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What to Expect: ‘Doctor Who’ 60th Anniversary Specials

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It’s the long-awaited Doctor Who 60th anniversary this year, and there’s more buzz around the show than there’s been in quite a while. It’s no secret that Who has dropped off many American fans’ radars in the last decade, no longer achieving quite the level of hyper-visible fandom status that it had circa 2010-14. However, with the return of the beloved David Tennant as the Doctor, Catherine Tate as Donna, and Russell T. Davies as head writer for the show, many international fans are experiencing Who-nostalgia, binging the Twelfth and Thirteenth Doctors’ eras in preparation.

I, like many other fans, remember the last big landmark anniversary vividly. The 50th in 2013 was a great time to be a Whovian, with the BBC distributing the big special, “Day of the Doctor”, to cinemas around the world. However, BBC’s recent distribution deal with Disney+ seems likely to thrust Doctor Who back into the limelight on the international stage. That, plus the return of so many big names in Who is sure to make the 60th a monumental event.

Here is some of what fans can be looking forward to in these upcoming landmark episodes.

The Doctor’s journey so far…

When we last saw the Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, she had just saved Earth (again) from an alliance of The Master, the Cybermen, and the Daleks. This alliance’s plan was to wipe out Earth by triggering every volcano on Earth simultaneously. However, the Doctor, along with Yaz, Graham, Ace, Tegan, and UNIT were able to stop them. But in the process, the Master shot the Doctor, and a new regeneration began. 

After bidding goodbye to Yaz, the Doctor piloted the TARDIS to a cliffside, where she regenerated once more. But, shockingly, instead of regenerating into Ncuti Gatwa, she regenerated into David Tennant, who became the first actor to play two different incarnations of the Doctor in the main series (unless you count that Tom Baker cameo in “The Day of the Doctor”).

Multiple Doctors in 60th Anniversary: Tennant
David Tennant as the 14th Doctor in “The Power of the Doctor”. Doctor Who (BBC).

With David Tennant back in the TARDIS, now as the Fourteenth Doctor, it seems likely that Fourteen will only appear for the three 60th Anniversary specials. But what will this new Doctor get up to for his brief, but sure-to-be exciting adventures?

Trailer Breakdown for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials

Much of what we know about these upcoming adventures comes from the first teaser , which was uploaded to YouTube on Christmas Day, 2022. 

The trailer makes it apparent that there will be another modern-day U.K.-based adventure. The most notable element of this trailer is the return of Donna Noble. The trailer opens with her saying “Sometimes, I think there’s something missing, like I had something lovely, and it’s gone.” This is a clear reference to Donna’s missing memories of the Doctor.

After Donna absorbed too much of the Doctor’s mind in 2008’s “Journey’s End”, the Doctor erased her memories of himself to keep her alive. This will play an important part in the episode, as we also see Fourteen saying “If she ever remembers me, she will die.” However, the Doctor also says that “if destiny exists, it is heading for Donna Noble,” which implies that Donna is under immediate threat and the Doctor must protect her. Perhaps Neil Patrick Harris’ as-of-unnamed villain is pursuing Donna?

Donna Noble: Doctor Who 60th Anniversary speicals
Donna (Catherine Tate). Doctor Who (BBC).

We also see Yasmin Finney making her first appearance as Rose Noble or Donna’s daughter. It seems likely that Donna will not only be under threat but her family as well.

No iconic aliens appear in the trailer, such as the Daleks or the Cybermen, which is a little unusual as this is a significant anniversary special of the show. However, given their prominent role in the previous episode, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be the primary villains in the subsequent episodes. More than likely, if these iconic villains appear at all, they’ll have a background role, with Neil Patrick Harris’ character and the bug-eyed Wrarth Warriors taking center stage.

On that subject, two of the most surprising appearances in the trailer were the Wrarth Warriors and Beep the Meep. These were two of the first-ever monsters that appeared in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip in the story “The Star Beast” in 1980. Although they’ve appeared in several other expanded universe media since then, this will be their first live-action outing. They’re sure to delight the most hardcore Whovians (although, the comic strips being canonized is a bit of a continuity head-scratcher!)

Finally, at the end of the trailer, Ncuti Gatwa makes a brief appearance as the brand-new Fifteenth Doctor, implying that David Tennant will have regenerated into him by the end of the trilogy.

The Doctor- Time Lords
Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor. Doctor Who (BBC).

All-in-all, the trailer has Whovians hyped for an explosive and exciting adventure. But, it also raises a number of new questions and invites plenty of speculation.

News and rumors about upcoming Doctor Who

The BBC has confirmed that the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary special will be a trilogy of episodes, rather than just one. They will all air sometime in November.  Russell T. Davies wrote all three episodes, with Rachel Talalay, Tom Kingsley, and Chanya Button directing.

One of the biggest questions on fans’ minds is just how Tenth Doctor-ish will this new Doctor be. Clearly, he’ll be portrayed by the same actor, and have a number of similar mannerisms (such as the iconic “Allons-y!” being shouted in the trailer).

But, will this new Tennant Doctor have a similar personality, or will he have changed with age? This new Doctor doesn’t seem sure either, saying “I don’t know who I am anymore” in the teaser. Brian Kitson theorized that David Tennant’s Fourteen may be an “unstable” Doctor, due to the strangeness of having the same actor return to play the Doctor.

Another major question raised by the trailer is how RTD will handle the return of Donna Noble. Her final episode made it explicitly clear that if she ever remembers the Doctor, she will die. Most likely, RTD will be able to come up with some kind of miracle plot-cure for Donna.

It would be devastating if Donna were to return for three episodes, only for her to immediately perish, especially because she has a husband and a daughter to look out for. However, if Donna does end up being saved by the Doctor, some fans worry that it may soften the emotional impact of “Journey’s End”. It will be interesting to see how RTD navigates these two sides, and if he’s able to come up with some explanation for Donna’s return without making it feel too easy, or emotionally cheap.

One of the greatest mysteries about the upcoming specials is just who Neil Patrick Harris’ villain is. Russell T. has teased that NPH will be playing the Doctor’s “greatest enemy”… but who could that be? The obvious prediction is that he will be playing a new incarnation of the Master. But because the Doctor just defeated Sacha Dhawan’s Master in the previous episode, would RTD really resurrect him so soon?

NPH- Time Lord Doctor Who
Neil Patrick Harris. Doctor Who (BBC).

Perhaps the “greatest enemy” moniker is a little more abstract. Maybe Harris will be playing some cosmic, evil force, like the Black Guardian? Fans have also predicted he may be the Celestial Toymaker or Omega, both of which would be incredible to see on screen again.

Many have speculated that other previous companions will appear as well. Perhaps the companion support group seen in the prior “Power of the Doctor” will make another appearance? Or maybe some of the Tenth Doctor’s other companions will return, like Martha or even Rose? Two companions heavily rumored to return are Sixth Doctor companion Mel Bush and Twelfth Doctor companion Nardole.

One companion confirmed to appear, although he wasn’t in the trailer, is Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins. Cribbins recently passed in 2022, making the upcoming specials, tragically, his last appearance as the beloved character.

And finally, will any other prior Doctors return? Most landmark anniversary specials in the past have featured some sort of multi-Doctor element. Since several of the classic Doctors featured in “The Power of the Doctor”, it seems likely that, if any Doctors return for the 60th, it may be NuWho Doctors.

Matt Smith’s involvement has been rumored, which would be a real treat for fans. It would be similarly fantastic to see Christopher Eccleston, Peter Capaldi, or even Jodie Whittaker back as well (even though she just departed). It would be especially bonkers if David Tennant shows up as the Tenth Doctor at some point, and ends up playing a dual role as both the Tenth and Fourteenth Doctors.

The Doctor Who 60th Anniversary specials arrive this November. Are you excited to watch them? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our theory on how multiple Doctors could appear in the 60th anniversary specials!

Theory: Multiple Doctors in Doctor Who’s Anniversary Specials

Multiple Doctors in 60th Anniversary Banner

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Sam Pearce

My name is Sam and I recently graduated with two BA's in Journalism and Creative Writing from Western Washington University. More than anything, I love comics, novels, TV shows... just storytelling in general. Some of my favorites include Doctor Who, Star Wars, Godzilla, and all sorts of anime.

Sam Pearce has 24 posts and counting. See all posts by Sam Pearce