Though my self-imposed blogging exile is still in effect whilst I finish my dissertation and prepare for exams, I thought I’d air my thoughts on recent news surrounding Doctor Who since it’s a topic I know so intrinsically that this will require precious little additional research. This may also be a good place to mention that there are spoilers ahead, so if you’re avoiding hearing about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special then go away. This will also be a heavily speculative blog that may require detailed knowledge of NuWho continuity, I’ll explain where possible but be prepared.
Despite repeated claims to the contrary mere days before the news broke, David Tennant and Billie Piper have both been confirmed to appear in the special episode due to air sometime in November (most likely on or around the 23rd as per the first episode’s broadcast in 1963). Tennant and Piper played the tenth incarnation of the titular Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler respectively. Though the announcement had to be made early due to an error in sending out subscriber editions of Doctor Who Magazine carrying the news, within days set photos showing Tennant began to emerge.
With the inclusion of Piper acknowledged, many fans have assumed that this means Tennant will be playing the Clone Tenth Doctor that was created during the fourth series finale, Journey’s End, who was left on a parallel Earth by the Doctor-proper with Rose. Being at least half human, this Doctor was incapable of regenerating, had only one heart and would age at around the same rate as humans – practically giving Tennant a free pass if he wanted to do a return appearance when he’s old and grey. However, set photos seem to debunk this since Tennant is clearly wearing the standard Tenth Doctor outfit that his clone lacked (let’s assume identical pinstripe suits are hard to come by). What’s more, there’s indications of two onset TARDISes, one lacking the St. John’s Ambulance logo that was only restored with Matt Smith.
More importantly, whoever writes this episode (most likely Steven Moffat) has the unenviable task of finding the right balance between maintaining continuity for the hardcore fans whilst still making the episode accessible to a general audience. Most people are already familiar with the concept of The Doctor regenerating and know that David Tennant used to be one of them; it’s a bit more of a stretch to explain that he’s actually a half-human clone of Tennant created by a biological meta-crisis bond between Catherine Tate and the excess energy of a failed regeneration. The Doctor encountering his future self but not remembering it has happened so many times before that the discontinuity can either be ignored or hand-waved off, as Moffat did once already.
With the constant denials from Tennant, it’d be very easy to be dismissive of claims from other cast members that they’ve not been approached about returning, such as John Barrowman or any former Doctor actors. For the classic series Doctors, there’s a very good possibility that they’ve genuinely not been asked or have directly turned it down – not hard to see why when some of them haven’t played the role on TV for over 30 years and some have aged less well than others. Though that doesn’t rule out their involvement, since most of them have played the role in spin-off media like the Big Finish audio stories, so they may appear either in brief cameos or as other characters (in a nudge-wink kind of way). But I think the five surviving 20th century Doctors getting major roles is unlikely, since telling a story worthy of the anniversary when the stage is so crowded would take Whedonesque precision.
An official, yet unnamed, source at the BBC told Digital Spy that Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston (the first contemporary Doctor) was in talks with Steven Moffat to appear in the anniversary special but ultimately decided against it. This was in response to the Daily Star claiming that Eccleston had agreed to appear but “snubbed” the production. Tabloids throwing these “rumours” around is nothing new, so the fact the BBC felt it worth acknowledging seems telling to me, since such a denial hasn’t been necessary for the other actors. However, I can only speculate and I’m undeniably biased since I really want to see Eccleston back in the show.
The first time Doctor Who attempted to unite three Doctors, way back in 1973’s imaginatively titled The Three Doctors, the failing health of First Doctor William Hartnell meant that the story really centred around the latter two Doctors, with the original making only a brief cameo appearance. Thusly:
I’m inclined to believe that Eccleston wouldn’t make a a fully-fledged appearance in the episode owing to the brevity of his run and the oft-mentioned politics that went on behind the scenes during his time, but I could imagine a cameo appearance being played out very much like this. Tennant and Smith’s Doctors could get along so well they don’t make any progress to the plot until an irate Ninth Doctor appears on the TARDIS monitor, calls his replacements a pair of pretty boys and tells them to stop larking about. A good callback to the old series, gets the three of them onscreen (if briefly) and, most importantly, in-character.
Of course, the lack of involvement from the actors hardly means no appearance from the Doctors they portrayed. The twentieth anniversary special, The Five Doctors (do you see a pattern emerging?), lacked involvement from both Hartnell, who had passed away, and recently-departed Fourth Doctor Tom Baker. The former was replaced by Richard Hurndall whilst the latter was worked into the story through archive footage of a disused episode (and a creepy as all hell waxwork dummy for publicity photos). I’m sceptical they could get away with replacement actors, at least for the surviving Doctors, or ropey integration of old clips; but if their appearance is as limited as I suspect, then Moffat may be able to pull it off convincingly.
So those are my thoughts, all set up nice and neatly to be thoroughly knocked down when the time comes. Allons-y!