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Published on October 28th, 2010 | by Patrick Riley

Breathe Easy, He’s Not Immortal…

But he might as well be.  Those of you who follow The Sarah Jane Adventures may recall the recent controversy sparked when it was announced that the Doctor, upon appearing in the story Death of the Doctor, would tell Clyde that he had unlimited regenerations.

But those who have seen the episode may have already begun to rest easy, as what the Doctor actually said to Clyde is that his regeneration limit is not 13, as fans of classic Doctor Who will expect, but 507!

“507 – I could not resist! I was hooting. It’ll never stick, though. That 13 lives is stuck in people’s heads. It is, isn’t it funny? Yet they only said 13 once or twice,”

…said writer Russell T. Davies about putting a stop to the long-standing belief among some that the Doctor’s life is nearing its end.

“There’s a fascinating academic study to be made out of how some facts stick and some don’t – how Jon Pertwee’s Doctor could say he was thousands of years old, and no-one listens to that, and yet someone once says he’s only got thirteen lives, and it becomes lore.

“It’s really interesting, I think. That’s why I’m quite serious that that 507 thing won’t stick, because the 13 is too deeply ingrained in the public consciousness.”

Just you wait, Mr. Davies.  876 years from now, the Doctor will be reaching his 505th incarnation, and the public will be in a panic that rivals the Cold War, or the Great Recession, or what would happen if a sequel was made to Time and the Rani!  You’ll be eating your words, you’ll see!

Death of the Doctor encores on BBC One today and Friday at 4:30 PM.

(Via SFX)

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About the Author


Patrick is a temporal hitchhiker who spends most of his time in the future. His favourite Doctor is the Fourteenth. If you're especially lucky, you might even hear him tweet to all you merry folk in the past @10PatrickRiley.

16 Responses to Breathe Easy, He’s Not Immortal…

  1. avatar depechefan says:

    And why did he choose 507 as a number?

    5 + 0 + 7 = 13!!!

    • no it doesn’t…

  2. avatar Lazarus77 says:

    @ depechefan

    only if 0 = 1 and we all know that if that were true, the internet would break.

  3. avatar Lazarus77 says:

    I find it incredibly interesting that certain facts stick and others don’t but I think that’s a testament to retconning… for example, the original imagination of Batman had him carrying a gun but now he abhors firearms. Things change. I, for one, liked that he had a finite and small number of regenerations but also felt trepidation that 13 was just around the corner. I suppose this is a temporary fix until some one changes it. Again.

    But think about this: if the time lords have 507 regenerations, think about the Master who was constantly going around stealing bodies because he’d run out. What, were some of his incarnations lemmings?

  4. avatar DaveB says:

    What a bizarre comment from RTD!

    There’s no surprise that every fan remembers a crucial plot point from a classic story, but we barely remember a throw away line from the Doctor’s 3rd incarnation.

    Besides that, I think if anyone had actually listened to anything the 3rd Doctor said his adventures would have been over very quickly indeed.

    Perhaps that question would be worth a bit of fan research.

  5. avatar mabtycoon says:

    RTD is a moron. He was terrible at the helm of DW, and now he’s screwing with it from the sidelines.
    Just go away Russell…. just go away…

  6. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    mabtycoon: shocking isn’t it? How could they allow this moron to come along and bring back a much-loved show, and turn it into a television phenomenon again. Russell should clearly have left things well alone, and we could have continued with fan fiction, and treasured Doctor Who without anybody really knowing about it. Shameful.

    Review of Death of the Doctor coming soon folks – sorry to keep you waiting, been a busy week!

  7. avatar mabtycoon says:

    Hi Paul,
    I think DW was a tv phenomenon way before RTD was given a go, im sure you agree.
    “Fan fiction”? Really? Thats a little harsh.
    Did you read any of the books? The professionally written books that went on for sooo many years, officialised as canon by the BBC? They did produce them after all. (Reminder:

    What about the professionally conducted Big Finish productions? I dont like the BF stuff, but it’s far from fan fiction. I cant help but think the terrible writing, bad direction and frankly awful acting in the Eccelston/Tenant era is probably more along the lines of the poor-quality you’re implying by saying ‘fan fiction’.

    And as for anybody really knowing about it, BF is mostly poor stories but those BBC books were brilliant, 8th Dr stories were fantastic. Compassion and Faction Paradox were truely inspired sci-fi. I nearly cried when Fitz died-but-didnt-die-but-died. I urge you to read them, i really do, if you havent you’re genuinely missing out.

    What it comes down to is Im a fan of well crafted, well thought out sci-fi and new DW – with the notable exception of most of the Matt Smith stuff – just isnt. And that is wholly down to two things; format (DW doesnt work in 45min stand alone episodes which is what it mostly is, not enough time to characterize, build tension or a decent set of stakes) and RTD’s writing style. He’d write himself into a corner and deus-ex-machina himself out of it, poor.
    I like watching DW (i’ve got the Ribos Operation on in the background as i type!), but i’m constantly disappointed with RTD. Other fans are too…. google it.

    BTW: Death of The Doctor was terrible, more RTD-style stuff. He essentially wrote ‘his’ Dr, making no allowances for Matt Smith as an actor, Eccelston or Tenant could have done those episodes. You’ll disagree i’m sure, but i look forward to your review, always interesting reading.

  8. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    I’ll admit the fan-fic comment was rather below the belt, but then again, so is calling RTD a moron. I admire Russell very much, and enjoy all his DW scripts, even the less popular ones, including Love and Monsters. I also think his other work including Queer as Folk and Bob & Rose is superb drama.

    I have to say that I completely disagree with you about structure – the way I see it, 42 minute episodes work so much better than long serials. I’ve seen so many stories that suffer from repitition and pointless exposition, and it’s very wearing. Part of the problem with that is the fact they were designed to be watched on a weekly basis, rather than in one sitting, but I still think that the current format is far more effective – it forces writers to get straight into the action, and get us emotionally involved. Far more impact.

    The deus ex machina argument is used often, and to my mind is too simplistic. If we take the ending of Last of the Time Lords as an example: people who criticise the ‘miraculous’ ending, fail to take account that the script gives us an explanation for it. The Archangel Network is the important thing here. The Doctor was aware of the power of the Network, instructed Martha on her mission, and spent his captivity planning how to best utilise it. There are times when Russell goes a bit too far though – the White Point Star, and the magic potion that Lucy uses to sabotage the Master are examples of where Russell descends to using witchcraft in The End of Time.

    As for fans being down on Russell, I’m well aware of it, and it baffles me. We’ve got the show back on the air now, it looks brilliant, keeps me on the edge of my seat, and Russell was instrumental in that. I hate to say it, and this certainly isn’t directed at you – but I fear some of this is down to homophobia. So much was said about the ‘gay agenda’, which was frankly ridiculous – why should a gay writer pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist, especially when the show was trying to be grounded within a realistic and believable context? John Nathan-Turner was also unfairly criticised, when his passion for the show was clear for all to see. And guess what? He was a gay man too. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that not everybody is going to like everything that Russell writes, and that’s fine. And not everybody who bashes RTD is homophobic – but I do believe it’s contributory factor.

    When all’s said and done, I get the hump when people call Russell names, without backing it up with reasoned argument. Hence, I’m far more likely to engage in sensible debate when you provide a context, as shown in your second post here, and more likely to react with sarcasm to posts like your first one!

  9. avatar Andypants says:

    Here’s what the THING- bloggers may have different angles on why he’s crap but it boils down to this: RTD has failed to do justice to what preceded him, to the cultural springboard from which he launched his new career as Childrens TV extraordinaire. To DR WHO- a show that I believe he has great fondness for as a viewer, but did not understand what making it actually meant. You cant BLAG Dr Who stories. And he does. He admits this if you listen to him in interviews or commentaries. He plans very little, he writes them as quickly as he can and he does not edit his own work nor does he allow others to do so. “Oh, you cant second guess yourself” he says. What would be the result if you behaved this way in your place of employment? If you never checked what you were doing was correct? If everything you did was a first attempt? Fans of this man give him credit for what is often the hard work of others trying to compensate for his shallow interpretations and misguided ruminations. These include Tennant, the MILL, John Simm, Derek Jacobi, Murray Gold, Steven Moffat, Catherine Tate and various other people with talent.

    What the man DOES have, is clout. For this reason, DW is back on the air. I’m happy with that. Use your clout, your influence at the BBC to bring back a show because it meant something to you. Go RTD- yes. But don’t pretend you are a writer of such calibre that you can throw together any old garbage and it will play. I remember he once said, “Fans, trust me, I think about these shows more than you do.” That is just not true. Fans think about the shows before, during and well after they have been broadcast. Each moment is analyzed, each character committed to memory. They’re at work thinking about it, they’re online here talking about it. Its gone into this cultural zeitgeist that will outlive all of us (INCLUDING YOU RUSSELL!) We have a man who thinks he’s bigger than the material and folks, it just isn’t so!

  10. avatar mabtycoon says:

    Hi Paul,

    I was in Australia when Bob & Rose aired, and it was given an 11.30pm timeslot, so perhaps they didnt have much faith in it, and i cant say that i did either, interesting idea but not my cup of tea.
    Andypants said it very well, i guess my moron comment was made more out of frustration at the constant adoration of RTD as flawless, simply because ‘he’ brought DW back. My reference to all the other material out there, books and big finish, is that DW really never went away for those of us who craved it so much. There has ALWAYS been something out there to whet the appetite of a hungry DW fan. And i’m certainly that!
    Deus ex machina is a common gripe with RTDs work, and it’s a simplistic one because it’s a simple rescue mechanism for writing yourself into a corner. It’s throughout all the episodes, theres an escape button near the right character at the right time. When Moffatt wrote Blink and in his interviews said it was hard and difficult and something that took ages, you KNEW it would be good. But when RTD writes and says it was easy and just happened so quickly, we should all worry. And theres just weakness in his scripts too, take bringing back the timelords. Such a build up, such intense moment, such a come back, such an investment, such a game changing event for the whole DW universe… and for what? No pay-off at all. And when did timelords use Seers? Right there is someone not knowing about DW.
    lol im far too much of a DW fan to worry about the sexuality of the writer or the character. BUT as a gay man, i was slightly miffed at the character of Captain Jack (essentially RTD putting an idealised version of himself into DW). If the character is an intelligently thought out, well written, well acted character with some depth and a good story line, AND gay then thats cool. But if the characters basis IS his sexuality, if thats his motive for acting in most situations, and he can get into the military complex by use of his sex, rather the same way the Dr would just wave his magic… sorry, use the sonic screwdriver, then it’s not quite enough for me given i want strong, valuable gay characters on TV in general, even more so ones that non-gay people can identify with.
    Hopefully i’ve made up for my moron comment, maybe even backed it up a little, with the opinions of a die hard fan if not with substance you’d agree with.
    Andypants, totally on board with all that!
    Signing off…

  11. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    Guys, I do hope that your views on Russell haven’t stopped you reading The Writer’s Tale. I urge you to give it a go. If you read it, you’ll see that Russell never finds writing easy, or approaches it in a slapdash manner. I fundamentally disagree that all professional writers continually edit and rewrite their work. I’m a writer, and when I studied creative writing at University, I got pretty sick of a particular tutor telling me how important rewrites are. For me, initial instict and intuition is very important, and there’s a real danger of watering down good ideas with too many rewrites. Besides, Russell does rewrite scripts, and gets rid of ideas he quite likes because they just don’t work. The argument is getting quite close to the idea that Russell is a ‘lazy’ writer, which I simply do not accept. His work ethic is extraordinary, and would probably kill me!

    I can’t see a massive amount of evidence that RTD regularly writes himself into a corner. I think most of his scripts work really well. I do concede that the return of the Time Lords wasn’t handled well – but The End of Time is easily my least favourite story by Russell, even if it reamins very watchable. It’s just that some of the ideas seem a little stale.

    I don’t agree that Jack is defined by his sexuality – if anything, he’s defined by his compassion and bravery. And let’s not forget that we were introduced to the character by the Moff, whose scritps RTD never altered. I imagine Jack was Russell’s idea, and that he let Steven run with it, but I’m not 100% on that.

    While on the subject of the Moff – he really has written himself into a corner – just look at The Eleventh Hour, where he resolved the story in exactly the same way as he did in Forest of the Dead – that annoyed me a lot more than anything that Russell put into the show.

    I think, Andypants, that you’ve highlighted a real problem with a section of fandom. It’s true that many fans are analysing and criticising episodes as they go out. This is a mistake, even if it is hard to stop doing it. I find myself just going with the story, getting involved with the emotion of it all, and then doing the critic bit afterwards. Much more satisfying, believe me. And I have to say that it’s easier to get emotionally involved with Russell’s scripts that Steven’s. I’m not particularly down on Steven (other than re-using ideas in Series 5 – that really bugged me!), I just prefer Russell’s style. And Russell has done some wonderful, brave things that pay off really well – I’m thinking of Midnight and Turn Left here – phenomenal in my view. But certainly, helped along by superb casting.

    Thanks for taking the time to post your views guys, we may not always agree, but I do value being able to hear others’ views, so I can at least try to understand some of the antipathy directed towards Russell.

  12. avatar Andypants says:

    Thanks Paul. This is enlightening because, just as you’ve struggled to understand the antipathy towards RTD, I myself have struggled to find a single reason why anyone would credit him with writing chops. That said, I have read the writers tale. I could not bring myself to buy it but a writer friend of mine had a copy and leant it to me. I have also studied creative writing. I would say I still study it. Books, articles, blogs. I care a lot about the quality of story being told on mass to the public because I believe it has a profound effect on the culture.
    You’re entitled to your opinion and I thank you for being so articulate. At the risk of sounding like your tutor, rewrites are important and so is feedback. RTD has publicly stated he resents criticism of his work from all angles and trusts only his instincts, just like you said. That’s great but leaves absolutely no room to discover anything, to learn something about yourself through the process or to, god forbid, research something to offer the audience something that, perhaps, they hadn’t seen before. Its the difference between beautifully constructed verse and sending a TEXT.

    The problems with RTD scripts, Deus Ex Machina, people making declarations that further the plot but don’t serve any personal agenda they might have, people acting out of character, expository dialogue, convoluted plots that confuse rather than intrigue – i could go on- these are ALL examples of lazy writing. He IS a lazy writer- he might be busy but he’s also a producer (or was) and its got to be a busy job. Its also quite a well paid job. He is being very well paid and leaving a lasting legacy so its important that, every step of the way, we see
    1. Fully formed Characters with their own agendas that are evident (without resorting to dialogue to explain them) within the context of the story
    2. Plot twists that significantly impact the characters’ personal journeys and that play into where they are going as people (rather than plot twists that harken back to some DW story from the past and THATs why its a big deal)
    3. Earned emotional catharsis please! EARNED! Through careful forethought- through SET UP in ACT ONE! This is pretty remedial stuff

    I wont go on! Rant over. Thanks for listening!


  13. @Paul Cavanagh “While on the subject of the Moff – he really has written himself into a corner – just look at The Eleventh Hour, where he resolved the story in exactly the same way as he did in Forest of the Dead – that annoyed me a lot more than anything that Russell put into the show.”

    Did he? I don’t remember Forest of the Dead ending like that… but then again, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. Loved your DotD review, by the way!

  14. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    Hi Patrick – thanks for your kind words about the review. I guess you’re right about Forest of the Dead – it’s not really the ending I’m talking about so much as the way in which the Vashta Nerada were defeated – with the Doctor asking them to look him up – just as he did in The Eleventh Hour.

    Andy – it may appear that RTD doesn’t take any advice concerning his writing, and you’re right – feedback is essential. However, The Writer’s Tale gives several examples of where he took on board feedback – most notably on chaning the ending to The Next Doctor on advice from Benjamin Cook. But there are other examples where Julie Gardner asked him to change stuff, and he omitted using Daleks in The End of Time because Steven asked him not to. I’d like to give make a longer commment here, but I’m at work, so better get off Kasterborous before anybody notices! :-)

  15. Oh! I suppose that makes sense, yes. That does seem to be used by the Moff a lot, although I did like the fact that it worked in Forest of the Dead and again in The Eleventh Hour, but when the Doctor more or less tried it again during his speech in The Pandorica Opens, it was about as successful as driving a steamboat through the streets of London.

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