The confusion among fans over what number Doctor Peter Capaldi is looks like continuing, with showrunner Steven Moffat – once again – throwing a "continuity grenade" into the mix by announcing that he doesn't believe Capaldi is the 12th incarnation of the Time Lord.
Moffat started all the kerfuffle last year when, at the end of series seven finale The Name of the Doctor, he revealed a never-before-seen incarnation of the Doctor called The War Doctor, played by John Hurt. It was later established, thanks to mini-episode The Night of the Doctor and 50th anniversary special The Day of The Doctor, that this newcomer had regenerated between what fans previously knew as his eighth and ninth version. This confused fans, who now asked whether Matt Smith's 11th Doctor was really the 12th, and the 12th was in fact the 13th. To this, Moffat says:
“You are all wrong! He has never called himself the anything-th Doctor in the show."
“If the Doctor was a real person and walked in here, and you said, 'Which incarnation are you?' he’d have to think, just as you’d have to think about how many houses you’ve lived in. He never thinks of himself as a numbered Doctor. The Twelfth Doctor means the twelfth actor to have played the lead in Doctor Who. That’s all it means. There is no such character as the Twelfth Doctor and never has been."
Moffat's argument is based upon the fact that it was fans who started referring to Doctors by number, and that the show itself has never made any explicit reference to it. There have, however, been subtle nods to the number of the Doctor throughout the show's history. More recent examples include the number 11 on the Doctor's door in series six's The God Complex, and Clara's poem in The Time of the Doctor, written by Moffat, which goes: "And now it's time for one last bow / Like all your other selves / Eleven's hour is over now / The clock is striking twelve's."
In an interview with SFX Magazine, Moffat adds: “It’s a long time into the show before any such nonsense ever comes up. It’s purely us lot, us fans, wittering on about calling him the Third or the Fourth Doctor – which is actually quite an unpleasant thing to do. It doesn’t feel right at all when you type that. I had to do that for the [50th] special. It was the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor, and it felt like a betrayal, in a way. But what else could you do?
“Out of curiosity I looked at what they did in [1983's 20th anniversary special] The Five Doctors. They didn’t number them at all. Do you know what they called them? The Hartnell Doctor, the Pertwee Doctor…”
Doctor Who returns with the 12th Doctor (or is it?) in series eight opener Deep Breath on 23 August.