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Will Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor Who debut be later than expected?

The surprise return of David Tennant and Catherine Tate raises questions about how long we’ll have to wait for the new Doctor’s debut.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 08: Ncuti Gatwa attends the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards at The Royal Festival Hall on May 08, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Samir Hussein/WireImage
Published: Saturday, 21st May 2022 at 9:00 am
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Like a remarkably overstaffed GP’s surgery, we’ve currently got more Doctors than we can handle. Just a week after Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa was unveiled as the new star of BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who, it was announced that former series lead David Tennant (and companion Catherine Tate) would be back for the 60th anniversary celebrations.

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All that, plus Jodie Whittaker still has one final episode to air this autumn. Truly, it’s a smorgasbord of Time Lords – and it has us wondering whether “new Doctor” Ncuti Gatwa might be a little delayed in his arrival on BBC One.

After all, while many people assumed that Gatwa would take over from Whittaker this autumn ahead of a series or specials in 2023, the BBC never actually said this. As we’ve noted before, they merely named Gatwa “the new Doctor” – not the next or the Fourteenth – and they never specified when he’d turn up on-screen.

However, they have nailed down those details for Tennant and Tate. Within the announcement, it was specifically noted that the pair were filming scenes for the 60th anniversary celebrations, airing in 2023. Similarly, when new series actor Yasmin Finney was unveiled, the 60th anniversary was specifically cited.

When Gatwa’s casting was announced, it was teased with two hearts and a blue box emoji. Tennant, Tate and Finney’s involvement was teased by hearts and a blue diamond, which Davies later confirmed was a nod to Doctor Who’s 60th or diamond anniversary. If the BBC are willing to divulge that detail for those three actors, why not Gatwa? Unless it’s because he’s not a part of that diamond anniversary, because David Tennant is taking over the role first.

After all, it’s not the first time we’ve heard that David Tennant might be the actor who takes over from Whittaker. Rumours have swirled for months (if not longer) that Tennant’s return was more complex than it first appeared, with some suggesting that the Scottish actor was coming to play a new incarnation rather than a time-displaced Tenth Doctor (or a version from a parallel universe, as Davies mischievously suggested).

Ncuti Gatwa and David Tennant
Ncuti Gatwa and David Tennant Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty, Mike Marsland/WireImage via Getty

It seemed a little fantastical at the time to suggest that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor would regenerate into a new, Tennant-shaped Fourteenth Doctor… but then Doctor Who started filming.

While imagery of Tennant and Tate shooting has been limited, what has leaked out seems to suggest a similar but unfamiliar costume for Tennant’s Doctor, with a new coat, suit and sonic screwdriver not seen in the series before. More intriguing still? He seems to be operating out of the TARDIS exterior used by Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, rather than the version he used from 2005-2010.

Of course, we could be reading too much into this. Maybe the Tenth Doctor just wore a different outfit once or twice, and maybe he borrowed the TARDIS of another incarnation. Maybe it’s not even Whittaker’s TARDIS and we’re getting blue-box-blindness.

But generally speaking, it does all seem to suggest that those early rumours – which did correctly predict Tennant’s return, lest we forget – might have a grain of truth in them after all. Maybe, somehow, this autumn’s centenary special sees Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor regenerate into an old body (specifically, that of the Tenth Doctor), to create a new/old incarnation for a handful of specials.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate
Image Shows David Tennant and Catherine Tate, credit Alistair Heap/BBC STUDIOS Alistair Heap/BBC STUDIOS

Then, perhaps Gatwa is lined up to become the “proper” new Doctor – the Fifteenth, we suppose – once Tennant’s mini-series of adventures is over and the natural order is restored. In which case, it could be two years before fans see him properly take over the series.

This is all hypothetical. It could be that Gatwa will be a part of the same specials as Tennant, and that Jodie Whittaker will genuinely regenerate into the Scottish-Rwandan actor this autumn. Who knows? Maybe in a couple of days we’ll see Gatwa kick off filming in Jodie Whittaker’s outfit and all this theorising will have been for nothing (well, for even less than it’s worth now, which is a pretty low bar anyway).

But if that is the case, you have to wonder – why wouldn’t the BBC just say that’s what’s happening? Why fudge and deflect, unless they're trying to draw attention away from a big twist that plenty of fans are already starting to piece together?

Altogether, we’d say it seems likely that it’ll be a while before Gatwa’s fans see him take control of the TARDIS. Unless of course, it’s something to do with the multiverse and all the stuff we’ve just talked about has no meaning whatsoever. Multiverses solve everything.

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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