“I’ve lived for over two thousand years,” the Twelfth Doctor told Clara last year. But it’s possible he was rounding up. Or down. Or sideways. Does he even know any more? Surely there comes a point when you stop counting those candles? Especially when you’re the sort of guy whose days, as the Seventh Doctor once remarked, are “like crazy paving”.
What is clear is that, for many years, the only consistent thing about the Doctor’s age was its inconsistency. But, here at RadioTimes.com, we’re not the sort to let a little thing like that stop us getting to the bottom of the matter. So – deep breath – here goes:
The first time he discusses his age, in 1967’s The Tomb of the Cybermen, the Second Doctor tells Victoria he is “around 450”. But just four series later, his successor claims to have been a scientist for “several thousand” years. (Technically, he never finished that sentence, so he could have been going to say “several thousand months / days / hours / Venusian smeejilbubs”, but it’s heavily implied he means years.)
In 1976’s The Brain of Morbius, the Fourth Doctor gives his age as a very specific 749 (“You’ll soon be middle-aged,” teases Sarah) and, in the following year’s Robots of Death, he’s 750, which suggests he’s now using a proper calendar, or at least getting regular Facebook reminders. By the time of The Ribos Operation (1978), he’s claiming to be 756, but Romana says he’s actually 759. “I ought to know my own age!” he protests. “Yes,” she replies, “but after the first few centuries, I expect things get a little bit foggy, don’t they?” Well quite.
Fast-forward a couple of incarnations, and in 1985’s Revelation of the Daleks, the Sixth Doctor announces he is 900 years old. That incarnation was always prone to showing off, but his successor appears to concur: in the Seventh Doctor’s debut story, he says he’s 953. (They’re lovely at that age, aren’t they?)
By the time he returned to our screens in 2005, the Doctor had been through a couple more bodies, yet the Ninth Doctor was still claiming (in Aliens of London) to be 900. Again, he could have been rounding down, but it’s still a bit of a puzzle because we know John Hurt’s War Doctor must have been knocking around for at least 40 of our years, judging by his first and last appearances. (Either that, or he seriously needs to rethink his skincare routine.)
After this, things get a bit more straightforward: in 2007’s Voyage of the Damned, the Tenth Doctor says he’s 903. In 2009’s The End of Time, he’s 906, while the Eleventh Doctor is 907 in 2010’s Flesh and Stone, and 909 in the following year’s The Impossible Astronaut.
After the traumatic events of The God Complex, the Doctor waves goodbye to Amy and Rory and disappears to lick his wounds for a couple of hundred years, before returning in exactly the same clothes (no wonder they call him The Oncoming Storm). In series six finale The Wedding of River Song, he gives his age as 1,102. But by the following year’s A Town Called Mercy he’s put a few more miles on the clock, and is now claiming to be 1,200.
After the even more traumatic events of The Angels Take Manhattan, the Doctor waves goodbye to Amy and Rory (again) and goes into a proper sulk, retreating to live on a cloud for a while, as you do. It’s not clear how long he’s up there, but it can’t be too long as, by the start of his final story, he still appears to be somewhere in the low thousands.
He then spends quite a few centuries on the planet Trenzalore, defending the townspeople of Christmas and growing very old and gnarly in the process. Although it’s never stated on screen, the BBC book Tales of Trenzalore states that the Doctor was Sheriff of Christmas for 900 years. If he’s still roughly around 1,200 at the start, that would put him at 2,100 at the time of his regeneration, which tallies neatly with Twelve’s claim to have lived for over 2,000 years. (We suspect Steven Moffat has a special spreadsheet for this sort of thing.)