Coming up to the 60th anniversary of its first-ever episode in 2023, Doctor Who is still going strong because of its unique way of regenerating itself, right down to the lead actor.
Following the 2021 serial Flux, the next full series of Doctor Who is some way off, but it’s all change in the long-running sci-fi show’s upcoming TV specials.
The next, as-yet-untitled Doctor Who 2022 special will be Jodie Whittaker’s final fling as the Thirteenth Doctor. Whittaker’s co-stars Mandip Gill and John Bishop are also departing, along with head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall. We also have a new Doctor incoming in the shape of Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa.
After that, we’re going to get at least one 60th anniversary special in 2023, the first new episode by returning showrunner Russell T. Davies, who’s given us a raft of exciting casting announcements since filming commenced last month.
What’s more, the programme will be co-produced by the BBC and Bad Wolf, (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.
As is now traditional for Doctor Who, plot details are being kept secure in the TARDIS, but here’s everything you need to know so far about Jodie Whittaker’s final special, the 60th anniversary episodes, and the impending Ncuti Gatwa era…
When are the Doctor Who specials on TV?
The most recent Doctor Who specials, Eve Of The Daleks and Legend Of The Sea Devils, were scheduled on New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday. Currently known as 'the Centenary special', the third and final feature-length special will be part of a season of programmes celebrating 100 years of the BBC, due to air in October.
We don’t have a date yet but expect the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure to debut on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on a Sunday evening in October.
As for the currently filming 60th anniversary special(s), RTD has said his first episodes will go out in November next year. The actual anniversary falls on Thursday 23 November, 2023, which fell on a Saturday when 2013’s golden-anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor was originally broadcast on TV and in cinemas worldwide.
Davies and Bad Wolf are also working on 'series beyond', so we can expect Ncuti Gatwa’s first series sometime in late 2023 or early 2024.
Who’s in the Doctor Who specials?
Whittaker, Gill, and Bishop are top-billed in the Centenary Special, with guest roles for new series regulars Sacha Dhawan as the Master, Jemma Redgrave as UNIT boss Kate Stewart, Patrick O’Kane as Ashad the Lone Cyberman, and Jacob Anderson as space pilot Vinder.
Old-testament Who fans were also delighted to learn from the special’s trailer that 1980s companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) would be back to help the Doctor battle her old Time Lord sparring partner and a host of returning monsters.
As is traditional for these final episodes, we’d also expect Gatwa to debut in the next episode when Whittaker’s Doctor regenerates at the end, but this is yet to be confirmed.
Looking ahead to the 60th-anniversary story, returning regulars David Tennant and Catherine Tate will reprise their roles as the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble for the first time since Davies’ last episode in 2010.
Tennant also returned for the 50th-anniversary special with Matt Smith and John Hurt. Doctor Who was doing these multi-generational team-ups back in 1972, long before Spider-Man: No Way Home made it cool.
Alongside Tennant, Tate, and some other regulars who have been spotted by fans on set, Whoniverse newcomers Yasmin Finney (Heartstopper) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) have also joined the cast.
Finney will play a character called Rose (any relation to Billie Piper’s character?) whereas Harris is playing a villain that RTD has billed as “the greatest enemy the Doctor has ever faced”.
What happens in the Doctor Who specials?
Potential SPOILERS follow.
Regeneration episodes are always odd because we usually know the big spoiler going in — we know that this Doctor is going to die and who the next Doctor is going to be. Still, the specifics are kept closely guarded up until the episode is released.
What we do know about the Centenary Special is that producer Matt Strevens is promising “a massive, feature-length epic… with lots of surprises for fans of all ages”. As mentioned, the trailer reveals that the Master and Ashad are back along with armies of Daleks and Cybermen.
Where Chibnall’s era has been characterised by its secrecy, it’s a bit tougher to keep details about the 60th-anniversary story under wraps with open location filming in Camden, Cardiff, and Bristol. Where the Centenary Special has some big-hitter returning monsters, it seems RTD has gone for some more obscure characters for the Tenth Doctor and Donna to fight off.
One of the unannounced but widely reported sightings was an alien resembling Beep the Meep, a cute and cuddly would-be conqueror who has only previously appeared in Doctor Who comic strips in the 1970s. Alongside Beep, we’ve also sighted the insectoid Wrath Warriors, who battle the Meep Armada. It’s a deep (Meep?) cut for an anniversary.
More intriguing still, Neil Patrick Harris shot his first scenes in public recently, revelling in the chaos of a riot in a London street in a top hat and tails. With the production also dressing a storefront as Mister Emporium’s Toy Shop, fans are speculating 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?
Time will tell, it always does, but before that we’ve got a regeneration and after that we’ve got a whole new era with Gatwa at the TARDIS controls.
It’s an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan…
Watch: David Tennant films Doctor Who in Bristol