If you’re a newcomer to Doctor Who with the rebooted series, you already know the Doctor can regenerate his body when his life is threatened — we’ve seen it happen twice since 2005, when Christopher Eccleston regenerated into David Tennant, and when David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith. But you may not be aware that Time Lords cannot do this endlessly: they are limited to 12 regenerations for a total of 13 lives.
The Master, post 13 regenerations:
This was pretty well established in the classic show, though it came along long before anyone had any idea that almost half a century later, we might actually be facing the prospect of the Doctor running out of regenerations. (Smith’s Doctor is the 11th, of course.) But even the classic show came up with a few workarounds, though they were generally nasty: the Master, for instance, long ago ran out of regenerations and has been stealing other people’s bodies and cheating death since the 1970s.
Now, I think most fans have assumed that some workaround would be found for this restriction to allow the show to continue well into the future without having to actually reboot back to the Doctor’s first life. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of cleverness the writers would come up with, which would — naturally — also involve lots of wonderful pain and misery and depression and angst for the Doctor.
Or not. From yesterday’s Guardian:
[A] passing comment in a children’s television programme later this month is set to rewrite history and cast the Doctor, iconic hero of the world’s most successful and longest-running science fiction series, as immortal.
The moment comes in the CBBC spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which stars former companion Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Matt Smith, who plays the current Doctor Who, guest stars in a two-part episode called The Death of the Doctor, to be screened on October 25 and 26. While the Doctor and Clyde Langer, played by Daniel Anthony, are in the process of outwitting spooky vulture undertakers the Shansheeth, Clyde asks how many times he can regenerate. The Doctor indicates that there is no limit. The action continues.
Fans of the show have been expecting an official moving of the goalposts for some time, but it was anticipated as part of the Christmas special, rather than in an after-school slot on the CBBC channel.
Now, we must remember what River Song reminded us of: The Doctor lies. I hope that’s what’s happening here. Because I can think of far more dramatically interesting ways that the Doctor could have regenerated beyond his 13th life. And just erasing that regeneration limit was not one of them.
(Thanks to readers Lorenzo, Caroline, and Ryan for the heads-up. If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)