Matt Smith as the Doctor in 'Doctor Who'
(BBC)

Steven Moffat Confirms What We Always Suspected About the Doctor’s Regeneration Limit

Steven Moffat is finally offering a definitive answer on the Doctor’s regeneration limit in Doctor Who, but if we’re being honest, we’ve known the answer all along.

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The long-running sci-fi series follows the Doctor, an extraterrestrial being who travels through space and time in his TARDIS to save the world. One aspect that has allowed the show to continue since its debut in 1963 is the Doctor’s ability to regenerate. Essentially, anytime the Doctor is fatally wounded or reaches old age, their body regenerates. The Doctor still maintains all of their memories but has an entirely new body with its own personality, style, and identity. Hence, anytime an actor wishes to leave the role of the Doctor, another actor simply takes their place, allowing the show to continue indefinitely.

Doctor Who has established that Time Lords can only regenerate a total of 12 times. So, once they were on their 13th incarnation, there would be no more regenerations. Soon, the show revealed that Matt Smith, originally the Eleventh Doctor, was actually the Thirteenth Doctor due to the introduction of the War Doctor (John Hurt) and a past incident where the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) technically regenerated into himself. Fortunately, the show worked around the issue by having the Time Lords grant the Eleventh Doctor another set of regenerations.

The Doctor’s origins were retconned in The Timeless Child arc, which establishes that the Doctor is not Gallifreyan. The reveal raised many questions about whether the Doctor would still have a regeneration limit like a typical Time Lord, even though they’re not actually from Gallifrey.

Steven Moffat provides a definitive answer on the regeneration limit

Moffat recently returned to Doctor Who to write the new episode “Boom.” While speaking to CinemaBlend about his return, Moffat was asked about the Timeless Child arc and what it means for the Doctor’s regeneration. Moffat responded that, even before the recent retcon, the character always had limitless regenerations. After all, it wasn’t like the show was ever going to stop just because the regenerations ran out. He also pointed out that there have long been hints that there are even more iterations of the Doctor out there than appear in the series. So, the idea of a limit has never really worked. Moffat explained:

I’ll tell you the truth about The Doctor’s regeneration. He’s always had an infinite number of regenerations because it wasn’t like we were ever going to stop the show because he ran out! ‘Oh, I have to stop now. It’s number 13.’ That was never going to happen. So it’s always been a narrative contrivance. There are no contradictions. You can make everything fit. If you know your Doctor Who, you know that there were more incarnations of The Doctor in the past than we thought because there were some we saw in ‘The Brain of Morbius.’

Of course, this raises a question about what happened in “The Time Of The Doctor,” when the Eleventh Doctor was seemingly granted another cycle of regenerations. According to Moffat, we don’t actually know what happened there. He suggested that perhaps the Time Lords just did “a bit of smoke and mirrors on him.” Ultimately, as long as the show continues, the Doctor has infinite regenerations because, regardless of any lore, the show will always find some “narrative contrivance” to bring them back.

Moffat’s answer isn’t really surprising. Any fan of the show knows just as well as its creators do that if there is to be more Doctor Who, there will always be more regenerations. And if everyone already knows that the Doctor is never going to run out of regenerations, why are we even still pretending there’s a limit? There are probably some fans out there who were expecting a more sophisticated answer to the mystery of the regeneration limit. However, the whole thing has become so messy that it’s quite clear that any attempt to explain the past iterations, “The Time Of The Doctor,” and the Timeless Child will probably be silly and unconvincing. The easiest thing to do is just accept that the Doctor always had infinite regenerations and leave it at that.


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.