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Doctor Who: Going back to the future with David Tennant and Catherine Tate heralds an exciting new era

With David Tennant and Catherine Tate returning for the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, and Ncuti Gatwa set to star, the future is bright.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning to Doctor Who next year as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations. The 10th Doctor and Donna Noble, reunited.

Fans were already celebrating the announcement that Ncuti Gatwa will take over from Jodie Whittaker next year to become the 14th Doctor (though these numbers are increasingly fluid, given the brilliance of Jo Martin’s as the Fugitive Doctor and John Hurt as the War Doctor).

The latest surprise announcement confirmed speculation based on alleged sightings of David Tennant in Cardiff and talk of new adventures featuring older Doctors as part of Davies’s new reign as showrunner – and it left fans in dreamland.

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Once again, it began with a cryptic Instagram post.

Russell T Davies wrote: “THEY’RE BACK! The Doctor and Donna! But… how?! He wiped her memory! If she remembers, she’ll die! But, but… is it a flashback? A dream sequence? A lie? A fantasy? A parallel universe?! Alt Doctor? The Land of Fiction?! You’ll find out in 2023 as Doctor Who hits its 60th – diamond! – anniversary! ♥️♥️➕🔷 @bbcdoctorwho
Okay. That’s enough. Stop now. Stop. No more announcements… 😏

But what does it all mean?

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Some speculation suggests that the show’s unique ability to travel through space and time may now be used to expand the show. Build a bigger franchise. Create a Marvel-style universe centred around the Doctor Who series.

What Davies started constructing with Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures could be expanded exponentially. This feels bold but entirely within the realms of possibility with Davies at the helm. He has always dreamt big, reached for the stars, and has a rare ability to conjure magic and fairytales with a masterful grasp of what Steven Moffat famously dubbed the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”.

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What would be to stop Doctor Who taking a few pointers from the Big Finish audio adventures and book series? Adding a David Tennant adventure or two between main series, a spin-off Matt Smith story, more multi-Doctor episodes or films, and building this into what could be a long spell as the Doctor for Gatwa by weaving previous incumbents of the Doctor (or references to these new spin-off episodes) into the Gatwa’s adventures at key moments? The possibilities are endless. It could be magic.

“It lasts for a lifetime. To the fans you are always The Doctor.” This is how Jodie Whittaker described what it meant to join the elite few actors to have played the most iconic role in British television.

And it is true. David Tennant might have followed his spell in the Tardis by starring in ratings smash Broadchurch and has subsequently won plaudits for a supremely sinister performance as serial killer Dennis Nilsen in Des, brought joy to millions as Crowley in Good Omens – forming a double act with Michael Sheen that would also form the heart of lockdown hit Staged, and given us his Phileas Fogg in Around The World in 80 Days this Christmas. He might be about to star alongside Lydia West and Stanley Tucci in Inside Man, a big new drama from ex-Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat. But deep down he will always be, and has always been, the Doctor to millions of us.

Sure, we suspend our disbelief, enjoy his other roles, marvel at his transformational skills. But he’s always The Doctor.

And Tennant is arguably the biggest Doctor of the modern age. We all have our favourites – mine are, at a push, Matt Smith and final-series Capaldi, but ultimately, the character is such a perfect creation – but Tennant, like Tom Baker, is the iconic face of his era. And Tennant did end his spell as The Doctor by saying, quite heartbreakingly, “I don’t want to go.”

So what better way to usher in a new era and a new Doctor than wooing fans with the wonderful Tennant and Tate double act?

Whether they appear alongside Gatwa in the 60th anniversary, whether it is a multi-Doctor bonanza that introduces Gatwa, or whether a standalone Tennant film that serves as an audience-grabbing precursor to the Gatwa era, it feels like a win-win-win situation for Doctor Who.

Not too long ago, the future of Doctor Who looked uncertain. Under showrunner Chris Chibnall strides were made in widening the stories being told and making the show more inclusive. Chibnall and Whittaker made good on what Whittaker told The Big Issue in 2018: “Inclusivity and hope – that is what I want to bring to Doctor Who.”

To quote her first word as the Doctor, Whittaker has been brilliant. But there has been a feeling that the lead actor’s skills were not fully explored. Whittaker’s Doctor was less solitary genius, more team player – and her scenes with Mandip Gill as Yaz have been especially joyous. She brought real empathy to the role, a rich humanity that contrasted nicely with Capaldi’s more alien interpretation. And as the first female Doctor, Whittaker broke vital and overdue new ground.

But some of the sharpness in the writing and plotting left with Steven Moffat’s departure, the show was moved around the BBC One schedule and the lack of Christmas episodes felt like a reflection of a lack of ambition. And consequently audience figures have suffered.

Now, fans old and new are hyped. The knowledge of what excitements are coming means Whittaker and Chibnall’s big finale in autumn receives the generous, celebratory, positive reception both showrunner and actor deserve.

And Doctor Who fans? They can continue to indulge in a favourite pastime – speculating about the future. Russell T Davies said, upon the unveiling of Gatwa at the Baftas, that he would now take a backseat now to give Whittaker’s feature-length finale the spotlight. But with Tenant and Tate returning, the dreams of Doctor Who fans are expanding.

Another adventure for Capaldi alongside Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts? Yes please. The return of Billie Piper as Rose? Bring it on. Surely Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill can be persuaded to revive Amy and Rory Pond –and can Matt Smith join in the fun, please? After all, when he was promoting Morbius, he admitted the Doctor was a more exciting, more iconic character. Who knows, perhaps Whittaker will return sooner rather than later – Davies is always extremely positive about her.

Then, if Christopher Eccleston, whose relationship with the character and fans has always been strong and who has enjoyed returning to the Tardis to record audio adventures as the Ninth Doctor, can be persuaded to join this expanded new Who universe? Well, the internet might just explode.

Will Eccleston do it?

Well, the actor did not close the door to the possibility when asked at the Supanova Comic Con in Melbourne, Australia earlier this year. “The Ninth Doctor in particular is a one-man band, definitely,” he said. “So he doesn’t work with other Doctors. If you want me back, you get me on my own.” This could work with the new Doctor Who universe set up.

So with a beloved showrunner returning, a hotly-anticipated new Doctor, a big anniversary and the return of the modern era’s most popular Doctor, the future is looking brighter than ever for Doctor Who. And Gatwa’s global fandom from Sex Education will not hurt the bold new era find new followers across the world.

If the budget matches the ambition, if Davies and the team in Cardiff are backed in their vision for a bold, inclusive, inventive, expanded new era of Doctor Who adventures built around new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa – but perhaps featuring previous Timelords and companions / friends / assistants – this could be the ride of a lifetime. Allons-y!

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