In season 9, episode 4 (or story 2 part 2) Before The Flood, The Doctor tells Clara that he is going to die.

CLARA: No. You can change things.

DOCTOR: I can't. Even the tiniest change, the ramifications could be catastrophic. It could spread carnage and chaos across the universe like ripples on a pond. Oh, well, I've had a good innings. (to O'Donnell) This regeneration, it's a bit of a clerical error anyway. (to Clara) I've got to go sometime.

Season 9 Episode 4: Before the Flood. Transcript from Chakoteya.net.

What does the Doctor mean when he says "It's a clerical error" in regards to regeneration.

  • The only thing I can think of is him asking in Deep Breath "Why am I so old?" Maybe after a few seasons of that plot point never getting addressed he decided it didn't have any deep meaning/foreshadowing after all.
    – Ixrec
    Oct 10, 2015 at 20:37
  • 1
    Can you please add more of the dialog to put it in context? Oct 10, 2015 at 20:47
  • I can't remember much, sorry :S
    – Aster
    Oct 10, 2015 at 20:59

3 Answers 3


After he hears his ghost has appeared, the following discussion happens:

Doctor: It means I die.

Clara: No - not necessarily. We can change the sequence of events so...

Doctor: This isn't a potential future, this is the future now. It's already happened. The proof is right there in front of you. I have to die.

Clara: No. You can change things.

Doctor: I can't. Even the tiniest change, the ramifications could be catastrophic. It could spread carnage and chaos across the universe like ripples on a pond. Ah, well, I've had a good innings. This regeneration is a bit of a clerical error anyway.

This is a reference to all the hoopla about which generation he's on.

  • Ah! I misheard it as referring to regeneration in general. Welp.
    – Aster
    Oct 10, 2015 at 20:59
  • Wow, I feel kinda stupid for forgetting the whole "he ran out of regenerations already" thing. +1
    – Ixrec
    Oct 10, 2015 at 21:00
  • Isn't this the first of a new regeneration cycle though? Am I falsely remembering that the Time-Lords sent him a new regeneration cycle in (I think) Time of the Doctor?
    – ZenLogic
    Oct 10, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    They did... And it's unsure how much regeneration energy he spent in the previous episode as well... We don't know how many regenerations he has left in general. Oct 11, 2015 at 2:18
  • @DoctorWho22 Yeah, not to mention all the regeneration energy he spent in defeating the Daleks (also in Time of the Doctor).
    – Mr Lister
    Oct 11, 2015 at 9:39

You know what? After watching the episode for the third time I'm turning my comment into an answer. I really think he means his current regeneration wasn't supposed to happen to begin with.

Back in "The Time of The Doctor", after Eleven got the new cycle from the Time Lords and starter regenerating, he said this (emphasis mine):

[A crack in time opens in the sky, and regeneration energy drifts down from the crack into the Doctor's mouth.]

Dalek Commander: You will die now, Doctor. This is the end of you! The rules of regeneration are known. You have expended all your lives!

The Doctor: Sorry, what did you say? Did you mention the rules? Now, listen. A bit of advice: tell me the truth if you think you know it, lay down the law if you're feeling brave, but, Daleks, never ever tell me the rules!

Dalek Commander: Emergency! Emergency! The Doctor is regenerating! The Doctor is regenerating!

[The clock tower begins to strike twelve]

The Doctor: Oh, look at this! Regeneration number thirteen! We're breaking some serious science here, boys! And I tell you what, it's gonna be a whopper!

The clerical error means that a Time Lord can't regenerate for a 13th time, at least not naturally.

  • They can (or could) The Master was offered a fresh set of regenerations at one point and has gone way beyond 12 already.
    – user46509
    Oct 12, 2015 at 18:49
  • 1
    Correct. Hence the "not naturally" part.
    – tilley31
    Oct 12, 2015 at 18:50
  • 1
    To be fair, regeneration isn't natural, it's time lord science.
    – user46509
    Oct 12, 2015 at 18:51
  • I'm not sure my comment is correct -> scifi.stackexchange.com/q/104958/46509
    – user46509
    Oct 12, 2015 at 19:19
  • 1
    This is the correct answer. His 13th regeneration is a abnormal thing, helped as it was by the Gallifreyans. Oct 13, 2015 at 9:50

It's just Steven Moffat and his bruised ego. There was an initial fan backlash against the choice of actor, so Moffat is just putting sarcastic jabs at the audience in there — it's not the first time he's done that. Notice how the Doctor breaks the fourth wall as he is saying it? It's Moffat flipping the bird to people who criticize him, that's all.

  • Welcome to SFF.SE! Can you provide any evidence, maybe in form of an interview or similar, to support this claim?
    – Skooba
    Sep 23, 2017 at 12:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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