At the end of the Doctor Who special “The Power of the Doctor,” Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) regenerated into the next incarnation of the legendary time traveler. What surprised the show’s fans was the emergence of former star David Tennant as the Doctor once again — counted as number 14 this time.
But what does that really mean? The question will intrigue Whovians as the series goes dark until its 60th anniversary in November.
With a set of three special episodes already filmed (and a fourth on the way), there are a few things already known about the landmark celebration, however. So, let’s take a look at what we know about the Time Lord’s upcoming anniversary and what it means for Tennant to once again be The Doctor.
Considering the preview for the first of the specials, which aired after “The Power of the Doctor,” offers few details — and even a character played by Ncuti Gatwa asking “What the hell is going on?” — we’ll take stab at what could be happening. Typically, The Doctor does not regenerate into new clothing (besides the first time the change occurred in series history), so the fact it happened here is significant. One possibility: the adventure, and the return of Tennant’s Tenth Doctor persona as the Fourteenth, is all happening in their head mid-regeneration.
If that’s the case, anything can happen and anyone can show up. And since the story is meant to celebrate all of the show’s history, that would easily allow actors like Tom Baker, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi to appear as older versions of their Doctor personas — just like Paul McGann and 1980s Doctor Who stars Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy did in “The Power of the Doctor.” It would also allow for David Bradley to make another appearance as the First Doctor (as he did in “Power” and Capaldi’s swan song, “Twice Upon a Time”) and Jo Martin as the Fugitive Doctor — although we’re uncertain Davies will want to do much with that story. The purpose of it all transpiring in the Doctor’s head would be the chance for them to determine what sort of Doctor they want to be next. Something far more purposeful than is generally the case for The Doctor.
Then again, official communication to the press from the production identifies Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor, suggesting the story is happening “for real.” In that scenario, the story may revolve around something more curious: the Doctor “revisiting some of the old favorites” after their last two incarnations faced a lot of trauma and sadness. At that point, returning to Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, despite the despair he faced, would seem a welcome respite. But considering that persona already took charge of two regenerations — the second occurring at the start of the season 4 finale, “Journey’s End” — the persona’s habit of returning may also be an aspect of the tale. Is it the selfishness of the “Time Lord Triumphant” sneaking out again or a sense of security represented by that face? And can he finally let it all go and accept that The Doctor must change? A subsequent trailer released the night of the Eurovision Song Contest final offered another possibility: he’s returned to say a last goodbye to an old friend.
Incoming head writer Russell T. Davies offered his own speculation back in May 2022, when circumstances forced him to comment despite wanting to leave the focus on Whittaker and former showrunner Chris Chibnall’s final days: “Maybe this is a missing story. Or a parallel world. Or a dream, or a trick, or a flashback. The only thing I can confirm is that it’s going to be spectacular, as two of our greatest stars reunite for the battle of a lifetime.”
No matter the true nature of the story, it will be told in three parts titled “The Star Beast,” “Wild Blue Yonder,” and “The Giggle.” As Davies subsequently revealed in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, the first is partially adapted from a Doctor Who comic strip story of nearly the same name (by Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons) featuring an alien known as Beep The Meep. The others he offered more oblique comments on, asking of the third, “what is the giggle, who’s giggling, what about and why?” Of “Wild Blue Yonder,” he noted it is a reference to the military song, but left readers wondering why it might be playing.
The directors for the anniversary specials are Rachel Talalay — a familiar name to Who fans — Tom Kingsley (of the BBC’s version of Ghosts) and The Spanish Princess‘s Chanya Button.
(Photo by Adrian Rogers/ © Sci-Fi Channel/BBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
Headlining the specials are Tennant and fellow season 4 costar Catherine Tate. She returns as companion Donna Noble. Both were revealed on May 15, 2022, ahead of some location shooting which would have spoiled the surprise. Tate’s return caused plenty of speculation among the fans as her character can never remember her time with the Doctor. If she recalls any of her travels — for various metacrisis reasons — her brain will literally burn away. So, naturally enough, how can this be happening? One of our suggestions helps sidestep this problem, but we hope Davies will surprise us with something more, ahem, mind-blowing.
Also along for at least one part of the adventure is the late Bernard Cribbins as Donna’s grandfather, Wilfred Mott. The actor was spotted on set in May 2022 — his scenes may have been the reason the BBC went public with Tennant and Tate’s return — but, sadly, he passed away on July 28 of that year. It is unclear how important he will be to the story, but at least it will offer his devoted fans one last moment with him as a character he adored playing.
(Photo by BBC/Disney+)
Behind the camera, Davies returns as not only the writer of the specials, but as executive producer for the trio of anniversary episodes and the subsequent new season. Davies spearheaded the show’s return in 2005 and returns nearly a decade later to, seemingly, right the ship again. Although, that comparison is not exactly correct as his first run saw him resurrecting the program after 14 years of dormancy (baring the 1996 TV movie, of course). Other returning behind-the-scenes names include executive producers Julie Gardner, Phil Collinson, and Jane Tranter — although the latter was a BBC executive at the time of Davies’s first run with the series.
Meanwhile, we expect familiar faces to return, but no one has been confirmed. Nevertheless, we’d be surprised if Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Pearl Mackie, Camille Coduri, and others do not make at least a momentary appearance. Also, who wouldn’t want to see more of Graham’s (Bradley Walsh) former companion support group?
In April 2023, word broke revealing composer Murray Gold, who scored the entirety of the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctor eras, will be back for the specials and season 14.
Also, one last detail we also know is returning: the Doctor Who “diamond” logo. Introduced in Jon Pertwee’s last season (1973), it represents the most intricate of the logos to date and featured on Who merchandise for the next seven years. It also resurfaced as the brand logo for the VHS releases of Classic Series stories until 1996. Seeing it return is certainly a nostalgia bomb for fans of the program’s original run.
(Photo by Disney/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)
At some point during the anniversary specials, Gatwa will debut as the Fifteenth Doctor and take charge of a fourth special to debut during the “festive season” in 2023, though the preview attached to the end of “The Power of the Doctor” suggests he may also appear as someone else before he assumes the title role.
Upon the announcement of Gatwa as the next Doctor, the actor said in a statement, “There aren’t quite the words to describe how I’m feeling. A mix of deeply honoured, beyond excited and of course a little bit scared. This role and show means so much to so many around the world, including myself, and each one of my incredibly talented predecessors has handled that unique responsibility and privilege with the utmost care…I will endeavour my utmost to do the same.”
Millie Gibson joins the cast of #DoctorWho as the Doctor's companion, Ruby Sunday ❤️❤️➕♦️
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) November 18, 2022
Yasmin Finney will also debut in the specials as a character called Rose — but not Rose Tyler, the companion played by Piper in the first two seasons of the New Series. Davies himself indicated that the new Rose is a separate character with many online suggesting she is Donna and Shaun’s daughter. For her part, Finney said in May 2022, “I cannot wait to begin this journey and for you all to see how Rose blossoms. Get Ready.”
At the time she was revealed, it was assumed Rose would be the Fifteenth Doctor’s first companion — a term we’re happy to see return after Chibnall dismissed it in favor of “friends” or “fam” — but on November 18, the BBC confirmed Coronation Street veteran Millie Gibson will join the Fifteenth Doctor as companion Ruby Sunday. In a statement, Gibson said, “I will do everything to try and fill the boots the fellow companions have traveled in before me.” She will debut in the “festive season” special.
00110001 00100000 01101000 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100111 01101111 pic.twitter.com/m132XMhqE7
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) May 13, 2023
Additionally, Neil Patrick Harris is on board as the primary antagonist of the anniversary specials and is seen in the trailers released thus far. Although, it is still unclear who he is playing. One theory suggests he is the Celestial Toymaker, a villain who appeared in a 1966 story, played by Michael Gough. In that one televised story, the character and The Doctor are said to be locked in ongoing game. Attempts to dramatize a rematch between them were always foiled by production issues, making him one of the most intriguing and underutilized enemies in the show’s history. But if we keep open the possibility that all of this is transpiring in The Doctor’s mind, then it is possible Harris is a manifestation of the Dream Lord, a dark aspect of The Doctor played by Toby Jones in the 2010 episode “Amy’s Choice.”
At the time his participation became public, Davies said, “It’s my huge honour to open our studio doors for the mighty Neil Patrick Harris… but who, why, what is he playing? You’ll just have to wait. But I promise you, the stuff we’re shooting now is off the scale. Doctor beware!”
The Christmas Day trailer also revealed Ruth Madeley will appear as a character later confirmed to be called Shirley Anne Bingham. The preview also offered a treat for fans of Doctor Who comics as a character called Beep the Meep made his first life action appearance. As mentioned above, the character debuted in a comic strip adventure.
New production personnel joining the show include executive producer Joel Collins, producers Vicki Delow and Chris May, co-producer Ellen Marsh, production designer Philip Sims, and script editor Scott Handcock.
The celebration of the program will continue into the next season — the 14th since Davies brought Doctor Who back in 2005. Gatwa and Gibson carry on as The Doctor and Ruby, while they face guest stars like India Varma and Jinkx Monsoon.
The Duchess unleashed! 👀
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) May 24, 2023
Varma will be playing a character known only as “The Duchess.” Of her, Davies said, “a whole new audience will be hiding behind the settee when the Duchess unleashes her terror.” Curiously, Varma has appeared in the Doctor World before as doomed Torchwood agent Suzie Costello, but considering familiar faces pop up again and again — including Doctors at this point — it’s hardly a continuity problem.
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) April 19, 2023
Monsoon’s character, meanwhile, is not yet named but is said to be a “major” role, leading many to assume a new incarnation of The Master is on their way. At this point, a different established character or even a brand new foe are equally possible. Of the actress’s part, Davies only said, “Doctor Who will never be the same again.”
Other actors set to appear in the new season include Jonathan Groff (in a “key” role), Anita Dobson, Michelle Greenidge, and Aneurin Barnard as The Doctor and Ruby head off to Regency England, the 1960s, and other strange reaches of space and time. Additionally, Jemma Redgrave will be returning as U.N.I.T. director Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, a part she played as recently as “The Power of the Doctor.” The other actors are playing as-yet undisclosed roles, although Barnard is said to be playing someone called “Roger ap Gwilliam.” In June 2023, Doctor Who socials announced that Lenny Rush will play Morris in the new series. It was also announced in June that Bonnie Langford will reprise her role as Melanie Bush, the companion to the Sixth and Seventh Doctors played by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, before returning in a cameo role in Jodie Whittaker’s final episode as the Thirteenth Doctor.
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) June 11, 2023
Gatwa’s main costume was revealed in December 2022 — a key event in the lead-up to a new Doctor — but subsequent photos have revealed his incarnation will more readily dress in period fashions than many of his predecessors.
The eight episode season will be directed by Dylan Holmes Williams, Mark Tonderai, Julie Anne Robinson, Ben Chessell and Jamie Donoughue.
(Photo by Disney+)
When the show returns it will have a new worldwide streaming partner: Disney+. The deal, announced just a few days after “The Power of the Doctor” aired, will still allow the program to premiere first on BBC One in the UK and Ireland, followed shortly thereafter in other regions on the Disney platform. It is a change from previous agreements, particularly in the States where BBC America enjoyed broadcast rights with new episodes of recent seasons debuting on HBO Max some months later. It is still unclear if BBC America will be able to broadcast the show, as they have since Tennant first debuted as the Tenth Doctor, but even if they retain those broadcast rights, the customary AMC+ stream will likely disappear in favor of Disney+.
Another behind-the-scenes change is happening, too. Previous seasons of Doctor Who were produced by one arm or another of the BBC, but the 60th anniversary specials and subsequent seasons will be produced by Bad Wolf for the BBC. The company was founded by Gardner and Tranter — the latter being the BBC executive who commissioned the revived series in 2004 — and takes its name from the phrase that chased the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose across time and space. Via Bad Wolf, the pair also produced His Dark Materials for HBO and the BBC.
Moving Doctor Who to an outside production company means it will gain access to greater funding (reports indicate Disney will be co-producing the new seasons), bypassing a difficulty which lead to the show’s inconsistent schedule over the last few years. It will also give Davies the opportunity to devise the show with less mandates from the BBC management. That guarantee of increased freedom was a key condition of his return. And though that might seem ominous to some, Davies proved in his first run at the helm a special devotion to the show’s concepts and a willingness to add a (generally) satisfying emotional component.
Combined with the greater reach Disney+ promises to deliver, it could be the most golden of ages for the series.
(Photo by Disney/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)
Doctor Who will take most of 2023 off, returning in November in its new home, Disney+. Since that the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” aired on the show’s actual anniversary date, November 23, we’re going to assume the first of the 60th anniversary specials will air that day, too, with the other two specials airing through the remainder of the month and Gatwa’s first starring episode debuting likely on Christmas Day — a holiday of significance in Davies’ first run on the show. After that, his first full season as The Doctor will debut sometime in 2024.
The series score for Doctor Who from 2005 to the present is 90% and 68% for the seasons airing from 1963-1989. An embargo on the 60th anniversary special episodes, and 14th season has not yet been announced; therefore, there is no score yet for those.
Thumbnail image: BBC/doctorwho.tv “The Doctor’s outfit… revealed!“