It’s been almost two months since “The Power of the Doctor” aired, signaling the changing of guards once again on the long-running Doctor Who. Jodie Whittaker has hung up her TARDIS key and set down her sonic screwdriver, leaving with showrunner Chris Chibnall. Now fans are looking towards the future, especially as excitement builds for the 60th-anniversary specials set to arrive at the end of 2023.
Returning as the alien with two hearts is David Tennant as the 14th Doctor, a rumor we reported on long before it was announced. As if having Tennant return wasn’t exciting enough, joining him once again is Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. A fan-favorite companion returning to the screen with the face of the Doctor she previously traveled with already has my heart beating quickly. Familiar faces from Doctor Who’s sixty years are the perfect way to celebrate this monumental occasion.
Because of how big this event is, I don’t believe these two are the only people returning. Why show your entire hand, especially when that hand is Tennant and Tate? It’s doubtful that the BBC and Disney do that. I fully expect other previous companions and Doctors to return and thankfully, “The Power of the Doctor” provided an easy and simple way to do so for the latter. And it all comes down to the regeneration of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.
[Warning: Spoilers from “The Power of the Doctor” are below. If you haven’t watched that yet, proceed with caution! If you want a refresher, check out our review!]
A regeneration gone wrong could lead to multiple Doctors appearing
“The Power of the Doctor” was intense for The Doctor (Whittaker) and her companions in many ways, with The Master at the center of it all. The Master (Sacha Dhawan), using the Cyberman and Daleks in his master plan, forced the Doctor to regenerate. However, using Gallifreyan technology and the Qurunx, he’s able to control the regeneration, forcing Whittaker’s Doctor to change into Dhawan’s Master.
The Doctor eventually rights The Master’s actions, with the help of Yaz (Mandip Gill), explaining that there’s a period between incarnations vulnerable to changes. During this period, The Doctor was able to switch from The Master back to the Doctor.
Enraged by his loss, The Master uses the Qurunx’s energy beam to wound The Doctor, causing her second regeneration in the same time frame. This eventually results in her changing into David Tennant’s Doctor on the edge of the cliff in her final blaze of glory.
So you might be wondering at this point, what does any of this information have to do with the reappearance of previous Doctors in the 60th-anniversary specials? And the answer reader is, that it has everything to do with it.
An unstable Doctor in the 60th-anniversary specials
When Whittaker regenerates into Tennant, instantly audiences could tell something was off. The energy that radiated out of The Doctor was so intense, similar in fashion to the energy Tennant put off in “The End of Time.” And yet, this time was different, as it’s the first time we’ve seen a previous face return as a new incarnation of the Doctor, at least on screen if you count The Curator a.k.a. Tom Baker in the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.”
Tennant’s return marks a remarkable moment in the show’s history, as he is the first to become a second Doctor, not counting the meta-crisis Doctor also played by Tennant. Due to the trauma of multiple regenerations, including a forced one into the Master, this regeneration is likely highly unstable. Unstable enough that it could take a while for The Doctor to settle into his new body if he even does by the end of the three specials.
This instability in The Doctor’s form allows for a lot of wiggle room and exciting possibilities throughout the three specials. If the period right after regenerations is vulnerable, therefore easy to change forms, factor in the extreme aspects of this past generation, it’s totally likely that the Doctor could cycle through a ton of “old” faces from past incarnations, as he attempts to settle into his form.
David Tennant would be the main face of the 60th-anniversary specials, as seen in plenty of the behind-the-scenes photos and videos from the filming of the three specials. However, having the Doctor flux into a previous face randomly throughout them is an easy and creative way to bring back past actors in small cameos that don’t require a ton of time to film. They wouldn’t have to dedicate a large chunk of time to Doctor Who again, which could impact filming for other series such as House of the Dragon for Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi with his upcoming series Criminal Record.
These cameos could also be filmed on a sound stage, where they could manage leaks because the majority of the adventure would still feature Tennant, who filmed on location. I think this could even lead to future or unfamiliar faces, such as Ncuti Gatwa’s face who appears in Tennant’s attire in the trailer for the specials. It could be a fun gag, to see someone who has never been the Doctor have a moment in the role of The Doctor while his energy is in flux. The main goal though would be to see our favorite Doctors back on screen, even if it’s just for a moment.
Whether or not this theory comes to be, I completely expect to see past incarnations of the Doctor and even past companions return to the series. Sixty years for a television show is unheard of, so it would be hard to imagine anyone wanting to sit out on the celebration.
Doctor Who returns with three specials for the 60th anniversary in late 2023. What do you think though? Which Doctor would you like to see return to the series? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out this article on what spin-offs of Doctor Who could be coming from BBC and Disney!