Doctor Who: Ncuti Gatwa, David Tennant, Disney+, and Everything We Know About the 60th Anniversary

Doctor Who special "The Power of the Doctor" saw the end of Jodie Whittaker's tenure as the Doctor and the unexpected surprise of Tennant reprising the role.

by | June 21, 2023 | Comments

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At the end of the 2022 Doctor Who special “The Power of the Doctor,” the 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 intrigued Whovians as the series went dark in anticipation of its 60th anniversary this month.

With a set of three special episodes (and a fourth for the holidays), there are many things already known about the landmark celebration. So, let’s take a look at what we know about the Time Lord’s upcoming anniversary, what it means for Tennant to once again be The Doctor, and The Doctor who is already waiting to take his place.

What’s It All About? 

Considering the first preview for the specials, which aired after “The Power of the Doctor,” offered only a few details — and even a character played by Ncuti Gatwa asking “What the hell is going on?” — some believed the upcoming adventures, and the return of Tennant’s Tenth Doctor persona as the Fourteenth, might all happen in the character’s head mid-regeneration.. Typically, The Doctor does not regenerate into new clothing (besides the first time the change occurred in series history) or a previous face, so the fact it happened here is significant.

But since that night in October 2022, official communication to the press from the production identified Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor and that the stories told in the anniversary specials are real and canon — or, at least, as canon as any Doctor Who episode can be since its 60 year history features three different explanations for the sinking of Atlantis and two origins for the Loch Ness Monster.

Thanks to subsequent trailers and returning showrunner Russell T. Davies’ comments across the last 13 months, a clearer perception of the specials has emerged. Regenerated into a previous form, The Doctor searches for the reason why and soon stumbles upon an old friend, Donna Noble, who can never remember she traveled with him. If she ever recalls their time together, her brain will literally burn away.

Saturday’s special episode, “The Star Beast,” will nonetheless reunite The Doctor and Donna. Scenes from the next two episodes, “Wild Blue Yonder,” and “The Giggle,” make it clear that the two will be traveling together with seemingly no harm coming to Donna. Well, at least for the moment as a more recent trailer makes it clear The Doctor may not be able to save her this time around.

As Davies revealed in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, “The Star Beast” is 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. He offered more oblique comments about the other two specials, asking of the third, “what is the giggle, who’s giggling, what about and why?” Seemingly, the answer is The Celestial Toymaker, a villain who has not appeared on the show in 58 years — but more on that antagonist later.

Of “Wild Blue Yonder,” he noted it is a reference to the military song, but left readers wondering why it might be playing. Both he, Tennant, and other members of the production have referred to the second special as being “unlike anything” seen on Doctor Who before.

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.

Who Is Returning?

DOCTOR WHO, (from left): David Tennant, Catherine Tate,

(Photo by Adrian Rogers/ © Sci-Fi Channel/BBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Headlining the specials are Tennant and fellow season 4 costar Catherine Tate. As mentioned above, 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 because of the danger The Doctor presents to Donna. But as we also mentioned above, trailers for the special make it clear they can have a few adventures before the time bomb in her brain goes off.

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.

A trailer for the specials released on Christmas Day 2022 also confirmed Jacqueline King and Karl Collins will return as Sylvia Noble and Shaun Temple, Donna’s mother and husband, respectively.

Doctor Who logo

(Photo by BBC/Disney+)

Behind the camera, Davies returns as not only the writer of the specials, but as executive producer for the quartet of 2023 specials and the subsequent new season next year. Davies spearheaded the show’s return in 2005 and returns nearly 15 years 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.

Unlike most Doctor Who anniversary outings, no other former Doctors are expected to appear. Although, if IMDb is to be believed, one former companion from the 1980s may stop by. A returning guest character who has been confirmed is Jemma Redgrave‘s Kate Stewart, the head of U.N.I.T., a global peacekeeping force that occasionally helps The Doctor.

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 the 2024 season.

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.

Who Is New?


(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 air on December 25.

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.”

He subsequently told Rolling Stone that his version of the character is “emotionally vulnerable. He hides it with humour, but he’s lonely.” Gatwa also added that The Doctor is once again full of energy and that “the poor cameramen struggled to keep up.”

Before Tennant turns into Gatwa, though, Yasmin Finney will also debut in the anniversary specials as a character called Rose — but not Rose Tyler, the companion played by Piper in the first two seasons of the New Series. Instead, this new Rose is Donna’s daughter with Shaun. Various teases and comments from Finney in Doctor Who Magazine have made it clear she has some knowledge of her mother’s adventures with The Doctor, if only as wild fantasies she uses in her crafting hobby. Also, a curious reference by Davies to Finney’s presence on set in the waning days of the 2024 season’s production suggests Rose may recur beyond the anniversary stories.

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 2022, 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 Christmas Day special, which will be called “The Church on Ruby Road.”

Additionally, Neil Patrick Harris is on board as the Celestial Toymaker, a villain who appeared in a 1966 story in the form of the late 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. According to Davies, the Toymaker is the chief antagonist of the third anniversary special, “The Giggle.”

At the time Harris’s 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 2022 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, but will be voiced in the special by Miriam Margolyes. Other actors confirmed for the three anniversary specials include Susan Twist, Charlie De Melo, and John Mackay. The latter reprises his role as John Logie Baird from Nolly, a Davies series about Noele Gordon (Helena Bonham Carter), a UK TV star whose success, betrayal, and disappearance from television screens was both legendary and public. Why Davies is so keen to tie the two shows together is anyone’s guess.

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.

Who’s in Season 14?

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.

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.

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, Redgrave will also return for the season. 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 2023 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. She made a cameo in Jodie Whittaker’s final episode as the Thirteenth Doctor. And, as mentioned above, IMDb claims she will appear in one or more of the anniversary specials.

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. “They’d been thinking about lots of outfits, almost a different one each week. Which is new! I love it,” Gatwa said in that Rolling Stone interview. “The Doctor has traveled all of time and space; they’re going to have a sick wardrobe.”

The eight episode season will be directed by Dylan Holmes Williams, Mark Tonderai, Julie Anne Robinson, Ben Chessell and Jamie Donoughue.

Who Is Airing the Show?

(Photo by Disney+)

When the show returns this weekend, 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 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.

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.

When Does Doctor Who Return?


(Photo by Disney/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)

“The Star Beast” airs this Saturday, November 25, with “Wild Blue Yonder” debuting on December 2 and “The Giggle” rounding out the anniversary specials on December 9. “The Church on Ruby Road” returns Doctor Who to December 25, a day of great significance during Davies’s first tenure as showrunner. According to Disney, each special will be available at the same time they air in the UK, so plan your next few Saturdays accordingly. After that, Gatwa’s first full season as The Doctor will debut sometime in 2024.

What Is the Rotten Tomatoes Score for Doctor Who

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/ “The Doctor’s outfit… revealed!

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