Ask any geek worth his salt how many regenerations The Doctor has, and they'll answer "Placiba i Grymu! Trimpson Grondage ree! Nomu popu bebobesrellalobba!" As any English-speaking geek worth his salt that same question and he'll say "Which doctor do you mean? McCoy? The Holographic Doctor from Voyager? Flox? What's this 'regeneration' thing you're talking about?" Ask any English-speaking geek who's worth his salt, and doesn't just *think* he is like those Trek people, and he'll say "Thirteen lives, twelve regenerations. Next question?"
Time Lords, as everyone (yjsy matters) knows have thirteen lives. This was first mentioned in a seemingly off-the-cuff way thirteen years into the show's initial run:
Companion: "How many regenerations does a time lord have?"
The Doctor: "Twelve."
Companion: "How many have you used?"
The Doctor: "Seventeen."*
This was probably just intended as a gag. The show has always had an odd sense of humor. Just the same, here we are a year into the Doctor's eleventh life, and, well, it's not like the BBC has a ton of hit international shows, you know? Granted, the BBC has a penchant for "Epic" six episode seasons, and "Hugely popular" shows that run for two years, never to be seen again; but even they are reluctant to throw out Who when the show is seemingly at the top of its game.
Thus on a recent episode of the Who spinoff, "The Sarah Jane Adventures," the current doctor revealed that he was effectively immortal. This has touched off a firestorm with the fans, since it's a cheat, and obviously a retcon.
Of course the idea that he's in his Eleventh incarnation is, itself, kind of a retcon. When one of those original Doctors regenerated, we saw the faces of his past lives - several of whom we didn't recognize. The idea clearly was that he'd been Time Lording around for quite a while before the show started. That concept has kind of been swept out the window and quietly ignored. So it's a cheat, no getting around that, but, come on, they were going to have to find a way to keep him alive eventually, weren't they? I don't mind.
The only aspect of this that really bothers me is that it removes a lot of the dramatic tension, and it makes nonsense of some of the things we've seen the Doctor do in the past. For instance, why was Doctor # Nine so worried about getting killed? If he's got virtually unlimited regenerations, it's really just an inconvenience, right? Basically this turns the doctor into a lower level Marvel Comics-styled god, and that's just no fun. A guy who *can't* die is a whole lot different from a guy who's merely hard to kill.
Personally, were it me, I'd have had a major arc in the 13th doctor's tenure (Whenever that might be)in which he tries to find some long-lost Galifreyan doubletalk device that grants an extra twelve regenerations. It's more or less taken for granted that they could do this. The Master used up more than his share of regenerations, and it's a matter of fanon that extra lives were granted as a reward for meritorious service to the Time Lords.
So what are we to make of the swept-under-the-rug lives? Well, obviously the writers just hope we don't remember, it's just a continuity error. Still and all, we're geeks, and we're worth our salt (As per the intro), so you know we've just *got* to play around with this. The Doctor's a mysterious guy. What if he's *already* been around for more than thirteen, what if Tom Baker was telling the truth, and there's some whole huge long chapter of the guy's life that hasn't been chronicled. One that perhaps he himself doesn't remember. After all, the other Time Lords messed with his memory on more than one occasion. Who knows how much of his own past was lost after the conclusion of season 6B.
"Ok, Lord President, we've removed all the memories of the years between when we caught him, and when we forced his regeneration."
"Hm. Probably take out the fact that he used to go bowling with Rassilon and Omega. Probably no good could come from him realizing he's The Wanderer."
"Sure thing...just had me that scalpel and...done! Gone!"
"Yeah, why not!"
It's a good premise for a fan film series, isn't it? "The Young Doctor Who Chronicles," or "The Forgotten Incarnations," or "Buggin' With Rassilon." I imagine the latter as a hip urban sitcom, possibly starring Damon Wayans. Let's face it, Damon's way overdue for some respect.
I can't rid myself of the idea that Russel T. Davies is just screwing with us, though...
*- I'm probably misremembering that particular number.