Doctor Who: Steven Moffat acknowledges a Doctor regeneration limit – could time be running out for the show?

by Anna Howell

doctor who

With the recent casting of Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor Who, fans across the globe have been wondering just how many more actors we would see in the role.

Since the beginning of Doctor Who it was well documented that from the very first regeneration of actors into the role, there would only ever be 12 in total.

If writers are to stick by that then this means that Capaldi’s eventual successor may well be the very last Doctor Who ever, and Steven Moffat has acknowledged this fact.

As a Time Lord, the Doctor has the ability to regenerate his body when near death – this was introduced into the storyline as a way of continuing the series when the writers were faced with the departure of lead actor William Hartnell in 1966, and has continued to be a major element of the series, allowing for the recasting of the lead actor when the need arises.

William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee

The Doctor was given a limited number of regenerations, 12 to be precise, allowing for only 13 actors to ever play the iconic role, despite an episode of spin-off show, the Sarah Jane Diaries suggesting that in fact The Doctor could in fact regenerate 507 times, which was later laughed off by writer Russell T Davies!

So with that in mind one of the questions at the front of everyone’s mind at the recent Ad-Lib event at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was addressed by show host Frank Skinner, when he asked Steven Moffat directly:

“Do you acknowledge the convention that The Doctor can only regenerate 12 times?”

Moffat gave little away in response, answering only “yes!”


The show runner then went on to reveal that “the door is open” for a return of The Doctor’s daughter, Jenny, but that a return for Time Lady Romana was not likely, explaining:

“I have actually given no thought at all to Romana. The Time Lords are dead in my mind. They died.”


Doctor Who returns this November for the much-anticipated 50th anniversary special, then again on Christmas Day when we will see what will possibly be the Doctors penultimate regeneration from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi!


  1. Desariella of Aresia on August 23, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    >…there would only ever be 12 in total.

    This is wrong. There are 12 regenerations. 13 lives.

  2. Desariella of Aresia on August 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    As for the limit, that was imposed by the Time Lords. It is not a biological limit, but a required limit. Since the Time Lords are gone, there is nothing stopping the Doctor from breaking the regeneration limit rule/law they set in place.

  3. Galadhanu on August 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Capaldi’s incarnation is the last Doctor.
    He is the 13th incarnation, but the 12th Doctor.
    There will only be 12 Doctors.
    But with 13 incarnations.

  4. Mike on August 23, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Just because Moffat acknowledged the 12 regeneration limit doesn’t mean he’s not going to write his way around it somehow. Capaldi is not the last Doctor. That wouldn’t be good for business.

  5. Diagoras on August 24, 2013 at 5:17 am

    As long as Doctor Who is successful, the BBC won’t let it die. They’ll probably just come up with a plot that addresses the mystery of how the Doctor went past the regeneration limit.

  6. Guy on August 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Forgive me for being picky but this wasn’t established ‘early’ in the series’ history. The second Doctor tells his companions that Time Lords live virtually forever barring accidents; the 12 regeneration limit wasn’t brought in until the Tom Baker years when they needed a reason for the Master to have become so dilapidated. The Matt Smith reference to 507 is no more arbitrary than these – I have no doubt if the public demands it there will be some sort of burst of artron energy that forces Doctor 13 to change into 14 and soforth…

  7. Paul on August 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    In my mind there’s an easy way around the 12 limit though. In “Let’s Kill Hitler” River Song gave her regenerations to heal The Doctor. It could easily be explained that he, in absorbing those energies, gained further regenerations.

  8. Dylan on September 1, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    How is this news? He simply acknowledged the limit he never said this means the end of the show. Just because you acknowledge something doesn’t mean you actually have to follow through with it. Also there are many ways around it and I bet Moffat has something up his sleeve.

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