Take the 2-minute tour ×
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Because if it is, the series won't last much longer. The current Doctor is number 11 - that only leaves two more, right?

share|improve this question

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

1  
I don't know for sure if it was 12, I always thought it was 9, vaguely remember somebody talking about it when I was a kid. I do know the BBC has largely expidited the process for drama's sake and actors leaving the series too early, which has damaged the canon. –  scope_creep Jan 18 '11 at 22:07
35  
Like Starships crossing the galaxy, the count of regenerations move at the speed of plot. –  Alister Bulman Jan 18 '11 at 22:46
2  
Strange things happen after The Doctor's final regeneration... youtube.com/watch?v=Do-wDPoC6GM&NR&t=16m10s –  GAThrawn May 15 '11 at 17:55
2  
Do we even know that William Hartnell was the first incarnation? If so, then Patrick Troughton is the first regeneration, and Matt Smith is the tenth. –  luser droog Dec 18 '11 at 8:04
4  
@luserdroog Yes; the fact that Hartnell was the first is referenced in many stories, including the Tenth Doctor christmas episode "The Next Doctor" –  Nellius Jan 25 '12 at 11:48

18 Answers 18

up vote 48 down vote accepted

Here's what is supposedly the official word. From Doctor Who is now immortal, reveals the BBC: Edict that Time Lords can regenerate only 12 times before they die has been quietly ditched:

He travels through time and space, saves the Earth, and has millions of fans all over the world. But as every "Whovian" knows, the Doctor cannot last for ever: Time Lords are able to regenerate only 12 times before they die.

Fans have always thought that the 13th doctor would be the last, thanks to a 1976 Doctor Who episode, The Deadly Assassin, featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor in his fourth incarnation, and revealing for the first time the regeneration limit. But a passing comment in a children's television programme later this month is set to rewrite history and cast the Doctor, iconic hero of the world's most successful and longest-running science fiction series, as immortal.

In the Sarah Jane Adventures (yes, that was the old friend), in the episode "The Death of the Doctor". The Doctor is asked how many times he can regenerate, and replies

Five hundred and seven

Recently (always considering that in the Whoniverse the word "recently" is very flexible), Moffat stated he had a plan to skirt the regeneration issue.

share|improve this answer
11  
To add just a bit of detail, the line was in the spin-off series "Sarah Jane Adventures" episode "The Death of the Doctor". He's asked how many times he can regenerate, and replies "five hundred and seven". My opinion is that it's fine to ditch the limit, but there should be some addressing of it...indicate that it was an artificial limit imposed by the Time Lords after Rassilon got out of control, or something. –  Chris B. Behrens Nov 16 '11 at 21:22
3  
@ChrisB.Behrens +1. There have been enough "hints" that the regeneration limit was artificially imposed that they should just come out and say it; it would have been perfect to have The Master comment on it at some point during Ten's run (about how with the Council gone there's nothing left to stop him from living forever, or some such.) Maybe they still will. –  Michael Edenfield Jun 4 '12 at 21:08
    
@ChrisB.Behrens, it's funny you mention that since according to some of the EU stuff in the books and comics, it was Rassilon who imposed this 12 regeneration limit to prevent the Time Lords from running amok. We all see how well that turned out. –  ardentsonata Aug 28 '12 at 16:38
    
@ardentsonata - I read some of the comic books, so that may well be where that idea came from. –  Chris B. Behrens Aug 28 '12 at 16:41
1  
I would like to point out that the Master has been granted new regenerations after his 12 'ran out'. 12 is the standard limit, but that does not stop more being granted. –  Pharap Nov 13 '13 at 19:24

This is Doctor Who we're talking about. These are the retcon experts. Asking Doctor Who to be internally consistent is equivalent to expecting Douglas Adams to be logical. Literally in some cases, since Douglas Adams wrote for Doctor Who for a while.

Believe me, if they wish to continue past Doctor 13, they will find a way. And it will make some sort of absurd, twisted sense. Or not, depending on the mood of the writer at the time.

share|improve this answer
14  
Rule #1 explains everything: The doctor lies. –  Brendan Long Oct 2 '11 at 20:46
1  
More's the point, is anyone seriously suggesting that they'll end the show just because of a throwaway line written into a previous series made thirty years ago that almost no-one watching today will have even seen? –  Richard Dec 26 '13 at 20:32

It has come up from time to time that the 12 regeneration limit may be some artificial, Time Lord Council imposed thing.

eg. In the Five Doctors, the council convinces the Master to help them out by offering to give him regeneration, as he had no regeneration energy left and was in the Trakenite body of Nyssa's father, Tremas.

From the wikipedia article:

"This is the first time it is suggested that a new cycle of regenerations can be bestowed on a person (in this case the Master), implying that it could be possible to circumvent the twelve-regeneration limit established in The Deadly Assassin."

share|improve this answer
2  
Also, in the new series, it is mentioned that The Master was "reincarnated" by the Time Lords during the Time War; further supporting that hypothesis –  Nellius Jan 20 '11 at 13:55

There have actually been three official canon answers:

Season 6 (1969), "The War Games": Indefinitely, "barring accidents".
Season 14 (1976), "The Deadly Assassin": 13.
The Sarah Jane Adventures (2010), "Death of the Doctor": 507.

share|improve this answer

That rule comes from one story (if I recall correctly "The Deadly Assassin"). But it looks like the writers will change it if needed: http://www.radiotimes.com/blogs/1062-doctor-who-regenerate-immortal-12-times-13-lives/

share|improve this answer
6  
Sadly, this link is no longer working so I changed the accepted answer. –  Wikis Sep 14 '11 at 10:24

The average Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times - this has been pretty clearly stipulated in stories such as The Deadly Assassin and Mawdryn Undead, from the 70s and the 80s... no matter what the Doctor may flippantly say in, e.g., Death of the Doctor.

However, there are certainly precedents for cheating death beyond the 12th regeneration. The Master, in The Keeper of Traken, was in his final regeneration and resembled a decomposing corpse, but managed to steal the body of Nyssa's father Tremas and use a power called "the Source" to enter into a new cycle of regenerations. A few decades on, he's still going strong, in several new bodies.

It seems clearly that if the Doctor Who franchise is still going strong while the 13th actor is in the lead role, they will find some way of giving our hero his own new cycle of regenerations. It's Doctor Who - anything can, and usually does, happen!

share|improve this answer

Based on the recent episode "Let's Kill Hitler", we see River Song giving her remaining regeneration energy to save the Doctor's life, so that may have prolonged the regeneration limit. That's very plausible, considering in "Silence in the Libray"/"Forest of the Dead", River Song physically died. We now know that she can regenerate, but she didn't/wasn't able to. I believe, IMHO, she couldn't have regenerated because she gave it to the Doctor.

share|improve this answer
    
River Song said in Forest of the Dead that regeneration wasn't an option even for the Doctor: "It'll burn out both your hearts and don't think you'll regenerate!" –  rems Sep 22 '11 at 14:55
4  
The Forest of the Dead remark, however, pertained to simply THAT form of dying. Time Lords can be killed in ways that prevent regeneration, and that would have been one of them. That was established in "The Deadly Assassin" when the Master shot the President of the Time Lords. –  The Evil Greebo Oct 3 '11 at 14:29

First, we should establish the count of used regenerations. In the episode The Time of the Doctor, it's confirmed that the Doctor's Meta-Crisis regeneration did count as a regeneration. Between this regeneration, and the recently-revealed (Night of the Doctor/Day of the Doctor) 'War Doctor' regeneration, Matt Smith, who we previously called the 11th Doctor, was in fact the 13th regeneration of that character. The math works out that the original Doctor was his original face, so the 2nd Doctor is the 1st regeneration and so on. This then means that the 13th Doctor is his 12th and final natural regeneration.

However, just as they did for The Master, the Time Lords granted The Doctor a fresh set of regenerations (The Time of the Doctor). So as the '11th' regenerates, he turns into Peter Capaldi, the first of a new set of 12 regenerations. As of The Time of the Doctor, the Doctor now has 11 more regenerations left.

Largely copied from my answer on Movies & TV.SE

share|improve this answer
    
“Matt Smith, who we previously called the 11th Doctor, was in fact the 13th Doctor”. It’s a quibble, but my impression was that Matt Smith is still the 12th Doctor (or even the 11th if one doesn’t count the War Doctor), because the 10th Doctor’s first (i.e. meta-crisis) regeneration didn’t result in a new Doctor (rather an odd half-human 10th Doctor clone, sheesh). So (pre-Capaldi) we’ve had twelve regenerations, yet only twelve Doctors. –  Paul D. Waite Dec 27 '13 at 0:15
    
@PaulD.Waite Thanks, rookie mistake on my part. –  Keen Dec 27 '13 at 0:22

Originally, the doctor has only 12 regenerations, but in the episode let's kill hitler, melody, who has already regenerated twice, gives the the doctor her 10 remaining regenerations, leving him with 22. He then gives her one when she breaks her arm, leaving him with 21 regenerations, 22 lives, and 11 more Doctors. That means we're only half way done with the doctor. At this rate, the show will end in 2063 at least, and by that time we may have ourselves a real doctor!

share|improve this answer
1  
you forget that Melody had already regenerated twice, first from the little girl in the astronaut suit into the melody that grew up with Amy, and then again into River Song –  childcat15 May 24 '13 at 1:42
    
Did the Doctor give River a full regeneration, or just some? I was under the impression he just healed her hand, which would presumably be much less energy than to regenerate an entire body. –  mskfisher Dec 5 '13 at 18:01

I was always under the impression that The Doctor would have 12 regenerations. Like the hours on a clock. Hence *time*lord.

share|improve this answer

The 12 regenerations is an artificial limitation probably created by elder Time Lord hierarchies, who knows how long ago. Just watch The Five Doctors, in this story the Time Lords offer The Master a new set of regenerations.

Also, if he could only have 13 incarnations the Doctor would more than likely dire a very young man. The Time Lord lifespan is around 7000 years. The Doctor as far as we know is only around 1,100 years old, because of his lifestyle he's running through his regenerations at an astronomical pace. This always makes me wonder why in the world would NuWho Doctors always claim to be so old. Yes, to humans and most aliens he's old, but to his own people and what he sees as normal for Time Lords, he's a young'un.

share|improve this answer

No one's mentioned Trial of a Time Lord, where the Master says that somewhere between around the "12th and final regeneration", the Doctor becomes the Valeyard and will seek to undo everything after Colin Baker.

share|improve this answer
    
But does that imply anything regarding the number of his regenerations? –  Wikis Dec 17 '11 at 20:20
2  
@Wikis It depends on how you parse the sentence. The way he speaks it, it sounds to me like "twelfth and final" are both qualifying one instance of the word "regeneration". But it could be that "and final" refers to the-next-one-after 12. Written, of course, there's no indication of how far apart "12th" and "final" are. But it could be an indication of deduction on the Master's part: it must be after 12, because that's when a Time Lord would start to become desperate. ... In any case, it helps explain the darker turn in the Doctor's character of late. –  luser droog Dec 18 '11 at 7:04
    
Very good point! –  Wikis Dec 18 '11 at 7:39

River did give him the rest of her regeneration energy because she's going to the library anyway but not just that he told clyde that he has unlimited the show is so poplar they'll keep him going the doctor is a little energizer bunny he'll keep on going.

share|improve this answer
    
river didn't know she would go to the library in "lets kill hitler"...in fact that episode was "River" about as far away from he library as possible. and you cannot assume a 1-for-1 conversion of her remaining regenerations, as she gave them up to save the doctor's life. that probably ate a few up, and also we don't know what regeneration she was in before becomming river. at a minimum, "river" is her 3rd form (baby grew into little girl who regenerated just off screen, possibly into Mel, who regenerated into river), or she could have alot fewer remaining. –  acolyte May 23 '13 at 19:15

According to the official Doctor Who Magazine, which I bought right after they announced Matt Smith, Timelords can only surpass the 12 regenerations if they do the time lord council a favor, and since the tenth doctor killed them all, he's out of luck. They probably will pull the "River gave up her regenerations" thing, but she did so to counter the poison.

share|improve this answer
1  
Please provide a link to the article. A recollection may not be sufficient. –  Solemnity Mar 12 '13 at 23:13

It is 13 regenerations. I got a book for Christmas, as I am completely obsessed. It says there can only be 13 but it is possible one can be forged through artificial means. However, these artificial means are most likely only found on guess which destroyed planet. I'm sure Moffat will come up with something, though, he always does. By the way, the fact of regeneration was not even there until Hartnell couldn't do the show anymore, by then the show was way too popular to cancel, they didn't think much of it when it first started, but then regeneration was an option. They made the 13 rule because anyone saying that the show would last 50 years would be put in a madhouse.

share|improve this answer
2  
13 lives/incarnations, not regenerations. 12 regenerations, which gives a total of 13 different doctors (12 'generations plus the original) –  acolyte May 23 '13 at 19:17

In the latest series episode 'Let's kill Hitler', River poisoned him and he went into the Tardis and it said 'regeneration disabled'. I presumed that meant that he ran out of regenerations. And when River was in the hospital, I thought Amy said that she had used up ALL remaining regenerations to save him, not just the last of her energy. So I was under the impression that both River and the Doctor have no more regenerations left. But I'm probably wrong.

share|improve this answer
2  
I thought this was meant as River giving the Doctor all her remaining regenerations, not using them up? I may also have misunderstood! –  NiceOrc Nov 17 '11 at 1:46
2  
It meant the poison disabled regeneration (Moffat confirmed it in a tweet), then River gave all of her regenerations to save him. –  Loïc Wolff Nov 17 '11 at 8:42

In the audiobook "Ring Of Steel," the Doctor makes a comment about only being young twelve times.

share|improve this answer

The current Doctor (Matt Smith) is believed to be the 13th incarnation of the Doctor so he has apparently expended his regenerations because a Timelord can only regenerate twelve times.

That creates a problem because notionally the line of regenerations ends with the current Doctor and handing out extra regenerations willy-nilly would clearly be a cheat. So how can there be another Doctor to follow the current one? There certainly can be, but only if the forthcoming Doctor is not dependent on a regeneration or if the current widely accepted understanding of the Doctor's history is imperfect.

share|improve this answer
    
You're forgetting the first rule of the Doctor: The Doctor lies. He also cheats, constantly. Also, as other answers have said, the '12 regenerations' thing was apparently a political rule by the high council, as they handed out extras before. Plus, the BBC has said he can regenerate as much as he wants now. –  Jeff Dec 22 '13 at 6:36
    
@Jeff I'm not much a fan of Doctor Who, but even ignoring that, doesn't the 1st form not count, as a regeneration is not needed to reach it? So 2 forms = 1 regeneration, 4 forms = 3 regenerations, 13 forms = 12 regenerations, etc - this doesn't seem to answer the question at all. –  Izkata Dec 22 '13 at 8:38
    
The Doctor's regenerations are easily counted, just go to the relevant episodes. There have been twelve already and Moffat has repeated this many times. In my view that limit is strict and it would be a cheat to override that dramatic and interpretive tradition. The point of my comments is to allow for the possibility of a new Doctor without violating the strict regeneration rule. –  ChrisG Dec 22 '13 at 13:35
    
I found this after posting the last comment. The recently released Doctor Who Magazine #468 has this on the front cover:"Time's Up! Can the Doctor defeat the Daleks, Cybermen, Silence and Weeping Angels before the end of his final life?" DWM are an authority on Dr. Who matters and this title was chosen after getting Moffat's production notes on the upcoming special. Common sense therefore suggests that the Doctor does not have another regeneration in the tank. We must hope there is a sensible way in which common sense could be wrong. –  ChrisG Dec 22 '13 at 16:25
    
@ChrisG: From the accepted answer: The Doctor can regenerate as much as he wants –  Jeff Dec 22 '13 at 17:25

protected by Beofett Apr 29 '13 at 13:22

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.