Today marks the 49th anniversary of the television premiere of Doctor Who and speculation is rampant about how the show will celebrate its momentous 50th anniversary this time next year.
By far the most popular idea is a multi-Doctor episode, but how likely is that to occur? Current Doctor Matt Smith recently went on record stating that he “imagine[s] there will be a script knocking around about Christmas” and that shooting will begin next spring. This means that commitments from actors who have portrayed previous Doctors will be sought out in the next few months, if they haven’t already.
With that in mind, let’s comb through recent statements from former Doctors and show staff to see who would definitively appear in a multi-Doctor 50th anniversary special.
The Fourth Doctor – Tom Baker
Does he still physically resemble the role?: No. Although after so many decades no one expects him to. His iconic voice remains intact, however, so there’s still quite a bit one could do with the Fourth Doctor. After all, if Tupac can be a hologram in real life, the Fourth Doctor can be a hologram on screen.
Does he want to return?: Baker has famously been back and forth on his opinions about his time on the show. But back in June 5th of 2012, he gave Neela Debnath of The Independent a concrete yes.
“Well, if they ask me nicely or I could see what they wanted me to do I would consider it because I think the fans have been so good to me, they expect me at least to make an appearance so of course I would consider that.”
Baker goes on to elaborate that he would favor a return if there was a role for him to play and it wasn’t just the show parading him around the set. Sounds good to me! It’s hard to imagine anyone getting to write for the Fourth Doctor again and having too little to say.
Verdict: Probably yes.
The Fifth Doctor – Peter Davison
Does he still physically resemble the role?: For the most part! His return in the 8-minute short “Time Crash” danced around his aging in one line and he was so entertaining in the short that we accepted him as The Doctor in an instant.
Does he want to return?: He already did! Although that doesn’t answer whether he’d do it one more time. Luckily, Digital Spy asked him in 2009 whether he’d be up for another return with Moffat behind the reins:
“If he ever came up with an idea which would involve me returning I would certainly do it, but I can’t see it happening and I’m certainly not waiting on tenterhooks for it.”
Of late, he’s cooled on the idea, telling BANG Showbiz in October 2012:
“I’m not sort of longing on it. I’m perfectly happy to have played my part to go back to ‘Time Crash.’ I don’t feel like I’m hanging on a phone call from the Doctor Who offices saying let’s do something special.”
However, in the same interview he also spitballs some ideas on how he could return. It sounds like he’s willing to come back if asked, but he’s not going to push for it otherwise. Considering that his son-in-law is the Tenth Doctor, and how game Davison has proven in regards to the Fifth Doctor’s audio and onscreen adventures, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Fifth Doctor appear once more. (Seriously, imagine David Tennant swanning out the door in his costume, then ducking back in to ask Davison, ”You coming?“)
There’s also a neat chronological reason for bringing back the Fifth Doctor, but I’ll address that at the end of the post.
The Sixth Doctor – Colin Baker
Does he still physically resemble the role?: Not at all. And he’d be the first to point it out, as he did in this interview with Cambridge News:
“…every time someone asks me that question I hold up a photograph of myself when I played the part, compared to what I look like now, and say, ‘OK, how do you deal with that?”
Colin Baker has aged out of the look as much as Tom Baker has. But his voice is still that of the Sixth Doctor’s, as evidenced by the mountain of audio episodes he’s done.
Does he want to return?: It seems to depend on how he’s feeling on the day you ask him. In the afore-linked interview from The Independent, the question of return is broached and Baker becomes immediately irate, repeating a stark “No.”
A month later, Baker revealed he was just saying that to be contrary and that the joke didn’t really go over too well. He follows up with a bit more honesty:
“…in theory, I’m neither for nor against it. There would be two big questions I would ask: The first is, is my Doctor going to get a fair crack of the whip in the story, and not be eclipsed by anybody else? Because you want parity. And the other one is, what vast fortune are you offering me? I’d be quite brutal about myself and say, if they offered me a million quid, I’d go on and say one line for them. If they offered me a tenner, I wouldn’t.”
A million quid is probably another bit of tongue-in-cheek from Baker, and one he doesn’t repeat in his recent November 11, 2012 interview with Digital Spy when asked about a cameo in a possible movie adaptation of the show: “What’s a cameo role, darling? Does that mean a small part? Urgh! I suppose I might. I don’t know. I find it a bad idea to say what would you do if you were asked.”
He goes on to add that he hasn’t yet been asked to appear in Doctor Who and doesn’t think the other Doctors have either. He’s also very complimentary to Doctor Who fans, and goes out of his way to thank them for their continued support, so there is some definite affection for the show and the role.
This one is too close to call, but the spirit is willing.
Verdict: Probably yes?
The Seventh Doctor – Sylvester McCoy
Does he still physically resemble the role?: Somewhat. Like Peter Davison, McCoy’s appearance could be sufficiently fudged so that the essence of the Seventh Doctor shines through.
Does he want to return?: When finding out during The Independent interview that Tom Baker would consider returning, McCoy was the first to add in that he would as well.It’s also a question he gets asked a lot at conventions and his answer is generally very, very supportive of the idea, as evidenced by this footage from SFX back in February 2012.
The Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann
Does he still physically resemble the role?: Very much so. And since we’ve never seen the Eighth Doctor’s death (although it was hinted in the new series that he was the Doctor who ended the Time War) McGann could age all he likes and still technically be the Doctor.
Does he want to return?: Maybe. During a gathering of the Fourth through Eighth Doctors in June of 2012 he was mum on the question of a return. He also hedged around the question during a separate interview with Neela Debnath of The Independent on June 30th.
But McGann has been very active on the fan circuit and his audio adventure career as the Eighth Doctor is quite substantial. He also states in the June 30th interview that he simply hasn’t been asked:
“I know [the anniversary is] imminent but no, there’s been no invites to or sounding out taking place but maybe it will happen, we don’t know.”
He goes on to state that he’s actually never been asked to reprise his role onscreen, despite his willingness to continually engage in building the Doctor Who mythos. McGann certainly sounds like he would be willing to seriously consider joining in the festivities.
The Ninth Doctor – Christopher Eccleston
Does he still physically resemble the role?: It’s only been a few years. It’d be weird if he didn’t.
Does he want to return?: In an April 30th, 2011 interview with Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2, Eccleston was asked point blank whether he would return for a 50th anniversary. His answer?
“No, I never bathe in the same river twice.”
This matches Eccleston’s work ethic as an actor, but he’s since revealed that he’s not keen to revisit what he recalls as a primarily hostile environment. Specifically:
“I did not see eye to eye with them. I didn’t agree with the way things were being run. I didn’t like the culture that had grown up around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle.”
In the same BBC Radio inteview he was also quite praise-heavy of Steven Moffat’s writing skills. The Mary Sue highlighted some further hope in their August 2012 report on a Q&A with Eccleston at the National Theatre:
In response to a question about whether he felt he’d taken the character as far as he could he (very tellingly) said he felt that one series isn’t enough to get under the skin of the character and that if he’d had two or three series he’d have developed the role considerably. He said several times that there was more for him to do with the character….
It’s obvious that seeing the Ninth Doctor again will be a real coup on the part of the current Doctor Who showrunners. Matt Smith has also voiced his enthusiasm for Eccleston’s Doctor, wishing that he could play the Eleventh off of the Ninth, so we know there is some drive behind the scenes to bring Eccleston back.
Verdict: Totally unknown.
The Tenth Doctor – David Tennant
Does he still physically resemble the role?: Definitely. And even if he did hit the wall in terms of sudden aging, they could always say it’s the now-human Pete’s World Doctor we’re seeing.
Does he want to return?: This quote from his press junket for Fright Night in the summer of 2011 really sums it up:
“People keep telling me that they’ve read online that I’m coming back – but believe me, if that happens I’ll be the first to tell everyone, I’ll be shouting about it very loudly.”
To be honest, it’s harder to imagine a circumstance where Tennant wouldn’t return to the show. His enthusiasm is so ever-present that it’s since opened up the question on whether he’d bring Billie Piper along for the ride as a reappearing Rose Tyler. (Something Matt Smith is also in favor of. Everyone fancies Billie Piper!)
Verdict: Yes. A thousand times yes.
And there you have it! With Matt Smith along, a 50th anniversary Doctor Who special titled “The Six Doctors” seems nearly guaranteed. (With a “Seven” or “Eight Doctors” still quite possible.) Funnily enough, that would make the Fifth Doctor the only incarnation to have met the majority of his known incarnations.
Now what kind of story could be grand enough, could be thrilling enough, could be satisfying enough to warrant such a reunion?
Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and wishes people would stop asking when it’s going to regenerate into Stubby the Rocket-A.