BBC declares Doctor Who 'immortal' as regeneration limit axed

Posted Oct 13, 2010 by Mathew Wace Peck
History is about to be rewritten for the popular BBC science-fiction drama series, Doctor Who, as Russell T Davies (Torchwood) removes the regenerative limitation imposed on a Time Lord more than 35 years ago.
The Doctor (William Hartnell) collapses prior to his first regeneration – The Tenth Planet (1966)
The Doctor (William Hartnell) collapses prior to his first regeneration – The Tenth Planet (1966)
BBC, Wikimedia Commons
In 1976 – during The Deadly Assassin, by Robert Holmes – it was declared that a Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times before dying for good. This limit on regenerative powers meant that there could only be 13 incarnations of the Doctor, which, in the mid-1970s, must have seemed a sufficiently large number. However, in the long-running BBC science-fiction drama, 27-year-old Matt Smith (Christopher and His Kind) is currently playing the eleventh Doctor, meaning he had just two more incarnations left before having to hand in his sonic screwdriver and hang up his long multi-coloured scarf for good.
Since the show's return to TV screens in 2005, fans have been waiting for an official change of policy on the regenerative limit of a Time Lord, and were expecting one to be given in the upcoming Christmas special by Steven Moffat (Sherlock). However, instead, it will happen in the CBBC spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
According to the Guardian, in Death of the Doctor – a two-part story by Russell T Davies – as "the Doctor [Smith] and Clyde Langer [Daniel Anthony] are in the process of outwitting spooky vulture undertakers the Shansheeth, [when] Clyde asks how many times he can regenerate. The Doctor indicates that there is no limit. The action continues."
The Doctor was first regenerated in 1966, when it became apparent that William Hartnell was too ill to carry on in the role. Rather than end the series, the BBC came up with the idea of replacing the lead actor but not the character.
In April this year, papers published on the BBC Archive revealed that the idea was modelled on bad LSD trips.
The term "regeneration" was not used at the time. In fact, the first time it was used was in 1974 (Planet of the Spiders, by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts), during the transition from the third (Jon Pertwee) to fourth (Tom Baker) Doctors.
To date, eleven actors have played the part, all of them men: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith. Earlier this week, however, it was revealed that, in the mid-1980s, serious consideration was given to casting a woman as the Doctor, and Joanna Lumley (Sapphire and Steel) appears to have been a favourite.