We still have almost a year before Jodie Whittaker hands in her TARDIS keys, sheds the sonic screwdriver and officially leaves Doctor Who in the 2022 centenary special – but it looks like the Thirteenth Doctor’s endgame has already begun.
You see, despite managing to stop the Flux, defeat the Sontarans (and the Ravagers) and save the Earth, the Doctor doesn’t quite end series 13 finale The Vanquishers on a high. Instead, she’s given an ominous warning from a personification of Time who notes that while she might have triumphed today her days are still numbered.
"You can leave here, but you can’t outrun me," Time (also played by Jodie Whittaker) says.
"Your time is heading to its end. Nothing is forever. No regeneration, no life. Beware of the forces that mass against you… and their master.
"I restore you, Doctor, reunify you – but for how long?"
Sorry, that was meant to stay in my head. Anyway, this is an intriguing warning, partially because it hints at the return of Sacha Dhawan’s Master (even the Doctor picked up the double meaning this time), but also because it’s the first on-screen hint that this incarnation of the Doctor could be about to regenerate.
Now, it seems that this regeneration – in recent years, presented as a kind of "death" for the Doctor, sometimes resisted – could be the arc that hangs over Whittaker’s incarnation for her next three specials. Perhaps we’ll keep getting little hints to it, and worried looks from the Doctor, all building to the inevitable conclusion next November.
Of course, we’ve seen this kind of thing before during David Tennant’s final year as the Tenth Doctor, where his exit was teased increasingly over a collection of specials. Over the years there have been plenty of explicit parallels between the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctors, so perhaps it’s no surprise that her departure from the series could so closely follow his.
Still, it’ll be interesting to see how hard the next few adventures lean into Whittaker’s exit. Will the New Year’s Day special (confirmed to star the Daleks once again) embrace the Doctor’s new uncertainty, possibly building to an off-camera reveal for the next Doctor soon after broadcast? That news must be coming soon if the BBC want to keep the secret and release the news on their own terms.
Or would Chris Chibnall prefer to keep things simple and accessible this 1st January, keeping the Doctor’s regeneration angst in the background as he weaves a more standalone story? Certainly, it feels like by the time of the Spring special we’ll need some kind of acknowledgement of the change that’s coming.
As ever, the only way to be sure is to wait and see. But this regeneration is coming – and with just three on-screen adventures left for the Thirteenth Doctor, it’ll probably come faster than we expect.
Read more about Doctor Who:
- Doctor Who teases Sacha Dhawan Master return
- Jacob Anderson wants Vinder to return after Doctor Who: Flux
- Doctor Who: The Vanquishers’ 16 biggest questions
- Doctor Who’s Craige Els has hopes for a Karvanista spin-off