The 12 Doctor will almost certainly cross time streams with the very first Doctor sometime this year on Doctor Who. Actor David Bradley — who played original Who actor William Hartnell in a 2013 docudrama — has all but confirmed that he will return to Doctor Who as the new canonical 1st Doctor.
On April 20, Birmingham Mail journalist Roz Laws posted a brief video interview with Bradley on Twitter in which she directly asked the actor about the rumors that he would be playing the 1st Doctor during the forthcoming 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special. Bradley responded by saying somewhat sarcastically, “Who knows…you didn’t hear it from me.” The candor and delivery of his answer seemed to completely indicate that he can’t talk about it, but that it seems pretty likely. Bradley also didn’t deny the rumor at all.
From a plot perspective, the return of the very 1st Doctor makes a little bit of sense. The original Cybermen have already been confirmed to be returning for the season finale this year and those exact Cybermen were featured in the 1966 episode “The Tenth Planet,” in which William Hartnell’s Doctor faced them for the very first time. Fittingly or not, the journey of the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) will likely end where the 1st Doctor’s ended, too. If the oldest and latest Doctors meet, this could help to explain a plot hole left over from “The Day of the Doctor” in which it was never explained how the 1st Doctor knew to come to Gallifrey at the exact moment he did. Essentially, what was once a fan theory is 99% certain to happen.
Casual fans may wonder why anyone would be comfortable with an actor reprising a role originated by the late William Hartnell, but there are two Doctor Who precedents here. Back in 1983, the crossover episode called “The Five Doctors” featured — you guessed it — the first five incarnations teaming up for one episode. At that point, since Hartnell was deceased, it was decided that actor Richard Hurdnall could convincingly pull off a 1st Doctor. Then in 2013, the made-for-TV movie “An Adventure in Space and Time” about the real-life origins of Doctor Who, David Bradley played William Hartnell. In a metafictional twist, the final scenes of the special did featured Bradley as Hartnell as the 1st Doctor gazing into the future to see then-incumbent Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor.
So, if Bradley does indeed return to Doctor Who, this will technically be his first time playing the Doctor instead of playing the actor who originated the role. Though Peter Capaldi’s take on the heroic Time Lord is certainly his own, his cankerous nature totally references the original version of the character. Plus, this season has already seen two references to the 1st Doctor: a photograph of his granddaughter Susan and the Doctor admitting to Bill that he stole the TARDIS, something which happened before the 1st Doctor began traveling.
Doctor Who Season 10 airs on Saturday nights on BBC and BBC America. As of this writing, no official statement about David Bradley as the 1st Doctor has been released.