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How David Tennant’s Return in ‘Doctor Who’ Could Work

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I think it’s safe to say that a large chunk of the Doctor Who fanbase is excited to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to the sci-fi show, which is entering its sixtieth year. Tennant played The Doctor across three seasons and an additional collection of specials between 2005 and 2010, while Tate played fan-favorite Donna Noble in the final season of Tennant’s run as well as a few specials herself. The duo had some of the best chemistry in the history of NuWho (not romantic, they’re just mates!), with banter that had my side-splitting from title sequence to rolling credits. So why is their return to the show so shocking and special? For a variety of reasons honestly.

The most obvious reason is the return of Tate as Donna Noble, whose story had quite the finality to it. Donna’s story was left that if she remembers the Doctor or her time traveling through time and space, she will die. Seems like a good reason to stay away from her, so it’s rather unclear how she factors into the story. However, for Tennant, we’ve seen him return to Doctor Who since his original departure in “The Day of the Doctor”, the fiftieth anniversary special. So how are these two returning to Doctor Who this time and what kind of impact will it have on the lore of the show? Let’s examine a few options.

A wibbly wobbly missing adventure

One of these options is similar to how David Tennant returned to “The Day of the Doctor”, the series of specials are missing adventures set during his original time on the TARDIS. In “the Day of the Doctor”, The War Doctor (John Hurt), The Tenth Doctor, and The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) journey together to stop the Zygons, however, in the end, neither The War Doctor nor Tennant’s Doctor remembers the events. Therefore, the entire story of “The Day of the Doctor” was something original and exciting, however, also fit into the past lore of Doctor Who without messing anything up.

David Tennant's Return in Doctor Who. Day of the Doctor.
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and The Doctor (David Tennant) in Day of the Doctor. Doctor Who (BBC).

Using that logic, perhaps the upcoming specials with Tennant and Tate could do something similar. This could be a lost adventure taking place prior to The Doctor’s crash landing on Earth and regeneration into Matt Smith. However, a few pieces of information make me think this might not be the case. A bit back, we reported on behind-the-scenes pictures and the filming of the special, which indicate that the humans in this story have aged. Wilfred, played by the late Bernard Cribbins, is seen in a wheelchair. 

As well, some captured video indicates that Yasmin Finney, who was cast as a Rose in the special, is playing Donna’s daughter in the sixtieth celebration. Having a teenage or young adult child signifies a huge time jump from the last time we saw Donna Noble in Doctor Who (her last appearance was on her second wedding day). It’s possible that at some point in the tenth Doctor’s time, he decided to also visit one of his best friends, and biggest regrets, once more in her future, ensuring that she is truly happy. However, factoring in the apparent time jump and the fact that Tennant himself appears much older than what he did in 2010, this doesn’t seem like the strongest possibility.

Returning to familiar faces

Returning Doctors after their initial run isn’t something unheard of. Plenty of Doctors have returned over the years, for special episodes or one-off adventures. This is the equivalent of an Avengers film, where the heroes have to team up against an enemy that is too big for just one of them. However, we haven’t necessarily seen a doctor have a returning face, with the exception of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. As fans are probably aware, Capaldi played not one, but two characters in the Whoniverse prior to him taking up the mantle of The Doctor. Not only did he play Caecilius in “The Fires of Pompei” but he also played the crucial role of John Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth.

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. Doctor Who (BBC).

Stephen Moffat made a big deal to point out quite a few times how his face felt and looked familiar. Even going back as far as “The Day of the Doctor” where, spoiler alert, Tom Baker returns as The Curator and informs the Doctor that he may return to a few faces, but just the favorites. Perhaps this was just some tongue-in-cheek seeing that two past incarnations appear in this special, but come on. This is Doctor Who and nothing is just as simple as it appears.

So it is entirely possible between the hint that The Curator gives Matt Smith’s Doctor and the third appearance of Capaldi in Doctor Who as the Doctor, that we’re seeing this return to familiar faces happening once again. Whatever happens in “The Power of the Doctor” is sure to give audiences more clues, but perhaps Jodie Whittaker’s face changes into Tennant’s in what could be an interim Doctor before Ncuti Gatwa’s fourteenth Doctor appears. This would definitely throw an interesting wrench, with a familiar face but not necessarily a familiar personality. It gives Tennant room to experience Doctor Who in a new way, creating another Doctor for fans to fall in love it. Though, perhaps another option provides an even more interesting prospect for Doctor Who.

Rose’s Doctor

I think that the most interesting twist would be to tell a story not set in our main universe, but in the parallel universe where the second tenth Doctor, known as the meta-crisis Doctor, is living. Back in “Journey’s End”,  the meta-crisis Doctor was born from regenerative energy and a hand that Tennant’s Doctor lost in his first episode. This Doctor ends up staying with Rose (Billie Piper) on the alternative Earth, allowing her to have her happy ending with the man she loved. The Doctor also left a piece sliver of a TARDIS for Rose and the meta-crisis Doctor to grow their own. 

David Tennant's Return in Doctor Who. Meta-Crisis Doctor. Doctor Who.
Rose (Billie Piper) and Meta-Crisis Doctor (David Tennant). Doctor Who (BBC).

So what if this series of specials are an adventure on this alternative Earth, with the meta-crisis Doctor we haven’t seen in years? This option would clear up a lot of problems. The first is that the meta-crisis Doctor is part human, therefore only has one heart, cannot regenerate, and ages similar to that of a human. It would be expected for him to look older than he did during his original run. As well, a parallel universe would have its own Donna Noble, one that may not have traveled with The Doctor yet, which means that she could have lived a normal life and doesn’t have the memories of her time on the TARDIS which could kill her. 

It also gives the potential to expand the Doctor Who franchise in massive ways. Having a different Earth could be a new sandbox in which to explore new and old characters, however also allows another show focused on Tennant and his TARDIS, which could run concurrently with the main stay series. This kind of twist is definitely something I expect from the genius mind of Russell T. Davies.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of the how, it’ll be exciting and shocking to have Tennant as the Doctor once again on our screen. With RTD back at the helm of Doctor Who, the show is in safe hands. I am excited to see where RTD takes the Doctor next, be it Tennant or Ncuti, both of which are welcome and exciting pieces to Doctor Who’s extensive lore.

Doctor Who returns this October with “The Power of the Doctor”, Jodie Whittaker’s final episode, on BBC and BBC America . Are you excited to see David Tennant return to the role? How do you think they’ll bring him back? Let us know on social media. If you need a refresher on the latest Doctor Who episode “Legend of the Sea Devils”, check out our review!

Review: Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils

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Doctor Who Theory: The Fate of Donna Noble

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 358 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson