“Will somebody tell me what the hell is going on here?”


That may have been the Fourteenth... sorry, Fifteenth Doctor’s single line in that agonisingly brief Doctor Who trailer that aired on Sunday, but it was also the question we were asking at home. What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On. Here?

Of course, the first surprise occurred in those closing seconds of The Power of the Doctor, when David Tennant’s perfectly coiffured Doctor emerged from that gush of regeneration energy.

There had been fan speculation that it might be Tennant’s face that appeared in those final moments, ever since he was announced as returning to Doctor Who back in May. At the time, incoming showrunner Russell T Davies teased: “What on earth is happening? Maybe this is a missing story. Or a parallel world. Or a dream, or a trick, or a flashback.”

Well, within minutes of this latest regeneration, the BBC confirmed that, crazily, David Tennant was officially the **Fourteenth** Doctor (that’s on top of being the Tenth).

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David Tennant stood in front of the TARDIS as the Fourteenth Doctor.
David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor in Doctor Who. BBC

“The path to Ncuti's Fifteenth Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger and fun,” RTD said in a statement. “And how is it connected to the return of the wonderful Donna Noble? How, what, why? We’re giving you a year to speculate, and then all hell lets loose!"

So, who is this latest Doctor and why did his clothes regenerate with him? OK, so the Time Lord’s togs changed in between the First and Second Doctors and his boots inexplicably transformed into shoes during the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration into Five, but that was more of a continuity screw-up than something vital to the story.

This was actually intentional, with the new Doctor even patting down his new threads.

So why has the Doctor regenerated into an already-used body? We know that the Doctor can subconsciously affect who he or she regenerates into.

Future Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi as Caecilius in Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii
Future Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi as Caecilius in Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii BBC

In The Girl Who Died, the Twelfth Doctor finally remembers where he’s seen himself before. “I know where I got this face, and I know what it’s for,” he says, recalling Lobus Caecilius (also played by Peter Capaldi), whom he’d saved from the fires of Pompeii. “To remind me, to hold me to the mark. I’m the Doctor and I save people!”

Is this another example of the Doctor sending himself a message from his subconscious? Is it that there’s unfinished business with Donna Noble that only this “long streak of alien nothing” can sort out? Maybe it has something to do with the 'Time Lord Victorious', that short-lived title the Tenth Doctor gave himself at the end of The Waters of Mars? Or maybe it’s as simple as just wanting to revisit “an old favourite”, as the Curator (Tom Baker) might say?

Conversely, there’s much scuttlebutt online that this has nothing to do with the Doctor’s subconscious and that this is all the Celestial Toymaker’s doing. Course, it hasn’t even been confirmed that Neil Patrick Harris’s character in the upcoming special(s) *is* the Toymaker, so this is conjecture upon conjecture, but that might explain why the Doctor’s costume changed as well.

Neil Patrick Harris in Doctor Who (BBC)
Neil Patrick Harris in Doctor Who BBC

And so where does Ncuti Gatwa fit into all of this? The word from Who HQ is that the new Doctor’s “first official Doctor Who episode is due to air over the festive period in 2023”. Is that short clip of him in the trailer from that “first official episode” or a tease from one of the David Tennant-centred specials?

And where exactly is Ncuti’s Doctor in that shot and in the only photo of him so far in character? Is it the Doctor’s ‘mind palace’ or some version of the ‘edge of existence’ as seen in The Power of the Doctor? That’s definitely the Tenth… sorry, the Fourteenth’s tie and shirt there, so is this post-regeneration or is the Fifteenth Doctor stuck in limbo somewhere, until the Toymaker is done with his David Tennant-shaped experiment?

Whether it’s the Toymaker – or someone else entirely – who’s responsible for this latest regeneration, we know it’s a bona fide incarnation. It’s official now that David Tennant is the Fourteenth Doctor and Ncuti Gatwa is the Fifteenth.

But this isn’t a regeneration like we’ve ever seen before. Will the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Doctors even have a moment between themselves, as one passes the baton to the other? It’s never happened before, but neither has the Doctor ever regenerated into a former body, so all bets are off. The only thing we know for certain is we’ve got a tortuously long wait to find out what the hell is going on here.

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