Guess Who's back?


After plenty of rumours and red herrings, the BBC has confirmed the shock news that former Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning to the long-running sci-fi drama, over 12 years after they originally handed in their TARDIS keys and just a week after Sex Education's Ncuti Gatwa was announced as the new star of the series (taking over from current Doctor Jodie Whittaker).

As the time-travelling Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble, the pair presided over a popular and critically-acclaimed era for Doctor Who still fondly remembered by fans. And now, according to the BBC, they are set to reunite with screenwriter Russell T Davies to film new "scenes that are due to air in 2023", coinciding with Doctor Who's 60th anniversary celebrations.

However, it declined to give more details about how or why the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble will make their comeback, or how many episodes or specials they'll appear in. It could be that these scenes are little more than a cameo, or they could be a major comeback. For now, they're keeping it all a bit mysterious.

"The Doctor and Donna parted ways when the Doctor had to wipe Donna's memory, making her forget him, in order to save her life," the BBC said in a release. "He left her family with a warning: if ever she remembers, she will die. But with the two coming face to face once more, the big question is, just what brings the Doctor and Donna back together?"

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"They're back!" returning Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies said in a statement. "And it looks impossible - first, we announce a new Doctor, and then an old Doctor, along with the wonderful Donna, what on earth is happening? Maybe this is a missing story. Or a parallel world. Or a dream, or a trick, or a flashback.

"The only thing I can confirm is that it’s going to be spectacular, as two of our greatest stars reunite for the battle of a lifetime."

The shock announcement comes despite the casting of new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa, with the Scottish-Rwandan actor announced as the new star of the series in a surprise tweet in early May. It's unclear how Tennant and Tate's return will impact Gatwa's arrival – it could be that they'll appear alongside him in a special, or that they'll star in an episode to be released before he takes over the top job.

It's also unclear whether any of this will be tied up in this autumn's Doctor Who centenary special, which will mark the departure of current Doctor Jodie Whittaker as well as the BBC's 100th birthday. Gatwa was expected to emerge at the end of that episode – but now, that timeline could be cast into doubt depending on how these new Tennant scenes are slotted in.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate
David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning to Doctor Who as The Doctor and Donna Noble, respectively. Alistair Heap/BBC STUDIOS

Either way, it's an exciting time for Doctor Who fans as the show approaches its anniversary year. Rumours have swirled about Tennant and/or Tate's return for some time, with both actors denying or dodging the reports when confronted with them in recent weeks.

"I mean, it would be quite a weird idea and it's not something that you'd necessarily expect from Doctor Who," Tennant told fans at a convention. "That's all I can... I'm not going to try giving any more than that because what's the point?"

"What can I tell you? No, I wish it was [true]," Tate added while appearing on The One Show. "Well, no one's been in touch. I'm on the same number, I'd just like to say. So, if you've got the money, I've got the time."

Gatwa's casting seemed to put the lid on these rumours briefly – but now the gossip turns out to have been true all along. Doctor Who fans are getting a new Doctor and an old favourite. Quite the birthday present for the 60th anniversary year.

Ncuti Gatwa and Russell T Davies
Returning showrunner Russell T Davies recently unveiled Ncuti Gatwa as the next Doctor Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Still, perhaps we should have seen this coming – after all, David Tennant and Catherine Tate have clearly never lost their appetite for Doctor Who. Originally, Tennant was cast as the replacement for Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston in 2005 and went on to collaborate with screenwriter Davies on three series and a lot of specials before handing on the role to Matt Smith in 2010.

Since then he's starred in a number of TV series and films including Des, Jessica Jones, Around the World in 80 Days and Staged - but he's also kept a hand in with the Whoniverse. Tennant returned for the 50th anniversary special in 2013, and has continued to play the Doctor in various audio dramas and computer games since leaving the live-action show.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii looking skywards, concerned
David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Doctor Who in 2008 BBC

Tate's had a similar trajectory. After starring as temp-turned-planetary saviour Donna Noble in the 2008 season and three specials, Tate departed the series for good in early 2010. However, she also returned to the role for a Big Finish audio drama alongside Tennant in 2016, delivering a vocal performance for more Doctor/Donna adventures. In other words, they've kept playing the Doctor and Donna for years – all they're doing now is making it official.

Altogether, it looks like 2023 is set to be a banner year for Doctor Who. With new Doctors, old companions, surprise twists and (presumably) much more to come, Whovians could be about to enter a new golden age for the show.

And until then? Well, we have Jodie Whittaker's final special, and all the frenzied speculation we can handle. Can't wait.

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.


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