First there was John Hurt, and now there’s Peter Capaldi. Two new Doctors in a year. The rules say that there can only be 13 Doctors (as laid down in Tom Baker story The Deadly Assassin).
So does that mean that the new Doctor we’ll meet on Christmas Day will be the last? Or is Matt Smith already the 13th Doctor? Showrunner Steven Moffat is expected to answer the regeneration question once and for all on Christmas Day in The Time of the Doctor.
But what do we know about the rules of Time Lord regeneration already?
Is the 12 regeneration/13 lives rule hard and fast?
This is the big question. Doctor Who folklore since the 1970s, when we first met the Time Lords properly has been quite clear: 12 regenerations and 13 lives per Time Lord. It’s restated several times. As far as I can remember it hasn’t been restated clearly since the series reboot though.
Is regeneration law biological or cultural?
This is the key enquiry for the serious Whovian about the nature of a Time Lord. My view is that Gallifreyans are elevated by selection (by peering into the untempered schism?) and become Time Lords.
The ability to regenerate isn’t a biological trait of natural Gallifreyans but rather a quality given to Time Lords, powered by some sort of technology probably developed by Rassilon. Therefore, I suggest, the Time Lords can change it. Maybe.
Does the War Doctor really count?
It seems so. He was in the dream sequence pantheon at the end of the Day of the Doctor. He may not be called the Doctor and the Doctors do seem to number themselves excluding him but he is one of 13 incarnations.
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So Capaldi may be the 12th Doctor, but he is the 13th life in the Doctor’s regeneration cycle.
And what about the meta-crisis Doctor?
The Whovian rumour mill is spinning because it seems like Steven Moffat is including this as a regeneration where Tennant essentially regenerates into Tennant. The Doctor started regenerating having been shot by a Dalek in Stolen Earth/Journey’s End but then channeled the regeneration energy into his spare handy hand. But it used up a regeneration event. So, this would mean that Matt Smith is already the last Doctor. Controversial.
What about the Valeyard?
Back in the days when Colin Baker was the star, the Time Lords put the Doctor on trial. And we met a shadow Doctor, the Valeyard. He apparently encapsulates all the evil in the Doctor. He can probably be discounted but he is useful. I think he shows that the 12 changes/13 lives rule is fluid to some extent.
Didn’t River Song gift the Doctor her regenerations?
In Let’s Kill Hitler, River Song gave her regenerations to the Doctor as he almost dies. But why does she regenerate at all? It’s never really clear. It seems that she is human but being conceived in the Tardis gives her some Time Lord characteristics. She has at least three different incarnations that we know of.
So could regeneration be in the gift of the Tardis? Ever since the War Doctor and up to David Tennant, regenerations have taken place onboard (we’ll have to wait and see if this is the case with Matt Smith). Even the Master regenerated from Derek Jacobi to John Simm on the Doctor’s Tardis (although River’s two seen regenerations have taken place elsewhere.)
What about the Master?
The Doctor’s arch enemy is a great example of how the regeneration rule is hazy. The Master ran out of regenerations and managed to eke out an existence by stealing bodies along the way. And then he survived in a chameleon arch after the Time War and a ring, was brought back using a potion and .. and… well he’s cheated the rule loads over the centuries. So it can’t be proper. Can it?
And just who was the Curator?
Tom Baker’s sparkling cameo was a delight in the 50th anniversary show The Day of the Doctor. But as to who he actually was, is or represented is a total mystery.
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I have a fanciful theory. When Baker turned into fifth Doctor Peter Davison, he had been stalked by the mysterious Watcher throughout his final adventure Logopolis. At regeneration the Watcher merged with the Doctor.
What if he sort of sloughed a skin too, a version of Who Four who would age? That could be it. Or maybe not. What do you think?
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