Who Mysteries: The Doctor’s Real Age

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Just how old is the Doctor really? Guest contributor Thomas Capon examines the evidence.

“I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old, and I’m the man who’s gonna save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?”

No. Hang on, yes actually! 903 years old? But you told us that you were 953 before! Over the many years, Whovians have discovered that the Doctor’s age can be a bit of a confusing matter. How old is he really? And does he actually know his age or does he just make it up? Let’s examine this question and see what conclusions we can draw.

Firstly, how old does he say he is? Well here is a list of his various statements about his age. (Please feel free to correct me in the comments if I make any mistakes as I admit I haven’t watched all these episodes.)

The First Doctor

  • Entered the Time Lord academy at the age of eight along with the Master, (The Sound of the Drums)
  • Visited the Medusa Cascade at the age of ninety, (The Stolen Earth)

The Second Doctor

  • Gave his age at about 450, (The Tomb of the Cybermen)

The Third Doctor

  • Claimed to have been a scientist for ‘several thousand years,’ (Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Mind of Evil)

The Fourth Doctor

  • Claimed to be 757, (The Brain of Morbius)
  • …But later gave his age as 749, (The Seeds of Doom)
  • Said he was 756 but Romana corrected him, stating that he was 759, (The Ribos Operation)
  • Turned 760, (The Power of Kroll)

The Sixth Doctor

  • Stated he was 900, (Revelation of the Daleks)
  • Later added that he was 900 ‘more or less,’ (The Mysterious Planet)

The Seventh Doctor

  • Was the same age as the Rani: 953, (Time and Rani)

The Ninth Doctor

  • Claimed to be 900, (Aliens of London, The Empty Child)

The Tenth Doctor

  • Was 903 during the Titanic incident, (The Voyage of the Damned)
  • …And 906 at the time of his death, (The End of Time)

The Eleventh Doctor

  • Had turned 907 by the time of the Crash of the Byzantium, (Flesh and Stone)
  • …Which he still was when he met the Dream Lord, (Amy’s Choice)
  • Was 909 when invited by his future self to America, who claimed to be 1103 (The Impossible Astronaut)
  • Appeared to be older than a thousand when he met George (Night Terrors)
  • Over 1200 (A Town Called Mercy)

While never directly stated, with a little maths, we can work out that the Doctor was approximately 200 when he left Gallifrey. In ‘The Pirate Planet’, Romana states that the Doctor has been travelling in the TARDIS for 523 years. The Doctor at the time of the Quest of Time is approximately 760. 760-523= 237. In the Doctor’s Wife, the TARDIS states that, they have been travelling for 700 years. If we presume the Doctor is still 909 then 909-700= 209. So presuming the TARDIS is rounding up, the Doctor was probably 237 when he stole her and she stole him.

Note: For simplicity, we’ll leave out books, audiobooks, comics etc and just focus on the TV episodes. At least to me, the books, comics etc. are only canon if they fit in the the TV series, so when discussing a question of canon, let’s leave them to one side.

There are the facts. Now to search for an answer to the confusion of why the Doctor contradicts himself when talking about his age. For one, let’s assume the Third Doctor was exaggerating when he states he is several thousand years old. Secondly, Romana is probably right in stating that the Doctor does lose count of a few years every now and then which would explain this age loss in Seeds of Doom. After all, what are two or three years to someone who is over 700. With those two presumptions, the small errors in the classic series have been explained away.

But what about the ‘900 Controversy’? Why is the Ninth Doctor 900 while the Seventh is 953? I’d really like to know what actually went through Russell T Davies’ brain when he decided that the Doctor was only 900. Why did he do it? Was it to show that the Doctor had lost parts of his past due to the Time War? Well maybe if I ever meet RTD, I’ll ask him. But anyway how can we take this ‘error’ and fit it into canon? Unlike with the case of the Fourth Doctor being one or two years out, we can’t just explain this obvious contradiction away by a small miscount. Well, we can but let’s look at the various other options as well. After all at the end of the day, to put it in the words of the Fourth Doctor: “I think I should know how old I am!”

Below are several options that I’ve thought up. However, at the end of the day, it’s your choice. You can choose which you regard as canon or even come up with your own.

1. The Doctor doesn’t know his age

I really dislike this option, after all the Doctor is a Time Lord. Surely he had some weird, Time Lord way of knowing how old he is. We know that he definitely knows his age in Time and Rani, but maybe the Time War has caused the Doctor to forget his age. Anyway I suppose this is an option especially as it’s the view that the Moff has on the question of the Doctor’s age.

2. Time War!

The answer to all Doctor Who’s continuity problems. Time has been drastically rewritten by the war and so the Doctor has lost years from his past making him hundreds of years younger than he would be.

3. The Doctor restarted counting after the Time War

After the major trauma of the Time War, the Doctor may have decided to start his travels afresh. The TARDIS respects his feelings and also restarts her count but still with the 200 year gap. So where was the Ninth for the first 900 years of his life? If we accept this theory to be true, then I guess that he spent those 900 years on Titan IV pondering his actions, just like his younger self decided to do after his violent rage in the Twin Dilemma, but this time in mourning.

4. Earth Years and Gallifreyan Years

My favourite option and, as far as I can see, it fits with the Time War and everything. Different planets have different length years. I’m no expert, but it’s something to do with the time that the planet takes to orbit it’s sun (or suns in, Gallifrey’s case.) So a year on Earth may be shorter or longer than a year on Gallifrey. In ‘Time and Rani’, the Doctor is definitely using Gallifreyan Years. Reason? He is using his age which is the same as the Rani’s to open a door in the Rani’s lab. It’s incredibly unlikely that the Rani would use her age in Earth Years to lock the door so presumably it is Gallifreyan. If we presume the Sixth Doctor is also giving his age in Gallifreyan Years then our problem suddenly vanishes.

Look at it like is: prior to the Time War, the Doctor gave his age in his home planet’s years which aren’t the same as our years. After the life changing Time War, he adopts Earth as his new home planet (hence his enhanced fondness of it in the Modern Series) and also starts to calculate his age in Earth Years.

So what is an Earth Year to a Gallifreyan Year? If we take the TARDIS’ word that the ‘909 year old’ Doctor has literally been travelling with her for 700 Earth Years then he stole her at the age of 209. According to Romana, the Doctor stole the TARDIS at the age of 237. So 237 Gallifreyan Years is equal to 209 Earth Years. This means one Earth Year is 1.133971291866 Gallifreyan Years. So when the Ninth Doctor claims to be 900, he is actually 900*1.133971291866= 1020 Gallifreyan Years. 1020 fits in perfectly with the Doctor’s age in the classic series! Hooray! Problem solved! Eureka!

So one final problem: how old is the 1200 Earth year old Doctor in Gallifreyan years? Using our newly found Earth Years to Gallifreyan Years calculator, the answer is 1360, more or less.