Soon (I can’t be more specific as the BBC still hasn’t released a date and time), Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor will regenerate in “The Power of the Doctor,” her final special airing as part of the BBC’s Centenary Celebration. Months ago Ncuti Gatwa was announced as the Fourteenth Doctor with Russell T Davies returning as the Doctor Who showrunner. Just seven days later David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s return was also announced as part of a trio of specials for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary. Speculation began immediately. Was this a missing Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble adventure? Was this an alternate universe? Or could it be possible – could it really be possible – Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor would regenerate into David Tennant’s Tenth (or Fourteenth?) Doctor before then regenerating into Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor? The latter two theories were first born from David Tennant wearing a suit and coat he never wore as the Tenth Doctor. With weeks (or days??) until “The Power of the Doctor” airs, I figured it’d be fun to write a li’l speculative piece about all this :D.
A few days ago, speaking to the speculation surrounding his return and Ncuti Gatwa’s casting, David Tennant said, “Ncuti Gatwa will be the next Doctor Who and that’s about as much as I am prepared to say.” He went on to praise him and what he’ll bring to Doctor Who, “[I’m] a little bit jealous [of him], starting on this exciting journey. Ncuti is brilliant. He’s a lovely, lovely man and he’s full of beans and he’s really talented. I mean he’s like scary-talented. So I’m thrilled for every Doctor Who fan for what’s to come and I include myself in that number.”
So Ncuti Gatwa is the next Doctor. He will be the next lead to anchor Doctor Who. But does that mean he’s the Fourteenth Doctor…or the Fifteenth Doctor?
Russell T Davies gleefully added fuel to the speculative fire in an interview he did with Doctor Who Magazine back in June saying:
A mysteriously forgotten excursion for the TARDIS in between Planet of the Ood and Sontaran Stratagem? Or maybe a multiverse thing, they’re all the rage these days. Maybe this is the Doctor and Donna from Universe 557, all set to collide with our own. Then again, maybe, just maybe, this return is so impossible that it’s actually an intricate illusion created by an old enemy of the Doctor’s. Or maybe an old enemy of Donna’s. Nerys! Of course, I wouldn’t give that away in the pages of DWM, would I? But then again. This magazine is the first place I ever revealed the name of Billie Piper’s Rose (in issue 340). So read carefully. There are truths in here.
This mirrors what he said when he first announced their return, too, “They’re back! 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 let’s begin here. Could the Thirteenth Doctor regenerate and take up a face she’s worn once before? As far as Doctor Who lore is concerned, yes, it’s possible. In fact, given the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” we know it’s already happened…or, rather, it will happen. In the closing scene of the episode, after Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) has returned to the TARDIS and the Tenth Doctor has left, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) remains in the gallery looking at the painting “Gallifrey Falls” when the Curator (Tom Baker) arrives:
The Doctor – “I could be a curator. I’d be great at curating. I’d be the Great Curator. I could retire and do that. I could retire and be the curator of this place.”
The Curator – “You know, I really think you might.”
The Doctor – “I never forget a face.”
The Curator – “I know you don’t. And in years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?” [….]
The Doctor – “Is that what I’m supposed to do now? Go looking for Gallifrey?”
The Curator – “Oh, it’s entirely up to you. Your choice, eh? I can only tell you what I would do if I were you. Oh, if I were you. Oh, perhaps I was you, of course. Or perhaps you are me. Congratulations.”
The Doctor – “Thank you very much.”
The Curator – “Or perhaps it doesn’t matter either way. Who knows, eh? Who knows?”
This was a fun way to get Tom Baker – who played the iconic Fourth Doctor for 172 episodes, playing the Doctor longer than any other actor from 28 December 1974 to 21 March 1981 – a cameo in such a historic episode. But a great cameo in an important episode doesn’t undermine the exchange the characters share nor its implications. It is clearly implied (if not explicitly stated) the Doctor will regenerate and return to the Fourth Doctor’s form at a future point in their life.
We also know Time Lords can sort of nudge their form when they regenerate. When the Second Doctor regenerates into the Third Doctor, the Time Lords (who essentially execute him, forcing him to regenerate as punishment for his crimes of interfering across time and space) consult him on the matter:
Time Lord – “Your appearance has changed before, it will change again. That is part of the sentence.”
The Doctor – “You can’t just change what I look like without consulting me!”
Time Lord – “You will have an opportunity to choose your appearance.”
The Doctor – “Oh, well, that’s not so bad. But I warn you, I’m very particular.”
When he takes too much time, trying to stall, the Time Lords choose for him. This isn’t the only time the Doctor seems to have been involved, at least in some degree, with their regeneration. Theresa has told me she wonders if the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) intentionally regenerated into a younger looking form in the Tenth Doctor so his relationship with Rose (Billie Piper) could develop without them raising as many eyebrows. I LOVE this theory! It makes my heart feel all warm and fuzzy! The Eleventh Doctor routinely commented on how old he felt so it is not surprising the Doctor’s next form looked older. As Peter Capaldi had previously played Lobus Caecilus in “The Fires of Pompeii,” that had to be addressed in the show, too.
Choosing that face was a conscious choice the Doctor made. Shortly after regenerating, the Twelfth Doctor gazes at his reflection in a barrel of water, trying to place its familiarity, and wonders, “Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking?” Over a year later, on Earth trying to sort what to do in a Viking village with Clara in the 9th century, the Doctor finally makes the connection. He remembers Donna pleading with him to save someone from Pompeii and he tells Clara, “”I know where I got this face, and I know what it’s for.” When she asks what it’s for he replies, “To remind me. To hold me to the mark. I’m the Doctor, and I save people. [shouting at the sky] And if anyone happens to be listening, and you’ve got any kind of a problem with that, to hell with you!”
So Time Lords can affect the face they take to varying degrees. But why would the Thirteenth Doctor return to her Tenth face? A quick glace at the last words of all the modern Doctors may shed some light on this:
The Ninth Doctor – “You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic! And you know what? So was I!”
The Tenth Doctor – “I don’t want go.”
The Eleventh Doctor – “I’ll never forget when the Doctor was me.”
The Twelfth Doctor – “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Doctor, I let you go.”
The Tenth Doctor alone struggles to let go of their form, their face, their life. This was a characteristic of that regeneration, too. After being shot by a Dalek moments after reuniting with Rose, the Doctor begins to regenerate…into himself. He tells Rose, “Used the regeneration energy to heal myself, but soon as I was done, I didn’t need to change. I didn’t want to. Why would I? Look at me. So, to stop the energy going all the way, I siphoned off the rest into a handy bio-matching receptacle, namely my hand. My hand there. My handy spare hand.” This difficulty in letting go would mean there’s a reason to return to that form, that face, to explore old traumas and heal those wounds. Returning to this one regeneration that wasn’t ready to let go in the service of finally finding peace could help the Doctor find greater balance in their future.
Returning to the form of the Tenth Doctor and ending up on an adventure which could maybe if we’re lucky also heal Donna and return the memories she lost of her time with the Doctor certainly sounds like a therapeutic and grace-filled experience. As someone who has begun the beautiful, winding journey in therapy of returning to my past to meet, understand, hold, and heal old wounds I can attest this, if handled correctly, could be a poignant, purposeful story.
So yes, the Thirteenth Doctor regenerating and returning to the form of the Tenth Doctor absolutely could happen. But will it happen? Should it happen?
As beautiful as a story like the journey I just outlined above would be, I don’t think it will happen. The theory I think is strongest for what Russell T Davies trio of 60th anniversary specials could be is the Doctor facing a threat scattered throughout time and, as a result, has to face the same villain at multiple points in their timestream. So instead of having multiple incarnations of the Doctor team-up at the same point in time (as we saw Matt Smith and David Tennant’s Eleventh and Tenth Doctor do for the 50th anniversary special), it would play out like the Doctor Who comic storyline “Supremacy of the Cybermen.” In this story, the Cybermen gain access to time travel and the Doctor must fight them on multiple fronts – as the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctor (with cameos by other Doctors) all face the Cybermen popping up in their own timeline.
This would explain why the Doctor and Donna are together again as it would place the story within their previous adventures. It would also explain why (as Doctor Who Twitter has been freaking out about since May) Matt Smith popped up on the House of the Dragon press rounds with his hair cut into his Eleventh Doctor style and why, at the premiere of Mandip Gill’s play 2:22 A Ghost Story, we saw Jodie Whittaker had chopped off the hair she grew back out after filming wrapped and dyed her brunette hair blonde again.
So, for my money, I think the strongest bet for what the 60th anniversary specials will be and why David Tennant and Catherine Tate are back is whatever adversary the Doctor is facing is attacking them at multiple points in their timeline. Peter Capaldi ruled out returning, recently telling SFX Magazine, “It’s very hard to imagine how you’d get a decent crack of the whip when there’s 14 of you, you know? So I think I’d rather leave it as is, because I loved my time on Doctor Who and loved doing it. I don’t want to be Doctor Who’s assistant. [Laughs]” I can’t argue with him as the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration special is my all-time favorite. I even commissioned an (absolutely gorgeous) art print of his final speech as the Doctor which is framed on my wall! But the Tenth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Doctors would still make for a super exciting 60th anniversary adventure…
But what of Russell T Davies other options? What of a multiverse/parallel world? Or an illusion or trick by an enemy? Or a dream?
A dream doesn’t make sense to me. It feels too low stakes for the 60th anniversary special. And what does it accomplish to have Ncuti Gatwa’s Fourteenth Doctor dreaming of being David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor? If anything, it undermines Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor and I don’t think anyone – Russell T Davies chief of all – wants that.
So how about a multiversal Doctor and Donna? To my mind, this is more probably than a dream but it doesn’t seem to fit with Doctor Who’s established canon. Can the Doctor regenerate into a previous Doctor? Yes. We’ve not seen it directly (yet) but Doctor Who’s canon show it’s possible. And with the Timeless Child reveal, we know the Doctor has far more lives to play with than we once thought. But a multiverse? A multiverse, yes. But multiversal Time Lords and a parallel Doctor and Donna…eh, that’s tricky.
The first time Doctor Who drops us into a parallel Earth is “Rise of the Cybermen” (S2E5). When the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey Smith (Noel Clark) realize where they are, Mickey says, “I’ve seen it in comics. People go hopping from one alternative world to another. It’s easy.” But the Doctor tells him, “Not in the real world. It used to be easy. When the Time Lords kept their eye on everything, you could hop between realities, home in time for tea. Then they died, and took it all with them. The walls of reality closed, the worlds were sealed. Everything became that bit less kind.” This implies, while a multiverse exists, there were only ever one race of Time Lords who oversaw it all. Doctor Who: Flux seems to confirm this as Tecteun wants to move Division to another universe because the Doctor is trying to find them and her presence poisons the universe against their work. The very first time Classic Doctor Who travelled the multiverse, in the serial “Inferno,” the Third Doctor encountered an alternate version of Liz Shaw and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart but no parallel version of himself or any other Time Lords.
So it could be the Doctor and Donna are from Universe 557 but nothing I’ve seen or read in Doctor Who seems to say that’s possible. Rather, quite the opposite.
Lastly, what about an illusion or trick by an enemy of the Doctor’s? Many have speculated the character Neil Patrick Harris is playing in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary special(s) is the Celestial Toymaker. The Celestial Toymaker is a transcendental being (perhaps one of the universe’s Elder Gods) who faced the First Doctor. He created games within a world where he controlled all. Immortal, invulnerable, and capable of space/time travel, if the Toymaker won his opponents were placed in his toy room. If they beat him, they were free to go. So yes, the little we’ve seen of the 60th anniversary could be a game of the Celestial Toymakers.
The most fascinating villain theory I’ve seen though came care of Twitter:
In many ways, the genesis of this piece was my thinking about this tweet! What if the Master regenerated and took the Tenth Doctor’s face?!?? And what if he has his memories?! This could explain why Donna’s around, too. The Doctor had to leave Donna since, if she ever recalled anything of their time together, it would kill her. Perhaps the Master is playing a game, going back to dance around Donna on a very Doctor-esque adventure with her life hanging in the balance. If Marvel’s Jessica Jones taught us anything it’s that David Tennant plays A HORRIFYING VILLAIN. I doubt I could emotionally handle his playing the Master but I’d also kind of love to see his take on the character all the same…
Granted the outfit could just be a change similar to how the Tenth Doctor’s hair wasn’t spiked up like normal in “The Day of the Doctor”…but we can’t know for sure. It could be the Master!
So, I don’t know. But that’s the fun of a piece like this! It’s all speculation until we learn the truth (of the regeneration at least) in a few weeks in “The Power of the Doctor” (hopefully…I guess it’s possible she could begin regenerating and we see nothing until the 60th begins but you wouldn’t do that to us would you Russell T Davies??). My bet is the Doctor’s facing one threat at multiple points in their timestream. This gives us multiple Doctors for the 60th while also keeping it different from the 50th (and the 20th anniversary special for that matter, “The Five Doctors”). Although I’m not sure how (if at all) Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor will fit in. It’s a lot to try and introduce a new Doctor with other Doctors returning. Still, part of me would like it to be a new adventure if that results in Donna getting her memories back. I can’t see Russell T Davies undoing his heartbreaking work in “Journey’s End” but we can always hope, can’t we?
What do you think, dear reader? If you’ve any guesses or theories (exciting, off the wall, or otherwise) please let me know! I want to get as much speculative mileage as I can out of these last few days or weeks until “The Power of the Doctor” brings the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration and my crying and emotional upheaval begins ;D.
 David Craig, “David Tennant tight-lipped on Doctor Who: ‘Ncuti Gatwa will be the next Doctor,’” Radio Times, Published October 3, 2022. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-david-tennant-ncuti-gatwa-newsupdate/
 Rebecca Jones, “David Tennant jealous of incoming Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa,” BBC.com, Published September 30, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-63073710
 James Hibbs, “Russell T Davies hints at reason for David Tennant’s Doctor Who return,” Radio Times, Published June 23, 2022. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-david-tennant-russell-t-davies-return-newsupdate/
 Huw Fullerton, “David Tennant and Catherine Tate will return to Doctor Who in 2023,” Radio Times, Published May 15, 2022. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-david-tennant-catherine-tate-return-newsupdate/
 Nick Hurran, dir. “The Day of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, 50th Anniversary Special, BBC, 2013.
 David Maloney, “The War Games” Episode Ten.” Doctor Who, season 6, episode 48, BBC, 1969.
 Ben Wheatley, dir. “Deep Breath,” Doctor Who, season 8, episode 1, BBC, 2014.
 Ed Bazalgette, dir. “The Girl Who Died,” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 5, BBC, 2015.
 Joe Ahearne, dir. “The Parting of the Ways,” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 13, BBC, 2005.
 Euros Lyn, dir. “The End of Time – Part Two,” Doctor Who, New Year Special, BBC, 2010.
 Jamie Payne, dir. “The Time of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, Christmas Special, BBC, 2013.
 Rachel Talalay, dir. “Twice Upon a Time,” Doctor Who, Christmas Special, BBC, 2017
 Graeme Harper, dir. “Journey’s End,” Doctor Who, season 4, episode 13, BBC, 2008.
 David Craig, “Peter Capaldi rules out Doctor Who 60th: ‘I’d rather leave it as is,’” Radio Times, Published October 3, 2022. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/peter-capaldi-doctor-who-60th-anniversary-newsupdate/
 Graeme Harper, dir. “Rise of the Cybermen,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 5, BBC, 2006.
 Azur Saleem, “Survivors of the Flux,” Doctor Who, season 13, episode 5, BBC, 2021.
 Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts, dir. “Inferno,” Doctor Who, season 7, serial 4, BBC, 1970.