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DWM investigates what it is to be immortal in the Doctor Who universe. “What? Live forever? Never die?” we hear you asking. That is what the word means...

The Doctor recently made two of his friends immortal.

After Viking girl Ashildr dies fighting the Mire (The Girl Who Died), he uses a Mire battlefield medical kit to bring her back. “It’s repairing her,” he reveals, as her body absorbs the alien technology. “It will never stop repairing her… Barring accidents, she may now be functionally immortal.”

‘ The Doctor can bestow immortality at will. He has at least three methods of so doing, some more problematic than others...’

In Hell Bent, he scoops Clara Oswald out of time an instant before her death (which we saw in Face the Raven). “Your physical processes have been time-looped,” he explains to her, “frozen between one heartbeat and the next. Even your breathing is just a habit.” The Time Lord General adds that Clara must be “returned to your final moments. Your death is an established historical event and cannot be altered… you could fracture Time itself.”

“Mind you,” says Clara, going on the run in a stolen TARDIS, “seeing as I’m not actually ageing, there’s a tiny bit of wiggle room, isn’t there?” She knows she must return to Gallifrey one day, but decides to take “the long way round” – and, theoretically, she could keep on travelling forever.

Captain Jack will undergo a life-changing moment in The Parting of the Ways...

The Doctor has travelled with an immortal before, of course. Captain Jack Harkness was exterminated in The Parting of the Ways, but then – as the Doctor relates to him in Utopia – Rose Tyler “absorbed the Time vortex itself… She brought you back to life, but she couldn’t control it. She brought you back forever.”

Three friends; three different types of immortality.

It might be useful if we could define the word precisely – though various dictionaries and swathes of speculative fiction don’t help us much here. To be truly immortal, do you have to be incapable of dying? Or is it sufficient to halt the aging process, to have the potential to live forever – “barring accidents”? Opinions vary.

Ashildr falls into the latter category – and it’s certainly enough for the Doctor. “You’re immortal, not indestructible,” he tells her in The Woman Who Lived. “You can be hurt – killed, even.” Aware of this, she has mastered a range of defensive skills. She’s still susceptible to disease – and once had the Black Death – but experience has bolstered her immune system too. To have lived to the end of the universe (and beyond), all the same, she must have been incredibly lucky.

Jack’s body, in contrast, heals any damage done to it – even fatal damage – almost instantly. “A man shot me through the heart,” he recalls (Utopia again). “Then I woke up. Thought it was kind of strange. But then, it never stopped. Fell of a cliff, trampled by horses, World War I, World War II, poison, starvation, a stray javelin. In the end, I got the message. I’m the man who can never die.”

We haven’t seen much of Clara since she was scooped and looped. We don’t know if she can be maimed or destroyed or become diseased. Her body might remain in its current temporal state, whatever happens to it. We do know that, if she misses her appointment with Destiny – through being trapped somewhere, for example – the universe will pay the price.

So, the Doctor can bestow immortality at will – upon human beings, at least. He has at least three methods of so doing, some admittedly more problematic than others.

That is quite some ability to possess…

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: A celebration of the classic Target Book covers, including interviews with artists Chris Achilleos, Jeff Cummins and Andrew Skilleter; executive producer Brian Minchin on casting the new companion; an interview with actress Clare Higgins, who plays Ohila, leader of the Sisterhood of Karn; an in-depth look at immortality in Doctor Who; The Fact of Fiction examines two pivotal adventures – Warriors' Gate and The Night of the Doctor; The Time Team watch The Vampires of Venice; a guide to Doctor Who weddings; comic strip – Witch Hunt part 3, written by Jacqueline Rayner and illustrated by Martin Geraghty; Relative Dimensions discusses cosplay for kids; a review of The Complete Series 9 box set; plus news, reviews, previews, competitions, a prize-winning crossword and the Wotcha column.