THE AGE OF THE DOCTOR
This is the age of the Doctor, split up into the length of time each regeneration spent puttering around the universe. His total age is 3,325, and this is how I put it together:
The lifespan of the classic-era Doctors was really simple. Ironically, their continuity was pretty damn good compared to revived-era, and the ages discussed all add up and fit together. (Except for a few figures that are clearly complete outliers, like the Third Doctor claiming to be 1,000 one time, which I ignored).
A few things to note are that the First Doctor didn’t steal the Tardis until he was in his 230s, and that the Eighth Doctor spent 600 years trapped on the planet Orbis.
The revived series is where it starts to get tricky, though. (We’ll get to the War Doctor in a moment, pun intended.) The Seventh Doctor claimed he was “starting to lose count”, though, so I’m taking that into consideration: I’ve made judgments based on the lengths of time that we-the-audience actually see evidence of the Doctor living for, rather than simply what age he cites. (Though I accepted the latter in the absence of contradictory evidence.)
The Ninth Doctor claims to be around 900 - which already can’t be true, since the Fifth Doctor was around that age when he regenerated into the Sixth. I put solving that discrepancy on hold for a minute, and decided to first figure out the length of time the Doctor lived for between his Ninth and Eleventh incarnations - regardless of the starting age of the Ninth Doctor, the same amount of time passed between Nine and Eleven.
We know that the Eleventh Doctor spent 900 years on Trenzalore, and that just before going to Trenzalore, he was 400 years older than the War Doctor. Which means there’s a 400 year gap in which the Ninth, Tenth, and (pre-Trenzalore) Eleventh’s lives take place. But how to split that 400 years between the three of them?
The Eleventh Doctor claimed to be 907 just after regenerating and 1,200 just before Trenzalore, giving him 293 of those 400 years - consistent with other figures we see over Eleven’s adventures. That leaves 107 to divide between the Ninth and Tenth Doctors. The Tenth Doctor has lived for at least 3 years when he gives his age as 903, putting his starting age at around 900 (on the revived-series age numbers) rather than the Ninth. With that and his regeneration in mind, the Tenth Doctor lived for 7 years, leaving a square 100 for the Ninth.
…which doesn’t really add up. The Tenth Doctor travelled with three companions for around a year each, spent a year trapped by the Master, and almost 3 years searching for Martha, plus he had then “lived too long” in solitary by his own admonition - hardly the words of a man who used up an entire regeneration to stay around a bit longer, if he was only 7. Since that figure contradicts evidence we can see, I’m going to assume the Seventh Doctor was right, and that he’s lost track a bit. It’s also implied that the Ninth Doctor had just regenerated when he met Rose, and he had (from what we see) fewer solo adventures than the Tenth Doctor. So I’m going to split that remaining 100 years between the two, resulting in 50 for the Ninth and 57 for the Tenth. This is also consistent with the lifespan of the classic-era Doctors, so I argue it’s the most elegant possible decision.
So: now to settle the “900” problem. We know the War Doctor fought the Time War for 400 years, but if the Tenth was 907 when he regenerated, that would put the Eighth Doctor’s age around 400 when he regenerated. But we know he was still the First Doctor at that age! The solution is remarkably simple. The age of “900” was already suspect, so instead, I went with the evidence of what we’ve seen - which says the Eighth Doctor was 1,725 when he regenerated. So I just kept counting from there. And surprise, the numbers are now entirely consistent!
The Doctor, when he finished his first regeneration cycle, was approximately 3,425 years old. So when the Twelfth Doctor says he’s lived for over two thousand years, he really means it.
Sources: mostly me watching the show itself for decades, but this page gives a nice outline. I’ve also included the tenures of each actor as the current Doctor, to see how they match up to their in-universe duration.
Working out the Doctor’s personal timeline is, I think, at the more feasible and useful end of ‘ultimately hopeless nerd projects for hopeless nerds’ (the other end is where you’ll find people trying to arrange the Zelda games into a single continuity), and I think Martin’s done a good job here, and more importantly, he’s shown his working, which is always the most interesting part of this sort of thing.
I remember at the time thinking that Nine giving his age as 900 was obviously untrue (at the very least, its roundness makes it seem merely approximate) and meant to create the right impression rather than satisfy continuity. It ‘feels’ right; it tells us this person is very, very old, yet not unimaginably old; not so old that he’s totally alien and incomprehensible. Old enough that he’s not even sure how old he is and it doesn’t matter. And the blatant incorrectness of it was like a message to old, nerdy, detail-obsessed Doctor Who fans: You’re welcome here, but this is a fresh start, so don’t think too hard about it. This is the ninth doctor, so he’s 900 years old, okay? Like, whatever, you know?
And all of that — the symbolism and deliberate vagueness of the age ‘900’ — is why it rubbed me the wrong way when, in Ten’s first story, the Doctor proclaimed, “I’m nine hundred and three years old!” completely out of nowhere. It felt like listening to music and someone playing the wrong note, sharp, and two octaves high, and I hadn’t felt that before in the revival up to that point. I just didn’t see the point of the sudden, weird, restrictive specificity of it — and the writers kept doing it! “I’m nine hundred and six!” “I’m nine hundred and seven!”
I guess it wasn’t so much the specificity itself; it’s that it was specificity built on vagueness; it retroactively made ‘900’ seem like it was meant to be strictly accurate. It was disharmonious. If Nine had told Rose something like, “I’m 2,894 years old,” and they’d added numbers from there, it would have been fine. I suppose you could interpret “I’m nine hundred and three!” as the Doctor trying to rebuild his sense of self or whatever, but that sounds like feeble, post-facto bullshit to me.
So if Twelve is giving his age as “over 2000”, I’m happy about it, until the following series where they’ll have him say, “I’m over 2000 years old, plus one” I suppose.
I’m just sick to death of continuity at this point; continuity is the piano wire that Steven Moffat has been choking the show to death with. I’d love a series of Doctor Who where the Doctor has a different companion every episode with an implied backstory, and there’s no effort made to explain how much time has passed and what events have transpired between episodes.
I like continuity; it provides rules, and with rules comes the opportunity for playing with them. But when things get bogged down in their own continuity - cough, superhero comics - it stifles that, and that’s what Moffat’s been doing lately.
I remember thinking, back when he used the a-wizard-did-it-explanation cracks in time to soft-reset the rebooted Doctor Who continuity after he took over from RTD, “Ah, this will be nice! Someone who won’t pander, or hesitate to wipe the slate clean, for better storytelling.”
Ah ha ha ha, oh, lordy me. Bless.
So there’s that.