on the minds and bodies of trans fans. In a post on the website The Time Ladies, Emma Jones (2018) describes how the Doctor's experiences of regeneration helped her not only understand herself as trans but moved her toward actively creating herself:

[3.7] After dealing with his own identity crisis, the Twelfth Doctor says, "…you look at me, and you can't see me" and it immediately clicked. It allowed me to articulate my feelings about how it hurt to be misgendered, to feel like and know you're a girl but have everyone look at you and think and refer to you as a boy. Not too long afterwards I began my gender transition.

[3.8] Through identification with the Doctor, Jones manifested for herself a new possible life and future. Jones's experience in some ways parallels my own experience of the Tenth Doctor's regeneration. After denying who I was for years, it was through watching the Tenth Doctor let himself regenerate that I would eventually choose to save my own life. It is worth emphasizing that the Doctor's regenerations literally save them from death. For many trans people, though of course not all, transitioning can be lifesaving. Furthermore, I read the experience of trans fans of the series choosing to create or make manifest the gendered self that feels affirming as its own form of fan art. Transgender people who choose to physically transition are in many ways making their own transformative work, taking the source material, assigned sex/gender at birth, and expanding or changing it in endless ways that work and feel better for the trans subject.

[3.9] Trans fans' identifying, or perhaps disidentifying, with the Doctor has provided a path toward creating for themselves new embodied experiences. In reading the Doctor through a trans lens, in projecting oneself onto the character, fans have found a process for making oneself visible. The imagining, reinterpretation, or subversive reading of non-explicitly trans characters as trans can itself act as a strategy of resistance and affirmation. Reading oneself into a narrative or character that isn't about you can be powerful for marginalized people (Walker 2013). Trans people continually move between moments of visibility and invisibility in various moments and places in our lives. The process of transition, whether social and/or physical, is often the process of making one's internal self external.

[3.10] Similarly, a common discussion among trans fans of Doctor Who is how the Doctor's regeneration can act as a way to explain one's transness to others. Across various fan forums and blogs, trans fans report using the metaphor of regeneration in their coming out as trans and the usefulness this analogy has in their friends' understanding and support of their trans identity (Bigelow 2013). Fan spaces, such as Tumblr, are full of examples of trans people using the Doctor in their own coming out posts or to describe their identity. In particular, many of these posts use a modified version of one of the most memorable quotes of the modern Doctor Who era in which the Doctor attempts to describe the nonlinear-ness of time: "People assume time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff" (MacDonald 2007). With the changing of a few words, trans fans have repeatedly used this line to discuss their gender identities. The phrases "Wibbly Wobbly Gendery Bendery" or "Gendery Wendery" title multiple fan sites focused specifically on trans and nonbinary readings of the Doctor. Trans fans' use of the show in speaking their identity into being reflects again the series' role in shaping the gendered possibilities for fans.

4. A big ball of wibbly wobbly gendery wendery stuff

[4.1] For many years, as much as I loved and enjoyed Doctor Who, I always considered myself a bad fan of the show. I have never related to the series quite like my other media and literary fandoms. I am not interested in the minute details, I forget character and planet names within seconds, and I just do not care when the show changes its lore and is full of inconsistencies. While these are all ways I engage with other fandoms, Doctor Who has always been different. What makes me a fan of the series has been entirely based on how the series has made me feel and how those feelings have helped shape my life.

[4.2] Doctor Who's ephemerality, inconsistencies, and often utter incomprehensibility are what make the show important and impactful to me. In Susan Jane Bigelow's (2013) essay in Queers Dig Timelords, she reiterates a similar attraction to the series as a transgender fan, explaining that for her, the series is fundamentally about change. To use the Doctor's own words, the show itself is a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. Very little lasts for long in the world of Doctor Who. The Doctor changes every few years, there's a different location or time period every episode, the companions change more than the Doctor, and the lore of the series is consistently changing its rules. The ever-changing nature of the show reflects many thematically trans elements and is what I suggest to be a draw for many trans and nonbinary fans to the series.

[4.3] Keegan (2013, 2016b) describes how movement represents a trans thematic, whether through physical space, virtual space, time, or bodies. Specifically, Keegan argues that movement as a trans aesthetic primarily emphasizes the concept of movement as an escape from oppressive systems or beliefs. Movement and liminality as trans aesthetics have been described by micha cárdenas (2015) as connected to the real lives of trans women of color who experience "multiple forms of violence" daily, forcing them to learn to "shif[t] their bod[ies] and appearance as necessary for survival." I do not suggest that Doctor Who itself is subversive, far from it; rather, I see the series' trans thematics as potentially providing an imaginative escape from a compulsory gender binary. This escape is an exit to an alternative imagining of life through an embracing of the liminal, malleable, and incoherent, a path toward a configuration of self-understanding that does not have to adhere to dominant norms of legibility. Change, movement, and liminality are celebrated in the world of Doctor Who. The Doctor avoids death by regenerating; it is change that the series offers as lifesaving.

[4.4] There is a paradoxical affect or feeling of change and sameness that always exists at the same time within the world of Doctor Who. It is the same Doctor, but it also isn't. Constant time travel means the present for the Doctor and their companions can at the same time be their past or their future. The world of Doctor Who's liminality presents itself in the ever-changing timeline. Viewers, and the Doctor, meet characters out of sync (e.g., River Song) and build relationships outside of the limits of chronological time. The series embraces a "yes/and" aesthetic and a world of paradoxes. Often the storylines are nonsensical, but that is also something that makes the show delightful. The series continually requires the viewer to suspend belief, to avoid trying to make sense of it, and just enjoy the ride. As a nonbinary, transmasculine viewer, this aspect of the show feels particularly pleasurable and affirming.

[4.5] Trans people are consistently and historically expected to have concise, neat narratives of our transness or our gender. We are expected to make ourselves legible to a cisnormative world, to form a clearly coherent, stable identity. Even attempts to affirm trans people often still function within a binary logic that reinforces oppressive gender ideology back on to trans people. I think here about simplistic and ostensibly trans-affirming phrases like "trans men are men." While such phrases and concepts are certainly affirming for many trans men, I personally have always felt erased in such attempts to interpolate myself into a simple gender binary. My gendered past, my history, is deeply a part of who I am and has shaped my social and political investments. Despite being a (albeit nonbinary) trans man, I personally do not identify with the category of "man" as we currently understand it. The "trans" part of my identity is essential; I refuse to form a stable gendered identity that leaves no room for possible movement. My own identity exists in and beyond these gendered spaces and cannot be easily categorized. Doctor Who has helped me understand that in attempting to make my identity and body more coherent to myself, I do not have to make it coherent to others.

[4.6] The Doctor's fluxing liminality can help trans fans accept and embrace themselves outside of common conceptions of pre/post transition. For many trans and nonbinary people, myself included, legible subjectivity is not achievable or something that is desired (Vaccaro 2013, 94). The series offers a way for trans people to potentially embrace who we have been, who we are, and who we will be as equally important in shaping our life and experiences outside of the commonly predictive understanding of transness as a forward progression between two opposing ends.

[4.7] During her first episode as the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker's Doctor is asked how she deals with having lost her family. To this, the Doctor responds, "I carry them with me. What they would've thought and said and done. Made them a part of who I am. So even though they're gone from the world, they're never gone from me" (Childs 2018a). While the Doctor is describing their lost loved ones, my immediate interpretation was as a commentary on their past regenerations—particularly as it is in the first full episode after Thirteen's regeneration. The concept of carrying your past selves within you and that they are always there spoke to my own feelings around my past gendered selves. Upon finishing the episode, I went online to find the exact wording for this quote, and what I found immediately was a Reddit thread for trans and gender nonconforming people centered around this specific quote. Trans contributors were utilizing the quote to describe their experience of remembering their different gendered experiences and lives lived. Within a day of the episode's first airing, there were already dozens of posts made by trans people, many of whom were juxtaposing the quote with older and current photos of themselves. Across most of the various posts was a repeated sentiment of feeling not only represented through the Doctor's regeneration but celebrated. Bigelow (2013) also mentions this usage and reading of the Doctor's sentiment of remembrance alongside change when she describes looking at an old photograph of herself as a child and feeling how the Doctor perhaps sees or thinks about their previous forms: "A new me. I remember the old me. I remember that I was him, and he was like me…Parts of me are the same, but that transformation has irreversibly changed others" (220).

[4.8] With each regeneration, the Doctor may change their body and many personality traits, but they also forever carry their previous selves with them. Rather than feeling gender dissonance, discomfort, or pain at imagining or looking at their former gendered selves, some trans fans have found that understanding their trans experience as a process of regeneration has helped them experience self-love or gratitude (which I address further in the next section). Bigelow describes looking at a photo of her young self and feeling an excitement for their future—a future that is her present. When I imagine my current self as the Bad Wolf, sending trans signals and signposts back in time to my younger self, I experience this as a self-loving act, a method of loving all versions of myself—past, current, future, pre-transition, and beyond—and caring for myself. For myself and many other trans people, looking at old photos can be emotionally challenging or painful, but in imagining this person staring back at me as simply another regeneration, I have found a way to begin to heal that pain. That younger me got me to where I am now, and while in some ways they feel estranged from my current form, like the Doctor, I will always carry them with me.

[4.9] Lachenal (2016) makes a similar point when she describes how the Eleventh Doctor's farewell speech before regenerating spoke to her own gendered experience. Before regenerating, the Doctor states, "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 gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be" (Payne 2013). Lachenal explains how at the time she watched this episode, she had been struggling with accepting her gendered past and the gender trauma it came with. She explains how this moment helped her begin to accept who she has been and learn to love all of herself (the present and past):

[4.10] The idea of separate selves…hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks…Just as it's okay to change who you are, it's okay to love and accept who you used to be. They did, after all, get me to where I am today, didn't they? It's not right for me to keep running from the people I used to be. I had to turn to them, face them, and embrace them as crucial parts of who I am now. More than that, I have to love them because despite the awful things they'd done to themselves, they are still me, and I am still them. (Lachenal 2016)

[4.11] Lachenal's and Bigelow's descriptions of learning to love their former gendered embodiments (or regenerations) speak to the impact the series can potentially have in building the self-worth or self-love of trans and nonbinary fans. The imaginative space the series provides exists outside of linear conceptualizations of time and self-history, granting the trans viewer a chance to understand themself outside of a binary of before/after that promises a supposed endpoint or complete coherent legibility. Charlie Ledbetter (2020) argues that gender euphoria is not something that happens by "the successful erasure of [self] history" or in the complete manifestation of a new physical form but rather is "only legible and possible with reference to the past." This liminal, fluxing, nonlinear understanding of the self can help lead the trans viewer to a path of healing some gender trauma and toward a potential gender euphoric affect.

5. Affirmation and gender euphoria

[5.1] Doctor Who has drawn transgender fans to the series through its representation of mind and body transformation. It has invoked trans possibility and offered a world outside of the confines of strict, linear legibility. In offering up a trans possibility, the series has additionally provided trans and nonbinary people a space to manifest new material, embodied sensations, and experiences. Jones (2018) describes how as she worked through and struggled in understanding and accepting herself as a trans person, Doctor Who "became an escape." Jones explains that the universe the series offered to her gave her a chance to envision a life where gender affirmation, and potentially even euphoria, was possible: "Doctor Who can often be an escape from something, from harsh realities. But that also means it's an escape to something as well—to a place where gender and its associated stereotypes are irrelevant and where if you want to be a woman, you can." As discussed previously, the series often showcases the Doctor's companions struggling to adjust to the Doctor's new regenerations, but Bigelow (2013) argues that for her, these moments have provided a source of optimism or hopeful possibility. She explains that while the Doctor's companions often respond with shock and confusion to each new regeneration, each companion eventually works through their emotions, adapting and understanding the Doctor as both different and the same. The types of negative responses that companions enact in the series are all too real for many transgender fans who experience a full spectrum of responses from those around them to their gender identities. Bigelow (2013) explains how the way the Doctor's friends work to adapt and support the Doctor has helped her imagine a world where those around trans people respond with love rather than revulsion.

[5.2] The trans fan experiences I have addressed reflect the potential for the Doctor to aid in our self-acceptance and self-love. Bigelow specifically explains that the Doctor helped her understand and accept herself throughout her transition. She describes how after each regeneration, the Doctor has been known to find something they like about their new body even if it is unexpected, stating, "There's always a sense that because this body is his, it is therefore excellent" (Bigelow 2013, 218). Continuing to explain how she has used the Doctor's post-regeneration body positivity to accept her own body as it changes, Bigelow (2013) shares that "because it's mine, and it finally feels right, this body is excellent" (218). The common post-regeneration scenes in which the Doctor tries on multiple outfits, styles, and aesthetics before settling on a new look additionally reflect Bigelow's own experience with learning how to dress her body in a manner that felt authentic and affirming for her. She explains how these usually comic scenes helped her feel more forgiving and judge herself less harshly for struggling to learn how to express her gendered self.

[5.3] When the Doctor most recently regenerated from Peter Capaldi (the Twelfth Doctor) to Jodie Whittaker (the Thirteenth Doctor), Jones (2018) experienced the Doctor's excitement as a moment of gender euphoria: "Having the Doctor be ecstatic, with that big grin…I felt I could relate to her feelings of excitement…Having the Doctor be thrilled seeing herself is such a powerful thing to see as someone who's struggled with accepting their body." The moment of Thirteen's regeneration was a moment that spoke to my own trans experience as well. The Twelfth Doctor resists regeneration for a period of time, thinking that perhaps it is time for him to finally die. After eventually deciding to allow himself to regenerate, the Doctor begins a speech to the future version of himself. He tells them what they should make sure to keep from his regeneration and what he hopes for his future self. The Doctor has hopes and desires for their future self, but knows they cannot control the path their regeneration will take. Similarly, trans people often have hopes for some of the changes social and/or physical transition will bring, but cannot always predict what or how those changes will manifest. When Twelve eventually regenerates into Thirteen, the first-time viewers see the Doctor as a woman, she immediately grabs a monitor to look at herself and upon seeing her new reflection simply states, "Oh brilliant!" Thirteen's excited response, the sheer joy she displays, reads like a moment of gender euphoria. Like Jones, seeing the Doctor's sincere and ecstatic response to her regeneration felt like an affirmation and reflection of my own trans experience.

[5.4] Doctor Who has provided at least some trans fans a mechanism or strategy for survival. The series' emotional impact helps transgender fans envision our transness as lifesaving and affirming despite the world of violence trans people can face. The Doctor regenerates to save their life, and for many trans people, social and/or physical transitions can be lifesaving. The Doctor tells fans that change and regeneration are good, and in a world in which trans people face exceptionally high rates of violence, suicide, housing insecurity, unemployment, and isolation, that message is powerful. It is not an exaggeration to say that for myself, Doctor Who is one of the reasons I have survived to this point. While it certainly has not impacted every trans fan of the series in the same or even a similar way, my own experience offers evidence of the series' usefulness in imagining trans possibility and the way that possibility can have material impacts on the lives of trans fans. The liminal, ever-changing, and complicated world provided by the series acts as a path or tool for transgender fans to learn to affirm, accept, and love themselves as a trans person. Lachenal (2016) describes how the show has done this for her specifically, stating, "I wasn't always a fan of the show. But thanks to it, I've found a way to be a fan of myself."

6. Notes

1. A note about pronouns: My use of pronouns for the Doctor fluctuates as the Doctor does. When referring to a specific iteration of the Doctor, I use the pronouns that match the gender of that iteration. When referring to all of the Doctor's iterations as a whole, I use they/them.

2. One of the more explicit moments of this is in 6.4 "The Doctor's Wife," an episode guest-written by Neil Gaiman in which the Doctor mentions another Time Lord who had been different genders a few times.

3. In the Doctor Who (1963–1989) episode 17.1 "Destiny of the Daleks," a Time Lord named Romana tries on multiple different forms during her regeneration, with one being nonhuman in appearance.

4. The Master is a longtime adversary of the Doctor who is also a Time Lord. The Master had always been portrayed in the original and revival series as a man until the episode 8.11 "Dark Water", in which it is revealed that the villain calling themself Missy is the latest regeneration of the Master. Michelle Gomez is superb.

5. It is worth noting that the experiences of trans fans that I address in this article cannot and do not speak to the experiences or interpretations of all trans and nonbinary people.

6. The original television run of Doctor Who lasted from 1963 until 1989. In 2005, Russell T. Davies revived the series for television as a continuation of the original series rather than a reboot.

7. Rose Tyler is the first companion of the Doctor in the revival series. She is also the first companion to develop an overt romantic relationship with the Doctor.

8. The phrase also occasionally appears after the culmination of the Bad Wolf story arc over the next few seasons.

9. The Tardis is the Doctor's space/time travel machine.

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