As anyone who watched the Doctor Who BBC centenary special "The Power of the Doctor" already knows, something wonky appears to have happened with Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker's regeneration. Because she didn't regenerate—as most of us likely expected—into the new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa but into someone who looks an awful lot like a former one, played by David Tennant.
Whether this incarnation—which admittedly is rocking a new and much different sartorial look than his previous self—is meant to be some new version or aspect of the Tenth Doctor or a new character entirely is something that only the series' forthcoming anniversary special(s) can answer. But at least the broadcast of "The Power of the Doctor" has finally offered us some new information to mull over regarding this question.
The incredibly brief post-episode trailer promising that Doctor Who would return at some unspecified date in 2023 (that we're all assuming will be somewhere around November 23) gave us our first quick look at Tennant in action once more, as well as our first official shot of Gatwa as the Doctor, returning companion Catherine Tate, and Neil Patrick Harris as the episode's as-yet-unidentified villain. (Almost everyone assumes he is the Toymaker, but we'll see!)
More importantly, after the special aired, the BBC updated its website to confirm the full extent of Tennant’s return and what we can expect to see from the forthcoming 60th-anniversary celebrations. Tennant will appear in three as-yet-unnamed anniversary installments rather than a single episode.
The official website is also referring to his character as the Fourteenth Doctor and calling whatever Gatwa’s incarnation is the Fifteenth. “David Tennant, previously known as the 10th Doctor, is also known as the 14th Doctor. Confused? Don’t worry; he seems a little perplexed, too,” the BBC said. (Clearly not at all being painfully coy.)
“If you thought the appearance of David Tennant was a shock, we’ve got plenty more surprises on the way!” incoming (and former) showrunner Russell T. Davies said in a post-show statement. “The path to Ncuti’s Fifteenth Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger, and fun! And how is it connected to the return of the wonderful Donna Noble? How, what, why? We’re giving you a year to speculate, and then all hell lets loose!”
This naming convention opens up a lot more bizarre questions, such as why would Tennant's "new" Doctor still somehow end up involved with Donna Noble again if he were an entirely new being? How can what essentially looks like the same person possibly be two different regenerations? And does this have anything to do with the Master attempting to steal the Doctor's body during Whittaker's farewell episode?
For what it's worth, I'd personally be willing to be a substantial amount of money that this is all a massive marketing fake-out, similar to when folks tried to find a way to fit John Hurt or Jo Martin into the regeneration numbering scheme before eventually giving up and defaulting to simply calling them a specific sobriquet like "War Doctor" or "Fugitive Doctor" that delineated their position relative to the other Doctors in the "primary" line.
Though most people (including yours truly) seem predominantly spun up regarding questions about what character exactly Tennant is playing and how the introduction of this former Doctor will lead into the story of the newest one, the big announcement here is that we're not just having a 60th-anniversary special, we're having three.
That seems like kind of a big deal, doesn't it?
The BBC has confirmed that Tennant and Tate will be back for three special episodes, all set to air in November 2023. But what that actually means is still relatively unclear. Will those installments will strip over the course of the anniversary weekend? (November 23, the day of the show's premiere in 1963, is a Thursday next year.) Will they air on three subsequent weekends throughout the month? And, now that the series falls under the Disney+ umbrella in the United States, does that mean the broadcast window will also have to factor in American Thanksgiving when most viewers aren't traditionally in front of TVs for anything that isn't football?
Lots of questions remain, so I guess it's a good job we have a year to answer them. Doctor Who will return in November 2023. In the meantime, you can catch up on previous seasons of classic and new Who on BritBox and HBO Max, respectively.