Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary: What could Russell T Davies do in 2023?
With Russell T Davies at the helm in 2023, we’re expecting big things from Doctor Who’s diamond year.
Russell T Davies is back! Yes, after last week’s bombshell announcement Doctor Who fans around the world are still reeling, shell-shocked by the news that the beloved writer/producer is returning as Doctor Who showrunner in 2023.
At time of writing, there’s very little we actually know about what Davies has planned for his former manor, with no news about the next Doctor or how many episodes he’ll be releasing – but we do know that he’ll be overseeing the show for its 60th anniversary, as noted in the BBC press release.
"Russell T Davies will make an explosive return to screens to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who in 2023," the release said, adding that he’ll also be around for "series beyond".
"It’s monumentally exciting and fitting that Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary will see one of Britain’s screenwriting diamonds return home," added current showrunner Chris Chibnall.
Before this, fans had been speculating for months about what could be coming our way for the 60th anniversary special, with many originally assuming that Chibnall and current Doctor Jodie Whittaker would stick around long enough to oversee the celebration.
However, now we know that isn’t the case, and that Davies is explicitly in charge for the celebration, we have to ask: what could we expect from him for Doctor Who’s 60th birthday? Will we get a full series of adventures, a collection of specials, a multi-Doctor adventure or something else entirely?
A few theories (AKA wild, premature guesses) are explored below.
A full series
While discussions of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary tend to revolve around a specific one-off special like 2013’s Day of the Doctor, it’s notable that the BBC press release doesn’t, instead name-checking "the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who" more generally.
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With that in mind, plus the fact that 2022 will end with Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration, it seems likely that Davies might try to produce a full Doctor Who series before the anniversary itself in November 2023.
If nothing else, it would be odd to have a big special with a Doctor’s regeneration, only to leap straight into another big special with a new Doctor a year later. More likely that we’re properly introduced to Davies’ new Doctor for a while first, even if a specific November 23rd special is still on the cards.
Certainly, the timings should line up – with production soon to finish on Whittaker’s final episode but the episode itself not airing for over a year, Davies and company should have a fairly long grace period to develop and produce their new vision for Doctor Who.
A multi-Doctor special
Traditionally, Doctor Who anniversaries have been marked with the return of former Doctors, who meet up with the "current" incarnation for a special adventure. For the 10th anniversary there were the Three Doctors, for the 20th fans were treated to the Five Doctors and 1993’s 30th anniversary brought a few Time Lords together (albeit through an EastEnders crossover) for Dimensions in Time, despite the show no longer being on air.
And of course, more recently (and, frankly, more popularly) the 50th anniversary special in 2013 brought us The Day of the Doctor, which united the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors alongside John Hurt’s War Doctor and cameos for every other Time Lord (with apologies to Jo Martin).
So the 60th should be more of the same, right? Well, not necessarily. While it’s easy to imagine RTD teaming up with David Tennant for one last adventure, Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston has said "hell will freeze over" before he returns to the TV version of Doctor Who, while Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi recently suggested he wasn’t too keen on the multi-Doctor episodes himself.
"I wouldn’t really fancy that," he told the BBC. "There are so many Doctors now. I’m quite happy with what I did, you know, I loved my time on Doctor Who, but I think the more multi-Doctor stories you have the less effective they are, really."
Plus, it’s hard to imagine departing Doctor Jodie Whittaker jumping back into her role so quickly after a long, drawn out exit over series 13 and three specials (including her own anniversary-themed special for the BBC’s 2022 centenary).
Of course, it could be that Davies would convince a few of these modern Doctors to return, and there’s nothing to suggest the likes of Paul McGann, newcomer Jo Martin or Matt Smith couldn’t be persuaded either. And of course, there’s always David Bradley filling in as William Hartnell’s First Doctor (as he did in 2017’s Twice Upon a Time).
But we can’t help but wonder if Davies has something a little different up his sleeve for the series’ diamond year – especially considering his new Doctor will still be relatively new to the series, and might not be established enough to face off with other beloved incarnations so quickly.
One-off Doctor returns
In any case, there’s more than one way to bring back ex-Doctors. Rumours have swirled for a while that David Tennant could be in for a Who return in one way or another, whether that was for the centenary special or the 60th, potentially with a former writer also coming back to pen him a new solo adventure.
Maybe Davies is that writer – and what if, in lieu of a multi-Doctor special Davies could go for a short series of one-off adventures starring past and present Doctors? Just think about it – the new Doctor would still get their moment, but you could also have one-off specials starring the likes of Tennant, Paul McGann, Jo Martin, David Bradley and more, all taken from different eras in the Doctor’s life (and spread around the year) to represent the course of the series’ 60 years onscreen.
Of course, this could be a little too confusing for a general audience and might still overshadow any new Doctors, but hey – what wouldn’t we give for a new David Tennant/Russell T Davies team-up?
A buzzy guest Doctor
Davies’ unusual parachute return for the 60th anniversary and "series beyond" raises some questions about how long he’ll stay in the post, and whether he’s something of a steward for the series rather than a long-term showrunner.
Either way, we’re glad to have him back – but if he is there to make an impact for a short time (say, a couple of years) and then move on, who’s to say a big name guest actor couldn’t do the same as the Doctor?
Usually, the commitment required to sign on as Doctor Who’s lead is immense, requiring 10 months of filming a year and a long list of press engagements. Some actors just couldn’t spare that kind of time but, for a short run, without committing to a regular-running series? The options suddenly become a bit more open.
What if, say, Michael Sheen played the Doctor for a short series before quickly regenerating again? Or Phoebe Waller-Bridge, or Bill Nighy, or Olly Alexander? Sure, if it was too rushed it could get a bit Curse of Fatal Death, but we’ve seen short-lived Doctors make an impact before (Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston) – and if the entire arc was planned, it could be something very special.
Getting a big name for a short period could inject a bit of excitement into the series, and create something special for the 60th anniversary year. Or, you know, it could be weird and awful and we’d all hate it and just want a normal Doctor. Hard to say.
A different kind of anniversary
Of course, not every Doctor Who anniversary has seen a load of Doctors return. Remembrance of the Daleks, which was released in the series’ 25th anniversary year included a lot of references to the series’ origins but told a fresh story, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest Who stories of all time.
Perhaps Davies will take some inspiration from this approach instead, paying tribute to the series’ long and storied history with a new narrative and leaving the flashy cameos behind.
Though to be honest, come on – at least a few flashy cameos are probably a given. Remember the End of Time?
Or… something completely unexpected
If Russell T Davies’ return has taught us anything it’s that you really can’t predict the future when it comes to Doctor Who. Once upon a time the idea of a female Doctor, Christopher Eccleston playing the Ninth Doctor again for audio dramas and an RTD return would have seemed like unlikely pipe dreams, and now they’ve all happened.
With that in mind, it seems more than likely that Davies, the BBC and Bad Wolf have all sorts of big surprises for us in store in 2023. And if by chance we’ve landed near any of it in this article, you heard it here first.
Doctor Who returns to BBC One this autumn. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.