‘Doctor Who’: Regeneration Count Explained

Published 1 year ago by

doctor who regenerations Doctor Who: Regeneration Count Explained

[Warning: Massive Spoilers About the Doctor Who Christmas Special Ahead]


Ever since Doctor Who showrunner and executive producer Steven Moffat let it slip that both John Hurt’s “War Doctor” and the so-called “Meta-Crisis Doctor” counted as full regenerations – making Matt Smith’s Doctor the last Last of the Time Lords – Whovians and other observers have obsessed over an algebraic equation: The Old Doctor’s Death + X = The New Doctor’s Life.

Going into last night’s Christmas Special, we knew that we would get an answer to that question, but when we finally got to see more than Peter Capaldi’s robust eyebrows in the TARDIS following Smith’s explosive and emotionally eviscerating exit (“Raggedy Man, goodnight”), we were left with a few more questions.

Obviously, if you dashed past the spoiler warning, one assumes that you are aware that – much like the moment in the 50th Anniversary Special when the War Doctor’s hand hovered over the big red button, perched on the verge of massacring two races to end the Time War and save the whole of space and time – the Doctor found himself in a situation where he could not get it right.

doctor who regenerations christmas Doctor Who: Regeneration Count Explained

Here, the Doctor makes his last stand in a town called Christmas that sits on Trenzalore – the prophesized place of his death. The Doctor does this because he is without his TARDIS, but also out of an obligation to keep the people of Christmas and the people of the universe safe from the Time Lords who want to return through that pesky schism between time and space that has plagued this Doctor, and the consequences of their return – a new Time War.

Growing older and more feeble as the centuries crawl by, the Doctor explains to Clara – who has returned with the TARDIS after being lost in time – that his song is ending, clarifying the regeneration limit for her and us.

Obviously, this wasn’t a surprise, but it does prompt questions like: how did the next Doctor (Capaldi) have a hand in the rescue of Gallifrey without the current Doctor noticing his presence? Also, doesn’t this revelation undermine the scene in “Let’s Kill Hitler” where the Doctor thinks that he will re-generate while talking to the TARDIS’ voice interface (in the form of young Amelia Pond) after being poisoned by River Song’s kiss?

In that moment, though, the TARDIS’ voice interface tells the Doctor, “Regeneration disabled”, so is it possible that the TARDIS is letting the Doctor know that he has hit his cap? That’s just one theory out of dozens that will emerge following last night’s episode.

doctor who regenerations clara Doctor Who: Regeneration Count Explained

How and why the Doctor got his new regenerations is a little less ambiguous. Clara, who was once again sent away, returns to be by the Doctor’s side, but as he goes to battle the Dalek’s one last time, she stays behind and begs the Time Lord’s to help the Doctor, which they do, by sending him a new regeneration (or is it a new cycle of 12 regenerations? More questions.) through another gash in time and space.

The Time Lords ability to do this exists in the canon of Doctor Who (the Master was given extra regenerations), and though it isn’t explicitly laid out, extending the same gift to the Doctor is surely in the Time Lord’s best interests. The Doctor won’t likely go back to Trenzalore to utter his true name into the schism to bring the Time Lord’s back anytime soon (though, why wasn’t Clara’s chat enough to do it?), but he is the one who saved Gallifrey and he is the Time Lords’ only hope for an eventual return.

The Doctor’s recollection of his people has been hot and cold over the years, with a mix of reverence and disgust coloring his words, but while returning the Time Lords is no easy decision (or feat), and while they aren’t exactly the Doctor’s allies, he’ll surely take the benefits of their desperate overture.

In the end, though, none of this really matters. That’s not to minimize the importance of canon and the Doctor Who mythos, but some kind of regeneration reboot was guaranteed to keep the show on the air at a high point in its popularity. Whether you agree or disagree with how it was done, it’s likely that you are excited by the future of Doctor Who (while mourning the loss of Matt Smith), but as is always the case, it’s not the regeneration that matters, it’s what the Doctor does with it.


Doctor Who is set to return in autumn 2014.

Follow Jason Tabrys on Twitter @jtabrys
TAGS: Doctor who
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. 11 says that they have given him a whole new ‘regeneration cycle’, so that’s an additional thirteen regenerations he has now.

    Also, I got the impression from the episode that the Time Lords’ had the ability to force their way out of the crack at any point they wished, but they could not SEE through it, so they were simply waiting for an all-clear from the Doctor (by asking him to give his birth name as proof of identity). Clara’s request let them know that, whilst the Doctor is there, he was in need of their aid, which by extension means the path is not safe for them to return.

    • That’s an excellent explanation, thank you!

    • Which makes me wonder if the Time Lords will force their way out at the end of another season, or will The Doctor find a way to go through the crack and make it to Gallifrey.

    • But when talking about the whole new cycle of regenerations.. In the 50th anniversary episode didnt the Capaldi’s Doctor said that “all thirteen of them are here” to save Gallifrey. Did it mean that there will only be thirteen versions of the docor? or did it mean that we will see Gallifrey back before a 14th doctor? That is the question that i was left with!

    • Just to be clear, its 12 new regeneration’s ( well 11 now because he’s used one)

  2. I think it’s interesting that The Doctor has gain a new regeneration cycle. Moffat did say he wanted Doctor Who to last another 50 years. So this a way to do it.

  3. FYI – The regeneration limit is laid out in a classic DW episode called “The Deadly Assassin”, featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor. DW does battle with the Master on Gallifrey…… So it’s canon.

    Moffat is clever. He wrote Gallifrey into the Christmas story just enough for them to give the Doctor more regenerations but not enough to bring the Time Lords back. That will be a challenge for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor to face later.

    • The Time Lords ARE back. In The Day of the Doctor, Gallifrey was saved.

      • They’re not back though, they exist in a pocket universe.

        They’re alive now, sure, just not back yet.

        • Okay yeah. That’s true. I was kind of thinking they meant the same thing. Didn’t realize that.

  4. what I don’t get is why all the doctors enemies were there. the doctor had no intention of speaking his name and letting the time lords back into the universe because of the whole theory that they would bring a second time war. they were all there to prevent the doctor from speaking his name, the silence were there to help him. wouldn’t it just have been easier for him to just LEAVE (while the TARDIS was there of course) than surely all the daleks, cybermen etc would have seen no reason to attack in the first place. even after flicking through the episode again I still cannot figure this out, can someone explain this? I’m a lifelong Doctor Who fan and even I found this episode really overindulged and confusing.

    • His enemies were there because they didn’t know whether The Doctor would speak his name or not and felt they couldn’t risk him releasing the Time Lords. Also, if he had told them that he didn’t intend on saying his name they weren’t to know he was lying as The Doctor has a history of lying.
      The Doctor was also afraid of what his enemies might do to the planet if he left as he wasn’t certain whether the Daleks or Cybermen, etc. would simply destroy it. Neither side knew what the other was planning, hence The Doctor ended up staying on the planet for over 300 years.

    • He couldn’t leave, he sent Clara home to protect her and the TARDIS took 300 years to come back for him.

      After growing old there, he no longer wanted to leave.

    • When the signal first was being beamed out, they simply followed it because it filled them with fear.

      At this point they did not know what the message meant. It was only when the Doctor reached the crack – and translated the message, they would have learnt of it meant.

    • His enemies were there to destroy the planet (and the crack along with it) to prevent the Doctor being able to ever open it, the only reason it hadn’t been destroyed already was because the papal mainframe was protecting it, he stayed to protect it and the people living on it

  5. Quite sure it is another cycle of regenerations. So that handles that for another two or three decades at the least. That works out fine for me.

  6. And when they’ve used up the next 13 Doctors they’ll come up with another convenient event in order to gain another 13. The Doctor will never die.

    Hopefully by then they’ll have someone who can write a coherent story though.

  7. Question:Did I miss something or where did this Cyberman head came from the Doctor had with him ???

    • Thank you! That’s one of the first questions I had during the episode. Did I miss a mini-episode or something?

      • Didn’t he say he picked it up at an intergalactic flea market or something when he was explaining it to clara?

        • just watched the episode prior to writing this comment. he said he picked it up at the Maldovar market.

  8. “That’s not to minimize the importance of canon and the Doctor Who mythos…”
    Well, why not? It’s impossible to minimize the importance of something that doesn’t exist. There IS no canon to Doctor Who. A continuity, maybe, and a loose one at that. Canon, though? Doctor Who doesn’t even remotely have one.

    • Agree. As long as its somewhat based. And that includes the Paul McGann’s Doctor series of audio books.

  9. The doctor explains to Clara in the tardis that he picked the cyberman head up at a alien market.

    • Thanks for answering that ! Must have missed it !

  10. I tried getting into this series so many times and i just cant do it. There is no continuity everything gets rewritten over and over. I will never understand the popularity of this series.

    • It’s okay. You don’t have to like it. There is continuity. Certain aliens and certain rules from the early Doctors still show up in new episodes. The old episodes were all in multiple parts, ending in cliff hangers. Each episode was a continuation. The newer episodes are sometimes like that, but sometimes each week brings a new story. There is continuity but there are a lot of new elements being brought in to make it different and fresh. The series is really in depth, it’s really good. Good doesn’t mean everyone has to like it. There are good bands out there that I just don’t enjoy. But Doctor Who does appeal to many different age groups and many different kinds of people, that’s why it’s so popular. :)

  11. When watching Doctor Who, I have come to realies that nothing canon. One thing that frustrates me about the show is that nothing is sacred. The writers come up with crazy “rules” as to what the doctor can’t do only to break them when it’s convienent to extend the show or progress a plot line. Think of all the events that were time locked or paradoxes.

  12. Why am I the only one he realizes the implications and events set into motion. This confirmed that Matt Smith was the 13th doctor and that meta crisis David Tennant is technically the 12th. thats right human doctor is 12th. and doesnt the valeyard who is the darker side of the doctor himself somehow created or born between the 12th and 13th regenerations as was stated in the trial of a time lord. the valeyard who is trying to steal the doctors remaining regenerations back then and the fact that the human doctor with no regenerations is in fact the 12th seems waaay too big of a coincidence to me. especially when you consider that the great intelligence dropped the valeyards name only three episodes ago.

    • You must have a high opinion of yourself to think you’re “the only one” thinking about this kind of stuff.
      I’ll just say this: the Valeyard is supposed to be between the 12th and 13th incarnation of the Doctor.
      Who was “between” the human Tennant Doctor and Smith’s Doctor? The Doctor Donna.
      Mind: blown.

      • THE valeyard was never the doctor. Valeyard is timelord for “learned court prosecutor”. This was stated in “The mysterious planet”. Just because the doctor will be called ‘valeyard’ before all his lives are extinguished does not mean he would be the same person at all. The Great Intelligence simply states that “Valeyard” is one of the names by which the Doctor will be known before the end of his life(lives?). He very well could have taken that circumstance out of context as well, there are many ways to interpret that.

        • Just a minor correction for you: In “Trial of a Timelord” the Master says in a statement to the high council: “…the Valyard, or as I have always known him, The Doctor…”

  13. Well here’s what I don’t get. If he didn’t die at trenzalor doesn’t that mean Clara never jumped into his timeline thus never becoming the impossible girl. Also since she isn’t in his past when capaldi asked how do fly this thing could it be cuz Clara didn’t tell him to pick this tardis and make season 7 and the day of the doctor irrelevant.

    • It doesn’t quite rule out that he won’t eventually be buried there. It could be the 26th Doctor that ends up at Trenzalore, to the best of my understanding. It’s not something strictly limited to Matt Smith’s incarnation.

      • Well, it was sold that way in that episode. The Doctor’s whole timeline was contained within his tomb, and when Clara entered it that same timeline didn’t go beyond Smith’s Doctor.

        • The doctor specifically said that some of the doctors had not happened yet when he went in and rescued clara from his timeline at the preset and pulled clara out. She never had the chance to continue down the doctors timeline after he pulled her out.

          • No. That was the time line up to the 11th Doctor – because at that point, he had died and that was his last regeneration and that was left behind. Now that never happened so….

            • What do you mean it never happened? It just didn’t happen when he thought it was going to happen. It is set in stone now, when the doctor does finally die, it will be on Trenzalore. It is not written in stone WHEN that will be, but his regenerations did not change the fact that the doctor will have his final death on Trenzalore.

              • No. That changed. His death was fixed on Trenzalore, until the Time Lords intervened and gave him a new regeneration cycle, so that has changed now. Trenzalore will no longer be his final resting place.

    • Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Whimey

  14. The Doctor himself says that he received a new cycle. The High Council must have granted it to him as they did the Master.

  15. I’m very confused about the Valeyard. Anyone want to explain, in depth? :)

  16. I like this show. It’s pure imagination, on crack.

  17. The Valeyard.. a time lord who ,with the aid of the Timelords, brought the 6th Doctor to court.. Trial of a Timelord… worth watching.. one of 6ths best…

    • So, he’s not an incarnation of the Doctor? I haven’t seen any 6th Doctor episodes but I’ll be sure to now!

      • No, he’s not an incarnation of the Doctor, but the Master describes him as an amalgamation of the darker sides of the Doctor’s nature, which manifested from somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations. Those exact words, not mentioning the number of his final incarnation, so the Valeyard still has time to manifest.

        • Thank you! I found this very helpful.

  18. My only question about the doctor being out of regenerations lies in the impossible astronaut episode where the doctor’s future self is shot and begins to regenerate until being shot again and killed. Would that not be possible under this new storyline? It showed that he had another regeneration remaining.

    • It was also out a fake the whole time if you recall. Basically a giant “Doctor” suit. They could very well have put in “regeneration lookalike special effects” into their little suit as most people even in the doctor who universe would have been expecting such a thing.

    • Wow, great point! I forgot about that. I’m going to rewatch that episode.

  19. “though, why wasn’t Clara’s chat enough to do it?”
    Really? You think that a girl’s (however impossible she may be) pep talk can even be compared with the last question? the first question the one that MUST NEVER be answered