Steven Moffat Recounts 'Doctor Who's' Regeneration Theory

"There's something you've all missed," teased the showrunner of the long-running British sci-fi series ahead of the show's 50th anniversary edition.
BBC America

As all longtime fans of the BBC's Doctor Who already know, the Doctor -- like any Time Lord -- only has 12 regenerations available to him, which would make Peter Capaldi -- the thirteenth Doctor in the television show's continuity* -- the final incarnation of the character to appear in the series, when he debuts this Christmas. Except, to hear showrunner Steven Moffat talk about the subject, that might not actually be the case …

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival over the weekend, Moffat confirmed the 12 regeneration rule, and then teased, "I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There's something you've all missed."

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That sounds like a challenge for the obsessive fan, and there are multiple things that this could refer to, including:

  • There was no onscreen regeneration between the eighth and ninth Doctors, although this is rumored to be something of a plot point for the show's 50th anniversary episode next month with John Hurt's Doctor being a previously-unknown incarnation that existed between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston.
  • Tenth Doctor David Tennant regenerated into himself during an episode in the fourth season titled "Journey's End." Technically, it was a "partial regeneration," but partial or not, surely that has to upset some kind of balance somewhere, right?
  • Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith was apparently gifted additional regeneration energy in the sixth season's "Let's Kill Hitler" episode, when River Song seemed to transfer her own regenerative powers to him. Does that mean he gets her remaining lives (By my count, she had ten left), thereby resetting the clock?

Of course, Moffat is unlikely to spill the beans before he's ready -- but the possibility that he's changing the rules while respecting everything that's come before should translate into just one more reason why the next couple of special episodes of Doctor Who will be must-see viewing for fans.