The regeneration game: A psychologist goes deeper into the world of Doctor Who

Generations of children have grown up hiding behind the sofa at crucial points in Doctor Who, the current series of which reaches its climax on Saturday. But Dr Sarita Robinson from the University of Central Lancashire thinks it has done them no harm:

“The suspense and excitement make Doctor Who compulsive viewing for all ages, but it is never too scary as we know the Doctor will win through in the end.”

In fact Dr Robinson, who is a Chartered Psychologist and a member of the Society’s Division of Health Psychology, believes exploring the universe of Doctor Who is psychologically helpful, especially for children, in many ways:

“Issues which may be difficult to talk about in the real world – for example death, separation or oppression – can be easier to discuss when they involve aliens in a far-off fantasy world.

“The Doctor and his companions can also act as positive role models for children. The show never encourages the use of violence – the Doctor never carries a gun, for instance. And it has plenty of strong female characters. Rosie Martha, Donna and Amy have all been quite feisty.”

Dr Robinson is also interested in the significance of the Doctor’s regular ‘regenerations’, which take place when a new actor takes over the role. These involve the character changing his whole physical appearance and character in a matter of hours.

She sees these as an extreme form of a process that we all undergo through life:

“Psychologists are interested in the way we ‘regenerate’ from childhood through teenage years and into adulthood. Human development is a more gradual process than the Doctor’s, but even so we also undergo amazing transformations. Over the course of a lifetime we will grow and change quite radically, with our brains fundamentally rewiring neural circuits at certain points in our development.”

As to the psychology of Doctor Who himself, Dr Robinson says fans will know that the last two regenerations have not led him to display any signs of the stroppiness or anger than can accompany major developmental change – especially in the teenage years.


“Really geeky Doctor Who fans with remember than Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor, did face some adaptation problems after regeneration.”