In November 1963, a small black and white children's program to teach youngsters science and history debuted on the BBC. Those who wrote and filmed "An Unearthly Child" had no idea that by the 202s, their little science fiction series Doctor Who would have become one of the flagship shows of the BBC, the flagship show of BBC America, and the longest-running genre show in history. Next year, the series celebrates its 60th anniversary with a complete overhaul, including a new production company, a new studio, new showrunner, and a new Doctor.
Purists will point out that though 2023 marks 60 years since Doctor Who's premiere, it hasn't been on the air for all of them; canceled in 1989, a failed revival in 1996, and a successful reboot in 2005. However, even if you want to get technical about it, 2023 will mark an anniversary, as the 14th Doctor's arrival will coincide with the show's 40th season overall. The show was only off the air for 15 years between its "Classic" and "Rebooted" iterations. Still, since the show's return, it's taken five years off or so between recasting hiatuses, some of which are like the current one, with Doctor Who specials dotted across the calendar, but no official season.
Whether you celebrate this as the 60th anniversary, the debut of the 40th season, or both, there's a lot going into 2023's feature-length anniversary special. Here's everything to know so far.
Who Is The New Doctor?
On May 8, 2022, the morning of the TV BAFTAs, Russell T Davies announced he had chosen Ncuti Gatwa to take over the role of the Doctor from Jodie Whittaker, the current actor playing the Thirteenth iteration. Her regeneration is slated to occur in Doctor Who's BBC's Centenary Special airing in the fall of 2022. Gatwa, best known as Eric from Netflix's Sex Education, will be the third youngest person in the role (only Matt Smith and Peter Davison were younger. He will also be the first Black actor to play the Doctor, the first LGBTQ+ Doctor in the show's history, and the first to use they/them pronouns.
Gatwa did not appear at the end of the Centenary special when Whittaker regenerated, a surprise twist that will keep his proper arrival to come in 2023. Right now, he is understood to be the 15th Doctor when he does.
Who Is The New Showrunner?
Everything old is new again in the 2020s, from pandemics to TV revivals, and Doctor Who is following suit. On September 24, 2021, the BBC revealed that Chris Chibnall's successor to the showrunner position was former showrunner Russell T. Davies, who was the driving force behind the reboot's success. Davies relaunched the series under actor Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and helped David Tennant shoot to worldwide fame when he cast him as the Tenth Doctor the following year. Tennant has gone on to become as synonymous with the rebooted Doctor Who as Tom Baker was with the classic version, both guest-starred in the show's 50th Anniversary edition in 2013.
But Davies' return to the show he revived came with more than just showrunning duties. As noted in the press release, Davies' company, Bad Wolf Productions, will partner with the BBC to produce Doctor Who from here on out, marking the first time the show will not be a total in-house production of the BBC in its history. By taking over producing duties, davies is de facto taking control of the show at every level, allowing him to bypass many of the BBC issues the show has run into over the years when it comes to modernizing the program.
It also gives the company a much freer hand in developing spinoff series. When Davies brought the show back, he attempted to create multiple spinoffs, including successes Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. But Davies was a little ahead of his time with the idea of an interconnected "franchise universe." (This was 2006, the Marvel Cinematic Universe would not debut with Iron Man for another two years, and the streaming wars were an entire decade away.) However, with multiple series spinning off TV series right and left, from The Walking Dead to the MCU to Game of Thrones and others, Davies is right on time to make an entire Whoniverse for the BBC and its streaming entities. He's also reaching for a younger and broader audience in the U.S. with the series moving house from BBC America, which has aired since 2010, to Disney+.
Who Is The 14th Doctor?
So if Gatwa isn't the 14th Doctor, who is? Davies decided to save Gatwa for the new season and instead do something very different for this anniversary. Doctor Who will bring back David Tennant, but not as the Tenth Doctor, which he originally played. Nor will he be the Spare Doctor that was handed over to Rose. In a first, Tennant will play the 14th Doctor, marking the first time the same actor has deliberately played two iterations. (Sylvester McCoy technically played the Sixth Doctor for a minute for regeneration purposes after Colin Baker was fired in the 1980s, but that doesn't really count.)
What Is The Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Trilogy About?
The Doctor Who 50th anniversary was a multi-Doctor affair, like the 10th anniversary's "The Three Doctors" and the 20th anniversary's "The Five Doctors." The series managed to round up multiple faces from previous seasons, including the current Doctor, Matt Smith, the aforementioned Tennant and Baker, a guest spot from Eighth Doctor Paul McGann in the prelude, "The Night of the Doctor," and the introduction of John Hurt as "The War Doctor." The rest of those unable (or unwilling) to appear, including Christopher Eccleston, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell, were included by recycling old footage, as was the incoming Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi.
The 60th anniversary will not attempt the same thing. Tennant is, as of this point, the only actor who played the Doctor coming back, and he's not even playing his original Doctor, but a new one. Meanwhile, Capaldi has confirmed he chose not to return, and it seems Matt Smith probably will not either. Eccleston, of course, will not, and that means Whittaker will also be absent.
The Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Trailer
The first footage of Doctor Who's 60th-anniversary specials arrived on November 23, 2022, on the 59th anniversary of the series, known as "Doctor Who Day." It shows glimpses of Tennant's 14th Doctor, Gatwa's 15th Doctor, and Catherine Tate's return as Donna.
The first full-length teaser arrived on Christmas Day, 2022, giving fans their first look at Tennant's return as the Doctor, plus Donna's reunion with him. Fans also got to see a bit more of Rose and a new character, Shirley.
Who Will Guest Star?
As for guest stars confirmed so far, as shown above, the final companions from Davies' time as showrunner, Catherine Tate's Donna, will be back, as will the late Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott. Both appear to be traveling with the 14th Doctor. Jacqueline King, who played Donna's mum, Sylvia, is also returning, as is Karl Collins as Donna's husband, Shaun Temple.
There are also a few new faces joining the cast. There's Rose, played by Yasmin Finney (Heartstopper), the first trans companion (and trans actor) in the show's history. Ruth Madeley (Years and Years) will debut as Shirley Anne Bingham, another new companion. Also joining the cast: Neil Patrick Harris, one of the few American actors to get cast on the show in any capacity. Though his role hasn't been revealed, he is hinted as playing an antagonist, with rumors it could be a new version of The Master or, more recently, the Celestial Toymaker.
It is unclear if Donna, Rose, Wilfred, etc, are starring in all three of the anniversary specials or if they will each be part of separate episodes. Also, Gatwa is only expected to appear at the end of the third special, when Tennant regenerates into the 15th Doctor. He will have a different companion, Ruby Sunday (Mille Gibson), who will not appear in the 60th-anniversary specials as far as we know.
When Will The 60th Anniversary Air?
There does not seem to be a 2022 holiday special happening this year, considering that Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall are officially leaving in 2022, and Gatwa and Davies are not starting until 2023. Instead, it looks like the centenary special will be three adventures, making up for the lack of anything at the end of 2022.
The three Doctor Who 60th Anniversary episodes will air on BBC and Disney+ on both sides of the pond in "late 2023," but if at least one of them isn't on November 23, 2023, I'll eat my hat.