The rumours were true. After weeks of not-quite-denials and protestations of ignorance from David Tennant and Catherine Tate, the BBC has officially confirmed their return to Doctor Who: “One of the most loved pairings in Doctor Who’s history have reunited and are filming scenes that are due to air in 2023 to coincide with the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations”.
“The Doctor and Donna parted ways when the Doctor had to wipe Donna’s memory, making her forget him, in order to save her life. He left her family with a warning: if ever she remembers, she will die. But with the two coming face to face once more, the big question is, just what brings the Doctor and Donna back together?
Note the wording above: “scenes”, “coincide with”, “celebrations” plural. Nowhere in the language does the press release explicitly confirm that Tennant and Tate will appear as guest stars in a single 60th anniversary special episode alongside the new 14th Doctor Ncuti Gatwa.
When Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary, it wasn’t only with feature-length special ‘The Day of the Doctor’, but also with two mini-episodes ‘The Night of the Doctor’ and ‘The Last Day’, both of which were released in the run-up to the anniversary date itself. Could it be that the Tenth Doctor and Donna are back to film supplemental episodes, rather than appearing in a single special?
The official comment from returning showrunner Russell T Davies’ further muddies the waters:
“They’re back! And it looks impossible – first, we announce a new Doctor, and then an old Doctor, along with the wonderful Donna, what on earth is happening? 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.”
A missing story, a parallel world, a dream, a trick, or a flashback… Intriguing options all. At least the release officially uses Tennant and Tate’s character names, so there doesn’t appear to be any of the obfuscation that surrounded the return of Billie Piper for 50th anniversary episode, to keep the surprise that Piper wasn’t playing Rose Tyler but a manifestation of ‘The Moment’ alongside John Hurt’s War Doctor.
When is the Anniversary?
The show’s actual diamond anniversary is Thursday the 23rd of November 2023, but as Doctor Who has traditionally aired on Saturday – and in the Chibnall/Whittaker era, Sunday – nights, there’s a chance that whatever’s being filmed to celebrate the occasion will air either the weekends before (18th/19th November) or after (25th/26th November).
Where Will the Anniversary Celebrations Air?
Undoubtedly on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK, and on BBC America in the US. The question is whether a single anniversary special will follow in the footsteps of the 50th and also enjoy a limited cinema release. ‘The Day of the Doctor’, guest-starring John Hurt, Billie Piper and David Tennant, was shown in 3D, with a bonus cinema introduction featuring Dan Starkey’s Sontaran Strax, followed by a jokey skit featuring the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors, before they were joined by the War Doctor and the episode proper began.
After publishing a series of cryptic Instagram posts in May 2022, British director Edgar Wright (Last Night in Soho, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) was briefly rumoured to be going behind the camera for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary, but later described the rumours as “untrue” on Twitter.
We’ll update this post with more anniversary news as it’s announced.
Doctor Who will return to BBC One and BBC America in autumn 2022 with Jodie Whittaker’s final episode as the Doctor.