OpinionTelevision & Film

Circumventing The Regeneration Limit


So the next Doctor is going to be Peter Capaldi. Although I think he will be a good Doctor, I have a hard time seeing it, and probably will until I actually see it. (For everyone who lives under a rock, sorry for the spoilers, Sweetie. You should really come to the surface more often.) Now comes the return of the end-of-the-Doctor paranoia. Capaldi is being billed as the 12th Doctor. But if John Hurt’s Doctor is really in between Paul McGann’s and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctors, then Capaldi becomes the final Doctor at number 13. Some Whovians are in full panic mode. Executive producer and head writer Stephen Moffat, on the other hand, has said to the effect that the writers should be able to work around the regeneration limit.

It's Doctor number 12 ... or 13.
It’s Doctor number 12 … or 13.

As much fun as being a Doctor Who writer would be, I’m too unknown and too … um … American. But if I were to write for Doctor Who, here are a few possible ways I would think of to circumvent the regeneration limit:

If The Master Can Do It …

In the 1996 movie done for the Fox Network, the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) was transporting the Master, who had used up all his regenerations. His final death was apparently a ruse. But in the series reboot, we see a couple more versions of the Master. Sure, there was the whole Time War thing with the Time Lords bringing the Master back. But even without Gallifreyan technology, if the Master can cheat death, why can’t the Doctor?

A Freebie

Imagine the Doctor is taking on an enemy who has access to some Time Lord technology. In the end, the enemy is defeated, and the Time Lord technology is destroyed. When it’s destroyed, it releases an energy wave identical to a Gallifreyan’s regeneration energy. This causes the Doctor to regenerate without using his own energy. He starts to say something and realizes something is different. “Did I regenerate?” There you go. A freebie!

Another Freebie?

At the end of the trial of the 2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton), he was forced to regenerate into the 3rd Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and was banished to Earth (The War Games). But was he forced to use his own energy to regenerate? Or was this energy used by the Time Lords? Another possible freebie?

A Gift From River Song

Professor River Song was conceived on board the TARDIS. Strangely enough, this gave her the ability to regenerate just like a Time Lord. What is not known is exactly how many regenerations she had. We can probably assume that it’s no more than the Doctor. All we know is that we only saw four incarnations of Melody Pond (River Song). First was her as a baby when she was taken away from Amy Pond. We saw her as a little girl. (Since she knew she could regenerate and what it was like would indicate that she had regenerated before.) Then she was Amy and Rory’s rambunctious friend Mels. Finally, we saw who we commonly know as Dr. Song. That’s four. How many did she have left?

In Let’s Kill Hitler, River heals Matt Smith’s Doctor by using all of her remaining regeneration energy. Did she give the Doctor more than he needed? One would have to wonder how many regenerations that would be worth.

The Watcher

Okay, so get this. There’s some odd white-clad alien-looking creature called the Watcher turning up all over the place. When Tom Baker’s (4th) Doctor perishes in a fall in Logopolis, the Watcher approaches him and merges with him, resulting in Peter Davison’s (5th) Doctor. His companion Nyssa identifies that the Watcher was really the Doctor all the time. I don’t recall this ever being fully explained. But it was still an external entity merging with the Doctor. How much energy could that have provided? At least one more freebie?

Evil Doctor

This one’s a bit of a stretch. Imagine a version of the Doctor who is just plain evil. He wipes out an entire planet and somehow absorbs energy from the planet and its dying inhabitants. That Doctor is quickly dispensed of and regenerates to a good Doctor who (see what I did there?) is regretful and remorseful about what has happened, but still has an ungodly amount of regenerations remaining. Could this be what John Hurt’s Doctor did during the Time War?

Just how bad will John make people Hurt?
Just how bad will John make people Hurt?

My Personal Favorite

In “The Parting Of The Ways”, the Doctor’s companion Rose briefly gained extraordinary power from the TARDIS. This power not only allowed her to wipe out an entire Dalek strike force, but she was also able to heal Captain Jack Harkness, making him nearly immortal. So we know that the TARDIS has some extraordinary healing abilities. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, we find out that, as far as the TARDIS is concerned, the TARDIS stole a Time Lord, just as it was vice versa. She wanted a Time Lord with a sense of adventure, which was found in the Doctor. So it would stand to reason that the TARDIS would enjoy seeing the various incarnations of the Doctor, but wouldn’t ever want to see him go away. Perhaps the Doctor can later discover that the TARDIS has been gradually replenishing the Doctor’s energy. Not too long after regeneration, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor would then have as many regenerations remaining as William Hartnell’s Doctor did. Problem solved.

The Switcharoo

The Doctor may be the last Time Lord, but he is certainly not the last Gallifreyan. There are two others. First of all, there’s the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan. As a teenager, she was with the original Doctor as a companion until she decided to remain on Earth while the Doctor continued to travel throughout time and space. Then there’s the Doctor’s daughter, Jenny, in the episode appropriately titled “The Doctor’s Daughter”. She was made from DNA from the Doctor. Either one could theoretically take the Doctor’s place. And with the power of the TARDIS, it would be interesting if the TARDIS can actually make a non-Gallifreyan into a Time Lord. That opens up the replacement possibilities even more.

One of the other "Last of the Time Lords".
One of the other “Last of the Time Lords”.

The Sixth Doctor

Okay, there’s nothing relevant with this one. But Colin Baker is the only Doctor who hasn’t been mentioned yet in this article. To skip him while mentioning the others would be unforgivable.

The Doctor Is Forever!

So there you go. There are definitely ways to avoid running into the brick wall of Time Lord regeneration limits, some good, some less so. And if this is what my own mind can come up with, just think of what Moffat and company can come up with! So no matter what the so-called “limits” are, as long as there is television and the ratings for Doctor Who are high enough, there will always be The Doctor!


Daniel C. Handley

Dan Handley was raised a Trekkie, fell in love with "Star Wars" at an early age, and became obsessed with comic book superheroes. He spent his youth dreaming of how to get real superpowers, starships, and so on.

32 thoughts on “Circumventing The Regeneration Limit

  • River didn’t heal 11 in “Angels Take Manhattan”. I think youre getting it confused with the part where the Doctor heals River’s wrist that she broke getting away from the Angel. River (right after regenerating from Mels) healed the Doctor in “Let’s Kill Hitler” after she had poisoned him with the lipstick.

    • D’oh! You’re right. I knew that. But I was writing the article so quickly, I put in the wrong title. Thanks for catching it. I’ll change it.

  • You gotta remember too he reset the universe with big bang 2, did he reset his regenerations also? time will tell !

    Also River did give her remaining regenerations to heal the doctor

    • Good point about the universal resetting. But by acknowledging the previous Doctors, I think that still verifies that energy was used.

      • you gotta remember 3 things

        Moffat lies
        the doctor lies
        riversong lies

        so til it happens and is written I believe nothing 😛

  • It’s also been pointed out on our Facebook page that there’s a possibility the bit about 13 generations could only have been an arbitrary number imposed by Rasillon and the Time Lord Council. And since they no longer figure into the mix, maybe the 13-generation limit doesn’t come into play at all. It should be interesting to see how it plays out, especially when we get answers as to which Doctor John Hurt may or may not be.

    • Hurt is suppose to be in a few episodes to explain everything, I know hes in the 50th 🙂

  • Also in the Sarah jane adventures The Doctor told clyde he had 507 regenerations in the episode called death of the doctor

    • Rule number one: The Doctor lies. The question is whether or not he was being honest.

  • Okay, what every one is missing is that it’s not about how much regenerative energy The Doctor has left. The 13 limit exists because after that, the body/cells simply can’t handle it anymore and they deteriorate and eventually die. Regenerating for a 13th time means deatj. It’s a simple as that. The Doctor could have all the regenerative energy in the world and it wouldn’t help him. What he needs is an entirely new body. Not just a re-arrangement of his own cells, but a completely new body and for that the easiest and quickest way is to steal a body, something The Doctor wouldn’t do. And honestly, I don’t think The Doctor is looking for a way past his limit. He’s not like The Master who is/was constantly trying to find ways to extend his own longevity by any means necessary.

    As for the Watcher, that was just a projection of his Future self (The 5th Doctor) sent to help him along with his process. Similar thing with K’anpo Rimpoche and Cho Je. Wouldn’t be much help there.

    As for the Jenny/Susan thing, no. That should not ever happen. It’s Doctor Who not Susan Who or Jenny Who. I didn’t like Jenny at the best of times so changing the shows focus from The Doctor to her would be a middle finger to me and every other sane fan out there and while I have nothing against Susan, again it is The Doctor’s show, not hers.

    • If it’s cell deterioration, the TARDIS could still be healing him without his knowledge.

      • Okay for one, the doctor lies, moffat lies, river lies
        2 – the master had more regenerations then 13
        3 – if you guys read the name of the doctor for the confused it points out that john hurt’s character is actually the 9th doctor, if you remember when Chris’ version of the doctor how he spoke during his time as the doctor “they all burned I watched it happen and I made it happen” the only author of the time war book is the doctor himself, matt’s version of the doctor said to john hurt “you didn’t do it in the name of the doctor” John’s version is the black sheep doctor, the version they are all trying to forget

        more can be found here


        to me it makes a lot of sense and points

      • oh and for the record too, hes not the valeyard, if you watch the trial of a time lord with the 6th doctor you would know that

      • And consider, too, the fact that the TARDIS apparently healed Grace and Chang Lee — bringing them back to life — during the 8th Doctor’s first adventure…

      • I think the evil doctor theory has potential. Even if it’s not John Hurt, what about the Valeyard? Who if I recall was obsessed with extending his own life (to the extent that he was trying to steal the previous doctor’s future incarnations)

    • Here’s the thing Stewart, no offense but its just a show (I wish it wasn’t but). The only reason his cells and body would die is because at the time the writers thought the show wouldn’t last as long as it has. They gave a safe number so that if show suddenly bombed they could end it. But look at its popularity now. Do you honestly think they are going to allow the show to end when it has risen so far. I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, for I don’t mean it that way. I just wanted to throw my two cents in

  • I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this but, 10 broke time laws when he saved the lady from the space station on mars. He became limitless and realized the laws of time are his. Maybe the regen limit was just a rule, not like an actual thing. Maybe it was a limit in law only made by time lords to stop over population or something but in actuality they can live forever.

  • I’m sure, in “The Switcheroo” why they said IF… IF the TARDIS could create a Gallifreyan… it ALREADY HAS, evidenced by River, or rather, when she was conceived, she was Melody Pond. She regenerated 3 times that we know of- from her little girl self (potentially into Mels and more possibly into others before her) and then from Mels into River… at which point River gave up the rest of her regenerations to heal the Doctor. So yes, the TARDIS CAN effectively create more regenerations for the Doctor, since it can create Gallifreyans from HUMAN DNA… it can repair Gallifreyan DNA and therefore potentially create MANY more regenerations for the Doctor.

    • Technically, the only thing River Song had in common with a Gallifreyan is the ability to regenerate. There wasn’t any claim made about any other physiological aspects, like two hearts. We also don’t know how many regenerations River Song had. So it can be assumed that the TARDIS can create a Gallifreyan out of a human. But all we’ve seen so far is just the regeneration aspect.

      • River has two hearts. At the end of “Let’s Kill Hitler,” if you look closely at the monitor showing her vital signs, it clearly shows her having two hearts.

        • HAD two hearts. I hadn’t noticed that. Maybe creating a Time Lord is a piece of cake for the TARDIS.

          • back in the classics the producer cracked a joke about 13 times, then tom baker mentioned it in a episode, thing is with matt’s and other doctors comments about possibilities being endless I am sure they are talking regenerations too

            Like some ppl are tossing a fit about Peter being in the show before, thing is some dont’ remember Romona 2 when she controlled her regenerations, she came out of the room in the T.A.R.D.I.S and looked at the 4th doctor and asked what he thought then he said “to tall” “to short” and finally she regenerated to look like the one princess they ran into, so its possible for a time lord to control appearance if they concentrate hard enough, what says they can’t do that with how many times they do it, the master had more then 13 regenerations he was given more by the time lords, River used up many, even to save the doctors life, what says she didn’t give him her remaining ones, reset of the universe for big bang 2 maybe he reset his regenerations too

            the possibilities are endless…

    • Um… I didn’t read the whole thing, lol!

    • I thought that was a joke, like he ALWAYS does when he talks that fast!

  • As far as Jenny I think she regenerated and is married to the lizard lady she just compressed her memories in a fob watch =)

  • Regeneration vegan when Rassilon developed the Imprimatur, a genetic modification which allowed Time Lords to endure the rigours of time travel and was used to form a symbiotic bond between each Time Lord and his or her TARDIS. It has been theorised that the Rassilon Imprimature was the piece of genetic engineering which granted the Time Lords both a tremendously extended lifespan (at least seven centuries per incarnation) and the ability to ‘regenerate’ into a new form twelve times. It is artificial Nd tied to the TARDIS. The Dr dies not need. white a knight, he needs a Blue Lady to save him.

  • Yes, circumventing the limit is okay but flouting it is not. Most innovations to overcome the limit are exercises in flouting the limit.

    The following points are abstract but may be considered to be spoilers by some.

    The basic situation is that the Doctor has very probably run out of regenerations. In that case, any forthcoming Doctor would have to be a replacement not dependent on a regeneration or the widely accepted account of the Doctor’s history (apparently accepted by the Doctor too) must be flawed to some degree.


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