Since the arrival of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor, there has been speculation about one of the rules of the Doctor Who franchise, specifically the rule that The Doctor can only regenerate 12 times, after which he must, as all creatures do, die and enter that final of all frontiers.
Would the writers dare to alter that very old rule of canon and make The Doctor immortal?
There are clear advantages to the producers of the show to do this as they have almost run out of incarnations. And with the show’s popularity continuing to grow, they obviously do not want to be forced to end the show. However, that rule has been in existence for quite a while, and to change it is to alter a very major part of the Whovian canon.
Well, the decision of the producers and the writers is now known. In an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, in which Matt Smith will make a guest appearance as our favorite Time Lord, there is a small line in the script that says The Doctor can regenerate as much as he want. With that stoke of a pen, years of the history of the Whovian universe has been thrown into the virtual trash heap.
Again, there is the good side that the producers do not have to get into an extreme panic about losing actors who play our favorite Time Lord as they can now keep going as long as all of us will watch the show. On the downside, along with messing with canon, The Doctor loses his mortality and by doing so, loses a very special part of the character.
One of the appealing things of the character has been that, despite his regenerations, he was ultimately mortal and knew that he would face death one day (case in point, the lament of the 10th Doctor as he began to regenerate, I don’t want to go), possibly sooner than he expects or wants, just like the rest of us. Frankly, I fear that this immortality takes away that vulnerability and will seriously hurt the appeal of this wonderful individual.
The writers seem to be aware that this decision is going to be controversial, thus the apparent decision to hide its announcement in an episode of a show that does not air in the United States, where viewers are known to be sticklers for canon. Frankly, a change as major as this should not be hidden in a spinoff, but should be a part of an episode of the show itself.
This decision makes one wonder if the writers are trying to give themselves an out, just in case they repent of this move. Since it is only going to be seen in the United Kingdom, until the DVD set of the current season of “Sarah Jane” comes to the United States, they have time to come up with an escape from this decision.
Frankly, I have to disagree with some who have so quickly screamed murder about this change in the story and in the character. Yes, as I have written, it is a major change and the motives of the change are as transparent as plastic wrap. While the character is altered and some of his appeal is lost with his loss of his eventual mortality, it does free the producers to make decisions without their hands tied by the 12-doctor rule.
Ironically, only time itself will tell if this was a wise move of the Whovian producer and writers, or an immortal mistake that will result in unrepairable damage to the longest running science-fiction franchise in history. We will all wait and see what develops as the Tardis continues its journeys.