Doctor Who Tarot – Death (sketch)

Sketch for the Death card. The Ninth Doctor stands with his arms slightly spread at his sides and his head tilted back. His head and hands will be glowing.

Death - Regeneration

Today’s Doctor Who tarot card is Death. This is the fourteenth card of the Major Arcana, numbered 13. It is a card of transformation and transition, the death of the old self so one can be remade, the turning of the seasons, the cyclical nature of time, the reaping that makes room for new growth. This card is also associated with the Emperor and the Fours of the Minor Arcana. See other write-ups at Aeclectic Tarot and the American Tarot Association.

This is the card that started the whole thing. I understand the skeletal imagery that is on most renderings of this card derived from the Rider-Waite, but I don’t really like it. Luckily enough, the two decks I own both lack skeletons; Sacred Circle has a robed woman about to cut the last sheaf of corn with a crescent sickle, and Robin Wood has a figure in a deep red robe carrying a dark flag with a white rose on it through a sunny woodland.

Personally, a Time Lord’s regeneration is the perfect image for the Death card. The Doctor is the same person, but he’s not. He remakes his entire being to save himself. He retains all his memories, although his personality can be quite different. The transformation is a natural part of the Time Lord lifespan. A death that contains new life. A little death, if you will. (Yes, that’s a French orgasm joke.)

I chose the Ninth Doctor for this card for two reasons. The other regeneration we see in New Who is Ten into Eleven, but it’s a reluctant regeneration. As Ten, the Doctor has known it would be coming for awhile and has dreaded it the whole time; he sees it as “him” dying and some other man getting up and walking around in his body, and he doesn’t want to go. That’s simply not in the spirit of the upright Death card (although it’s a pretty good example of a reversed reading). Contrast Nine, who willingly rescues Rose from being burnt out by the Time Vortex and “dies” in her place. Ten’s regeneration is also prompted by his rescuing a human, but not before he has a chance to throw in an impassioned rant asking the universe why it has to be him. It’s a powerful moment, but it’s not this card.

The second reason is also tied to Rose’s rescue, only this time it’s her rescue of the Doctor. The Hanged Man is the card that immediately precedes Death, and I’m putting Rose channeling the Time Vortex on it. I’ll get into that card more when I draw it and get it up here, but it leads naturally in the tarot journey to put those two events together.

With this analysis, I don’t need all the symbolism from Rider-Waite with the king and the child and the sun, because these are all the things I know I will think of when I see the card. I haven’t decided on the background yet; it may be simply the bit of the TARDIS that’s behind him in the scene, or something more overtly symbolic (other faces of the Doctor arranged above him might be nice, but I probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off). This is the moment I am talking about, and I’ll make his head and hands glow with that golden light when I do the digital version. I used these three pictures to get more detail on the coat and the proportions. Some editing of the sketch will be necessary; hands are one of my major weak points, and the jacket needs all those nice leather folds and textures. The tilted-back head was the hardest part of this to draw, existence of hands notwithstanding; a tip from @Cynical_Woman helped a lot to ameliorate the “Magneto with his face kicked in” look I produced at first.

The Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. A skeleton in a suit of armor on a white horse carries a black flag with a white rose on it. A king is trampled beneath the horse's hooves, while a bishop welcomes the rider, a maiden looks on in sorrow, and a child looks on in fascination. The sun rises in the distance.

Death in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck


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