I've got my ideas about "the John Hurt Doctor" and Rich seems to share them. We'll find out in under a month how right we are, I expect, but here are the basics: he's the tenth regeneration of The Doctor, situated between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston's incarnations.
This might be what Steven Moffat is referring to in his latest comments on The Doctor's ever-controversial regeneration count. He was speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and has been quoted by the events sponsors, The Radio Times. Here's their version of what he said:
He can only regenerate 12 times… I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There's something you've all missed.
It does seem most likely that he's talking about a regeneration we didn't account for, and seeing as Russell T Davies started his run with Eccleston already in action and not rolling around in a glowing light, the show's long hiatus is definitely the most obvious place to hide a transformation. I do think everything we've seen in the show so far – really, in the last episode – tells us this is the case.
But that seems almost too obvious. Is there, perhaps, some chance that The Doctor has had a regeneration we didn't count? Could Moffat be saying he's burned off one more than folk are considering?
I also think this might be true. If so, my best guess would say that the extra regeneration involves the severed hand of the Tenth Doctor and the individual it later became, the so-called Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor.
Seeing as David Tennant and Billie Piper are on hand in the upcoming 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, there's a pretty plausible theory, oft repeated, that they'll be playing the characters as left in Pete's World.
So, it is possible that Moffat is going to tell us that the apparent Eleventh Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, isn't even the Twelfth Doctor but the Thirteenth. I can see how his counting might make this the case.
And if so, his would bring the regeneration limit very much to the fore in the next couple of episodes, and make Peter Capaldi's incarnation the first post-limit incarnation.
This counting would also make "The Fall of the Eleventh" a reference to the Pete's World Meta-Crisis Doctor. It would certainly give that character something important to do in the upcoming episodes- ie. die, dramatically.
Now, if I've learned one thing about Doctor Who fans, it's that they have an abundance of theories on all of these bits of lore, mythology and small print. I'm sure I'll be seeing a lot of thoughts about Moffat's comments bobbing up, and I look forward to diving into them. Of course, nobody knows but Moffat himself how he'll invent a new twist, and his counting doesn't have to match anybody else's.
And, seeing as the show will no doubt live on after Moffat, his count won't even be final.