The Doctor may be the Timeless Child, but that doesn’t mean she will live forever — as the latest Doctor Who tie-in book subtly hints.
Doctor Who has hinted the Timeless Child can still die — even if she does have unlimited regenerations. Doctor Who season 12 rewrote the show’s canon and lore, revealing the Doctor is not a Time Lord at all. Rather, she is the Timeless Child, a being who potentially predates the universe itself, and who became the base genetic code for the entire Time Lord race. This shocking truth was revealed by the Master, who had learned it while raiding the Matrix on Gallifrey, and uncovering records the Time Lords had attempted to erase.
The Timeless Child retcon has divided the fanbase, with some claiming it has turned the Doctor into a god who can never die. Previously there were established limits to the Doctor’s power of regeneration, because she could only regenerate so many times. Now, though, it appears she is unique in that she has an unlimited number of regenerations. The Doctor has lived for over a billion years, and nobody knows how many prior incarnations the Doctor truly has. But this argument may be overstated, because the latest Doctor Who book subtly hints there are other limits to regeneration.
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I Am The Master is a collection of stories featuring different versions of the Master, and one short story — “The Dead Travel Fast” by Mark Wright — shows one of his failed regenerations. The Master crashes on Earth, his body failing him, looking more like a corpse than a living being. Intriguingly, throwaway dialogue reveals this is because of an “artron deficiency.” Artron energy runs through the time-space vortex itself, and this comment consequently supports the theory regeneration involves accessing the power of the vortex. The Timeless Child presumably has an innate link to the vortex, one the Gallifreyans imitated when they rewrote their DNA — but this connection can go wrong. After all, it did for the Master.
This is actually a subtle retcon. The Master’s failed regeneration would ultimately wind up on Gallifrey, attempting to gain a new lease of life by draining the Eye of Harmony, as seen in the classic Doctor Who story “The Deadly Assassin.” Previously it had been believed the Master had simply run out of regenerations, and had unwisely attempted to force another, which had gone spectacularly wrong. But the idea of an “artron deficiency” means Time Lord regenerations can actually go wrong, and spectacularly so. There’s no reason to assume the same is not true for the Doctor, as well.
The Doctor has a troubled regeneration history as well, and in fact Peter Davison’s transformation into Colin Baker almost failed, with the Doctor coming close to dying due to Spectrox poisoning. The new series special “Twice Upon A Time” confirmed the Doctor could actually leave it too late, resisting the regeneration, to fatal effect. So it seems the Timeless Child isn’t necessarily as immortal as some Doctor Who fans are currently assuming.
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