No, you’re not dreaming. David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning to Doctor Who in 2023. But how, exactly, will their return be handled?
Rumours had been swirling about David Tennant’s return to Doctor Who for many months, with early reports suggesting that he could be the Fourteenth Doctor, followed by rumours that he had been spotted by fans in Cardiff – without a beard!
But on Sunday 15th May, the BBC revealed that David Tennant would indeed be returning to Doctor Who in 2023, along with his stalwart companion Donna Noble (otherwise known as the Doctor Donna.) The announcement said that the pair had been filming scenes for the show’s 60th anniversary next year, but it wasn’t clear how many scenes, or in what context.
And the showrunner Russell T Davies added to the mystery with his own comments: “They’re back!” he said. “And it looks impossible – first, we announce a new Doctor, and then an old Doctor, along with the wonderful Donna, what on earth is happening? Maybe this is a missing story. Or a parallel world. Or a dream, or a trick, or a flashback. The only thing I can confirm is that it’s going to be spectacular, as two of our greatest stars reunite for the battle of a lifetime.”
So what are to make of David Tennant’s return? Will he be appearing in a missing story? Or will it be a flashback? Or something else?
First, let’s take a look at the parallel universe theory. If David Tennant’s appearance is, indeed, an alternative version, it could tie into Russell T Davies’ approach to ‘The Timeless Children,’ if he chooses to address it. This 2020 episode gave an alternative origin story for the Doctor, showing that she used to be a young girl and had, in fact, regenerated more times than was possible to count, meaning that there were a plethora of forgotten Doctors wandering the cosmos.
And whilst we still don’t know the full story around ‘The Timeless Children,’ there are a number of things that don’t quite make sense – namely, why did the Fugitive Doctor (an earlier, forgotten incarnation) have a police box-shaped TARDIS when, as far as the Doctor was concerned, it didn’t acquire this form until arriving in London in 1963 in ‘An Unearthly Child‘? And why did these forgotten incarnations not exist when Clara entered the Doctor’s timestream in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ and encountered every one of his past selves?
It could be that – at some point during the Jodie Whittaker era – the Doctor stumbled into a parallel reality, meaning that the origin story she was given by the Master didn’t actually pertain to her. Which would open the door to an alternative version of David Tennant’s Doctor, who could still be travelling through the universe with Donna Noble. In which case, some new scenes with the pair would make sense.
But then again, these new scenes could simply be flashbacks. After all, David Tennant has returned once already for the show’s 50th anniversary, and this appearance (apparently) took place between the Tenth Doctor episodes ‘The Waters of Mars’ and ‘The End of Time.’
So there’s no reason why David Tennant’s next appearance shouldn’t be a flashback (or a missing story) as well. The only minor problem would be the altered appearance of the actors, who have changed somewhat since 2008 (albeit slightly.) Doctor Who usually circumvents this issue by blaming a “shorting out of the time differential” – an event caused by the clashing of two incarnations which causes physical ageing, as was the case with the Fifth Doctor in ‘Time Crash.’ So the same could be true for the Tenth Doctor and Donna – assuming, of course, that they encounter another incarnation of the Doctor, or even another version of Donna!
Then, of course, there is the idea that the whole thing is a dream, or an illusion. Certainly, series like Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Unbound have played with the big “what if?” questions of Doctor Who, and it’s possible that Russell T Davies may play with this idea in the form of a dream. As in, what if the Tenth Doctor and Donna had never been separated? What if the David Tennant had never regenerated into Matt Smith and was still contentedly wandering the cosmos with the trusty Doctor Donna at his side?
It’s a fun idea. But it does beg the question: How exactly will Jodie Whittaker regenerate in the centenary special? Will she regenerate into Ncuti Gatwa, and then jump into a dream world / snap into a parallel reality which involves a different version of the Tenth Doctor and Donna?
Or could Jodie Whittaker even regenerate into David Tennant, who is somehow reunited with Donna (or a version of Donna) for a time before transitioning into Ncuti Gatwa? The mind boggles.
Certainly, it’s unlikely that we’ll be getting answers to these questions any time soon – probably not before the centenary special, in fact, which is due to air this autumn. Although fans may get a few hints if they spot David Tennant filming on location; if he is without his trademark pinstripe suit and trench coat, it could add weight to the idea that he is playing a dream or parallel universe version of the Doctor. Alternatively, if he’s in his traditional costume, it could indicate that his appearance is a flashback, or a missing story.
How do you feel about David Tennant and Catherine Tate returning for Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary? Do you think it will be a flashback story, or a parallel universe? Or something else? Let me know in the comments below!
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