Doctor Who 60th Anniversary: What Are David Tennant and Catherine Tate Actually Filming?

Doctor Who’s 2023 anniversary celebrations are filming now, with Heartstopper's Yasmin Finney the latest addition to the cast.

Photo: Alistair Heap/BBC STUDIOS

The rumours were true. After weeks of not-quite-denials and protestations of ignorance from David Tennant and Catherine Tate, on Sunday the 15th of May, the BBC officially confirmed their return to Doctor Who: “One of the most loved pairings in Doctor Who’s history have reunited and are filming scenes that are due to air in 2023 to coincide with the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations”.

“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. 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?

Then one day later came another announcement: Heartstopper‘s Yasmin Finney (pictured below) is also filming scenes for Doctor Who‘s diamond anniversary, in the role of – wait for it – Rose. “How can there be another Rose?,” teased Russell T Davies. “You’ll find out in 2023, but it’s an absolute joy to welcome Yasmin to the Doctor Who set. We all fell in love with her in Heartstopper, one of those shows which changes the world – and now Yasmin can change the Whoniverse!”

Yasmin Finney (credit: Yellow Belly)

In Netflix gay teen romance Heartstopper, TikTok star Finney plays the supporting role of Elle Argent, a trans girl who initially struggles to make friends at her new school. In early March 2022, Doctor Who casting director Andy Pryor issued a casting call looking for a 17/18-year-old transfemme mixed heritage British actor with a London accent for the part of “Lily”, described as “a very nice guest lead role in a major BBC drama”. That part, we can now surmise, wasn’t Lily, but the cunningly disguised Rose, a 15-year-old character that some are assuming is Donna Noble’s daughter.

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“Yasmin Finney has joined the cast of Doctor Who playing the character of Rose and is filming scenes that are due to air in 2023 to coincide with the show’s 60th anniversary.” 

Note the wording above: “scenes”, “coincide with”, “celebrations” plural. Nowhere in the language does the press release explicitly confirm that Tennant, Tate and Finney will appear as guest stars in a single 60th anniversary special episode alongside the new 14th Doctor Ncuti Gatwa.

When Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary, it wasn’t only with feature-length special ‘The Day of the Doctor’, but also with two mini-episodes ‘The Night of the Doctor’ and ‘The Last Day’, both of which were released in the run-up to the anniversary date itself. Could it be that the Tenth Doctor and Donna are back to film supplemental episodes, rather than appearing in a single special?

The official comment from returning showrunner Russell T Davies’ further muddies the waters:

They’re back! 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.”

A missing story, a parallel world, a dream, a trick, or a flashback… Intriguing options all. Davies said similar in his Instagram announcement of the duo’s return.

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At least the BBC release officially uses Tennant and Tate’s character names, so there doesn’t appear to be any of the obfuscation that surrounded the return of Billie Piper for 50th anniversary episode, to keep the surprise that Piper wasn’t playing Rose Tyler but a manifestation of ‘The Moment’ alongside John Hurt’s War Doctor.

When is the Anniversary?

The show’s actual diamond anniversary is Thursday the 23rd of November 2023, but as Doctor Who has traditionally aired on Saturday – and in the Chibnall/Whittaker era, Sunday – nights, there’s a chance that whatever’s being filmed to celebrate the occasion will air either the weekends before (18th/19th November) or after (25th/26th November).

Where Will the Anniversary Celebrations Air?

Undoubtedly on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK, and on BBC America in the US. The question is whether a single anniversary special will follow in the footsteps of the 50th and also enjoy a limited cinema release. ‘The Day of the Doctor’, guest-starring John Hurt, Billie Piper and David Tennant, was shown in 3D, with a bonus cinema introduction featuring Dan Starkey’s Sontaran Strax, followed by a jokey skit featuring the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors, before they were joined by the War Doctor and the episode proper began.

Rachel Talalay Director Rumour Confirmed

After publishing a series of cryptic Instagram posts in May 2022, British director Edgar Wright (Last Night in Soho, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) was briefly rumoured to be going behind the camera for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary, but later described the rumours as “untrue” on Twitter.

Then on Monday the 16th of May, director Rachel Talalay, a fan-favourite who directed seven episodes in the Moffat/Capaldi era, was spotted in Camden Market where Tennant and Tate were snapped filming their 60th anniversary scenes. She later denied on Twitter that she was there to direct, saying “Oh Twitter, I know you won’t believe me but I wasn’t directing today. Can I say “no cap” — is that a good pun?” Cap, as in Cap-aldi? It’s a fair pun. And then on Wednesday the 18th, Talalay Tweeted the following, confirming that she is indeed in the directing seat on the diamond anniversary scenes:

We’ll update this post with more diamond anniversary news as it’s announced.

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Doctor Who will return to BBC One and BBC America in autumn 2022 with Jodie Whittaker’s final episode as the Doctor.