Why is Jodi Whittaker the 13th Doctor when Matt Smith was actually the 13th Doctor?

; Date: July 23, 2018

Tags: Doctor Who

It's firmly established that Time Lords (in Doctor Who) can have 12 regenerations, and therefore they have 13 bodies. By the accounting presented in Doctor Who, Matt Smith was Doctor #13 because his was the 12th regeneration. But, the BBC and everyone is crowing that Jodi Whittaker is Doctor #13. WTF?

Everything the BBC is saying calls Jodi Whittaker the thirteenth Doctor. It's so much that the other day I wrote a couple posts about Jodi Whittaker as Doctor #13. I know better, having gone over the accounting elsewhere: Smith was 13, Capaldi 14, Whittaker 15, how many regenerations does The Doctor have remaining?

It's the kind of thing a rabid fan like myself will obsess over - that the last stand of Matt Smith's Doctor at Trenzalore was because he was actually Doctor #13 (despite going around telling folks he's Doctor #11). We have to respect this fact, because by an objective accounting it is the only accurate numbering of The Doctor's incarnations.

But we are given a flood of information talking about Doctor #13 (Jodi Whittaker) just as there was a flood of information of Peter Capaldi as Doctor #12.

In Classic Doctor Who, it was stated several times that Time Lords had a maximum of 12 regenerations.

We call David Tenant the 10th Doctor, Matt Smith the 11th Doctor, Peter Capaldi the 12th Doctor, and now Jodi Whittaker is the 13th Doctor. Specifically

  1. William Hartnell
  2. Patrick Troughton
  3. Jon Pertwee
  4. Tom Baker
  5. Peter Davison
  6. Colin Baker
  7. Sylvester McCoy
  8. Paul McGann (TV Movie in 1995)
  9. Christopher Ecclestone
  10. David Tennant
  11. Matt Smith
  12. Peter Capaldi
  13. Jodi Whittaker
  14. ?

That's the traditional accounting, and the BBC promotes the actors with that numbering.

By that accounting, the 12th regeneration was at the end of Peter Capaldi's time as The Doctor. The crisis of only 12 regenerations is therefore supposed to be when Whittaker's time ends. Why, then, were we put through the crisis of running out of regenerations during Matt Smith's time? Why did Capaldi's Doctor say several times that his current incarnation was more of an accounting error?

There's some folk asking: If the Time Lords can regenerate a certain number of times, is Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor the last one?

It gets messy with us nerds that like to be exact about things. Two questions:

  1. Shouldn't John Hurt's War Doctor count as a regeneration? We saw an on-screen regeneration of McGann to Hurt, and presumably there was another regneration from Hurt to Ecclestone. Ergo.. yes, the War Doctor counts.
  2. What about that time when David Tennant's Doctor was shot by a Dalek, started the regeneration, then suddenly he was himself again, siphoning the regneration energy over to his spare hand -- which then caused this second Doctor to appear who (with Donna Noble) saved the day. What about that regeneration?

Moffatt told us that both the War Doctor and Tennant's aborted regenerations count. Therefore the actual accounting is:

  • First cycle - 12 regenerations, so 13 bodies.
    1. Hartnell
    2. Troughton
    3. Pertwee
    4. T. Baker
    5. Davison
    6. C. Baker
    7. McCoy
    8. McGann
    9. Hurt
    10. Ecclestone
    11. Tennant
    12. Tennant
    13. Smith
  • Second cycle - 12 regenerations, so 13 bodies
    1. Capaldi
    2. Whittaker
    3. ?
    4. ?
    5. ?

(taken from Smith was 13, Capaldi 14, Whittaker 15, how many regenerations does The Doctor have remaining?)

Why is the BBC calling Jodi Whittaker Doctor #13?

By the rational accounting Jodi Whittaker is Doctor #15.

If you count it another way -- by the faces of Doctor incarnations that called themself The Doctor -- then Jodi Whittaker's Doctor is indeed Doctor #13.

This accounting is not about the regeneration count, but by the faces using the name The Doctor.

  1. John Hurt's character refused to call himself The Doctor. The moniker War Doctor has stuck, but it's not clear from inside the story whether John Hurt's would actually use that phrase.
  2. David Tennant had two incarnations as The Doctor - but counts as one face using the title The Doctor

Therefore by the count of faces using that title, The Doctor, we have:

  1. William Hartnell
  2. Patrick Troughton
  3. Jon Pertwee
  4. Tom Baker
  5. Peter Davison
  6. Colin Baker
  7. Sylvester McCoy
  8. Paul McGann (TV Movie in 1995)
  9. Christopher Ecclestone
  10. David Tennant
  11. Matt Smith
  12. Peter Capaldi
  13. Jodi Whittaker
  14. ?

This accounting also just happens to be compatible with another -- the number of contracts for actors who played a character named The Doctor.

It doesn't matter if technically speaking Tennant's Doctor had two incarnations, and every other actor playing the Doctor had only one incarnation. The BBC had only one contract with Tennant. Likewise, the BBC contract with John Hurt was for him to play a character named NotTheDoctor rather than The Doctor.

The latter reasoning is surely what the BBC is thinking.

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.