Much has changed in the Whoniverse over the last few years. The Doctor has lived so many lives now – indeed, because of the revelation in ‘The Timeless Children’ it may not be possible to count them all! (Warning: spoilers ahead…) So if you’re wondering what the future holds for the Doctor’s future regenerations (or lack thereof) then stay tuned. Is the Thirteenth Doctor the last? Has she reached her limit? Or will her future selves be thwarted by a far deadlier enemy: cancellation?!
We’re about to find out…
No! Not the ratings!
The axe has hovered over the Doctor’s head many times. As the credits rolled at the end of The War Games in 1969, there was a very real possibility that our favourite time traveller would not be returning. The viewing figures had dropped to a worrying 3.5 million during the transmission of part eight, and a huge question mark hung over the show’s future – particularly as the Second Doctor seemingly dies at the end of episode 10, with his transformation into a new body going unseen.
Then there is the dreaded hiatus of 1985 / 86, when the powers-that-be pulled the plug during the Sixth Doctor’s first full season at the helm of the TARDIS. Of course, Doctor Who did return in September 1986 – albeit in a curtailed season – and even then the show’s future was by no means certain. In fact, the producer John Nathan-Turner decided against a cliffhanger ending to the epic Trial of a Time Lord serial for fear that it would provide ‘the perfect excuse’ to give the good Doctor the boot.
Sadly, the boot did come in autumn 1989, opening the gates to what’s become ominously known as The Wilderness Years. During this time, there was only one televised story (the TV Movie in 1996, starring Paul McGann) and eager fans had to wait until 2005 before they could hide behind the sofa once again…
This brings us into the New Who era, to which the Thirteenth Doctor belongs, and although the ratings have declined in the last few years, the history of Who has shown – time and again – that the good Doctor is a survivor.
But… the regeneration limit?
If you know your Who history, you’ll be aware that the Doctor’s regeneration limit was officially capped in the 1976 story ‘The Deadly Assassin,’ when it was revealed that Time Lords could not regenerate more than 12 times – leading to a limit of 13 incarnations. Now, we’ve seen a few exceptions to this over the years; the Doctor’s enemy the Master has shown ably that he can adopt new bodies, even at the end of his 13th life (take a look at ‘The Keeper of Traken’ or the TV Movie.)
Moreover, in ‘The Five Doctors,’ the Time Lords confirm that they have the power to grant whole new life cycles (as in, another set of 13 lives) seemingly at a whim, and this is the offer they make to the Master in exchange for his help.
Indeed, true to their word, the Time Lords demonstrate their life-giving abilities in ‘The Time of the Doctor,’ when they grant new regenerations to the dying Doctor. Thus, Matt Smith regenerates into Peter Capaldi – marking the start of a new life cycle – and this means, technically, that he is the new First Doctor. And when Peter Capaldi’s Doctor dies in ‘Twice Upon a Time‘ he regenerates into Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, who’s technically the new Second Doctor. Keeping up?
So, although we can’t be certain how many more lives Whittaker’s Doctor possesses, it’s fair to say that there are a few regenerations left in the tank, if she truly was granted a brand new life cycle. Simple, right?
We now face a much tougher question – not ‘is the Thirteenth Doctor the last?’ But rather – ‘is the Thirteenth Doctor the Thirteenth Doctor?’ And, ‘is there even a regeneration limit at all?!’
In ‘The Timeless Children,’ all of Who canon was turned on its head by the Master’s revelation that the Doctor had – in fact – already existed in a myriad of forgotten incarnations, even a myriad of regeneration cycles. The Master acknowledges that the usual life limit for Time Lords is 12 incarnations, but the Doctor is actually an exception to this rule owing to her own inherent biology. Simply put – it’s now very difficult to determine which Doctor Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor actually is, or how many lives lie ahead of her. It may well be that she can continue to regenerate ad infinitum, and this is certainly implied over the course of ‘The Timeless Children.’
But then – if this is true – it wouldn’t make any sense for the Time Lords to have granted Matt Smith’s Doctor a brand new cycle in the closing moments of ‘The Time of the Doctor,’ right? Because, according to ‘The Timeless Children,’ the Time Lords are already aware of the Doctor’s special regeneration abilities which – on the face of it – are limitless. So Matt Smith’s Doctor wasn’t in any danger at all.
Hmm. We’re going to need a Big Finish box set…
So is the Thirteenth Doctor the last?
As you can see, when a it comes to addressing this question, there really is no simple, straightforward answer.
Except ‘probably not.’
With Doctor Who canon shrouded in mystery, the simplest answer is this: the Doctor will continue to regenerate as long as someone, somewhere, wants her adventures to continue.
Tell us what you think. Have we missed any crucial details in this piece? Do you have your own theories about the Thirteenth Doctor? Could she, in fact, be the very last one? Let us know in the comments below!