David Tennant is the Fourteenth Doctor: Thoughts and Theories Part 1

When Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated I had no idea what would happen next.  I knew Ncuti Gatwa was cast as the next Doctor.  But I also knew David Tennant and Catherine Tate were returning for a trilogy of specials for Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary next November.  Whose face would I see when the regeneration energy faded??  In all my time watching Doctor Who, there’s never been a regeneration mystery like this!  Jodie Whittaker smiled into the rising sun, arms wide…and then there was David Tennant!  The announcement posted on the BBC’s Doctor Who site immediately after the episode aired made if official-official, “As Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated on Sunday 23rd October, it was none other than David Tennant who appeared as the Fourteenth Doctor.”  They included a statement from Russell T Davies as well, “If you thought the appearance of David Tennant was a shock, we’ve got plenty more surprises on the way!  The path to Ncuti’s Fifteenth Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger and fun!  And how is it connected to the return of the wonderful Donna Noble?  How, what, why?  We’re giving you a year to speculate, and then all hell lets loose!”[1]

So, David Tennant is the Fourteenth Doctor.  Ncuti Gatwa is the Fifteenth Doctor.  And Russell T Davies has invited us to a year of speculation (hence my “Part 1”).  How fun :D.  Let’s get started!

To begin, there is canonical precedent the Doctor can regenerate – and will/has – into a previous form.  In Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor,” the closing scene sees the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) looking at the painting “Gallifrey Falls” when the Curator (Tom Baker) arrives:

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The Curator and the Doctor meet. / Photo Credit – BBC Studios’ Doctor Who

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 favorites, 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?”[2]

So nine years before “The Power of the Doctor” and Jodie’s Thirteenth Doctor becoming David’s Fourteenth Doctor, we knew the Doctor could regenerate into a previous form and would, at some point in their distant future, take the face of the Fourth Doctor once more.

But we’ve not seen this happen in a regeneration until the Thirteenth Doctor became the Fourteenth Doctor!  Let’s take a moment to relive that beautiful (in the Thirteenth Doctor’s final goodbye) and shocking (in the Fourteenth Doctor’s appearance) scene:

I think we need to start here – the clothes.

Traditionally, when the Doctor regenerates their next form is obviously/logically wearing the clothes they had on in their previous form.  The Doctor choosing their new style is often a part of settling into their new form/life/being.  The Doctor himself is shocked at this change as the second “What?” in his classic, “What? What? What?” is directed at his clothes changing along with his form when he regenerated.  To my mind, there are two explanations for this.

First, the Fourteenth Doctor really isn’t in the form of the Tenth Doctor again and it’s all part of some sort of illusion.  If that’s the case, the Doctor immediately being in clothes similar to what they wore in that form could be part of the illusion.  I don’t think this is a strong choice as the ten second teaser trailer they’ve released for the 60th Anniversary seems to indicate the Doctor is really struggling with who they are now, given this regeneration. 

The only line the Fourteenth Doctor says in the trailer is, “I don’t know who I am anymore.”  And I’d be hard pressed to imagine a spell/machination/plot/villain powerful or pervasive enough to make the Doctor believe their entire being was in a form it wasn’t.  More importantly, it feels like a waste for something as momentous as the jarring emotional experience of regenerating into a previous form for the first time to just be an illusion.  To be fair, when Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor appears, seemingly wearing part of the Fourteenth Doctor’s suit, he says, “Someone tell me what the hell is goin’ on here!”  So maybe it’s an illusion?  Maybe the Doctor finds themself flipping back and forth between the two forms as the illusion holds and cracks?

It’s possible but I don’t really think it’s probable.

I think it’s more likely Russell T Davies, as aware as he is of Doctor Who history, is signaling the historic shift in this regeneration.  To the best of my knowledge, the only time the Doctor’s clothes changed when they regenerated was when the First Doctor regenerated into the Second Doctor.  So the Doctor’s first regeneration (the Timeless Child notwithstanding) brought a change of clothes with it, too.  It makes poetic sense the first time the Doctor regenerates into a previous form would mirror that – a nod to the fact the Doctor’s regenerating again, for the first time.  If you’d like to see what remains of the first regeneration on Doctor Who, here it is:

But why?  Why is the Doctor revisiting “an old favorite” face now?

So you know, this next section contains two spoilers for “The Power of the Doctor” outside of just the fact Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated into David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor.  If you’ve not seen “The Power of the Doctor,” skip the next four paragraphs or read on, based on your comfort around such spoilers.

Part of the Master’s scheme in “The Power of the Doctor” was to force the Doctor to regenerate and steal her life.  I’ve never seen a regeneration work like this before.  Yes, I can see how the Master could force the Doctor to change her form and take his face but all I know about regeneration would say the Doctor would keep her own memories and wouldn’t take on the Master’s personality/consciousness.  The way the episode played out it was like the Master forced the Doctor to regenerate and, as she did, stole her form.

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The Master with Yaz after having hijacked the Doctor’s regeneration. / Photo Credit – BBC Studios’ Doctor Who

Maybe that jumbled the regeneration process.  Maybe, as a result of the Master taking her form and then her taking it back, the Doctor’s next regeneration went wonky and she ended up in an old form.

Or the Doctor meeting the Guardians of the Edge could have something to do with it.  As the Master’s inhabiting her body, the Doctor meets the echoes of the First, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctor within her subconsciousness.  (Tom Baker would’ve been there alongside Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann – all the surviving Classic Doctors and David Bradley who’s played the First Doctor since William Hartnell’s passing – but a conflict in scheduling made him unavailable for filming.[3])  They tell the Doctor once she crosses this edge, she can never return.  But, before she does, there’s a chance her personality can retake her form from the Master.

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The Thirteenth Doctor meets the Guardians of the Edge. / Photo Credit – @bbcdoctorwho

So perhaps this is it?  Maybe the Tenth Doctor had some unfinished business and crawled his way back from the edge.  However, I’m not sure that’s probable as Russell T Davies’ statements and the material the BBC’s released seem to make it clear the Fourteenth Doctor is a new regeneration.  This isn’t the Tenth Doctor resurrected.  Exactly what that means remains to be seen but I don’t know the Tenth Doctor could’ve come back as the Thirteenth Doctor did in “The Power of the Doctor.”  What the Guardians of the Edge say seem to prohibit it as the Tenth Doctor, presumably, crossed the edge millennia ago now (given how many years were lived between the Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Doctors).

Right now, my best guess is the Fourteenth Doctor’s regeneration is wearing the face of the Tenth Doctor primarily for healing.  Look at all the modern Doctors’ last words:

The Ninth Doctor – “You were fantastic.  Absolutely fantastic!  And you know what?  So was I!”[4]

The Tenth Doctor – “I don’t want to go.”[5]

The Eleventh Doctor – “I’ll never forget when the Doctor was me.”[6]

The Twelfth Doctor – “Laugh hard.  Run fast.  Be kind.  Doctor, I let you go.”[7]

The Thirteenth Doctor – “Alright then, Doctor whoever I’m about to be.  Tag, you’re it!”[8]  

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Photo Credit – BBC Studios’ Doctor Who

Of all our modern incarnations of the Doctor, the Tenth Doctor was the only one clinging to their life.  The Tenth Doctor didn’t want to go.  And all our hearts broke with him!  I would bet this trilogy of 60th Anniversary Specials sees the Fourteenth Doctor regenerate in a far more peaceful place.  Whatever his journey, I bet this regeneration follows a life of greater healing and closure for this form.

Closure to be found with this face would naturally lead the Doctor back to “the wonderful Donna Noble,” too!

After wiping her memories, the Tenth Doctor told Sylvie and Wilf, Donna’s mother and grandfather, “She took my mind into her own head, but that’s a Time Lord consciousness.  All that knowledge, it was killing her.  I had to wipe her mind.  Completely.  Every trace of me or the TARDIS, anything we did together, anywhere we went, had to go.”  With tears in his eyes Wilf says, “All those wonderful things she did…”  Solemnly the Doctor says, “I know.  But that version of Donna is dead.  ‘Cause if she remembers, just for a second, she’ll burn up.  You can never tell her.  You can’t mention me or any of it.  For the rest of her life.”[9]

If you’d like to relive the heartbreak, here it is:

Maybe the adventure ahead for the Fourteenth Doctor, in a form chosen to seek closure and a second chance at a peaceful transition, will lead to the return of the wonderful Donna Noble and the restoration of her memories.  Yes, yes, I know the Tenth Doctor says “never” and he says “for the rest of her life” but this is Doctor Who we’re talking about!  Some sort of long lost Time Lord trick or some device or mystical object finally discovered – or something the Doctor seeks out – could heal her.  Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part…but I hope it’s not!  No matter how we get there, I would love to see Donna’s memories finally given back to her!  I’d love to cry tears over Donna’s memories returning and the Fourteenth Doctor being ready to go as opposed to all the crying I did the last time Donna and the Doctor parted ways.

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C’mon Donna! Your whole life can be resurrected, too! I just know it! / Photo Credit – BBC Studios’ Doctor Who

Finally, I like the idea of the Fourteenth Doctor unbalancing the Doctor’s sense of self.  They’ve moved through the trauma of the Time War.  They’ve learned to let more and more people in, as evidenced by the Thirteenth Doctor’s fam as opposed to the one-or-two companions of the (first) Davies and Moffat eras.  Even when the Master destroys Gallifrey for the second time and hits the Thirteenth Doctor with the reality of her being the Timeless Child, she was able to take strength in Yaz, Ryan, Graham, Captain Jack, and Dan and begin (and only begin, to be sure!) to process all this in a far healthier way than the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctor processed the Time War.  So this Fourteenth Doctor gives us a new source of conflict for the Doctor without undoing the progress of the last thirteen series and/or retreading tired old plotlines.

I grant it feels potentially problematic when the fan favorite (white, heterosexual, and cisgendered) Doctor is dropped back in between Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to play the Doctor, and Ncuti Gatwa, the first Black, gay man to play the Doctor.  It seems like those “fans” who rabidly criticized everything about the Jodie Whittaker/Chris Chibnall era because they feared a female Doctor (the same “fans” who immediately began to lash out at Ncuti Gatwa’s casting due to the same wild fears of their being replaced) can read this as a “victory” – like David Tennant was “needed” to “right the ship” after the first female Doctor.  To move from Jodie’s Doctor to the first regeneration of the Doctor which will be openly gay (as confirmed by Neil Patrick Harris when he told Variety, “He’ll be the first gay Doctor, which is going to be super cool, a sexier Doctor”[10]) alongside Yasmin Finney, a trans woman cast as Ncuti’s Doctor’s companion Rose, could’ve spoken volumes. 

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Our first look at Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor!!! / Photo Credit – BBC Studio’s Doctor Who

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Our first look at Yasmin Finney’s Rose alongside the Fourteenth Doctor!!! / Photo Credit – BBC Studios’ Doctor Who

She confirmed her character will also be trans in her speech at the Trans Pride March in London this year saying, “How many of you have seen Doctor Who?  Yeah, because that is also a moment and that is also a show where my character is trans.  So, Boris [Johnson], I hope you see Heartstopper, I hope you see Doctor Who, because I exist, and I know you know I exist.  We all exist, and we’re not going anywhere!  Period.”[11]  Set photos released by the BBC show Rose with the Fourteenth Doctor and Donna so, presumably, she’ll continue to travel with the Doctor after he regenerates.  Her historic casting alongside David Tennant’s return is huge!  And it is important!  Still, going from the Thirteenth Doctor, and her love with Yaz, to Ncuti’s Doctor travelling with Yasmin Finney’s Rose would’ve sent a very clear message to those “fans” so this may be a missed opportunity.

Still, I’ve no reason to doubt Russell T Davies and the Fourteenth Doctor leading to Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor who will travel with Yasmin Finney’s Rose is important all the same.  I love that the first full series of Doctor Who Disney+ will distribute around the world – with the reach only Disney has – will feature a Black, gay man playing the Doctor and a trans woman playing the Doctor’s companion.  And I am excited to see David Tennant back as the Fourteenth Doctor and Catherine Tate return as Donna Noble!  Now let’s just hope she gets her memories back…

So ends my first round of thoughts and theories on David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor.  But what do you think, dear reader?  Do you have any ideas you’re ready to toss into the mix yet?  We have a year to speculate and I live to overthink things!  So any theories, guesses, ideas, hopes, and dreams you’d like to share, please do :D.

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I love, love, love, love that the Fourteenth Doctor’s first words are, “I know these teeth’ XD. It’s perfect! / Photo Credit – BBC Studios’ Doctor Who

Also, if you’d like more theorizing, you can read:

David Tennant is the Fourteenth Doctor: Thoughts and Theories Part 2 which examines who the main villain of the 60th anniversary specials is/are.  Who is targeting the Doctor??  How does it connect to Donna Noble??  I think it’s a villain created by Russell T Davies in his first run and not a classic Doctor Who villain…and here’s why.

David Tennant is the Fourteenth Doctor: Thoughts and Theories Part 3 where I SOLVE THE MYSTERY of how Donna can get her memories back!  I mean, I don’t know for sure I solved it but I explore a path which bridges Doctor Who and Classic Doctor Who to show how Donna can get her “happily ever after.”

[1] BBC Doctor Who, “David Tennant is the Doctor!,” DoctorWho.TV. Published October 23, 2022.  Accessed October 30, 2022.  https://www.doctorwho.tv/news-and-features/david-tennant-is-the-fourteenth-doctor?cm_mmc=ExactTarget-_-email-_-DW198_Solus_23102022-_-email&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign=DW198_Solus_23102022

[2] Nick Hurran, dir. “The Day of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, 50th Anniversary Special, BBC, 2013.

[3] Nicola Methven, “Doctor Who producer reveals Tom Baker was invited to return but ‘could not do it.’” Irish Mirror. Published October 23, 2022.  Accessed November 2, 2022.  https://www.irishmirror.ie/tv/doctor-who-producer-reveals-tom-28311251

[4] Joe Ahearne, dir. “The Parting of the Ways,” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 13, BBC, 2005.

[5] Euros Lyn, dir. “The End of Time – Part Two,” Doctor Who, New Year Special, BBC, 2010.

[6] Jamie Payne, dir. “The Time of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, Christmas Special, BBC, 2013.

[7] Rachel Talalay, dir. “Twice Upon a Time,” Doctor Who, Christmas Special, BBC, 2017

[8] Jamie Magnus Stone, dir. “The Power of the Doctor,” Doctor Who, Centenary Special 2022, BBC, 2022.

[9] Graeme Harper, dir. “Journey’s End,” Doctor Who, season 4, episode 13, BBC, 2008.  

[10] Marc Malkin, “Neil Patrick Harris on His First On-Camera Gay Sex Scene in ‘Uncoupled,’ Fake Penises, and Joining ‘Doctor Who,’” Variety.  Published July 30, 2022.  Accessed November 3, 2022.  https://variety.com/2022/tv/podcasts/neil-patrick-harris-uncoupled-sex-scene-doctor-who-1235329259/

[11] Harriet Mitchell, “Doctor Who star Yasmin Finney confirms Rose’s trans identity in powerful speech,” Digital Spy. Published July 12, 2022.  Accessed November 3, 2022.  https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/a40589087/doctor-who-yasmin-finney-character-rose-trans-identity/

4 thoughts on “David Tennant is the Fourteenth Doctor: Thoughts and Theories Part 1

    1. So we don’t know for sure it’s another version of Rose Tyler. That’s one of the things people are speculating about! What Russell T Davies said with her casting was, “Life on Doctor Who gets brighter and wilder, how can there be another Rose? You’ll find out in 2023, but it’s an absolute joy to welcome Yasmin to the Doctor Who set. We all fell in love with her in Heartstopper, one of those shows which changes the world – and now Yasmin can change the Whoniverse!” So is she another Rose Tyler?? Or is she just another companion named “Rose”?? I’ve no idea but my analytical part is already enjoying the speculation and looking forward to a year of it :D.

      If it is another incarnation of Rose Tyler, she is younger this time around. Yasmin Finney has said, “The character is called Rose. She’s another trans icon — a 15-year-old trans girl with a great, supportive family. Envision Heartstopper but fighting aliens.” I’m very curious as to how the dynamic will work because a fifteen-year-old travelling with the Doctor seems a bit reckless in a child endangerment kind of way.

      And one of my favorite things about Doctor Who is how it not only invites you to take the show at your own pace (you can binge it but it works just as well (or better?) if you don’t) and jump in and out at different points, whether your caught up or not. Basically anytime the Doctor or the showrunner changes or a new companion comes on board the TARDIS they make it easy for you to start watching or start watching again. I’ve found this to largely be true with Classic Doctor Who, too, and I love that that’s part of this show’s 60 year history.

      Liked by 1 person

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