Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Rumours: Sorting the Fact From the (Fan) Fiction

Speculation abounds, but how accurate are these fan theories about what Russell T Davies has planned for the 60th anniversary Doctor Who specials? Spoilers ahead!

David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor in the 60th Anniversary specials
Photo: BBC

If there’s one thing that 60 years of Doctor Who has taught us, it’s that the show likes to keep us guessing, and its unique brand of fans really, really like to guess what might happen in the show’s future. Or the past. Or in a parallel universe. You know, timey wimey… stuff.

We’ve still got a while to wait to find out what the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations will bring, as episodes are not set to air until November 2023, but returning showrunner Russell T Davies certainly knows how to keep fans guessing away on the edge of their seats.

First, he used Instagram to tease announcements, including the return of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, upcoming roles by Neil Patrick Harris and Yasmin Finney, and of course Ncuti Gatwa becoming the next Doctor.

Photos and videos of the filming taking place in summer 2022 got the fan theories bubbling away nicely (much more on that below) but then Jodie Whittaker’s shocking final scene – in which she actually regenerates into David Tennant – sent fans into overdrive:

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But, according to the fans, what is the nature of the tenth Doctor and Donna Noble’s return? Why is Yasmin Finney’s character called Rose? And which classic Who villain is Neil Patrick Harris reviving? 

Let’s take a look at some of the best theories and how likely they are based on what we know so far… 

Warning: Major 60th anniversary SPOILERS AND filming info ahead.

There Will Be Three 60th Anniversary Episodes

Yes. After Jodie Whittaker’s final episode aired the BBC confirmed there will be three anniversary episodes, set to air in November 2023.

But months before this was confirmed, eagle-eyed fans had already spotted the clapperboard used during filming in Bristol on 16th June suggested they were filming episode three. This was later backed up on the Instagram account of the episode’s director, Chanya Button, who posted a different clapperboard also suggesting they were filming episode three:

We already told you about fan favourite Rachel Talalay confirming she’s returning to direct some 60th anniversary scenes, so this adds a second director to the ‘confirmed’ list. 

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60th Anniversary Doctor Who trailer

In December 2022 we got the ultimate Christmas gift in the form of a one-minute trailer, which sheds light on many of the fan theories below:

These include the return of Donna’s mum Sylvia, the involvement of UNIT in a new invasion, and an appearance from a couple of comic book Who monsters. Let’s take a closer look at this trailer’s revelations and how it relates to the fan theories from during filming:

Does the Tenth Doctor Return in a Regeneration Gone Wrong?

Several months before Jodie Whittaker’s final scenes aired in October 2022 and we saw her regenerate into David Tennant’s Doctor, some fans (including this potentially very spoiler-heavy rumour) were already speculating that this would happen. Whovians have a very good memory, and pointed out that a scene from the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ backs up the theory that the Doctor might regenerate into a past self:

Others pointed out that David Tennant’s Doctor is returning with both a new tartan suit and a new sonic screwdriver which were also hints at a proper regeneration – but how or why this happened remains a mystery for now…

Why (and How?) is Donna Back With the Doctor?

As Russell T Davies pointed out when he announced their return, the Doctor wiped Donna’s memory and if she remembers him, she’ll die. Which makes the trailer above, not to mention the substantial footage of David Tennant and Catherine Tate filming together in summer 2022, all the more intriguing.

Davies hinted at several possibilities, including a flashback, a multiverse or a trick. The regeneration scene and trailer seem to rule out a flashback or a parallel universe, so what about a trick? This could make perfect sense if the rumoured identity of Neil Patrick Harris’ character is correct – a previous Who villain who has the power to warp reality and turn his enemies into pawns in his deadly games. More on that later.

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Whatever the truth of the Doctor and Donna’s relationship in the anniversary specials, the pair definitely appear to time-travel together, as during filming there were cars, extras and props suggesting one episode is set just before Halloween in 1925. But where does that leave modern-day Donna Noble? That leads us nicely onto…

Does Yasmin Finney Play Donna’s daughter?

When it was announced Yasmin Finney was joining Doctor Who as a character called Rose, fans were quick to theorise on how she could be linked to Rose Tyler. The trailer certainly shows her linked to Donna – she appears to be in Donna’s kitchen when the Doctor is hiding behind Sylvia.

It would appear that those lucky enough to watch the filming might have solved this mystery: in one take, multiple sources reported that Rose appears to call Donna ‘mum’. 

One fan even gives a detailed account of some of the scenes he saw being filmed, if you’re a fan of big spoilers.

One theory is that fragments of Donna’s memories remain, enough for her to want to name her daughter Rose without really knowing why, with others suggesting Rose discovers the truth about Donna’s travels with the Doctor and tracks him down. 

One other important fact we know about Rose is she is trans, after Yasmin Finney confirmed this during London Trans Pride:

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Sylvia Noble and Shaun are Back

Yes they are! The trailer shows Sylvia, Donna’s Mum, trying to shield her from The Doctor, as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of Shaun. The day the trailer was released the BBC confirmed Karl Collins is returning to the role and released this image of him with Sylvia and Rose:

Sylvia (Jacqueline King), Shaun (Karl Collins) and Rose (Yasmin Finney) in the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary specials

Donna’s mum Sylvia and husband Shaun were also spotted during filming:

The BBC also announced Ruth Madeley was joining the cast as a character called Shirley Anne Bingham. That’s all we know about her so far, but they did release this image:

Ruth Madeley as Shirley Anne Bingham in Doctor Who

Is Neil Patrick Harris Bringing Back the Toymaker?

We’ve already speculated about which classic villain Neil Patrick Harris will portray in the 60th anniversary specials, and the most popular theory now is that he is bringing back the Celestial Toymaker, last seen in the TV series in 1966. The Toymaker also appeared in a comic in Doctor Who magazine in 1996, where he created a fake version of the Doctor, another hint that he could be behind the tenth doctor’s ‘return’ in these specials.

Props spotted on set – including a toy shop (which also features in the trailer) and ‘Toymaker of the Year’ sign – certainly make this theory pretty likely:

As does the press shot released by the BBC, where Harris is pictured wearing an apron with what appear to be toy-making tools.

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Glimpses of filming so far show him wearing a different outfit – a top hat and tails – and even dancing with the Doctor, so the relationship between them looks interesting to say the least.

Comic Book Monsters Will Feature

Among the film set reports were various photos of strange-looking Doctor Who monsters, for instance:

While some fans suggested these could be Viperox, who appeared in a previous animated story, others theorised these are Wrarth Warriors, a species from a comic featuring the fourth Doctor called Doctor Who and the Star Beast. In the comic, the Wrarths battle a furry, adorable-looking race called the Meeps (more on them here), so this theory was bolstered by a sighting of a similar-looking monster on set:

It would certainly be fairly on-brand for Russell T Davies to bring some particularly geeky, Whovian-pleasing monsters to life, and the trailer gives us a closer look at both of them, strongly suggesting they are the Wrarth Warrior and the Meeps:

Wrarth Warrior

The Return of UNIT

We haven’t seen UNIT – the force dedicated to protecting Earth from alien invasions – for a while, but they featured frequently in Russell T Davies’ previous reign as showrunner, so it was no surprise to fans when they spotted what looked like UNIT vehicles being brought on set:

There also seems to be a formidable new UNIT uniform:

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And the trailer certainly shows some very UNIT-esque soldiers opening fire on the invading monsters.

This one seems a dead cert, which is promising, as episodes with UNIT tend to be high on drama.

And Lastly, Is Wilf Back?

Yes, yes he is.

We’ve already explored what Bernard Cribbins’ character Wilfred Mott meant to Doctor Who fans, and it’s even more poignant that we heard about his death just weeks after discovering Cribbins was taking part in the 60th anniversary specials. 

While he doesn’t appear in the trailer, one thing is certain about these episodes of Doctor Who: fans will be able to pay their respects to a beloved character and much-missed actor.