Doctor Who Is Officially Immortal

Published 5 years ago by

Doctor Who Doctor Who Is Officially Immortal

An upcoming episode in the Doctor Who spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, will confirm what Who fans (a.k.a. Whovians) have long suspected: The Doctor himself can regenerate as many times as he likes and is therefore, in essence, immortal.

The 1976 Doctor Who episode, “The Deadly Assassin”, revealed that the Time Lords – the alien race to which The Doctor belongs – are limited to regenerating twelve times, but Whovians have long suspected that this rule would change, especially now that the long-running sci-fi series is more popular than ever.

This revelation does not completely violate the already-established rules of the Who universe, as it were. It was never clarified whether Time Lords were incapable of regenerating more than twelve times OR if they merely were not supposed to – seeing as that The Doctor is the last of his kind and that he need not obey any laws of Time Lord society if he so wishes, it seems current Who showrunner Steven Moffat and his fellow writers have decided (*knock on wood*) that the latter was the case.

A lot of Whovians would also point to The Master – an insane Time Lord and arch-nemesis of The Doctor – as having already disproved the “twelve regenerations total” theory. While The Master has only been played by six different actors on Doctor Who to date, the show has long implied that the character has regenerated more than a dozen times already – either way, Doctor Who is set to remain on the air for an even longer time now.

Doctor Who Series Six Doctor Who Is Officially Immortal

Matt Smith currently plays the eleventh regeneration of The Doctor and there’s been no word yet on how many more seasons he will be on the show. Now that we know the Doctor after Smith’s won’t be the last, there’s a better chance that Whovians will get to see a version of the character who is neither male or caucasian. Perhaps The Doctor’s wish to be a ginger will at last be realized?

A lot of longtime Who fans will be less than receptive to this revelation about The Doctor, but they ought to remember – there could always be a future twist in the plot that affects the Time Lord’s ability to regenerate or something along those lines. We’ll just have to wait and see what exactly lies in the future for Doctor Who hereon out.

Source: BBC (via The Guardian)

TAGS: Doctor who
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  1. Maybe this will have something to do with the massive hugely shocking game changing plot twist that happens before the mid season break?

  2. 12 regenerations means 13 Doctors. Matt Smith is the 11th Doctor, but the 10th regeneration (as the 1st Doctor was born assumedly, he didn’t regenerate from anything)

    • If you remember, the Doctor has actually regenerated 11 times, once using his severed hand to maintain his original form.

  3. Lame. I preferred when there was a finite amount of regenerations, with perhaps the much villified number 13 turning him to a dark side that thus made him something else OTHER than the Doctor as we know him… Hence the Master, and the Dream Lord. There would have been a more interesting story to tell about what happens next after the 12th Doctor “died.” Now, it’s like knowing the end of a story, which, ironically, is that there is no end to the Doctor(s). Moffat et al. have created an easy out for themselves, neglecting to keep in accout that there is still a daughter/clone that could take the story further as the new Doctor with a whole set of regenerations. Yeah, sure, technically it could be that the Doctor was ALWAYS immortal, since death was usually affected upon him (has he ever died of old age?), but there was always the chance that something new would happen to him after the 12th death. RECONSIDER!

    • There is an evil regeneration of The Doctor at some point in his future, it’s called the Valeyard.

  4. I’m not sure what you say is true. It was pretty categorically stated that no Timelord can regenerate more than 12 times. It was stated by the high counsel in the Rassilon special (otherwise know as the 5 doctors – 1975 I think)

    • Silner, that was the same (Davison-era) story in which the Time Lords offer the Master another cycle of regenerations in exchange for his help, so there must be some way of getting round it.

      • And who knows how many regenerations the Master has had?

        • He did get a bit messed-up and gooey mid-career though!

  5. The Doctor is immortal as long as ratings are up.

  6. Immortal emo haircut lookout!!

    • The fringe prevails! It becomes an Evil Fringe after the 12th regeneration…

  7. i could have told you they were going to pull that, though i was expecting them to run it up to the last second as the 12 doctor dies or something of that nature ^-^ more fun that way though it is nice to know that my all time hero will continue to save the day for hopefully decades to come!!

    Long live the doctor!

  8. Season 6 villain is likely Omega.

    • agreed

  9. I have to think of all sides of this.

    In the first place, no one even knew what regeneration was, because there wasn’t any. A different actor playing the same role? What, and he doesn’t even LOOK like the other guy? And he has a different personality?

    Well, the regeneration idea ended up being a brilliant one as far as format longetivity was concerned. And yes, the second Doctor said that Timelords could live forever barring accidents. It was Robert Holmes’ take on the Timelords (which got some fans in a tizzy which I thought was weird) that began the idea of 12 regen limit. And obviously that limit was there because that’s what the Master was having a wee bit of skin problem about. Eventually he lived a ghoulish existence, never quite having a full life until he was sucked into the Eye of Harmony’s TARDIS linkup in the TV movie. Before this, in the 5 Doctors – he was offered a new cycle of regenerations, and we know that they ressurected him during the Time War. (Perhaps with the Cruciform, which could have ressurected the Time Lords and so the Daleks wanted it?) This only way really to make sense of it all is to say that Time Lords regenerate indefinitely and the limit was an imposition. Certainly people have wanted the Doctor’s “remaining” lives before. Further evidence is that Borusa – one of the Doctor’s teachers and seemingly an all around good guy – goes a bit evil at the end and gets freaky about immortality. Heck, Rassilon seems to be still “living” in the Matrix, but not in the flesh. It would seem that the flesh ultimately corrupts after so long. If the president in TEOT really was Rassilon ressurected and not just a president named after him, then that could explain his actions – normally wise, but corrupted in the flesh when they brought him back to fight the Time War.

    The only thing I think is too bad, is that the Time Lords are gone. The artificially imposed limit is not there because they aren’t? Wouldn’t it be an interesting tale if the 13th Doctor had to find a way to get past this limitation since the Time Lords no longer exist? Minyan technology? Mawdryn’s technology? Since it was such a part of established mythos, at least it could be addressed properly and not just laughed off. A good writer adapts continuity problems – a bad one just ignores them.

    • You are all so well versed in the Doctor! This is either a great opportunity to ask a question that’s been on my mind for years or a chance to ask something that’s already been discussed somewhere. But here goes. Does anyone else notice that each doctor is younger than the previous one? The very first doctor was almost elderly, then Tom —-? (know his name – can’t remember) was middle aged – maybe I missed one in there. He and Peter Davison were my favorites (re the “favorite Doctor ” issue) and each has been younger and younger. Matt Smith is close to looking like a teenager. Since “2001″ (wow, we’re past the date of that once futuristic movie and nowhere near that developed!) and possibly before, sci fi has loved the idea of the regression to infancy. My questions are: 1) has anything been alluded to in the show re this point that anyone knows of? 2) might we start getting into teenage and child doctors? That would be a hoot!

      • Yes, that does seem to be the case (with a few exceptions). You know you’re getting old when the Doctor is younger than you (well, OK, the actor is…)

        • That’s hilarious. Another thing to keep us aware of how we’re aging. I think I did miss some incarnations of the Doctor. Do you recall the exceptions to the getting-younger-and- younger thing? Thanks

          • Well, since you ask…
            1 – William Hartnell – played as quite old (Susan’s grandfather)
            2 – Patrick Troughton – seemed somewhat younger
            3 – Jon Pertwee – could have been similarly aged to 2, or older: could be described as avuncular
            4 – Tom Baker – again, seemed somewhat younger, partly due to playing the Doctor far more as a mysterious alien
            5 – Peter Davison – definitely seemed a lot younger
            6 – Colin Baker – not sure (I’ve only seen a couple of his stories)
            7 – Sylvester McCoy – possible seemed a bit older (addressed as “Professor” by Ace)
            8 – Paul NcGann – not obviously older or younger IMHO
            9 – Christopher Eccleston – after a big gap! – seemed to bring some extra maturity to the part (often despite the efforts of the writers)
            10 – David Tenant – seems like a hyperactive schoolboy (see him and Peter Davison in the Children in Need special – Davison seems like the Doctor, Tenant seems like a fan who’s wandered onto the set)
            11 – Matt Smith – well, he looks younger, but his portrayal seems rather more “timeless” than 10 – he’s gone more towards the mysterious alien again.

            All IMHO, of course.

            • Wow, many thanks. Very interesting. I realize now Jon Pertwee was the first one whose episodes I saw and then not until Tom Baker (that’s the name!) did I watch regularly. Then I think I got busy and I’m not sure my local PBS station carried them all. I don’t remember 6 or 8 at all and only have a dim memory of 7. I think I’ve seen snippets of the first two Doctors. It does seem to me that #7, Sylvester McCoy, from what I recall was older than Peter Davison. And Eccleston – though I saw little of his – does not seem younger than Davison and more likely a little older. So it does not seem to be a hard-and-fast “youthening” though clearly the early Doctors- especially the first 3 – were clearly at the latter end of the life span and the recent ones much younger. Davison does seem to be the one that throws off the progression.

              You must have seen almost all of them. Congrats! Are you in the States? It has seemed to me that the Doctor despite his fantastic traveling powers has had a spot of trouble getting over here at times over the decades! Although I have to admit I’ve had long periods of not being able to keep up.

              • Hi, yes I have to admit I have seen all the Doctors (though not every episode ever made!) I watched the first 4 in the UK, when they were first broadcast – however nowadays I live in New Zealand.

                • How cool! One of my friends here from Canada partly grew up in New Zealand while her dad taught there. She loved it – very fond memories of it.

            • Peter Davison was only about 30 when he became the Doctor, Liz; Bakers Tom and Colin were both around 40, and Sylvester McCoy was in his mid-40s. McGann: mid-30s, Eccleston 40-ish. Patrick Troughton was mid-40s (though he looked older, and Jon Pertwee was in his early 50s – not that much younger than William Hartnell when he first started (again, he looked older). There’ve had some ups and downs age-wise, for sure!

              • THEY’ve had, even.

              • Thanks! I was going mainly by the impression they gave in the part – some seemed to play it “older” even when they weren’t – which is of course somewhat subjective.

                • Definitely! The wide variety of portrayals is one of the best and most enduring things about the show – although I’ve been less keen on some than others. Completely agree about Matt Smith, by the way.

              • Thanks for the info (love your handle!) I have to get to a play – will read your post more carefully later.

                • Cheers – it’s an obscure music reference. ;-) Enjoy the play!

              • OK so that pretty much derails my theory of the Doctor’s regenerations getting younger and younger. Though the actors looking often older or younger than their age is a bit of a hitch. Sounds like most of the middle Doctors were 40-ish. I’m really surprised Hartnell was only in his 50′s or 60′s if I understood correctly? His pictures look so much older! But even just going by appearances, Peter Davison did throw off the “younger and younger” hypothesis. Thanks for the clarifications.

                • Hartnell was 55 at the beginning – I think the Victorian grandfather look was down to the clothes and the long white hair, which was actually a wig! You’re right, I’d have put him well into his 60s. He’d played a lot of tough military types, which probably helped with the gruff persona.

                  • Very interesting – only 55! How many seasons did he play the Doctor? I think I’m going to look for DVDs of the series. Are there any?

                    • He had four seasons in all. There are DVDs available on Amazon and elsewhere, but many of them are encoded for Region 2 so you wouldn’t be able to play them in the US. Definitely worth checking that. You might have more luck downloading them.

                      Another problem is that so many of the first two Doctors’ original episodes were wiped by the BBC, who had no central archive at the time. Single episodes and sometimes entire stories (the pre-2005 format was a half-hour show with four or six episodes making a complete storyline) – gone forever. Even Hartnell’s regeneration into Patrick Troughton: only photographs exist now. Occasionally the soundtrack alone survived, and some of the DVD releases have used those over stills and text description where there are missing sections.

            • Oh, your observation about David Tennant might have something to do with the fact that he was just about to embark on/had already embarked upon a relationship with Davison’s daughter!

              • That’s kinda mind-boggling. To work on that, one has to remember what decade Davison was the Doctor!!! Obviously he’s older than 30 now… How old is Tennant? Thanks

                • Tennant became the Doctor at 34. Georgia Moffett (her father’s real surname) appeared in the Tennant episode “The Doctor’s Daughter” as…the Doctor’s daughter – created using his DNA anyway – so it gets even more complicated! The dinner table conversation when they have the parents round must be pretty entertaining.

                  • Let me make sure I’m following. Georgia Moffett is Peter Davison’s daughter, Moffett being Davison’s real surname? I’ve never seen this “Doctor’s Daughter” episode. Sounds fascinating. There are so many themes and plot points referred to on this site, my head is spinning and it’s fascinating. Much more interesting the the Daleks which seem to be the focus of so many of the Doctor Who episodes that find there way to Chicago.

                    • Yep, that’s about the strength of it! That was in Tennant’s final proper season before the four one-off specials. I don’t know if the two of them actually met filming the episode or whether they knew each other beforehand.

                      Absolutely: there’s a lot more to the show than just the barking pepperpots (though they’re great when they’re not shoehorned in for the sake of it).

      • Re 2001 (fact and film): I think technology’s just become more hidden, Janet. No interplanetary travel, but microchips in everything. I remember Arthur C Clarke talking about HAL and trying to make out (semi-jokingly) that computers of today have personalities. No, Arthur, they’re just rubbish and unreliable. We’ve moved on from the Space Age to the Breakdown Age…

        • The Big Dentist: I love your point. And I just learned from a friend that the newest I-Phone has a feature where you can see who you are talking to! Very futurish. Love your Space Age to Breakdown Age comment! Sooooo true!

      • I think that also, once a regeneration happens, the Time Lord in question ages “normally” (whatever that is for a Time Lord). It’s possible some of the incarnations of the Doctor we’ve seen have been around a while off-screen, and we just don’t keep track of them as well – the period between the 8th (McGann) and the 9th (Eccelston) is completely shrouded in mystery. We don’t know how long he spent in either incarnation, although there’s hints here and there.

        Certainly, Time Lords can age without regeneration – Professor Yana / The Master was quite old when we saw him, although he was arguably human at the time. Also, The Master artificially aged The Doctor without letting him regenerate at one point, so they can (and do) age. I suspect they keep aging until they “die” of old age, and then regenerate into a younger body, which might be the trend we’re seeing. If a given incarnation lives long enough, they could become aged before regenerating back a little bit.

        • Although Matt Smith’s Doctor at 1100 years looked the same as Matt Smith’s Doctor at 900 years. Obviously they do age, but at an inconsistent rate.

  10. AAHH!!! I want Doctor Who, no, no check that, I NEED Doctor Who back in my life!!!!

  11. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Rassilon, President of the High Council of Time Lords, also an Immortal?

    • Considering he was still alive in The End Of Time then yes he proabably is.

  12. maybe The Doctor’s count was reset when he took the Vortex out of Rose. All that glowing breath stuff during the last two regenerations and Ginny’s too.

  13. I watched a few episodes with the hot chick from “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” a couple of years ago. I liked the actors then, is this new guy any good? I don’t have too much room on the DVR…

    • Yes, the new series is great. Matt Smith is possibly better than either of the previous two Doctors, and his new assistant is smokin hot!

      • I’d have to disagree Sam. David Tennent will always be my favorite Doctor. I noticed a trend in last season. The first few episodes that Moffat wrote seemed rushed to me. Matt Smith’s dialog was way too hectic and fast. Smith seemed to hit his stride when the guest writers started. I like Smith, though. He is a fun version of The Doctor. Karen Gillan on the other hand, her character (Amy Pond) could die in the next episode and I wouldn’t care. She is definitely no Donna Noble.

        • I loved Tennant at the time but they had a tendency to over humanise his Doctor and make him into a superhero esque character.
          I do agree about the writing seeming rushed in this season though, although it all came together at the end.
          How can you not like Amy?!?!?!

          • Amy’s ok but she (to me) isn’t nearly as fun as Donna. Donna will always be my favorite companion. She was truly The Doctor’s best friend. There was never any love interest between them. The Doctor and Donna seemed to have the strongest chemistry. I LOVED their banter back and forth but she was always there to pull him back when he would get just a little too crazy. I will say though, I didn’t really care for Tennant’s last “season”. The specials felt a little weird to me. I hated how they brought back The Master and gave him his strange powers. Although I liked how they explained the drumming and that he redeemed himself in the end.
            Don’t get me wrong though, i’ll always be a huge Who fan. I’ll definitely stick through Smith’s run as The Doctor. He IS fun when the writing is good.

  14. Eh, I kind of liked the idea that there would come a time when things would reach it’s end with The Doctor’s 13th form. Of course, the end of the 13th Doctor would have meant a world without The Doctor, which would have been rather depressing.

    Still, the idea that there could be infinite numbers of Doctors in the future is an odd one.

  15. “Matt Smith currently plays the eleventh regeneration of The Doctor and there‚Äôs been no word yet on how many more seasons he will be on the show.”

    Well, there was that rumor back in July that he wanted to leave after the upcoming split series, but it was in the Sun, so I can’t vouch for it’s reliability. I think if he ducks out after only 26 episodes, they’ll have to make the doctor immortal, or they’ll be down to their last two actors. I mean, it’s not like there’s some scientific reason he can’t be immortal, because they’re making up all the science on the show anyway.

    • The Sun is usually pretty reliable with their Doctor Who predictions, but keys hope they are wrong because I want Smith to stay for a few more years. In just five years we’ve had 3 new Doctors, it cheapens the effect on the viewer if they just keep killing him.
      They should make the actors gave longer contracts.

  16. Remember, it’s also possible for a Time Lord to be so severely injured they cannot die, or the regeneration can go wrong. The Doctor DID die in “Turn Left,” with the pressure of the water being too much for his system, and he died before he could regenerate. Given each time he has done so, so far, he’s been mortally wounded (or it’s been triggered by someone else) – 1 was self-induced, 2 was triggered, 3 was radiation (and triggered), 4 was a broken back (but he was still conscious), 5 was a disease, 6 was an explosion that was fatal, but left his body mostly intact. I didn’t see 7, sadly. 8 was off-screen. 9 was the radiation from the Vortex, and 10 was radiation from the reactor in the manor.

    With the exception of the TV movie (which I am unfamiliar with), none of them were exceptionally violent or physically destructive. A Dalek’s gun, Jack’s disruptor (which disintegrates matter), a fire, acid, or other extreme environment – maybe even the Tissue Compression Eliminator could all damage the body so severely and / or so quickly that it might not be able to regenerate. The Doctor even mentions this when he’s about to be frozen in “42.” Heck, for all we know, decapitation could do it, too.

    I wouldn’t say the Doctor is immortal, so much as he now has a much, much longer lifespan. It can still be ended prematurely if he’s not careful.

    • Did you mean CAN die in your first sentence, Geoffrey? That’s certainly the way I see it, anyway: extending the regenerations doesn’t mean he’s Captain Scarlet all of a sudden. BTW, the 7th Doctor was shot, triggering his regeneration into Paul McGann.

      • Er, whoops. Yes, thank you!

        • The TV movie was the only regeneration that seemed to set in after he’d died for real, which also supports what you were saying about him being mortally wounded – although they did try to make out the Doctor was half human for some reason…

          It’s a shame McGann didn’t get a decent stab at the Doctor; one of the things I thought they did get right, which they haven’t really explored yet in the new series , is the sheer scale of the TARDIS interior. Carpets! A library! An armchair to kick back and enjoy a brandy in!

          • Well you see more of the Tardis interior in season 6! More rooms, including the drawing room and the library.

              • From what I’ve seen, it isn’t half that interesting.

                • DOH! :-D

  17. Jack, on the other hand, is immortal. The poor bastard… ;-)

    • Well, the Face Of Boe dies…

      • Nearly had a heart attack when they revealed that Jack was The Face of Boe. That was awesome.

  18. @truf – Rassilon was the original Time Lord. A contemporary and compatriot of Omega – both Gallifreyan. They had already made great inroads and contributions to Gallifreyan society, life extension etc. Then, along with the Other (a character who supposedly was a version of the Doctor if you believe the “Cartmel Masterplan”) they decided to create time travel. In order to do this, they needed to harness the power of a black hole. Omega used a device he created (The Hand of Omega) to cause a star to go nova and turn into a black hole, but was lost on the other side of the black hole, thus not really being the first true Time Lord (but still existing in an anti-matter type universe. Rassilon entered into the black hole with instruments of protection that later became symbols of office. (The Sash of Rassilon, etc. In fact the in-joke is that everything is “The _________ of Rassilon”) Rassilon captured the essence of the black hole in a device called the Eye-of-Harmony which was balanced in a perpetual dynamic against the mass of the planet Gallifrey, giving the subsequent Time Lords all the power they needed to conduct their experiments and run their society. In fact, it becomes a law that they are not allowed to go back into their own timestream or it might undo their power over time. So by the Doctor’s era, the watchers of the timelines had ironically lost touch with the very power that ran their world and the history of Rassilon. Seems all good and well, yes?
    Well, in the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors in 1983, it is discovered that some legends of Rassilon were dark ones, and that he used a Time Scoop to grab hostile aliens from through-out time and space and make them fight in the Death Zone. Eventually he decided it was all wrong. The early Time Lords tried to accelerate technology in a show of altruism on the planet Minyos which then blew itself to pieces. This began their non-interference policy. So it would seem that Rassilon was an okay, if occasionally unstable guy. The Tomb of Rassilon is located in the Death Zone. A tomb would seem to indicate that he is dead. And yet we know that Time Lords before death have their minds placed into the giant APC net known as The Matrix – so Time Lords still “live” on in the Matrix, and we also know that they can keep their bio-data on file. The Doctors meet a visage of Rassilon in his tomb, who leads a Time Lord (Borusa – an old teacher of the Doctor’s) that has gone astray into is trap of immortality. Boruse, whom we see in several incarnations, seems like a decent fellow. But in his last incarnation, he goes a bit wonky and starts craving immortality. Rassilon turns him into stone.
    So it seems a bit weird that good guys Rassilon and Borusa go awry. The only explanation I can come up with is that after living so many lives, the flesh corrupts, and only a mental presence in the Matrix is “pure”. In this same anniversary special, the Time Lord High Council offer the Master a new cycle of regenerations – so there! It CAN be done, and the 2nd Doctor’s statement that a Time Lord can “live forever barring accidents” holds true. Which makes the 12 regen limit an artificial imposition perhaps concocted by the Time Lords/Rassilon to defeat megolomaniacal immortalists from taking over. In the comics, we find that Rassilon does indeed live within the Matrix, and that it is he who is actually sending the Doctor on a lot of adventures!!!
    We know that the Master got sucked into the link to the Eye-of-Harmony in the cloister room of the TARDIS in the t.v. movie. The Eye-of-Harmony and the Matrix seem to be linked, so it is not inconceivable that the Master existed in the Matrix until the Time Lords need to ressurect him for the Time War. If they could ressurect HIM out of the Matrix, then surely they could ressurect Rassilon. So Timothy Dalton in The End of Time was either playing a ressurected Rassilon who’s manifestation in the flesh corrupted him, or he was just another President who was NAMED Rassilon who was already corrupt.

    Just my theory, but it fits all the facts.

    Geekily yours,


    • Maybe a Time Lord lives too long…

  19. This doesn’t really change anything, so long as the Doctor can still die – e.g. be killed by a (properly aimed) blast from a Dalek gun. But if he’s immortal in the way that Captain Jack is – throw him into a nuclear explosion or a black hole and he bounces back unfazed – then no, no, a thousand times no! He’s already got an encyclopaedic knowledge of every world in the universe, a magic wand (sorry sonic screwdriver) with a “save the world” setting, he’s a lonely God and an Oncoming Storm, and his wrath is terrible to behold…..

    If this keeps up, the writers will have to invent the Who version of kryptonite just to make the stories vaguely interesting!

  20. Janet, no Reply buttons left so I’ll put this down here. I’ve just realised I was wrong about the Hartnell/Troughton regeneration footage. It’s there but incomplete. And apparently audio DOES exist for all the missing episodes, although some of it’s comprised of home recordings.

  21. Whoever said they hadn’t seen ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, think yourself lucky.
    An appallingly horrendous episode and a criminal waste of the incredible talents of Tennant.
    This episode is also an example of why stunt casting most definitely does not work. It was never going to be great, but if they’d cast a far more suitable actress, who actually possessed talent, as opposed to plumping for the PR opportunities with lame headlines, it may have been slightly less execrable.

  22. just an random idea but when the doctor had to reset the universe maybe he reset himself giving him more regeneration cycles hence at least another 14 or 15 series

  23. Matt Smith may be only the 11th Doctor, but he’s the 12th regeneration. The 10th Doctor, David Tennant, regenerated without changing his form in the episodes about the Daleks and Davros stealing planets to create the Reality Bomb, using the hand that got cut off by the Atraxi during his own first episode.