By Paula Hendrickson
A new season of Doctor Who kicks off this Saturday after a painfully long wait for fans of the show. To put it in perspective, two of the show’s annual Christmas episodes have aired since the prior season’s finale in 2015.
The return is bittersweet for some fans, since the current doctor, Peter Capaldi, has announced this season will be his last. We also have a new companion arriving this season, Bill (Pearl Mackie), and there’s always an awkward adjustment when a new companion boards the TARDIS. I can guarantee there will be fans who disliked Clara (Jenna Coleman)—who had the thankless job of filling the void left by Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill)—who will soon complain that Bill isn’t as good as Clara, even if she’s brilliant.
That’s a lot of change for one season. The irony is this type of constant change is what has helped the Doctor Who franchise span more than half a century. In fact, the mere concept that The Doctor could regenerate was created as a way to recast the lead role when the original Doctor, William Hartnell, decided to leave the show in 1966.
There’s one tiny catch. Way back when Tom Baker was playing the fourth Doctor—he played the role longer than anyone to date, from 1975-1981—in an episode titled “The Deadly Assassin” he said he could regenerate 12 times, meaning there could only ever be 13 Doctors.
Back in 2013, when I spoke to showrunner and writer Steven Moffat leading up to Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary (he’s the one who told me which episode stated the limit on regenerations, that’s a level of trivia that’s far too deep for me), he said his predecessor on the show, Russell T. Davies, laid the groundwork for additional regenerations when writing an episode of the Doctor Who spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Doctor was asked how many times he could regenerate and he said “507,” leaving audiences to decide if either, or neither, number is accurate. Just to be safe, they had Clara wreak havoc by jumping into The Doctor’s time stream before Capaldi took over the role from Matt Smith.
In a fictional universe, almost anything is possible. The next Doctor could be any race, age, nationality, or even a woman.
That’s why every time an actor leaves the iconic role fans start speculating and suggesting who will replace him. A couple of names that come up just about every time include Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch) and Idris Elba (Luther). This go-round even the mercurial Tilda Swinton has been touted as a potential Doctor, but she’s done very little television and probably isn’t even interested in the role.
Another name being floated is Amanda Abbington, which makes sense because she has the right blend of drama, quirkiness, and humor required for the role and she played Mary Watson on one of Moffat’s other shows, Sherlock.
When you tune in to the new season, consider this: Who would you like to see as the next Doctor?
Doctor Who season 10 premiere airs Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m. on BBC America.
Peter Capaldi is a guest on The Graham Norton Show Saturday night on BBC America, which has a delayed start at 10:20 p.m.