Amidst the thorny moral dilemmas, monster attacks and bitter arguments of tonight’s Doctor Who, you might have missed a quick but possibly crucial line that throws all sorts of mythology into doubt.
When taunting Lundvik (Hermione Norris) and her astronauts (and er, suggesting they kill a child), the Twelfth Doctor made a reference to his ability to regenerate, which has been a point of debate since the 2013 Christmas special in which he first appeared.
For anyone who missed it, he said: “You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me, because I will keep on regenerating. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I won’t keep on regenerating forever.”
For those who’ve been living under a rock on the surface of the planet Ogron, regeneration is the process by which a mortally injured Time Lord (the Doctor’s species) can renew every cell of his body and thereby avoid death – with the side affect of giving him a completely new personality and appearance.
This plot device has allowed for the casting of multiple Doctors since the departure of First Doctor William Hartnell in 1966 (though it wasn’t referred to as regeneration until Third Doctor Jon Pertwee changed into Fourth Doctor Tom Baker) – but was established in the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin as having a limit of 13 incarnations.
This became a central plot point in last year’s Christmas special when Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor revealed he’d run out (thanks to a couple of off-the-books regenerations), and would die in his current form.
Of course that didn’t actually happen (it would have been quite a downer for the 50th anniversary year), and so The Doctor was granted a new cycle of regenerations by his missing Time Lord brethren.
One might assume that his new set of regenerations would be set at 13 – but it seems Peter Capaldi’s Doctor isn’t so sure (or he’s just having fun winding us up).
Whether this removes some of the series’ jeopardy is up for debate – either way, it looks like we might be seeing these kind of scenes for some time to come:
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news