Monday, 24 October 2022

DOCTOR WHO special sets new records and tees up the show's 60th Anniversary year

The BBC has aired the final episode of Doctor Who to feature Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, setting several records for the show (and possibly two world records) in the process. It also set things up for the show's 60th anniversary in 2023, which will see Russell T. Davies return as showrunner after a thirteen-year gap.

Note that this article contains SPOILERS for the episode in question.

The Power of the Doctor marked the end of the Thirteenth Doctor's run, 4 years, 9 months and 28 days after her first appearance. Remarkably, this makes Whittaker the second-longest-serving Doctor in terms of appearances, behind only Tom Baker (who played the Doctor for 6 years, 9 months and 13 days from 1974 to 1981). However, due to the extremely low number of episodes produced in this time, she only ranks ninth in terms of screentime. And arguably both the Seventh and Eight Doctors were "in station" for longer (almost nine years apiece), as the show was on hiatus after their runs ended but without a regeneration scene.

The episode saw the return of Janet Fielding as former companion to the Fifth Doctor, Tegan Jovanka and Sophie Aldred as Dorothy, aka "Ace," former companion to the Seventh Doctor. Tegan last appeared on-screen in 1984 and Ace in 1989, and was the incumbent companion when the show went off-air for its first long hiatus.

However, the episode also saw the surprise return of three additional companions in extended cameos: Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford), who last appeared on screen in 1987; Jo Jones (nee Grant) (Katy Manning), who last appeared in Doctor Who in 1973 (but did have a guest appearance on The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2010); and, most remarkably, original companion Ian Chesterton (William Russell), who last appeared on-screen in 1965.

Russell's return sets potentially two world records. The first is the record for the longest hiatus between the same actor reprising the same role. This was formerly set by an actor on British soap opera Coronation Street who left in 1968 and returned for a storyline in 2011 (a gap of 43 years). For Russell this gap is over 57 years, which easily beats that record. The second is the record for length of time between the same actor's first and last appearances in the same show as the same character, as Russell appeared in the very first episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, which aired on 23 November 1963, giving us a run of just under 59 years.

The episode also established several records within Doctor Who itself, including the episode with the largest number of different Doctors appearing. As well as Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, the episode saw David Bradley reprise his role as the First Doctor (subbing for the deceased William Hartnell, as he has in several previous episodes); Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor (for the first time since 2007); Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor (for the first time since 1986); Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor (for the first time since 1996); and Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor (for the first time since 2013). The episode also sees the return of the Fugitive Doctor, played by Jo Martin, and marks the first appearance by David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor, who inexplicably has an identical appearance to his tenth incarnation. Sacha Dhawan, who plays the Master, also spends some time in the episode playing the Doctor, making for a total of nine actors playing the role in one episode.

Eight companions appearing in the story is not a record, however, as The Five Doctors (1983) featured the appearance of no less than ten companions.

The episode ended in an unusual fashion with a sequence written by the returning Russell T. Davies, with David Tennant being unveiled as the Fourteenth Doctor. Tennant previously played the Tenth Doctor from 2005 to 2010, returning for the 50th Anniversary Special in 2013. The reason for the new Doctor being identical to a former incarnation is unknown, and likely a prime driver of the plot for the 60th Anniversary year. 

The BBC has now confirmed previous reports that there will be three anniversary specials airing in November 2023, with Tennant in place for all of them before he regenerates into the Fifteenth Doctor, to be played by Ncuti Gatwa. Gatwa's first full appearance will be in a Christmas special to air in December 2023, followed by the full fourteenth series in early 2024. It is known for the specials that Catherine Tate is also returning as former companion Rose Temple-Noble and Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred, his final role before he sadly passed away after the completion of filming, whilst Neil Patrick Harris is playing a villainous role.

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