This past weekend’s episode of Doctor Who was a fun, spooky yarn featuring overgrown spiders – a typical standalone adventure that didn’t rock the mythology in any major ways. Oh wait, it did, as it was actually the latest installment to hint that the Thirteenth Doctor’s not the character’s first female regeneration.
Early on in the episode, the Doctor gets nervous and rambles when meeting her friend Yaz’s family. Upon being introduced to her sister, the Time Lord stammers that she was once “a sister in an aqua-hospital.” So, apparently the heroine was a female nurse in a previous lifetime. Does she mean that, say, David Tennant’s Doctor masqueraded as a nun for a time (that we’d like to see!), or that she’s already been a woman?
We might go for the former, more hilarious, option, but this is the second time in season 11 that the Doctor’s said something that implies she was previously female. Back in the premiere, upon choosing her new outfit, she remarks that “it’s been a long time since I had to buy women’s clothes.” Is the Time Lord referring to past occasions when she’s taken her female friends on shopping sprees, or has she already bought women’s clothes for herself?
Showrunner Chris Chibnall seems to have picked up this running joke from the final episodes of his predecessor Steven Moffat’s run. In 2017’s “World Enough and Time,” the Twelfth Doctor speaks about his youth with companion Bill and comments that he’s “fairly sure” he was a boy when he was younger and not a girl, but admits it was “a long time ago” and that Time Lords are a “bit flexible on the whole man-woman thing.”
At first glance, the idea that the Doctor could have been a woman before just doesn’t make sense as we know that the character has only had fourteen bodies – Jodie Whittaker’s the Thirteenth Doctor, but John Hurt played the unnumbered War Doctor. That’s the original thirteen regenerations (Tennant used up two) plus two of her second regeneration cycle. The thing is, though, what if the Doctor is currently on her third regeneration cycle?
The character could have had numerous more incarnations out there that we never knew about, including at least one other female one. Perhaps this is the truth that’ll come out when the “Timeless Child” mystery is eventually explained. I guess we’ll just have to keep watching Doctor Who season 11 to see if this big question’s going to be answered or not, but for now, you can color us intrigued.