In S9E1 (The Magician's Apprentice) of Doctor Who, Missy says:

I'm gonna need eight snipers. Three for each heart, and two for my brain stem. You'll have to switch me off fast, before I can regenerate. [...] It's the only way she'll feel safe enough to talk to me.

She suggests, but doesn't say explicitly, that 8 snipers would be enough to permanently kill a Time Lord, putting them beyond hope of regeneration. But since Rule #1, the Doctor lies, is surely followed by rule #2, the Master lies, let's not take this at face value.

Do we know whether 8 snipers is really enough? Is there any canon evidence either way?

  • 4
    Of course I should have phrased this as "I'm a professional assassin and my next target is a Time Lord - can you advise?", but such 'funny' questions seem not to be as popular as they used to be...
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 28, 2015 at 9:45
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    I suspect the only way to answer this for certain is a situation where 8 snipers have tried and failed to kill a Time Lord. This is kinda specific. I think this is probably unanswerable. Sep 28, 2015 at 9:52
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    @PointlessSpike Not necessarily! E.g. have we been told that shooting a Time Lord in both hearts at once is sufficient?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 28, 2015 at 10:01
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    AFAIK the only thing we've been explicitly told will kill a Time Lord is killing them before they have a chance to finish regenerating (e.g. what appeared to happen in "The Impossible Astrounaut")
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 28, 2015 at 10:14
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    There is a very good chance that Missy was lying. Sep 28, 2015 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


Yes, I think it is, if the snipers were properly trained and coordinated their effort. I think the timing is important.

Unfortunately, almost everything we know about Time Lord mortality comes directly or indirectly from The Doctor (e.g. some of it via River Song). And, to my knowledge, we've never seen a Time Lord die permanently on-screen.

However, we do know that it's possible to kill them, and have some information to go by (depending on how much you're willing to believe The Doctor):

  • Daleks, obviously, killed millions of them in the Time War.
  • House killed hundreds of them on his pocket-universe planet.
  • River certainly believed that she could kill The Doctor in "The Imposssible Astronaut"
  • The Eighth Doctor would have died in a spaceship crash, without the Sisterhood of Karn's intervention.
  • The Eleventh Doctor would have died when River Song poisoned him with Judas Tree extract.

Daleks obviously vaporize their target instantly, so I presume that would be the end of it. As they've largely evolved to kill Time Lords, I think we can take for granted that they know the best way to do it.

In the cases where physical/chemical damage alone has to suffice, I think the central theme behind each of these examples is that something happened to the Time Lord that interfered with the regeneration. This lines up with something The Doctor has said a few times: if you kill him while regenerating, or if you injure him enough that he dies before regeneration can happen, he will die. The events of "Lets Kill Hitler" seem to confirm this, since the Judas tree poison specifically blocks the regeneration process, and thus, is able to kill The Doctor. So, in order to kill a Time Lord, you just need to do something to make sure he can't regenerate.

For example: if House killed a Time Lord, then immediately decapitated him and removed his hearts, the Time Lord's body would die very quickly. It's possible that he wouldn't have time for regeneration to repair the body. Similarly, the way River was instructed to kill The Doctor was to kill him, then shoot him again when he began regenerating. This was supposedly enough to halt the regeneration process and kill him permanently.

In the mini-episode "Night of The Doctor", the Eight Doctor really does die from the spacecraft crashing full-speed onto Karn. He's only revived because the Sisterhood found him and healed him long enough for them to trigger his regeneration -- it didn't even trigger by itself, because he had died for good.

Given all of that, yes, I think 8 snipers is probably enough to kill a Time Lord for good, but I think they'd have to be very careful how they did it. I don't think just shooting 8 bullets into Missy at once would work unless they were very lucky and completely shredded her internal organs. However, I think if they staggered their shots:

  • Half of them shoot her hearts/brain stem
  • Wait a moment to see if regeneration begins
  • The other half shoot again to stop the regeneration

I think, based on what we've seen, it would probably work.

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    Didn't we technically see the Doctor die permanently after being kissed by River Song? River ended up sacrificing all her future regenerations, just to undo the poison's damage.
    – Theik
    Sep 28, 2015 at 12:06
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    yes, that's another good example. In that case the poison she used was crafted specifically to stop the regeneration effect from happening, which mostly fits with what we've heard elsewhere.
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 28, 2015 at 12:11
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    "(until he got better)" - That's the crux of it. No matter how much the canon says they're only allowed a certain number of regenerations, the writers are always free to do whatever they want. If the show keeps running long enough to have a 24th Doctor, and that actor wants to leave but the show is still popular enough to make money, count on them coming up with another way to give him another batch of 1-ups. They can always come up with a reason to bring back any dead characters/entire races they want. (See: Daleks. How many times have they been "exterminated" as an entire species?) Sep 28, 2015 at 16:38
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    Quick point, Time Lords can regenerate from a Dalek shooting them. The 10th Doctor sort of regenerated from one in Children of Time but put the energy into his hand. Jun 12, 2017 at 13:37
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    true, but that was also a "glancing blow"... the Dalek kind of missed and hit the Doctor across the shoulder, with the bulk of the energy flying past him into space. A normal direct hit from a Dalek weapon vaporizes the target.
    – KutuluMike
    Jun 12, 2017 at 17:54

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