In today's The Night of the Doctor, we see the Eight Doctor's death… yet, instead of regenerating, he is “revived” by the Sisterhood of Karn.

So why did the regeneration not kick in as soon as he was dead? Is there “precedent” in the canon for this dead-but-not-yet-regenerating state of the Doctor?

  • 2
    How about the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration? Despite being given a fatal dose of radiation, he stayed standing for long enough to do quite a long tour of old companions.
    – alexwlchan
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 0:31
  • Also, "cannony-wannony" in The Movie, Seven's regeneration into Eight is affected by an anesthetic, which implies that he still has to be in some sense "alive" for it to work (an anesthetic would have no effect on a corpse)
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 14:20
  • Maybe regenerations take longer as you get older. Certainly seems to be the case with the Doctor. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 14:20

4 Answers 4


I think that we can only offer speculation until the Anniversary special is broadcast (and I certainly don't know of any precedent in canon) but I note that the Sisterhood of Karn indicate that they can control the form of The Doctor's next regeneration. This suggests that his temporary restoration to life (presumably using a draft of elixir) may have actually arrested his regeneration. The second draft then reverses this, dictating his form.

The other possible explanation is that regeneration can only repair a certain amount of trauma, and there is a point beyond which a Timelord cannot regenerate unassisted (so a Timelord at ground zero in a nuclear explosion could not reassemble, for example). The death of the Doctor in "Turn Left" would appear to support this possibility.

(Interesting side question, does this mean that The War Doctor is now the Ninth Doctor, and we have to renumber from then on?)

  • 2
    I think the narrative hints at the fact that the Doctors will not be renumbered. When 11 sees the War Doctor, he says that he did what he did not in the name of the Doctor. While 11 is now technically the 12th form of the Doctor, he is still the 11th Doctor.
    – Zoneman
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 12:53
  • I think we've seen evidence of option #2 before (though both with Matt Smith, AFAIK), but it makes sense that if the Time Lord's injuries are severely traumatic and immediately fatal, there's no "opportunity" for the regeneration process to kick in.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 14:16
  • 1
    I'm pretty sure it's the second one, since that's pretty strongly rooted in the show -- a sufficiently fast and traumatic death doesn't allow the Doctor to regenerate. That was the premise of Turn Left (one of the best tenth doctor episodes).
    – evilsoup
    Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 14:52
  • Your question has of course meanwhile been answered The Time of the Doctor
    – Zommuter
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 12:01

We've seen a few times the Doctor in a situation where he's close to death and can't regenerate - in Let's Kill Hitler, for example. It's not too much of a stretch to reason that plunging into the ground at high speed in a crashing spaceship rendered him much more seriously injured than, say, falling off a radio telescope, and therefore killed him outright until the Sisterhood temporarily reanimated him - but that status left him unable to regenerate until they helped him do so.

  • 1
    We've also seen that Time Lords are physically quite resiliant: Ten jumps from a spaceship, through a skylight, and lands on a wooden floor in End Of Time and basically stands up and brushes himself off. It probably takes a lot of trauma to reach the fatal levels.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 14:18

He died too quickly for his body to regenerate - ergo, the Sisterhood of Karn had to first bring him back to life before giving him the elixir for regeneration.

There are a few precedents for this in the show:

In "Turn Left", a parallel world is created around the Doctor's companion Donna, and in it, the Doctor dies as a result of his reckless genocide of the Racnoss race. When his body is found, a soldier states, "I think so. He just didn't make it out in time... the Doctor is dead. Must have happened too fast for him to regenerate." The Doctor killed the Racnoss by flooding its base, so presumably, drowning can kill a Time Lord before they can regenerate.

This is reaffirmed in "The End of Time" when the Doctor tells his friend Wilfred Mott, "I can still die. If I'm killed before regeneration, then I'm dead."


The crash he was in killed in instantly, so the Sisterhood had to revive him, so he could regenerate. Think what the Doctor said in The End of Time Part 1: "I can still die. If I'm killed before regeneration, then I'm dead" So there you go.

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.