How feasible could it be for the likes of Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker to appear in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary celebrations?
As we approach the Doctor Who 60th anniversary special (or specials) fans are wondering whether it would be possible for past Doctors to appear in the programme itself. Indeed, this happened recently in ‘The Power of the Doctor,’ and was explained away by a glitchy hologram making the Thirteenth Doctor appear as a distorted version of her past incarnations. The production team even managed to include David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann.
And this wasn’t the first time that former Doctors had returned, of course. We have ‘The Three Doctors,’ ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘The Two Doctors’ from the Classic era (and ‘Dimensions in Time‘ if we’re being super-specific) and then there was ‘Time Crash’ in 2007 which brought back Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. The in-universe explanation for his older appearance was that the presence of two versions of the same Time Lord “shorted out the time differential,” leaving the Fifth Doctor with somewhat greyer hair.
And so the same explanation could be used to accommodate the likes of Tom Baker, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary episodes. It’s conceivable that the time differential could short to such a degree that they appear some 40 years older. Problem solved.
Of course, this might stretch credulity for some fans, even in the Doctor Who universe. In which case, there are other options. For example, companies like Marvel and Big Finish have toyed with the idea of ‘What If…?’ scenarios, with Big Finish’s Unbound Doctor being a good example of this. Simply put, the Unbound Doctor is an alternate version of the Doctor from a different universe, played by David Warner, whose life took a different path from his other incarnations.
So the Doctor Who 60th anniversary episodes could play with the idea of alternative Doctors and alternative timelines. What if, say, the Sixth Doctor had never been affected by the TARDIS’ “tumultuous buffeting” in ‘Time and the Rani‘ and never regenerated? What if, in a different timeline, he continued to live out his incarnation into old age?
Interestingly, this was an idea that had been previously explored for Doctor Who‘s (abandoned) 30th anniversary special ‘The Dark Dimension.’ In the episode, it would have been revealed that the Fourth Doctor never died at the end of ‘Logopolis,’ causing something of a temporal anomaly.
However, if the ‘alternate reality’ scenario is too timey wimey for fans to get their heads around, the BBC could go in the other direction for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary and have Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy et al. appear as future incarnations of the Doctor instead.
Indeed, there is already a precedent for this; Tom Baker appeared at the end of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ as a (strongly implied) future incarnation of the Doctor known as the Curator, who decided to wear one of his previous faces. And now we have David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor, taking over at the end of Jodie Whittaker’s last episode. Thus, it’s conceivable that the Doctor Who 60th anniversary celebrations could see future incarnations who are decidedly Fourth / Fifth / Sixth / Seventh Doctor-esque in appearance.
But again, if this is too mind-bending for the casual Doctor Who fan, there are simpler ways of accommodating former Time Lords. Perhaps they could be included in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials without any mention of their altered appearance? Indeed, Patrick Troughton was 20 years older when he appeared in ‘The Two Doctors’ (as was Frazer Hines, who played his companion Jamie) and there was no acknowledgement of this discrepancy.
Moreover, when Richard Hurndall and David Bradley put in appearances as the First Doctor in ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘Twice Upon a Time’ respectively, they were vastly different from the first Doctor, with different faces and different voices. And nothing was said. Therefore, the BBC could simply include Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and co. in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary celebrations without acknowledging their altered appearance, and ask the audience to suspend disbelief.
Conversely, the past Doctors could simply lend their voices to the production. Former Time Lords could be represented in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary episodes by different actors whose voices have been replaced with the original actors’. It could make for a more “believable” compromise.
But then, it depends how much time and money the production team wish to invest in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary. Technology has now reached a point where it is possible to produce convincing ‘deep fake’ recreations of actors in their younger days, or even deceased actors. The Star Wars universe has proven this, recreating a younger Carrie Fisher in Rogue One and The Rise of Skywalker, and even bringing Peter Cushing back from the dead to recreate the sinister Governor Tarkin. It would certainly possible to use CGI to bring back former Doctors, and have the actors record new dialogue.
That being said (and this is scary): it is now possible to digitally recreate actors’ voices using past samples and have them deliver new dialogue. This was used to great effect for the voice of Darth Vader in Disney+’s recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series. Could the Doctor Who 60th anniversary celebrations see completely digital versions of former Time Lords? It would be uncanny (and costly) but, technologically, it is within the realms of possibility.
Or they could just bring back the glitching holograms, which would certainly be a fan-pleaser!
Alas, we have to wait until November 2023 to find out, so in the meantime tell us: Would you like the classic Doctors to return for Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary? And if so, which approach would you like the production team to take? Let me know in the comments below.
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