Doctor Who's Surprise Return Says They Kept It a Secret From Almost Everyone...Except David Tennant

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All our faces.
All our faces.
Photo: BBC America

Doctor Who’s latest episode was full of surprises—to the point where a major cast member making their long-awaited return wasn’t even the biggest part! The actor behind one of the coolest cameos this side of the TARDIS is sharing details about that fateful Chris Chibnall phone call, what his codename was on set, and why he couldn’t resist telling David Tennant he was back.

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Season 12's “Fugitive of the Judoon” was a jam-packed episode, full of shocking reveals that would rival an episode of The Maury Povich Show. The biggest one, of course, was the mind-blowing (and possibly reality-imploding) reveal that Gloucester tour guide Ruth (Jo Martin) was actually the Doctor. Is she from a different universe, another timeline, or something else entirely? It’s way too early to tell. But that wasn’t the only surprise this episode delivered. Just watch.

Captain Jack is back, baby! After almost a decade away from the TARDIS (apart from his radio dramas), Doctor Who and Torchwood star John Barrowman has returned as Captain Jack Harkness. It was a dream come true for Barrowman, who’s been trying for years to get the quirky Time Agent and Torchwood back into the fold. In an interview with RadioTimes, Barrowman shared how he got the news that Jack Harkness would be on the latest season of Doctor Who. Let’s just say his enthusiasm is infectious.


“My manager Gavin called me and said, ‘I have a phone call that you need to take, someone needs to talk to you. It’s Chris Chibnall.’ And I went, ‘What?’” he said. “So I got on the phone with Chris and I called him back, and I said, ‘Hey Chris, it’s John, what’s up?’ And he said, ‘How would you feel about bringing Captain Jack back?’ And I just started jumping around on the street and I was like ‘Yessss!!! Yes!!!!’”


The cameo was kept super secret, with Barrowman sharing that he was given a codename that was an anagram of “Rose Tyler” while working on set so no leaks would get out. He was allowed to tell only his spouse, but obviously the list didn’t end there. For starters, they had to get permission from Russell T. Davies, as he’d created the character (according to Barrowman, Davies said “Hoorah!” when Barrowman gave him the news). But that’s not all.

“I had to keep it a secret but it was partially to surprise you all,” he said. “The only person I’ve told and was allowed to tell was my husband Scott—and also I told my mom and dad, and my big sister. I texted Russell T. Davies and—oh I’m going to have to tell you, I told David Tennant. I was ecstatic, I couldn’t wait.”

The scenes themselves are a joy to watch. Playing to Barrowman’s comedic strengths, the cameo shows him trying to summon the Doctor to his stolen ship but he keeps beaming her companions aboard instead. When he mistakes Graham (Bradley Walsh) for the Doctor, he gives him a nice fat kiss on the lips; Barrowman said the director told him to “do what you want” in that scene, so he made it last a good long time. That said, he apparently preferred kissing Tennant.


So, why was Captain Jack back? Well, to warn the Doctor about “the lone Cyberman,” the latest in a string of mysterious new threats heading the Doctor’s way. Is this one connected to the new Doctor, or perhaps the Timeless Child we’ve been hearing so much/little about? Either way, we’re hoping it means more Captain Jack in the future—something Barrowman wants too, as he loves working with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and her new family.

“I think Jodie has created an entire new persona for the Doctor...and I’m really glad I’ve been asked back to be a part of her reign as the Doctor,” he said. “I guess the door is open for Jack to return. I don’t know when, I don’t know where. But if he does and they ask me to come back, you’d better believe I will do it at the drop of a hat, because Captain Jack Harkness is right here and raring to go.”


Doctor Who is currently airing its 12th season on BBC America, and the network announced it’s going to celebrate Barrowman’s return with a marathon of Captain Jack Harkman’s best Doctor Who episodes on Friday.

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