Doctor Who fans were surprised with a familiar face as Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Time Lord regenerated into David Tennant in the dramatic conclusion of the show’s BBC centenary special.
It was previously announced that Scottish actor Tennant, who first stepped into the Tardis in 2005 to play the 10th Doctor, would be returning to the sci-fi series for the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations – but it was not revealed in what capacity.
Following Sunday’s 90-minute special, the BBC confirmed Tennant will become the 14th incarnation with Catherine Tate reprising her role as his former companion Donna Noble for three special episodes set to air in November 2023.
Ncuti Gatwa will then take control of the Tardis as the 15th Doctor, with his first episode due to air over the festive period in 2023.
Talking about the future, returning showrunner Russell T Davies, said: “If you thought the appearance of David Tennant was a shock, we’ve got plenty more surprises on the way.
“The path to Ncuti’s 15th Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger and fun.
“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.”
Whittaker’s last venture as the Doctor was loaded with drama as it saw her fight for her existence against some of her deadliest enemies: The Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen.
The episode, titled The Power Of The Doctor, also saw the surprise return of actors who have played Time Lords from the ages including Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy.
It opened with the Doctor thrown straight into the action alongside companions Yasmin Khan, played by Mandip Gill, and John Bishop’s Dan Lewis, after being called to help out a spaceship which was being attacked by Cybermen.
As she faces this threat from outer galaxies, others brew in different time periods – one in Siberia in 1916 and another in present day London.
In an art gallery located in the British capital, two of the Doctor’s companions from earlier eras reunited – with Janet Fielding reprising her role as Tegan Jovanka, companion to the fourth and fifth Doctors, and Sophie Aldred came back as Ace, companion to the seventh Doctor.
They have come together to explore why a dozen seismologists have gone missing and how 15 of the world’s most valuable paintings have been defaced, including the Mona Lisa and The Scream.
As the Doctor comes to investigate, answers become clearer as they realise The Master, played by Sacha Dhawan, has been behind the disappearances in order to orchestrate a plan to kill the Time Lord.
As he launches his master plan, which unites his forces with the Cybermen and the Daleks, the Doctor becomes overwhelmed and is forced to regenerate into The Master.
The Doctor’s companions are left to defend in her place with a group of them including Yasmin, Dan, Ace, Tegan and Graham O’Brien played by Bradley Walsh, creating a plan to save her from the grasps of The Master.
As this occurs, the Doctor appears to land in a limbo world where she is confronted with former incarnations of the Doctor who offer her advice.
Among them were Baker, Davison, McGann and actor David Bradley to portray the late William Hartnell, with McCoy later appearing to assist Ace.
Their advice helps the Doctor initiate an AI hologram projection of herself back into the Tardis to help guide her companions.
They finally achieve reversing the forced regeneration so Whittaker is put back into her body but she ends up in a final battle against The Master which leaves her wounded and destined for a real regeneration.
Whittaker and Gill take one last trip to space as their characters sit upon the Tardis and look down at the earth below.
As they say their final words, Whittaker says: “A wise person once said to me that goodbyes only hurt because what came before was so special”, adding “I have loved being with you Yas and I love being me.”
Once she is alone, Whittaker’s Doctor takes one last look at a sunrise before regenerating into Tennant who looks immediately perplexed about why he is back in the body of the Time Lord.
After the episode, a teaser trailer of the 60th anniversary special episodes aired which showed Tennant and Tate facing a deadly enemy played by Neil Patrick Harris and a brief glance at Gatwa’s 15th doctor.
Whittaker, 40, became the first woman to portray the Doctor when she took over the role from Peter Capaldi in 2017.
Showrunner Chris Chibnall is also set to leave the programme, to be replaced by Davies, who was behind the 2005 revival of the show.