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

; Date: Sun Dec 31 2017

Tags: Doctor Who

The first Female Doctor ever has been minted, now that Jodi Whittaker has taken over the role, but the big question is how many regenerations are left. By any rational regeneration counting, we ran out of regenerations -- supposedly Time Lords can only regenerate 12 times -- but the show has continued on. The in-show explanation is that the Matt Smith Doctor was given a new regneration cycle, letting us enjoy Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. But, how many regeneration cycles are remaining for The Doctor?

The issue was created back in Mawdryn Undead, when Davidson Doctor declares he can only regenerate 12 times. At that time Mawdryn and his buddies wanted to die, and thought they could die by stealing The Doctor's regeneration energy. That kinda sorta makes no sense, right? But that was the in-show explanation, that Mawdryn's guys could commit suicide that way.

Back in the 1980's it must have seemed to The Doctor Who show runner that the show would never get to the 12th regeneration. Indeed just a few years later Doctor Who was actually canceled, halfway through the 7th Doctor's era. But then Doctor Who (the show) regenerated and became a new thing starting in 2005.

Therefore the "12 regenerations" limit came up. Reportedly the new show runners weren't thinking about that limit. For example they had David Tennant's Doctor regenerate back into himself, so that there would be an extra Doctor during Journey's End. That extra Doctor would give Rose Tyler a Doctor to play house with, and more importantly help Donna defeat the Daleks. That regenerating-back-into-himself trick used up one of The Doctor's regenerations. Then they had to insert John Hurt's War Doctor for The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, because Ecclestone refused to participate. That used up the second regeneration causing the 12 available regenerations to be consumed, and putting it on Moffatt's shoulders to resolve the issue.

The in-show counting of the regenerations are:

  • 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. ?

What makes things confusing is all those times Tennant's Doctor claimed he was #10, and Smith's Doctor claimed he was #11. But... they weren't, Tennant was #11 and #12, and Smith was #13. Eventually it came down to brass tacks and they had to admit to the above numbering. That made Smith's Doctor the last one ... unless .... They even explained this numbering in the show, and later Capaldi's Doctor ascribed his continued existence as a "clerical error".

We don't know yet what the in-show answer will be for the number of available regenerations, do we? We have not been told, in the show or otherwise, the answer to this question: how many regenerations are remaining. It seems from in-show discussion by Capaldi, that The Doctor doesn't know either.

All we know is that of the regenerations granted to The Doctor in repayment for his good work (hah! that's not the real reason), one has been consumed switching from Capaldi to Whittaker.

What would be the real reason The Time Lords granted The Doctor new regenerations? Remember that Rassilon would have been in charge of The Time Lords at that point, because The Doctor had not yet kicked him out of Gallifrey. It was Rassilon who granted those regenerations. Rassilon doesn't have much reason to be kindly to The Doctor, does he? Therefore Rassilon had a reason -- and the reason is that Rassilon wanted to escape the trap with Gallifrey stuck in a time bubble shielding it from the Time War.

But that's only the in-show rationale. The actual rationale is that the BBC did not want to cancel Doctor Who, and needed a way to continue its existence. Therefore they required a solution that Doctor Who fans would accept. And it was up to Moffatt to develop that solution, which is what we outlined in the previous paragraph.

Therefore, at some point in the future it will be incumbent upon the BBC to answer the above question. How many regenerations does The Doctor have? And how will the BBC at that time rationalize away granting even more regenerations?

If the BBC exists at that time - if Doctor Who is still being produced - the BBC will have an incentive to come up with an answer, just as they had to come up with an answer before Matt Smith left the role. When will this be?

12 regenerations would be 30-40 years from now (3 seasons or so per regeneration), unless there is another hiatus. It's possible the Doctor Who fandom will forget about this regeneration issue. But that's about as likely as the moon turning into a giant space dragon egg. Since we did have exactly that occurrence in the show, the fans will surely keep begging the BBC for an answer to this all-important question.

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.