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How Many Times Can 'Doctor Who' Really Regenerate?

November 4th, 2010 10:51am EDT

The Eleventh Doctor On last week's episode of "The Sarah Jane Adventures", a much anticipated line was finally uttered. It was a line that confirmed once and for all how many times the Doctor, the greatest (and lately the only) Time Lord in history, could actually regenerate. Or did it?

In a 1970s episode of the long-running sci-fi hit, the Doctor claimed that his kind, the Time Lords, could regenerate -- essentially change their faces and begin another lifecycle -- just twelve times. This number was given only once in the show and yet it has seeped into fandom consciousness and grown tough roots. With the Doctor currently on his eleventh regeneration, it seems the BBC was eager to change the number. For good reason too; it wouldn't be wise to cut the show off two actors later simply because of a throwaway line in one episode from over thirty years ago.

All the same, the internet world was buzzing for weeks with the announcement that a line in the new Russell T. Davies penned episode, "Death of the Doctor" would solve this tiny problem. Many fans did not seem pleased with the idea that something they had accepted as canon in the world of "Doctor Who" was being bowled over with a single sentence of dialogue on a children's television show. The episode came out and the line was finally revealed. When Clyde asked the Doctor how many times he could regenerate, he blithely replied, "507".

That seems quite a few. Sure enough, after the episode aired the web exploded once again with opinions on both sides of the Atlantic, fans furious at the liberties taken by Russell T. Davies and the BBC. But an interview with Davies may prove the offense was not so great. According to the former "Doctor Who" showrunner, he came up the number because he thought it was funny: "I could not resist! I was hooting. It'll never stick, though. That 13 lives is stuck in people's heads. It is, isn't it funny? Yet they only said 13 once or twice".

Perhaps Davies has a point. When a fandom has lasted in the public consciousness as long as "Doctor Who" has, the devotees can get surprisingly attached to certain ideas, maybe without good enough reason. The first rule given by River Song in this year's series finale was fairly simple: "The Doctor lies." If that is the case, who knows how many lives he truly has?

As time often proves, the most important trait in any situation is adaptability. The same should probably be said when dealing with one's favorite television shows. The fans of "Doctor Who" could learn a lot from Russell T. Davies' example. Whether the Doctor has thirteen lives or three hundred, what matters is that he will be around to entertain us for generations to come.

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Photo Credits: BBC Worldwide America Inc

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