Timey Wimey

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials bring the show back to Christmas

Let’s untangle these timey wimey details.

Originally Published: 
David Tennant in 'Doctor Who' in 2023.

The Doctor has regenerated. In 2023, the longest-running science fiction TV series, ever, Doctor Who, will return in style. With David Tennant reprising his role as the titular Time Lord, and new incumbent Doctor Ncuti Gatwa on the way in, it’s an exciting time to be a Whovian.

But, it’s also a confusing time for Who fans both casual and hardcore alike. Christmas Day 2022 saw the release of the first trailer for the upcoming 2023 Who Christmas special, but is this also the 60th Anniversary special, too? Here’s what we know about the future of Doctor Who in 2023 and 2024, including release dates, which Doctor is which, and the new streaming home of this immortal sci-fi show.

Who is the current Doctor in Doctor Who?

After Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor took her final bow in 2022’s “The Power of the Doctor,” David Tennant returned to the role in a surprise regeneration scene. While it's been hinted that the Doctor can return to the faces of previous incarnations, we’ve never seen it happen on screen, until now. However, this isn’t time travel. Tennant is not playing the 10th Doctor again (as he did from 2005-2010), but instead, the 14th Doctor, with all the memories of the most recent Doctors, to boot. Recent BBC promotional materials have even gone out of their way to include Tennant twice in certain photo montages, making it clear that he’s a new incarnation with a familiar face.

All versions of the Doctor pre-Ncuti Gatwa. Note two appearances of David Tennant.


So, while David Tennant is the current incumbent 14th Doctor, he’ll be replaced by the 15th Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa, in the ongoing Season 14 of Doctor Who sometime in 2024. That said, it's been teased that Gatwa will appear in some of the David Tennant 2023 specials, which is where things get complicated.

Returning Who showrunner Russell T Davies has put it like this:

“If you thought the [re] appearance of David Tennant was a shock, we’ve got plenty more surprises on the way! The path to Ncuti’s Fifteenth 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!”

When is the Doctor Who 60th anniversary special?

According to the official press release from the BBC, “the three special episodes will transmit in November 2023 as Doctor Who celebrates its 60th anniversary.” So, what does this mean for the actual content of these three specials? Fans should expect some nostalgia. In fact, perhaps some obscure nostalgia. One creature in the newest trailer features Beep the Meep, a cutesy-looking space criminal, who comes from the Doctor Who comics and extended media.

When does this happen? The 60th anniversary of Doctor Who’s first broadcast is on November 23. So, the 60th anniversary special will likely air on this date, though it's unclear if this is the first episode in a trio of David Tennant specials, or, very possibly, the second of the new Tennant-centric specials. So far we’ve only been told that the three episodes will begin airing in November, but the exact dates have not been revealed.

So, the 2023 Christmas Special is not exactly the same thing as the 60th anniversary special, simply because the 60th special has to air in November, and the Christmas Special, obviously, has to air in December 2023. Though, apparently, these three specials are all part of the 60th-anniversary celebrations, which seems to mean there will be some kind of unified storyline. Maybe.

Is there a trailer for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary?

Although countless news outlets will tell you there has been a new trailer for the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary special, the truth is, what we’ve seen is actually a trailer for all three specials, which includes the Christmas Special in 2023.

On Christmas Day 2022, the BBC revealed a brief trailer (watch above) mostly focusing on Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and a mysterious new villain played by Neil Patrick Harris. This could include footage from just one of the three specials, but may actually include footage from all three.

The official Doctor Who YouTube page calls this trailer “60th Anniversary Specials.” Notice the plural. Again, we’re getting three specials that will, in theory, do the following.

  • Explore/explain why the Doctor regenerated back into David Tennant.
  • Celebrate the 60th anniversary of the series in general.
  • Lead into the Ncuti Gatwa era of Who for 2024.

Ncuti Gatwa wants to know what is going on. Fans feel the same way!


Doctor Who Season 14, explained

Ncuti Gatwa’s incoming 15th Doctor will appear, somehow, in the upcoming 2023 specials. He’s in all the trailers, standing in front of a cloudy background, seemingly wearing David Tennant’s shirt and tie, saying “Can someone tell me what the hell is going on here?”

But, even this tease of Gatwa’s incoming Doctor has been edited to hide a spoiler. According to Russell T Davies, “You'll never see that again... Because the actual location would give away too much!”

So, somehow in the course of the 2023 specials, Tennant’s Doctor will become Gatwa’s Doctor, and this brief scene in the trailers will look very different. Season 14 of Doctor Who, starring Gatwa and Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday, will consist of just eight episodes. This season is currently filming and will air sometime in 2024.

Jodie Whittaker in 2022.

Ian West - PA Images/PA Images/Getty Images

Doctor Who on streaming Disney+ (and elsewhere)

While Doctor Who will continue to air on the BBC in the U.K., it will stream on Disney+ in late 2023, starting with the new Tennant specials. Then, Season 14 in 2024 will also stream on Disney+. This is a huge change for Doctor Who. Since the show’s relaunch in 2005, the ability for fans outside of the U.K. to watch the show has been spotty. Though the series has been airing on BBC America since 2010, streaming it after the fact has been dicey. During the run of Doctor Who: Flux (Season 13), the new episodes (including “The Power of the Doctor”) streamed on AMC+ and BBC America. But, the rest of the contemporary Doctor Who (starting in 2005), currently streams on HBO Max. Meanwhile, pre-2005 Doctor Who — starting with the 1st Doctor (William Hartnell) in 1963, all the way through the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) in 1989 — currently streams on BritBox.

Sometime in 2023, the newer Doctor Who will switch to Disney+, though it’s not clear if it will be everything since 2005, everything since 1963, or some other combination of different seasons. Either way, for the first time ever, Doctor Who will have the largest potential global audience it has ever had. The move to Disney+ with both a vintage Doctor (Tennant) and a new Doctor (Gatwa) could change the face of Who fandom as we know it. And although we know almost nothing about what’s coming, it’s clear that the years 2023 and 2024 will redefine the Doctor forever.

Stream Doctor Who on HBO Max and AMC+ here, right now.

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