Whenever Doctor Who is ready to cast a new Doctor, the internet is always aflurry with wild suggestions and outlandish “leaks” that, more often than not, never play out as true. But as Doctor Who fandom looks toward the return of showrunner Russell T Davies—and the 14th Doctor arriving in time for next year’s 60th anniversary—the series has found itself caught up in one of the strangest rumors it’s faced in years.
For weeks, bubbling up into a frenzy over the weekend, Doctor Who fandom has been gripped by talk of one of the most out-there rumors the series has seen in a long time. Alleged leakers operating on fan forums like the popular Gallifreybase have pointed to a wild rumor for the climax of Jodie Whittaker’s time as the Doctor, one that has been picked up outside of diehard fan circles and even been discussed on national British television. But as large a rumor as it’s gotten, it’s also one that feels somehow even more absurd than the reality we already have of Davies returning to the show he left behind in 2009. Here’s what you need to know—and how likely it could actually happen.
So what’s gotten everyone into a fuss? The identity of Jodie Whittaker’s replacement as the next, 14th incarnation of the Doctor (other incarnations prior to those 14 are available too, of course). Given that the returning Davies is set to begin his official tenure with Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary in November 2023, the current rumor piggybacks over other recent rumors that Doctor Who was looking to cast a big-name actor to play the Doctor in a series of anniversary specials, before regenerating into the 15th Doctor for Davies’ first season in 2024. Instead of being any big casting name, however, the rumor that has put Who fans into a frenzy is that it’s none other than David Tennant who will return as the Time Lord.
Instead of playing the 10th Doctor again—that’s literally something the show already did back in 2008's “Journey’s End”—Tennant would be purportedly playing an entirely new 14th incarnation of the Doctor. One who has a face from their past for unknown mystery reasons, a mystery that would, presumably, play out over the course of these alleged specials and be solved in time for an actual new regeneration to regularly play the Doctor in 2024.
This wouldn’t be the first time that an actor returned to Doctor Who in a major way, of course. Colin Baker played Time Lord Commander Maxil in 1983's “Arc of Infinity” before he became the Sixth Doctor a year later, and Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor famously touched upon just why the Doctor had chosen the face of a man he’d already met, Capaldi’s character Caecilius from 2008's “The Fires of Pompeii,” as a lesson for their latest incarnation to learn two regenerations later. But it would be the first time we’ve seen a Time Lord regenerate into a likeness they had previously inhabited in a prior regeneration.
That said, we do know that with enough practice Time Lords can have a level of influence over their regeneration, as well as rapidly change form with the residual cellular energy unleashed in the immediate aftermath. Tennant’s own 10th doctor reformed a severed hand within 15 hours of his regeneration in his debut story, “The Christmas Invasion,” and then in the aforementioned “Journey’s End,” delayed potential regeneration after suffering a fatal wound by channeling his regenerative energy into that severed hand, creating a part-human, part-Time Lord “Metacrisis” being with his own likeness. In classic Doctor Who, Romana, the Time Lord companion of the Fourth Doctor, chose to regenerate between the 16 and 17th seasons of the series, “trying on” a number of bodies before eventually settling on the likeness of Lalla Ward’s character Princess Astra from “The Armageddon Factor,” who Romana had met the year prior.
So it’s not like Doctor Who wouldn’t be able to find a way to explain why the Doctor has a new-old face. Especially if, as this alleged rumor explains, Tennant would be still be playing an entirely new incarnation of the Doctor, rather than the 10th Doctor all over again. That said...
... The real answer is probably not, and this is just a fanbase—stuck in the strange period of having to wait over a year for the “current” era of Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall to end, and a new one to begin—going a little bonkers in the process. Tennant has, of course, not been afraid to return to his time on Doctor Who in the years since he first left. He reprised the 10th Doctor for the series’ 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” and in years since has returned to voice the character in audio adventures at Big Finish.
But there’s a very big difference between Tennant reprising his past role in ancillary material and him returning as the latest Doctor on TV. And considering this rumor has managed to garner such high levels of attention outside of even usual fan circles, with the BBC saying nothing about it, likely means that it’s not even worth denying in an official capacity. That, and “David Tennant is coming back to Doctor Who to save the show” has been a rumor before, to bludgeon whatever latest creative decision someone was upset by. Time will tell if this is all wibbly wobbly nonsense, but don’t get too excited while we endure the long wait to learn more about the next Doctor.
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