12

In New Who, the Doctor's age has been frequently mentioned, at least once by every incarnation as far as I know:

  • in "Aliens of London" Nine mentions being nine hundred years old;
  • in "Voyage of the Damned" Ten mentions being nine hundred and three years old;
  • in "The Impossible Astronaut" two versions of Eleven mention being nine hundred and nine and eleven hundred and three years old;
  • in "Deep Breath" Twelve mentions having lived for over two thousand years;
  • and I'm afraid I haven't watched the Chibnall/Thirteen era.

In Old Who, how much did the Doctor mention his age? Or if that's too broad a question to reasonably answer, when was the first time he mentioned his age? As far as I know, in the very early First Doctor episodes, there was nothing to indicate that he wasn't human, and the whole Gallifrey backstory was only created later on. When did it become clear that the Doctor's age was far beyond a normal human lifespan?

5
  • 2
    It's definitely mentioned early on in the show... Possibly not in the First Doctor era though. This is from a Second Doctor serial, The Tomb of the Cybermen; VICTORIA: How can you? I mean, if what you say is true then you must be, er, well, how old? DOCTOR: Well, if we count in Earth terms, I suppose I must be about four hundred, yes, about four hundred and fifty years old. Yes, well, quite -
    – Valorum
    Nov 11, 2023 at 7:50
  • Mentioned in the 1968 Doctor Who Annual story 'The Phoenix in the TARDIS', in relation to his regeneration from First to Second - "Dr. Who is our modern phoenix. At the end of nine hundred years, a strange psychological storm rejuvenated his form, changing his character in many ways."
    – Valorum
    Nov 11, 2023 at 8:07
  • If I remember right, the Doctor explained to Ian and Barbara that he was a exile from an alien planet in the first serial. The names of the planet and the Time Lords were not mentioned until years later. But in a first Doctor episode the Meddling Monk was another traveler from the Doctor's planet. Nov 11, 2023 at 18:31
  • The Doctor's age was mentioned in The Tomb of the Cybermen and in some later seasons. The Doctor was eventually said to be 9 hundred and some years old. And since he usually had overlapping human companions who never seemed to age much while traveling with him, It is rather difficult to find periods when he could have lived centuries offscreen. Who's Next: An Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who, March Clapham, Eddie Robson & Jim Smith, 2005, mentions a number of times the Doctor's age was mentioned. Nov 11, 2023 at 18:40
  • @M.A.Golding "[H]e usually had overlapping human companions who never seemed to age much while traveling with him", just out of curiosity were there any stories where'd we'd expect them to have aged significantly, so an in-universe explanation (e.g., "While you're inside or associated with the TARDIS, aging is optional") would be needed for that? Nov 12, 2023 at 21:38

2 Answers 2

12

I’ll stick to the television series since other sources make this very complicated. For the purposes of this answer, I’ll also ignore the issue of the “Timeless Child” and the revelation that the Doctor lived for some unspecified (but clearly very long) length of time before what we think of as their First incarnation, which throws all these ages into doubt. I’ll stick to what the Doctor says his age is.

The Doctor’s age

The first instance in the classic series of the Doctor mentioning an explicit age is in The Tomb of the Cybermen, when the Second Doctor is speaking with Victoria at the start of episode one:

Well, if we count in Earth terms, I suppose I must be about four hundred, yes, about four hundred and fifty years old.

The Doctor only sporadically mentions his age in the classic series, but he does generally get older over time, and gives a figure in the hundreds of years. The main exception is the Third Doctor, who in the final episode of The Silurians says to Liz:

You know, I'm beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life. And that covers several thousand years.

He stops himself as he’s about to make a similar claim in The Mind of Evil about how long he’s been a scientist. He doesn’t give an indication of his actual age after that, but by part four of The Time Warrior says:

Do you know, I think that was one of the most active days I've had in years. Well, it's not as if I was a lad anymore, once you're over two hundred.

By the time of the Fourth Doctor, his age is more consistently given as around 750. In The Ribos Operation this is made more specific, and corroborated by Romana:

ROMANA: That's ridiculous for somebody as old as you are.

DOCTOR: I'm not old. What?

ROMANA: Seven hundred and fifty nine?

DOCTOR: Seven hundred and fifty six. That's not old, that's just mature.

ROMANA: You've lost count somewhere.

Shortly after, in The Pirate Planet, Romana says the Doctor has been travelling in the TARDIS for 523 years, which would mean the Doctor was about 236 years old when he stole it - assuming his personal time and that travelling time agree (never a given for a time traveller).

The Fifth Doctor doesn’t mention his age on-screen, but the Sixth Doctor describes himself as “a nine hundred year old Time Lord” in Revelation of the Daleks, and in The Mysterious Planet says:

I may look old to you, whiskerless youth, but I'll have you know I'm in the prime of my life. I'm only nine hundred years old.

In Time and the Rani, the newly regenerated Seventh Doctor gives his exact age as 953, claiming to be the same age as the Rani. He also refers to having “900 years experience” with re-wiring alien technology in Remembrance of the Daleks (a story in which he also implies he was around at the time of Rassilon and Omega founding Time Lord society).

The Eighth Doctor doesn’t mention his age on screen, and by the time of the Ninth Doctor he’s saying he’s 900 again - an age that seems specific rather than rounded up or down, since the Tenth Doctor later gives his age as 903, 904 and in The End of Time as 906.

Given that the War Doctor spends a long time fighting the Time War (long enough to finally regenerate from old age, and by some estimates a few hundred years), there are many fan theories trying to reconcile the lack of or reverse aging between the Seventh and Ninth Doctors. The main ones are that the Doctor inconsistently uses Earth and Gallifreyan years; that he does indeed lose track of his age and decides to start over or round down at some point; and/or that the Time War did weird things to his age, making it either impossible to track or potentially de-aging him in some way.

The Doctor not being human

To address this secondary point, while the First Doctor doesn’t ever reveal his age, from the very first episode it is clear he and Susan are from another planet, even if he doesn’t explicitly say he is not human. The First Doctor describes the two of them as “wanderers in the fourth dimension” and says “Susan and I are cut off from our own planet”, while Susan says they’re from “another time, another world”. The Doctor speaks of “my civilisation” in a way that suggests he is comparing it to all of human civilisation, rather than the UK or Europe.

This could all mean they are from some future human civilisation, though, which documents from the time show was at one point the intention. And indeed the Doctor refers to “us humans” (and seems to have a regular human heartbeat) in The Sensorites, and right up until The War Games frequently refers to himself in ways that imply (or at least allow others to assume) he is human. When he first meets another of his own people, the Monk in The Time Meddler, they are remarkably vague about where they come from, saying only:

STEVEN: Look, I take it you both come from the same place, Doctor?

THE DOCTOR: Yes, I regret that we do, but I would say that I am fifty years earlier.

Neither this, his regeneration or the Second Doctor’s revelation of being 450 years old discount the Doctor from potentially being from a highly advanced future human civilisation, especially since that first “rejuvenation” is largely explained as being a function of the TARDIS, rather than being biological.

It’s not until the Second Doctor serial The Evil of the Daleks that the Doctor is established as not quite human, though even there it’s not clearly stated he’s an alien; the Daleks won’t choose him as a subject for their experiment into the “human factor” because, in their words:

You have travelled too much through time. You are more than human.

It’s only in The War Games with the introduction of the Time Lords that it’s made explicit that the Doctor is an alien, and even then it’s not until the following story, Spearhead from Space, where his biology is confirmed to be different.

9
  • 1
    That's not even taking into account all the crazy stuff Chibnall introduced. The Doctor could end up being orders of magnitude older.
    – Derek
    Nov 12, 2023 at 1:06
  • 1
    @Derek oh absolutely, but the question was only about classic Who, so I’ve deliberately left out any of that stuff. Nov 12, 2023 at 6:44
  • 1
    To be pedantic, "that covers several thousand years" could refer to the absolute time of the eras he's visited, rather than his own personal timeline, so it's not necessarily a retcon.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 12, 2023 at 12:39
  • Three once snapped, “I've been a scientist for several th—” before remembering that he was addressing someone who, not knowing about him, would think him mad if he mentioned his true age. Nov 12, 2023 at 20:07
  • 1
    My personal headcanon is the War Doctor started from zero due to his death. Nov 12, 2023 at 23:41
2

According to dialog in various episodes, the Doctor apparently aged about 450 to 500 years during the course of old Doctor Who in the period 1963 to 1989.

And this is a problem, because the doctor would have overlapping sets of human companions for several seasons at a time, and none of those companions seemed to age while aboard the Tardis.

Furthermore, during the first few seasons dialog indicated that each story or serial happened soon after the previous one. There were many examples of a story beginning right after the previous one ended. So during the early seasons of Doctor Who the total elapsed time aboard the Tardis and at destinations was probably approximately the total duration of fictional time elapsed during the various stories.

Of course the fictional time of an episode or serial might be many times the total onscreen time, but there were few serials where the plot required weeks or months to pass.

Season 12 (1974-1975 reverted to that practice.

All serials in this season continue directly one after the other, tracing one single problematic voyage of the TARDIS crew. Despite the continuity, each serial is considered its own standalone story.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doctor_Who_episodes_(1963%E2%80%931989)#Season_12_(1974%E2%80%931975)

Season 16 (1978-1979) had an overall story arc, and thus there was probably not much time between the individual stories in that season.

Season 16 consists of one long story arc encompassing six separate, linked stories. This season is referred to by the umbrella title The Key to Time and has been released on DVD under this title.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doctor_Who_episodes_(1963%E2%80%931989)#Season_16_(1978%E2%80%931979)

Seasons, 18, 19,and 20 (1980-1983) had overall story arcs which indicated that the episodes happened in relatively quick succession for the passengers in the Tardis. Often one story began immediately after the previous one ended. So it would be hard to imagine the Doctor living for centuries during those three seasons.

In a return to the format of early seasons, virtually all serials from Seasons 18 through 20 are linked together, often running directly into each other. Season 18 forms a loose story arc dealing with the theme of entropy. Full Circle, State of Decay, and Warriors' Gate trace the Doctor's adventures in E-Space; they were released in both VHS and DVD boxsets with the umbrella title The E-Space Trilogy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doctor_Who_episodes_(1963%E2%80%931989)#Season_18_(1980%E2%80%931981)

So there are considerable problems finding ways for the Doctor to age centuries during the old Doctor Who from 1963 to 1989. But statements about the Doctor's age in various episodes indicates that he did experience centuries of living.

I have a copy of *Who's Next: An Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who, Mark Clapham, Eddie Robson and Jim Smith, 2005, and I have tried to look up all the statements about the Doctor's age I remember the authors mentioning in the Doctor Who? section of each story discussion, with the details which each story gives about the Doctor.

In "The Tomb of the Cybermen", serial 37, the Second doctor says he is about 400, make it 450, years old (p.96).

Guybrush Mckenzie's answer provides a quote.

Well, if we count in Earth terms, I suppose I must be about four hundred, yes, about four hundred and fifty years old.

In serial 52, "Doctor Who and The Silurians", the Doctor mentions having been in the age of the dinosaurs - which of course ended 66 million years ago - and says that his life has covered thousands of years (p. 129). In Guybrush Mckenzie's answer the quote is:

You know, I'm beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life. And that covers several thousand years.

In serial 84, "The Brain of Morbius", the Doctor is 749 (p. 200).

In serial 98, "The Ribos Operation", Romana says the Doctor is 759, but he says he's 756 (p. 229).

In Guybrush Mckenzie's answer the quote is:

ROMANA: That's ridiculous for somebody as old as you are.

DOCTOR: I'm not old. What?

ROMANA: Seven hundred and fifty nine?

DOCTOR: Seven hundred and fifty six. That's not old, that's just mature.

ROMANA: You've lost count somewhere.

In serial 142, "Revelations of the Daleks", The Doctor says he is 900 years old (p. 327).

In Guybrush Mckenzie's answer he says that in The Mysterious Planet (1986), part of the season-Long Trial of a Time Lord, the Doctor says:

I may look old to you, whiskerless youth, but I'll have you know I'm in the prime of my life. I'm only nine hundred years old.

And in the next serial, number 144/145, "Time and the Rani", the Doctor says that he and the Rani are the same aged 953 years old.

Peri is the companion of the Doctor in The Mysterious Planet (1986), part of the season-Long Trial of a Time Lord, when the Doctor says he is nine hundred years old.

In "Mindwarp", the part next of the season-Long Trial of a Time Lord (1986) Peri is the Doctor's companion until the Doctor is yanked away from the situation they are in to begin his trial. And she doesn't look older than in "The Mysterious Planet".

In "Terror of the Vervoids", the next part of Trial of a Time Lord (1986), The Doctor shows future events as testimony in his trial. I don't know how the Doctor can remember events in his personal future to think of using them in his defense. Anyway, in those future events the Doctor has a never before seen companion, Mel.

In "The Ultimate foe", the last part of Trial of a Time Lord, The Doctor's future companion Mel arrives in the courtroom, and at the end they leave in the Tardis together.

And in "Time and the Rani", the first episode of the next season, the Sixth Doctor is injured and regenerates into the Seventh Doctor. In a later conversation with another Time Lord, the Rani, it is said they are both 953 years old.

But Mel doesn't look like she aged 53 years between "The Ultimate foe" and "Time and the Rani" like the Doctor says that he did.

And of course there are a bunch of possible theories to explain that.

One) Maybe the Doctor left Mel at some place and time and had about 53 years of adventures in the Tardis and returned to pick up Mel a few minutes after he left her, and thus aged about 53 years more than Mel did during the interval between "The Ultimate foe" and "Time and the Rani".

Two) Maybe Mel, and possibly some or all of the other companions of the Doctor don't age while travelling with him in the Tardis. Thus Mel might have travelled in the Tardis with the Doctor for 53 years without appearing to age. If that is the explanation, and if it applies to every companion, every time a companion of the Doctor decides to quit they are giving up decades or centuries of lifespan. I note that the Doctor never tells quitting companions that they have shortening their life expectancies.

Three) Maybe in The Mysterious Planet (1986), part of the season-Long Trial of a Time Lord, when the Doctor says he is nine hundred years old, he is using years which are somewhat longer than the (posssibly Galifreyan) years used in "Time and the Rani" when he says he and the Rani are 953 years old.

Thus the years in The Mysterious Planet would be about 1.059 times as long as the years in "Time and the Rani", and the years in "Time and the Rani" would be about 0.944 times as long as the years in The Mysterious Planet.

Four) Maybe "Time and the Rani" happens in an alternate universe to Trial of a Time Lord (1986). Maybe in "Time and the Rani" the Doctor saved Peri in the events of "Mindwarp" and she was his companion for some time afterwards. Then the Doctor traveled alone and with other companions in unseen adventures, probably for at least 50 years, before Mel became his companion the way she would have in the timeline of "Terror of the Vervoids". And she is the companion when the sixth Doctor regenerates into the Seventh Doctor in "Time and the Rani" aged 953. And that might be the alternate universe in which the events of the Seventh Doctor's adventures in the last seasons of the old Doctor Who happen.

But in an alternate universe the Doctor is about 900 years old when he and Mel leave the courtroom at the end of Trial of a Time Lord (1986).

In new Doctor Who the Doctor starts out being 900 years old according to Rand al'Thor's question. That fits much better with being in the hypothetical alternate universe of Trial of a Time Lord (1986) than with being in the hypothetical alternate universe of "Time and the Rani".

But a single year doesn't seem long enough to contain the end of the 6th lifetime, the entire 7th and 8th lifetimes, and the beginning of the 9th lifetime, of the Doctor.

Thus it seems likely that new Doctor Who may be in an alternate universe which split off from those of "Time and the Rani" and Trial of a Time Lord much earlier.

Possibly the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors were all severely injured and regenerated into the succeeding incarnations earlier in the new Doctor Who alternate universe than in the alternate universes of "Time and the Rani" and Trial of a Time Lord. And since I read that all of the previous doctors have been seen in various new Doctor Who special episodes, it seems that the Doctor regenerates into the same body forms in the same order in those instances. I can't say whether that is typical of Time Lords or not.

So I wonder which specific events in old Doctor Who previous to Trial of a Time Lord have been depicted, mentioned, or otherwise acknowledged in new Doctor Who, since they would have happened before the divergence in the timelines.

Anyway, I favor the alternate universe explanation for those discrepancies in the Doctor's stated age.

1
  • 1
    This mad splurge of info doesn't answer the question asked in any sensible way. OP clearly isn't looking for info from later serials.
    – Valorum
    Nov 12, 2023 at 12:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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