Steven Moffat Hints That We’ve Miscounted The Doctor’s Regenerations

By David Wharton | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

RegenWe’re a little over a month away from Doctor Who’s no-doubt-epic 50th anniversary special, and the rumors continue to fly. Actually, is it still a rumor if it’s a case of executive producer Steven Moffat deliberately kicking the anthill to keep Who fans guessing? Well, whatever you want to call it, Moffat has taken his best cleats to that anthill by hinting that the fans have somehow miscounted how many times the Doctor has regenerated.

Time Lords are sort of like cats in that they have multiple lives. If they’re mortally wounded, they can regenerate into a new body and go on about their business. According to the show’s mythology, this can happen twelve times, and Moffat himself confirmed that limit a few months ago. Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor is the Doctor’s eleventh regeneration (the second Doctor is the product of the first regeneration, the third is the second, and so on.) So whenever Capaldi decides to leave, whoever replaces him would be the Thirteenth Doctor, and thus, by the existing rules, the last Doctor. There’s no question, however, that the show will find a loophole when that time comes, since the BBC is going to want Doctor Who to continue as long as it remains a success.


During an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Moffat again confirmed the twelve-regeneration limit but then added, “I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There’s something you’ve all missed.”

So what the hell does that mean?


There had already been much speculation that Capaldi would actually be the Thirteenth — and thus, theoretically, final — Doctor, owing to the issue of John Hurt’s character in the anniversary special. He was identified as “The Doctor” in the final moments of the seventh season finale, with the suggestion being that he was an incarnation of the Doctor we didn’t know about, likely the one who fought in the time war. General consensus is that Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor regenerated into Hurt’s character, who eventually regenerated into Eccleston (Hurt has been photographed on set wearing recognizable costume elements from both of those Doctors. So if that’s true, then Hurt was Nine, Eccleston Ten, David Tennant Eleven, Matt Smith Twelve, and Peter Capaldi Thirteen. So is Moffat just hinting at that potential revelation?

That would be the most obvious explanation, except…Moffat says to go back to our DVDs and recount. That seems to suggest he’s referring to something further back, something that is there in the open that nobody has noticed yet. And since the nature of Hurt’s Doctor hasn’t yet been confirmed, we shouldn’t be able to count the Doctor number-shifting as official, so what else could it be?

If the answer can indeed be found somewhere in the show’s history, it is likely the loophole Moffat plans to use to get around the regeneration limit. He has shown a knack for taking existing elements of the show and turning them on their head, so him latching on to some seemingly insignificant bit of trivia and making it a crucial part of the Doctor’s future would be right up his alley.

And there are already theories. The Radio Times piece that reported Moffat’s quote points out that the Tenth Doctor called upon his regenerative energies to regrow his severed hand in Tennant’s first episode, so could that be the key? If that does count as a regeneration, then it would mean that Capaldi would already be over the limit. Also, the Master has already circumvented the regeneration limit, so there’s certainly precedent for this sort of thing.

What do you think Mofffat is hinting at? Sound off in the comments.

The Doctor Who 50th anniversary special will air on November 23rd.