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If you have not yet watched The Time of the Doctor, read no further because I'm about to spoil the shit out it! [Also The Day of the Doctor spoilers herein.]
I'm serious, major huge spoilers for Time of the Doctor, Day of the Doctor, and even random sprinklings of some of the earlier seasons' episodes!
Still there? Okay, hope you've seen it, or else don't mind the spoilers, because we finally now have the definitive answer to how many times the Doctor has regenerated, how many times he can regenerate, and how the show will continue beyond the limit!
"I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There's something you've all missed." -- Moffat
First of all, let me just say this: Fuck you, Moffat!
Nobody missed it, you just never told us the full significance of it and left us all to merely speculate -- with a hell of a lot of us getting it exactly right, I might add, until you threw in a monkey wrench that made us seem to be wrong!
So, what was it that we all "missed"? Why, Tennant regenerating but keeping his face, of course! Remember when Ten was shot by that Dalek and a regeneration began, but he let it heal his body and then "diverted" it into his severed hand, stopping the regeneration before he changed? Yup, that one counts, which means that Ten is, in fact, (after accounting for the War Doctor) Eleven and Twelve! Which means that Eleven is, in fact, Thirteen -- and the final face the Doctor can ever have, since he arrived as the result of the Doctor's twelfth and final regeneration! [Apparently Two being made into Three by the Time Lords themselves -- to protect his identity as he is exiled to Earth -- does, in fact, count as a regeneration, despite much speculation along the lines of this being more akin to plastic surgery than a "proper" regeneration.]
That's what makes his stand for so many centuries in Christmas so significant a sacrifice -- he's literally dying to save that small town, wasting away to a peaceful death of simple old age amid what may in fact be the longest war the galaxy has ever seen.
So in effect the new guy is One all over again (except that, being the result of a regeneration, there can only be 12 faces this time, as opposed to 13), the first face of a brand new set of regenerations, a gift of the Time Lords. Something we've long known to have been within their power, and in fact exactly what I expected to happen -- although I thought the new guy [whose name is escaping me right now] would in fact be the Doctor's final face until he managed to complete a potentially multi-season quest to find and restore Gallifrey, receiving the new regenerations as a reward for saving and then restoring the Time Lords' entire civilization.
So, yeah, a big FUCK YOU! to Moffat, as so very many of the fans in fact counted exactly correctly. At least until he announced who Twelve was going to be earlier this year, forcing everyone who had counted correctly to try and figure out how there even could be a Twelve when the Doctor had already used up every last regeneration!
Also, I have to confess that, in fact, I was wrong this time. As you may or may not recall, I had two theories as to how the Doctor would surpass the 12-regeneration limit and continue to live beyond what even the long-lived Time Lords can do. I had surmised that it was either a law (as opposed to a biological limit) or a side effect of the Doctor in fact being the Other [although my basis for this latter theory is in fact a mis-remembered quote referring to modern Who plans of former writers, not Classic Who plans of former writers]; as it turns out, however, it appears to be built right into Time Lord physiology, albeit one that the Time Lords can in fact override (as evidenced by us now knowing of at least two instances where new regeneration cycles have been gifted to Time Lords).
I was right, though, that Moffat would find a way around it, and that the show would continue. But that's hardly surprising -- no way is BBC going to let this one die again, not right now, not while it's arguably their greatest show and inarguably pulling millions into their coffers.
Also: Thank God, the Goddess, Allah, Zeus, Odin, Shiva, Buddha, and Whomever Else that Moffat did not choose the "rejuvenation theory" to extend the Doctor's life!
I do have to wonder, however, how the events of the Time of the Doctor influence -- if at all -- our previous views of his resting place in the midst of a great battlefield on Trenzalore. Since, you know, Christmas was on said planet. Was that supposed to be his last battle and final resting place, or is he destined to return to this planet later for another final showdown? [Incidentally, the aforementioned earlier episode is, I think, the greatest epitome of Matt Smith's acting, as his Doctor suddenly appears, as soon as he learns he must go to his own grave, very very old, weary, sad, and terrified. Just looking at his face when Clara tells him where he must go brings me to tears!]
And a final parting word: Finally we have a suitable end for the prophecy! "Silence will fall when the question is asked." I had never been satisfied with how that had apparently been resolved before (and, really, it did seem to be, since we stopped hearing about it after, y'know, the Silence fell). Of course, I think part of that was the fuller explanation:
... on the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked — a question that must never ever be answered: "Doctor who?"
-- Dorium Maldovar
Except that, in all honesty, I had forgotten that until I looked up the precise wording of the shorter version of the prophecy just now.
Still, I was just never satisfied with the apparent fall of the Silence, not least because The Question was never really asked. But seeing in the Time of the Doctor the Papal Mainframe seeking to prevent the Question being answered, and especially its offshoot that called itself Silence... well, finally this plot thread, left dangling and unmentioned for so very long, is satisfactorily resolved, and woven so beautifully into a masterful piece of the tapestry that is Doctor Who.
It also gives me a newfound respect for Moffat [although see above re: "Fuck you, Moffat!"]. His plans span so very much more time than I had ever given him credit for, planting seeds that would not come to full fruition for literally years, when previously I only thought him capable of such acts as a story arc over a given season.
I will leave with this parting note: [private] and I are watching some good old Classic Who, from Baker's years, right now, and presently we're about halfway through The Key to Time story -- the first time an entire season of Doctor Who was tied together with a single story arc. It's rather good so far!