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"I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There's something you've all missed."
That's Moffat on the subject of how many regenerations the Doctor has left. Naturally, this has sparked voluminous debate amongst Whovians all over the interwebs.
Now, we all know that Time Lords get 12 regenerations. While there's some debate on this still, this is generally interpreted to mean 12 changes, meaning any given Time Lord will have 13 incarnations. Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor, meaning that there's only 2 left after him -- seemingly John Hurt and Peter Capaldi (although I suspect some timey-wimey-ness that effectively removes Hurt from the sequence).
That means at most we've got only one more actor playing the role after Capaldi before the show must end. Except that Moffat -- as always -- seems to have a plan...
One theory that seems popular -- but at the same time rather fishy -- holds that not all of the Doctor's regenerations "count". When Hartnell (First Doctor) became Troughton, the latter said he had been "rejuvenated", which is now being taken to mean that it wasn't a "regeneration" per se. This seems rather like ret-conning the situation to me, though, as "rejuvenation" seems rather like a synonym, if not a description, of a "regeneration".
On the other hand, when the Second Doctor was exiled to Earth, the Time Lords altered his appearance, which gave us the transition from Troughton to Pertwee (the Third Doctor). However, it does seem reasonable that this wouldn't count as a "regeneration" since, well, it wasn't -- it was basically advanced plastic surgery.
The "rejuvenation" theory has been run with to the point that some are now saying that "TARDIS-assisted rejuvenations" are not regenerations, and that any "regeneration" inside the TARDIS is in fact instead a "rejuvenation" -- which would make Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith all the same regeneration, and in fact all would be the Fourth or Fifth Doctor!
I'm not buying it though. I can buy that the Troughton/Pertwee change wasn't a regeneration, which makes Smith Ten rather than Eleven, and Capaldi becomes Eleven (well, still have to see where Hurt fits into the Doctor's life...). That still leaves us with at most 2 more actors after Capaldi, and then the end of the show!
Personally, I have two theories I think are the most likely, one of which borrows very heavily from Classic Who and is in fact supported by other comments Moffat has made about reaching out to Classic Who writers and asking what their plans would have revealed had the show not been canned in the 80s.
I'll start with what I'll call The Law Theory. This theory holds that the 12 regeneration limit is not, in fact, a physiological limitation of Time Lords, but rather one imposed upon them by the laws of Time Lord society. This theory is supported by events such as those in the TV serial The Deadly Assassin, in which the Time Lords granted the Master a new set of regenerations, as well as comments made in the TV episode The End of Time in which the Doctor comments that, to fight in the Time War, the Time Lords gave the Master a new set of regenerations.
If this were a physiological limitation of the Time Lord race, such granting of additional regenerations would seem to be hugely significant and probably very taxing, but the way they hand them out like candy suggests that it's instead something they impose -- it seems more like granting tax credits than it does rewriting the genetic code.
As we all know, though, there is no more Time Lord society. They were sealed via Time Lock inside the Time War, and then destroyed by the Doctor. Which means there's no one to exact the "tax" of 12 regenerations. Which means the Doctor can continue as long as he wants, with endless regenerations.
On the other hand, the fact that others have managed to steal Time Lord technology that has granted them the ability to regenerate suggests that regenerations themselves are a product of, and gift from, Time Lord society. Which could mean that in being granted these regerations there's a built-in counter to limit the number; that said, though, the theft of this technology has resulted in the hapless thieves suffering endless regenerations, which while a mistake nonetheless suggests there may not, in fact, be such a counter.
My favored theory, however, I shall call The Other Theory. Time Lord society was established by three Gallifreyans -- Rassilon, Omega, and a mysterious figure known only as the Other. Classic Who has long included clues, suggestions, and even outright statements that the Doctor may, in fact, be this Other. Which would mean he's not a Time Lord, but rather something else. Which begs the question: If Time Lords are restricted to 12 regenerations, but the Other isn't really a Time Lord, what is there to restrict him?
Now, in actuality, Time Lords are not a race per se; the race is Gallifreyan, while the moniker Time Lord is like me saying I'm an American; while true, racially I am human. The Other was/is, in fact, a Gallifreyan, and like Ben Franklin founded the society/nation that became known as the Time Lords.
However, as the Cult of Pyria fell during the Dark Time (not to be confused with the Dark Times, the time before the universe was formed; the Dark Time was the time before Time Lord society was established), the leading seeress cursed Gallifrey with sterility. To preserve their race, the Time Lords built genetic "looms" that, much like the creation of the Doctor's Daughter in The Doctor's Daughter, take the genetic code of the "parents" and create children. Legend has it that the Other threw himself into ones of these looms, and may have been reborn as the Doctor.
Is this really what happened? There's clues to this throughout Classic Who, and whatever the end result of them, Moffat is on record stating that he reached out to the writer when the show ended and presented his own theory, and was told it was in fact what was going to be revealed had the show continued. So, whatever the Doctor's intended relation to the Other, Moffat's got that and, presumably, we're going to learn that.
Anyway, I've wandered a bit of course here. The Other Theory rather simply states that, similar to The Law Theory, the 12 regeneration limit is a construct of Time Lord society, rather than a physiological limitation; however, the Other, being a Gallifreyan before there were Time Lords, has no such limitation.
Unfortunately, neither of my favored theories mesh with Moffat's comments that should "count correctly". That does seem to suggest that he's running with the "rejuvenation" theory, and perhaps even with the corollary that any regeneration within the TARDIS is, in fact, a "rejuvenation" and therefore doesn't count.
Anyway, what think y'all?