Could Doctor Who Finally Explore All The Secret Regenerations?

The secret Doctors from 1976 and 2020 could all return very soon.

Douglas Camfield as The Doctor in 'The Brain of Morbius'
Doctor Who

We all know that the Time Lords in Doctor Who only have 12 regenerations before they need to get another set of lives. But this piece of trivia wasn’t firmly established in the early run of the series at all, and only became a hard and fast rule in 1976 in the 4th Doctor adventure “The Deadly Assassin.” Hilariously, earlier in the same year, a different Doctor Who episode, “The Brain of Morbius,” established that the Doctor probably had several secret incarnations — at least eight anyway — prior to the 1st Doctor in 1963, William Hartnell. So which rule was true? Was the 1st Doctor really the 1st Doctor, or were there other Doctors before that?

In 2020, then-showrunner Chris Chibnall decided the answer was — both. The Time Lords established a rule of 12 regenerations, but the Doctor had lived countless lives before having their memory wiped of said lives. Retroactively, the faces glimpsed in “The Brain of Morbius” accounted for some of those past lives, and, most prominently, Jo Martin’s dangerous Fugitive Doctor was among those lost Doctors, too. But who were those other secret Doctor Whos? It seems possible that the new version of the show might finally give us an answer.

According to a new quote from current Who showrunner, Russell T Davies, the story of “The Timeless Children,” established during the Jodie Whittaker era, will continue in Season 2 of the newly relaunched series. “That storyline’s a gift handed to me by Chris Chibnall, and it’s an honour to take it on from him,” Davies told Doctor Who Magazine. “There's so much story in it! We’re dealing with it in what we’re shooting now for Season 2.”

It’s not super shocking that Davies is picking up the threads from the Chibnall era in the Ncuti Gatwa era. The three David Tennant/Catherine Tate specials already made it clear that the Doctor’s origin story of having been adopted is still very much on his mind, especially in the episode “Wild Blue Yonder.” But if Season 2 of the new era is doubling down on the Timeless Child, and the Doctor’s time working for the clandestine group called the Division, then it seems possible we’ll learn at least a little bit about the identity of some of those other Doctors.

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was given a watch containing all the memories of the missing Doctors. Will we ever figure out what this was all about?


In the 2022 Doctor Who episodes “Survivors of the Flux,” and “The Vanquishers,” the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) obtained a fob watch from her pseudo-mother, Tecteun, which contained all the memories of her lost lives. “The Vanquishers” ended with the Doctor depositing the watch deep in the TARDIS, and it has not been seen since. But, if Season 2 of the new era is revisiting this concept, and Davies is saying “there’s so much story in it” that means we’re finally getting more of these missing Doctors, right?

Maybe, maybe not. According to a new interview with SFX, Davies also said: “The amount we talk about previous Doctors on set is zero… Doctor Who has moments where it looks back but it’s more exciting to look forward.” Presumably, the context of this quote was connected to whether or not previously established actors who played the Doctor — like Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi — could crossover with Ncuti Gatwa. Which is a little different than revealing previously unknown Doctors.

And, if Doctor Who continues to dig into the Timeless Child concept — which Davies has already done with the 2023 specials — it will have to be looking backward a little bit, at least into the Doctor’s distant past. So, while we can probably rule out any cameos from previous Doctors in 2024, that doesn’t mean the lore and secret backstory of the Doctor can’t be filled out. The show can go forward of course, but it’s also a show about time travel, so defining what “forward” means is very relative and timey-wimey.

Doctor Who Season 1 hits Disney+ with a two-episode premiere on May 11, 2024.

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