Doctor Who has broken a world record by bringing back William Russell as the Doctor’s companion Ian Chesterton 57 years after he first appeared as the character.

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Russell made his debut as science teacher Ian in the first ever Doctor Who adventure, An Unearthly Child, which aired on the BBC in 1963.

He reprised the role for The Power of the Doctor, which marked Jodie Whittaker’s final outing as the Thirteenth Doctor, and means he now holds the record for the longest gap between TV appearances.

The record was previously held by Coronation Street actor Philip Lowrie, who returned to the cobbles to play Dennis Tanner after 43 years.

Guinness World Records confirmed the achievement, announcing: “The longest gap between TV appearances is 57 years 120 days, and was achieved by William Russell (UK) as the Doctor Who character Ian Chesterton in The Power of the Doctor episode, which aired on 23rd October 2022.”

A BBC spokesperson told RadioTimes.com: “We’re delighted William Russell, along with other familiar faces, appeared in The Power of the Doctor.

“It’s testament to the show’s loyal viewers and fanbase that a character can return so many years later and receive such a positive reaction.”

Russell originally starred alongside the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, as well as the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman, played by Carole Ann Ford, and fellow teacher Barbara Wright, played by Jacqueline Hill.

William Russell as Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who
William Russell as Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who BBC

He eventually left the show alongside Hill in 1965, towards the end of the second season, but continued his association with Doctor Who, narrating audiobook releases of lost 1960s episodes and appearing in audio stories.

In The Power of the Doctor, Russell's Ian appeared alongside the likes of Bonnie Langford’s Mel Bush, Katy Manning’s Jo Jones, Sophie Aldred’s Ace and Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka in a scene where previous companions of the Doctor appeared to form a support group.

The episode also saw the return of former Doctors played by Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, with Whittaker’s Doctor eventually regenerating into a new incarnation of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, who will be known as the Fourteenth Doctor.

The beloved sci-fi series is set to celebrate its 60th anniversary next year, and Tennant will appear as the Fourteenth Doctor in three special episodes, airing in November 2023, to mark the occasion. He’ll be joined by Catherine Tate as his companion Donna Noble.

Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa will then make his debut as the Fifteenth Doctor in an episode airing over the “festive period” in 2023, alongside Coronation Street’s Millie Gibson as his new companion Ruby Sunday.

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer with episodes of the classic series also available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.

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