mattsmithYou don’t get a whole lot more official than the BBC announcing an actor is vacating the lead role in Doctor Who and that’s just what happened today, when it was announced that Matt Smith will be regenerating in the 2013 Christmas special.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the nearly 50 year old show, which recently was given a Peabody Award for the entirety of the show, the lead character is an alien “Time Lord” from the planet Gallifrey.  Time Lords, when suffering mortal wounds, or just wanting the equivalent of plastic surgery, can “regenerate” 12 times.  This effectively gives them a new body, a slightly different personality and allows the show to recast a new actor and freshen up a bit.)

At this point it doesn’t seem 100% clear, past the haze of the announcement’s PR, whether this was Smith making the decision to step out early or the result of a pre-planned arc.  It is awfully interesting that this is announced between the season finale and the 50th anniversary special.  Spoilers follow, so avert your eyes if you haven’t caught up.

I just said that Time Lords get 12 regenerations.   Prior to the season finale, we were all under the impression that Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor.  Which is to say, he’d already regenerated 10 times.  At the end of the finale, we were introduced to John Hurt as a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor who’d done terrible things (pun intended).

It has been universally inferred that Hurt is now the 9th Doctor, squeezed in between Paul McGann’s #8 from the ill-fated TV Movie/Fox pilot and Christopher Eccleston’s #9/#10 from the beginning of the current series.  This would mean Hurt’s Doctor is the one involved in the “Time War” that wiped out the Time Lords (and was supposed to have wiped out the Daleks), which occurred in the gap while Doctor Who was off the air.

Please note: John Hurt was not on this list of Doctor Who actors in the official press release.  Whether that was an oversight or deliberate misdirection is not clear.

Still if Hurt is really the ninth Doctor, and not a future doctor, that means Matt Smith will be regenerating for the 12th time and into the 13th and final incarnation of The Doctor.  And here it gets a bit more complicated.

In the season finale, “The Valeyard” was name-checked.  The Valeyard was the villain in the 80’s serial “Trial of a Time Lord” and turned out to be a future version of the Doctor from somewhere between his 12th and 13th incarnations.  Which would have to be when Matt Smith’s Doctor regenerates, if Hurt is indeed a prior Doctor.

Doctor Who is not a show that has celebrated tight continuity, but current showrunner Steven Moffat would qualify as an old school Doctor Who fanboy who’d definitely remember that sequence _and_ he’s name-checked the character.

Or perhaps Hurt is The Valeyard and that will be explained in the 50th anniversary special.

But if Hurt isn’t The Valeyard and Smith is really Doctor #12, then we’re heading for the homestretch of the series.

That is, until someone writes their way around the previously established 12 regeneration limit.  It is, after all science fiction and there’s always away around these things.  Especially when the Moffat version of Doctor Who revels in changing the past (something that was largely off the table in the original series).


  1. “homestretch”?

    This article is just silly, nobody in their right mind thinks that the BBC is going to finish the show if it is still successful, they will get a decent story out of how they get around it but there is no chance that it will be used to kill off the character.

  2. It’s not universally inferred at all. It’s one of many inferences, including that Hurt is an ‘alternate’ Ecclestone, and therefore an earlier / slightly broken version of the same Doctor that needs to be fixed. so not an ‘additional’ one at all.

  3. Seeing as the Time Lords promised the Master a new slate of regenerations in “The Five Doctors,” I think there’s some wiggle room on the whole 12 incarnations thing.

  4. “Daniel’s right – the “12 and done” theory was tossed aside in the Sarah Jane Adventures, by The Doctor himself!”

    According to that episode’s writer, Russell T Davies (who was also the man who revived the series): “507 – I could not resist! I was hooting. It’ll never stick, though. That 13 lives is stuck in people’s heads. It is, isn’t it funny? Yet they only said 13 once or twice.”

    So, he was just having fun with the number, it seems.

    Although, keep in mind that in the DW episode “Let’s Kill Hitler,” River Song passed along her remaining regenerations (however many that might be) to the Doctor. So there’s an opening, there.

    Of course, with Moffatt, he may just fall back on his current go-to theme: the timey-wimey rebooting of the universe–new Doctor, new number of regenerations!

  5. It’s also been said multiple times by River, Amy, Martha, and The Doctor himself/itself that The Doctor lies… A LOT. He could regenerate 12 times, sure, but he could’ve also lied and he could really regenerate 500 times, or possibly an infinite amount of regenerations.

    It’s all up to the writers and producers now since they can just slap that line in at anytime they want and keep the legacy going.

  6. Plus they never established that the 12 regenerations limit was a biological fact. It could’ve been a cultural rule that Timelord society developed, in which case, the Doctor, as the last TL, could easily have many more incarnations.

  7. Another theory is that John Hurt is the “0” Doctor, the version with the original, secret name, who regenerated into William Hartnell as punishment, who then took the name “Doctor” as penance.

  8. The Master has already exceeded his limit and been brought back above and beyond the context of regeneration.

  9. I can’t imagine any serious person thinks they’re not going to find an end-run around the 12 regenerations thing. (That’s if River charging the Doctor up in “Let’s Kill Hitler” wasn’t them doing it already.)

  10. I wonder if the Time War might have been a multi-Doctor adventure, where Eccleston or McGann met Hurt, allowing Hurt to be many things – the Doctor who killed the Time Lords, a future Doctor, and the Valeyard. Eccleston et al have been feeling guilty for something they haven’t technically done yet.

  11. And Vin Diesel is half-black! That would put the racism charges against the BBC to rest.

    I’m sure he has lots of free time between “Fast and Furious” sequels. ;)

  12. I can think of *at least* three ways around the 12 regenerations ‘rule’ off the top of my head, mostly using elements just from the new series! The 12 limit won’t stick.

    As someone mentioned, there’s River passing on her future regenerations in ‘Lets Kill Hitler’. Then there’s the Master commenting about how he was given ‘a new cycle of regenerations’ to fight in the time war — a carrot dangled in front of him as far back as ‘The Five Doctors’ — so we know it’s possible to ‘get more’ via means the Timelords had ready access to. Who’s to say the Doctor wasn’t given more, too? Or can’t give himself a new cycle all on his own, now that he’s the last?

    And finally, the Time Vortex went into Rose, made Captain Jack immortal, and then passed out of Rose and into Eccleston. Sure, it triggered a regeneration — but maybe it supercharged him, too.

    I mean, his very next regeneration got stopped part-way through, resulting in the Doctor-Donna and human-Doctor. Plenty of narrative opportunity there. Not to mention the dangling plot threads of Jenny and — dare I say it — Susan?

    And that’s without going back to the well and making something new up.

    Personally, I’m not too worried… :)

  13. Dont forget that Tenents doctor used up a regeneration in “The Stolen Earth” when he was shot by a Darlek, making the Tenent to Smith regeneration the 12th and final regenration of the doctor, taking in consideration that Hurt is an early virsion of the doctor that accouns for one of the regenerations.

  14. Some good solutions to the problem have been suggested above.

    Here’s another: at the end of Patrick Troughton’s run as the Second Doctor, he was punished by the Time Lords (for interfering with history or something). First he was executed, causing him to regenerate into Jon Pertwee. Then he was deprived of his memory of how to travel through time (a plot device intended to explain why the following stories all took place on Earth in the present day due to budget cuts). But near the end of Jon Pertwee’s run, in “The Three Doctors,” the Time Lords forgave him and gave him back his knowledge. Perhaps they also gave him back the regeneration they took form him too?

  15. on the twelve regenerations, the Time Lord high council has been known to grant entirely new life cycles, as they did for the Master at least once. in fact, the limit may have actually been put in place by them. So, if it is a Time Lordy artificial limit, it may have been nullified by their demise, or otherwise it is possible to acquire a new life-cycle somehow. basically there’s a number of believable ways to write it away so i’m not very worried.

  16. It wasn’t said the Valeyard was between his 12th and 13th incarnation, they just his 12th and final incarnation. The Doctor could get more Regenerations.

  17. No, the original script had the Valeyard as the 13th Doctor, but the revised script stated that he was between his 12th and final incarnation. I think the simplest explanation can be that the Time Lords “topped off” everyone during the war. It’s been stated as far back as “The Deadly Assassin” to be possible to restart the regeneration cycle. The Time War seems like a good time to do it considering they were willing to bring back Rassilon and The Master for the fight.

  18. When there are no more SF writers in Britain is when DW will finally die off.
    It will not, can not, happen until then.
    In the year 2100, people will be arguing whether DW can be regenerated the 100th time.
    DW is eternal and will outlive us all.

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