The question of precisely how many lives DOCTOR WHO’s title character will live just refuses die; and lately it’s been regenerating with increasing frequency, thanks to the impending arrival of the Doctor’s 12th incarnation, as well as the suggestion that another Doctor is going to be retroactively inserted into the established order, bumping the Doctors ahead one incarnation.
No matter which number Peter Capaldi will bear when he takes over as the Doctor after this year’s Christmas Special, I believe there must be a way for the last of the Time Lords to persevere — even if Hurt is inserted into the timeline, and Capaldi become the 13th and (apparently) final Doctor.
BTW, what does it say about DW fandom that so many people are already preoccupied with the question of how long Capaldi is staying with the role? The man hadn’t officially been the Doctor for 10 minutes before people started wondering when he will quit. The near-instantaneous speculations on the 13th Doctor struck me as insulting to the incumbent as well as the show. It appears that Capaldi’s professional stature is working against him; folks cannot imagine that the respected actor will stick with the role for very long.
But no matter how long Capaldi plays the 12th Doctor, his tenure will have to end someday. And that will mean the coming of the 13th Doctor, the presumed last incarnation. (In Ben Aaronovitch’s novelization of Battlefield, he referred to an unknown future incarnation of the Doctor who was Merlin — and ginger! Is that what we have to look forward to?)
Former show-runner Russell T Davies ignited a firestorm by having the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) tell Clyde in THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES story “The Death of the Doctor” that Time Lords can regenerate 507 times! Now, he may or may not have been joking with the lad, but it remains inarguable that the 507 number is the Doctor’s last word on the subject; the 12-regen limit hasn’t been mentioned on the air in years.
But current show-runner Steven Moffat addressed it during an Ad Lib live event at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Wednesday night:
“Frank Skinner: Do you acknowledge the convention that the Doctor can only regenerate 12 times?
And suddenly we’re back to 12 regenerations and 13 lives. Or are we?
It is important to note that (so far) Moffat has only “acknowledged” this convention personally, and not via the program itself, whereas the 11th Doctor said, on-air, that he can regenerate 507 times. So, those of us who like to limit “canon” to material that was actually broadcast on TV can point to the “official” number of 507. Which, of course, would change the instant the Doctor says “12” in a Moffat script.
But will he? Just because the Grand Moff acknowledged the 12-regeneration limit doesn’t mean he plans to be constrained by it. In fact, there’s no possibility that he will — unless he wants to end the show while it is still a hit. There has to be a way around the limit, and I’ll bet your salary that Moffat already has something in mind. Unless he wants to be a demon and handcuff his successor show-runner — whenever that time comes — by having the Doctor state unequivocally that he only gets 13 lives and there is no way to overturn that limit, no matter what, “Laws of Time,” yadda-yadda-yadda.
At last count, I believe the universe has been rebooted twice since the old 12-regens limit was established, so who’s to say that particular “rule” survived in the same form? Maybe 12 became 507. Or 16,512. Perhaps the regeneration limit will, much like the insoluble UNIT dating controversy, become an acknowledged gray area that simply cannot be reconciled. As I have pointed out before, when the limit on regenerations was established back in the 1970s, the producers and writers were not worrying about its effect on the show some 30 years later; they just needed a story.
And it’s a story that’s not going to end any time soon, no matter how many more lives the Doctor has left.