We may know exactly how old BBC's Doctor Who program is since it’s the longest-running sci-fi TV show of all time. But when it comes to the titular Time Lord’s personal age? Well, pinning down his age is a far trickier prospect. Although, we're still learning more and more about this mysterious time-traveler, we never know if and when we can light the birthday candles. Why is it so hard to get a grip on the Doctor’s age? And how old do we think he is? Let’s take a look!
The Trouble With Time Lords And Time Travel
Determining the Doctor’s age is a threefold problem, one which stems from his extraterrestrial nature. When the Doctor says he is a certain age, is he referring to Earth years or his home planet's? This could be important, since different planets have varying annual spans that depend on the distance to their suns. For example, Jupiter takes nearly twelve Earth years to orbit the Sun, meaning that the Doctor’s idea of a year could be very different to ours!
Then of course, there’s the long-lasting and erratic nature of regeneration to contend with. The fact that Time Lords can heal themselves when they are wounded or dying ensures that they can have pretty long life spans. At one point, the Doctor said he was “just a kid” at the grand old age of ninety, and someone else teased that he was “middle-aged” at seven hundred and fifty. It’s therefore very hard to gauge what constitutes as “old age” to Time Lords because they can survive for hundreds of years in each of their incarnations alone. In ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) commented upon how little the Eleventh Doctor’s (#MattSmith) appearance had altered. The Doctor had just spent two hundred years of his years away from them, which highlights just how slow the ageing process is for Time Lords.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle we face when discussing the Doctor’s age is, undoubtedly, the Doctor himself. He may be a wonderfully kind and eccentric guide through these awe-inspiring worlds and dimensions, but the Doctor is highly unreliable when it comes to certain things. Show runner and Doctor Who writer #StevenMoffat confirmed that this is definitely the case, when he was quizzed about the Doctor’s age by SFX:
“...he doesn't know what age he is. He's lying. How could he know, unless he's marking it on a wall? He could be 8,000 years old, he could be a million. He has no clue. The calendar will give him no clues.”
Moffat’s explanation would certainly explain a lot of contradictions within the show. After all, both the Sixth (Colin Baker) and Seventh Doctors (Sylvester McCoy) claimed to be around nine hundred years old, but centuries later, the Ninth (Christopher Eccleston) and Tenth Doctors (#DavidTennant) repeatedly said the same thing. The Doctor’s forgetfulness would resolve the question of why the number is always changing, as would the nature of time travel itself.
If you lived hopping between different periods and dimensions, how would you record your own “personal” time? Or are you beholden to the laws of physics wherever you land?
Then there’s the nature of the Doctor’s adventures too. In one of his relatively recent escapades — 'Heaven Sent' — the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was trapped inside a recurring loop within his confession dial. Though he never physically changed (he was continuously vaporized and brought back to life) the Doctor existed there for well over four billion years. Understandably, this would be very hard to reconcile with any calendar you have to hand. Nevertheless, whilst the Doctor has been known to lie and forget things due to the nature of his lifestyle, we can still make an educated guess about his age.
So Just How Old Is The Doctor?
As we said earlier, the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) was teased about his impending seven hundred and fiftieth birthday in the 'Pyramids of Mars', which fits in pretty well — chronology wise — with the Tenth Doctor’s repeated insistence that he was just over nine hundred years old.
Things get a little bit trickier with the Eleventh Doctor though, since he had long bouts of travelling alone in-between certain episodes and companions. His prolonged defense of the planet Trenzalore similarly boosted those figures upwards, and as he neared the end of his thirteenth life (it’s complicated) it’s clear that the years were having a marked effect upon his body. But following his regeneration into the current incarnation of the Twelfth Doctor, he’s repeatedly stated (or at least guessed) to Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) that he was at least two thousand years old. Whoa, a lifetime lasting two whole millenniums? Beat that, Wolverine!
What’s more impressive is that, unlike other venerable characters in pop-culture, this renegade from Gallifrey is showing no signs of stopping or slowing down. If an ordinary human ever could reach that age, we’d be parking the TARDIS and putting our feet up. Thanks to his in-built regenerative abilities though, the Doctor will always remain fighting fit — and thank goodness! No matter what number his body clock may be at, the Doctor’s everlasting struggle for tolerance and decency in the universe will (hopefully) continue to be shown on our #TV screens for evermore!
Which incarnation is your favorite Doctor in 'Doctor Who'? Head to the comments and let us know!