Doctor Who is currently filming its long-awaited tenth series to air next spring, but we won’t have to wait quite that long to see another adventure for the Time Lord, thanks to the upcoming Christmas special.
But while the festive episode airs moths before the new series, we actually know a lot less about what we'll be seeing in it – and our first question has to be, who exactly will be accompanying Peter Capaldi as companion on his Yuletide adventure?
Will it be someone we’ve seen before, a one-off newcomer or a character set to be very important for future episodes of the series? We have a few candidates, all with good claims to the gig...
Both Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat have said that Pearl Mackie’s new full-time companion Bill won’t be making her debut until the first episode of series ten, with the Christmas special having a guest companion instead. And that immediately makes us suspicious...
It wouldn't be the first time Moffat and co have misled us about this sort of thing – recently departed companion Jenna Coleman popped up in 2012 episode Asylum of the Daleks, months before her debut was expected, in a move that was kept secret from viewers – so who’s to say they couldn’t pull the same trick with Mackie?
Add to that the fact that the actress was seen filming scenes featuring fake snow and winter clothes in June (see video), and and early appearance for Bill looks increasingly likely...
Or could it be that another character confirmed to be joining Doctor Who series ten could actually be turning up earlier...?
When it was announced that Matt Lucas's decapitated character Nardole from last year’s Christmas special was returning, there were many confused fans – why bring back such a minor figure? And one who was basically there for Christmassy comic relief?
If the episode in question was actually another lighthearted festive adventure, however, Lucas's comic talents would make a lot more sense. Plus, he's been seen filming in the same thick duffel coat he wore last time around – perfect Christmas attire...
There have been rumours rattling around for a while that Barrowman’s immortal former companion Captain Jack Harkness could be making a return to the series, mainly based on the amount of time that Barrowman has been spending in Cardiff (where Doctor Who is filmed) while working on audio and comic-book spin-offs for his 2006-2010 Who spin-off Torchwood.
Barrowman has since denied the claims, but we wouldn’t rule him out just yet – such denials have been false before (see Moffat, above), and it would make sense for the departing head writer to return to one of his original Doctor Who creations (he wrote Jack’s first appearance in 2005) before he leaves the series, just as he did with Alex Kingston’s River Song in the last special.
Yes, she may be very busy at the moment playing Queen Victoria on ITV, but it’s possible Jenna Coleman has already found the time to film a return for Clara Oswald...
A couple of months ago Peter Capaldi let slip that he’d “just shot something that Clara was still there in,” leading many fans to conclude that Coleman could have filmed a brief cameo for the new series.
Of course it’s possible that his words were misinterpreted (in context, it seems like he may have been talking about whether the Doctor could remember Clara), but such a return wouldn’t be without precedent. Former companions Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman and Catherine Tate returned several times after their official exits, and even if Coleman only filmed a brief scene she’d be following in the footsteps of Karen Gillan, who had a short cameo as Amy Pond for Matt Smith’s final episode (2013 Christmas special The Time of the Doctor).
So while Coleman almost certainly won’t be back for a full adventure in this year’s Christmas special – it’s possible Clara could still have some kind of presence in what might end up being a "companion-lite" episode.
Of course, if Clara was to make a brief return, the doorway would be very much open for a comeback from her immortal space-travelling partner Ashildr/Me, last seen flying off with Ms Oswald in a diner-shaped TARDIS.
Actress Maisie Williams has previously said she won't be joining Doctor Who as a regular companion, but she never said she couldn’t come back for the odd visit – and considering how much history Me has lived through there are certainly plenty of chances for the two ancient travellers to cross paths again.
Another character with some story left to tell is Michelle Gomez’s evil Time Lord Missy, who was last seen cornered by some Daleks and apparently about to come up with a “very clever idea” to save her own skin.
Recently RadioTimes.com got the chance to speak to Gomez, who dodged questions about her return but said she was keen to see exactly what that idea was – so if Steven Moffat is looking to tie up loose ends before he leaves, a festive plot from Missy and the Daleks could be just what the Doctor ordered.
And just imagine a Missy-focused festive special. It could only be brilliant.
Someone completely new
In some ways, this is probably the most likely outcome – some new, unknown character (probably played by a well-known British character actor) popping up in the Doctor’s Christmas adventure to help him out for 60 minutes and then never appear again, in the vein of Michael Gambon, Claire Skinner, David Morrissey or Kylie Minogue in earlier specials.
Then again, it does seem a little odd that no details of exactly who this actor might be have started to come out yet, especially considering that we’re already starting to get information about guest stars we won’t be seeing until 2017 – so maybe there’s another answer altogether…
No companion at all
Hear us out on this one. While it’d be a bit of a departure for a Doctor Who Christmas special to go companion-free, the series has occasionally indulged in "companion-lite" episodes that let the Doctor adventure mostly alone, such as 2008’s Midnight, 2010’s The Lodger and 2011’s Closing Time. And of course, the penultimate episode of series nine was one-hander Heaven Sent, in which Peter Capaldi more or less went without a supporting cast at all, and yet is one of the most acclaimed of the modern era.
Maybe this Christmas could be the time to let the Doctor fly solo – and maybe the lack of information about the episode’s sidekick is down to the fact that there’s simply nothing to know...
Doctor Who will return to BBC1 this Christmas