The past week has been a wild time for Doctor Who fans in Great Britain. Following a week of frenzied publicity and rumors, a record breaking number of viewers tuned in for the season finale on Saturday night. The highly anticipated episode, Journey’s End, was the end of a two parter that is reported to be both exciting and shocking. The unofficial numbers ranked this episode as one of the highest rated ever on the BBC Saturday nights. Drawing in over 9 million viewers, it’s estimated that this episode attracted 45.9% of the total British television audience. That means that nearly half of the people watching television on Saturday, were watching the season finale of Doctor Who. Further figures indicate that after the episode ended, BBC 1 lost 5 million viewers These impressive numbers will hopefully help ensure the series continued production for quite some time.
The question is will star David Tennant be along for the ride? Rumors are also running rampant that David Tennant intends to retire from the role of the Doctor and that the BBC has already approached Trainspotting star Robert Carlyle as a possible replacement. Nothing has been confirmed as Tennant continues to remain vague on whether he will return to the role of The Doctor beyond 2009. But the controversy raises an interesting question. How many times can the role be recast? How many times can the Doctor be regenerated?
Gallifreyan Time Lords, such as Doctor Who, can regenerate when they become old or are facing death. This plot device was inserted into the Doctor Who series back in 1966 when the actor who played first Doctor, William Hartnell, began facing health problems of his own. It has been used nine times now to recast the role and invigorate the series. In the beginning it was referred to as “renewal” It wasn’t until the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, transformed into the fourth, Tom Baker, that it was called regeneration. It was explained to fans, via the show, that the process of regeneration changed not only the Doctor’s physical form but his personality as well. But there are limits to this Time Lord ability. According to the Doctor, a Time Lord can only regenerate thirteen times. After that, he is mortal and subject to the same limitations of a human. He will grow old and he will eventually die.
There have been instances of Time Lords cheating this unlucky 13 rule though. The Master, the Doctor’s nemesis, has regenerated himself numerous times. Over the course of the series, he has possessed the bodies of other species as well as having been granted further regenerations by the High council of the Time Lords in exchange for his help. The last time being during the infamous Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords.
Turn and Face the Strange Changes…
So the question remains, how many times can the role of Doctor Who be recast? I am confident that when faced with the fourteenth Doctor, the writers will come up with an inventive way to circumnavigate this rule. In the meantime, I hope that the series will continue with the tenth and current Doctor Who, David Tennant, for awhile longer. I was uncertain about his ability to capture the magic and the wonder of Doctor Who when he was originally cast but his performance has swayed me. He is a truly wonderful Doctor Who and I hope he will remain in the role for several more seasons at least. But if not, there’s always regeneration.