Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials: Release date, cast, plot for David Tennant episodes
David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to the BBC sci-fi show for its 60th anniversary celebrations
60 years since its first-ever episode was broadcast, Doctor Who is still going strong because of its unique way of regenerating itself. And fans were shocked at the end of the previous special, The Power Of The Doctor, when Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated into a new David Tennant-shaped incarnation.
This cliffhanger leads us into Doctor Who’s 60th-anniversary celebrations, spearheaded by returning head writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies. 2023 will see three hour-long specials starring Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor, plus a festive special that launches the already announced Fifteenth Doctor, Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa.
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What’s more, the programme will be co-produced by the BBC and Bad Wolf Studios, (the Welsh production company named after a recurring phrase from RTD’s first Doctor Who revival series – 'I create myself' indeed!) and which has recently given us A Discovery Of Witches and His Dark Materials.
In contrast to the previous era’s clampdown on spoilers and story details, there has been a raft of exciting announcements about these specials since filming began last August, including the reveal of a new-old diamond logo for the show, hearkening back to the 1970s opening title sequences.
All of this has steadily built hype for the programme’s return. Davies is promising many more surprises in store.
Watch the trailer for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials
Starting with the teaser trailer that premiered on Christmas Day, here’s what we know about Doctor Who’s diamond-anniversary specials so far.
When are the Doctor Who anniversary specials on TV?
The as-yet-untitled anniversary specials are currently set to premiere in the UK on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in November 2023. Scheduling has yet to be confirmed, but the rest of the world can expect to see the show simultaneously on Disney+, courtesy of a co-production and distribution deal that was announced in October 2022.
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Davies said: "I love this show, and this is the best of both worlds—with the vision and joy of the BBC and Disney+ together we can launch the TARDIS all around the planet, reaching a new generation of fans while keeping our traditional home firmly on the BBC in the UK."
The actual 60th anniversary of Doctor Who’s first episode, An Unearthly Child, is Thursday, 23 November, 2023.
In 2013, this date fell on a Saturday, which is when the standalone 50th-anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor was originally broadcast on TV and in cinemas worldwide, but these three new specials (directed by Rachel Talalay, Tom Kingsley, and Chanya Button) may be more spread out in November.
We’ll also see Gatwa’s first full episode as the Fifteenth Doctor over the festive period. Filming on the Christmas special (directed by Mark Tonderai) started in February 2023, with locations in Bristol dressed in festive decorations.
This marks the first Doctor Who Christmas special since 2017’s Twice Upon A Time, with more recent festive specials going out on New Year’s Day, but no broadcast dates have yet been confirmed.
Who’s in the Doctor Who anniversary specials?
Alongside David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor, Catherine Tate is back in the TARDIS as companion Donna Noble. This marks the first time Tennant and Tate have reprised their roles on screen since Davies’ last episode in 2010, in which they remained separate because of a memory wipe to save Donna’s life.
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Other returning stars include Jacqueline King as Donna’s mother Sylvia Noble and Karl Collins as Donna’s husband Shaun Temple.
Among the newcomers to the cast are Yasmin Finney (Heartstopper) as Donna and Shaun’s daughter, Rose Temple-Noble; Ruth Madeley (Then Barbara Met Alan) as new character Shirley Anne Bingham; and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) as a villainous character that RTD has billed as “the greatest enemy the Doctor has ever faced”.
There are many more cast members to be revealed too – for starters, Davies hinted in the February issue of Doctor Who Magazine that the man seen walking into a shop at the start of the Christmas Day trailer is a guest star that no one has noticed yet.
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And of course – “Can somebody tell me what the hell is going on here?” Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor is also going to feature in the specials before taking the lead in 2023’s festive offering alongside new companion Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson (Coronation Street).
First things first though…
What happens in the Doctor Who anniversary specials?
With open location-filming in Camden, Cardiff, and Bristol, it’s been tough to keep casting under wraps, but the big plot details seem secure in the TARDIS for now. Indeed, RTD also told Doctor Who Magazine that the current hope is to keep everything from Special #2 out of the marketing altogether so that its surprises are only revealed upon broadcast.
And while The Power Of The Doctor featured A-list baddies like the Master, the Daleks, and the Cybermen, it seems the specials have some more obscure returning characters for the Fourteenth Doctor to fend off.
The Christmas Day trailer confirms the appearance of Beep the Meep, a cute and cuddly character who has previously only appeared in Doctor Who comic strips in the 1970s, now rendered in impressive “Baby Yoda” vision.
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The trailer also features the insectoid Wrarth Warriors, who typically pursue Beep – it’s a deep (Meep?) cut reference for the modern show!
More intriguing still, Neil Patrick Harris shot his first scenes in public amid the chaos of a riot in a London street, dressed in full top hat and tails.
Among older fans, speculation abounds that he’s playing a new version of the Celestial Toymaker.
Originally played by Michael Gough, this powerful immortal last appeared in 1966, menacing William Hartnell’s First Doctor and threatening a rematch that never came… until now?
And of course, there’s the “I know these teeth of it all”. Why has the Doctor gone back to an old face? How are Donna Noble and her family involved? And where does Ncuti Gatwa’s incarnation come into all of this?
In a BBC press release, Davies teased: ‘The path to Ncuti’s Fifteenth Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger and fun!’
Time will tell, it always does – but with all this and more to come, 2023 is an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan.
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