Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials: Release date, cast, plot as air dates revealed

David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to the BBC sci-fi show for its 60th anniversary celebrations

David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor in Doctor Who. (BBC)
David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor in Doctor Who. (BBC)

Doctor Who's 60th anniversary has finally arrived and David Tennant's return as The Doctor is closer than ever.

60 years since its first-ever episode was broadcast, Doctor Who is still going strong because of its unique way of regenerating itself. And fans were shocked at the end of the previous special, The Power Of The Doctor, when Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated into a new David Tennant-shaped incarnation.

This cliffhanger leads us into Doctor Who’s 60th-anniversary celebrations, spearheaded by returning head writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies. 2023 will see three hour-long specials starring Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor, plus a festive special that launches the already announced Fifteenth Doctor, Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa.

Read more: The most exciting TV coming in 2023

What’s more, the programme will be co-produced by the BBC and Bad Wolf Studios, (the Welsh production company named after a recurring phrase from RTD’s first Doctor Who revival series – 'I create myself' indeed!) and which has recently given us A Discovery Of Witches and His Dark Materials.

Doctor Who will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023. (BBC)
Doctor Who will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023. (BBC)

In contrast to the previous era’s clampdown on spoilers and story details, there has been a raft of exciting announcements about these specials since filming began last August, including the reveal of a new-old diamond logo for the show, hearkening back to the 1970s opening title sequences.

All of this has steadily built hype for the programme’s return. Davies is promising many more surprises in store.

A new trailer for the series was revealed ahead of Strictly Come Dancing's first live show of the 2023 season, and the clip showed a lot more detail about the plot.

Watch the new trailer for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials:

The first teaser trailer premiered on Christmas Day 2022, which first teased what was to come for the Fourteenth Doctor and Donna Noble at the hands of the Toymaker.

Watch the trailer for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials

Here’s what we know about Doctor Who’s diamond-anniversary specials so far

When are the Doctor Who anniversary specials on TV?

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials start on Saturday 25 November 2023. (BBC STUDIOS)
Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials start on Saturday 25 November 2023. (BBC STUDIOS)

The anniversary specials are currently set to premiere in the UK on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Saturday, 25 November 2023 with episode two airing on Saturday 2, December and episode three dropping on Saturday 9 December.

The titles for all three shows were revealed in a trailer released before the Eurovision grand final on Saturday 13, May. The first special is titled The Star Beast, while the second is called Wild Blue Yonder and the third is titled The Giggle.

According to newly released information, The Star Beast will see the Doctor finally reunite with his old partner Donna Noble while details for the series' additional two episodes are still being kept under wraps.

Doctor Who Specials 2023,The Doctor (DAVID TENNANT), Donna Noble (CATHERINE TATE),BBC Studios 2023,Zoe McConnell
Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Doctor Who (BBC)

UK viewers after more Who-action can switch over to BBC Three immediately after each episode airs to go behind the scenes of its production in Doctor Who: Unleashed.

Plus, they won't have to wait too long to own physical copies of these three one-off anniversary episodes either, as they hit DVD, Blu Ray and Steel Book from Monday, 11 December.

And fans can get an extra Doctor Who fix by visiting iPlayer to access The Whoniverse where they can see classic series of the show, as well as spin-offs including Torchwood, the Sarah Jane Adventures and Class, and behind-the-scenes show Doctor Who Confidential.

Before the show's return, Davies shared new posters for the episodes on Instagram which showed Tennant, Tate, Gatwa and Gibson in character.

Alongside the images, he wrote: "Doctor! Donna! Doctor! Ruby! It’s going to be a Doctor Who Winter! In fact, it’s a… Doctor Whinter…. no let’s not, no. Scrap the campaign!"

Watch the new trailer for the 60th anniversary specials

The rest of the world can expect to see the show simultaneously on Disney+, courtesy of a co-production and distribution deal that was announced in October 2022.

Read more: Russell T Davies reassures fans over Disney+ investment

Davies said: "I love this show, and this is the best of both worlds—with the vision and joy of the BBC and Disney+ together we can launch the TARDIS all around the planet, reaching a new generation of fans while keeping our traditional home firmly on the BBC in the UK."

Doctor Who will be streaming on Disney+ outside of the UK. (BBC)
Doctor Who will be streaming on Disney+ outside of the UK. (BBC)

The actual 60th anniversary of Doctor Who’s first episode, An Unearthly Child, is Thursday, 23 November, 2023.

In 2013, this date fell on a Saturday, which is when the standalone 50th-anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor was originally broadcast on TV and in cinemas worldwide, but these three new specials (directed by Rachel Talalay, Tom Kingsley, and Chanya Button) may be more spread out in November.

William Hartnell - the first Doctor - pictured during Doctor Who rehearsals at Television Centre, February 1965. (Sunday Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
William Hartnell - the first Doctor - pictured during Doctor Who rehearsals at Television Centre, February 1965. (Sunday Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

We’ll also see Gatwa’s first full episode as the Fifteenth Doctor over the festive period. Filming on the Christmas special (directed by Mark Tonderai) started in February 2023, with locations in Bristol dressed in festive decorations.

This marks the first Doctor Who Christmas special since 2017’s Twice Upon A Time, with more recent festive specials going out on New Year’s Day, but no broadcast dates have yet been confirmed.

When it comes to the show's iconic score, long-time fans will be pleased to learn that composer Murray Gold will be returning to the fold to soundtrack these new specials.

Gold and Davis go way back to when the latter retooled the show in 2005 and enjoyed a collaborative relationship that spanned 12 years and music for the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth Doctors.

Doctor Who Specials 2023,The Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris),BBC Studios 2023,Alistair Heap
The Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris) in the Doctor Who Specials 2023 (BBC)

Gold eventually bowed out in 2018, with Segun Akinola taking the reigns of the show's composer duties. However, with the 60th looming, Gold and Davis have reignited their old partnership.

"I’m so happy to be invited back for another joyful ride in the TARDIS," Gold said in a statement that also confirmed he would work with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on the specials. "I didn’t think twice. Working with Russell and his team is just a pleasure."

Who’s in the Doctor Who anniversary specials?

Image Shows David Tennant and Catherine Tate, credit Alistair Heap/BBC STUDIOS
David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning to Doctor Who together. (Alistair Heap/BBC STUDIOS)

Alongside David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor, Catherine Tate is back in the TARDIS as companion Donna Noble. This marks the first time Tennant and Tate have reprised their roles on screen since Davies’ last episode in 2010, in which they remained separate because of a memory wipe to save Donna’s life.

Read more: Doctor Who to return to Christmas Day schedule in 2024

Other returning stars include Jacqueline King as Donna’s mother Sylvia Noble and Karl Collins as Donna’s husband Shaun Temple.

Yasmin Finney in Heartstopper. (Netflix)
Yasmin Finney in Heartstopper. (Netflix)

Among the newcomers to the cast are Yasmin Finney (Heartstopper) as Donna and Shaun’s daughter, Rose Temple-Noble; Ruth Madeley (Then Barbara Met Alan) as new character Shirley Anne Bingham; and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) as a villainous character that RTD has billed as “the greatest enemy the Doctor has ever faced”.

Doctor Who - The Power of the Doctor,23-10-2022,The Power Of The Doctor,Neil Patrick Harris,BBC Studios,Screen Grab
Neil Patrick Harris will appear in Doctor Who. (BBC Studios)

Also due to appear is RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars winner Jinkx Monsoon who will play an as-yet-unnamed villain. While little is currently known about who this baddie is, the BBC has teased that Monsoon will bring "The Doctor’s most powerful enemy" to life when the show returns.

In late August, Doctor Who Magazine revealed that writer and actor Gemma Arrowsmith and Mary Malone who has previously stared in Vera and The Prince will appear in the festive specials. "You won't have to wait long to find out how they connect to the Doctor and Ruby Sunday," teased Producer Phil Collinson.

Jinkx Monsoon in Doctor Who (BBC)
Jinkx Monsoon in Doctor Who (BBC)

In mid-September, we learned that Harry Potter star Miriam Margolyes will lend her voice to the specials as Meep, a character first introduced in The Star Beast comic strip.

“I’m relieved I got to work on Doctor Who before I died. With sci-fi you never know," said the 82-year-old when the news broke. “Thank you for making an old woman very happy.”

There are many more cast members to be revealed too – for starters, Davies hinted in the February issue of Doctor Who Magazine that the man seen walking into a shop at the start of the Christmas Day trailer is a guest star that no one has noticed yet.

Interestingly, during a visit to BBC Morning Live just days ahead of The Star Beast's arrival, Davies confirmed that Strictly Come Dancing judge Dame Shirley Ballas will make a cameo appearance alongside a batch of professional Strictly dancers.

Unfortunately, he didn't confirm which episode Ballas will appear on, so we'll have to keep on these upcoming specials for further details.

Read more: Torchwood and BBC Three's best shows

And of course – “Can somebody tell me what the hell is going on here?” Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor is also going to feature in the specials before taking the lead in 2023’s festive offering alongside new companion Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson (Coronation Street).

What happens in the Doctor Who anniversary specials?

Doctor Who,The Doctor (David Tennant),BBC STUDIOS 2023,James Pardon
The Doctor (David Tennant) in Doctor Who (BBC)

With open location-filming in Camden, Cardiff, and Bristol, it’s been tough to keep casting under wraps, but the big plot details seem secure in the TARDIS for now. Indeed, RTD also told Doctor Who Magazine that the current hope is to keep everything from Special #2 out of the marketing altogether so that its surprises are only revealed upon broadcast.

And while The Power Of The Doctor featured A-list baddies like the Master, the Daleks, and the Cybermen, it seems the specials have some more obscure returning characters for the Fourteenth Doctor to fend off.

Doctor Who - The Power of the Doctor,23-10-2022,The Power Of The Doctor,The Doctor (David Tennant),BBC Studios,Screen Grab
The Doctor (David Tennant) in The Power Of The Doctor. (BBC Studios)

The Christmas Day trailer confirms the appearance of Beep the Meep, a cute and cuddly character who has previously only appeared in Doctor Who comic strips in the 1970s, now rendered in impressive “Baby Yoda” vision.

Read more: Doctor Who: Aneurin Barnard joins cast as Jemma Redgrave returns

The trailer also features the insectoid Wrarth Warriors, who typically pursue Beep – it’s a deep (Meep?) cut reference for the modern show!

A still from the trailer for the Doctor Who: 60th Anniversary specials. (BBC)
A still from the trailer for the Doctor Who: 60th Anniversary specials. (BBC)

More intriguing still, Neil Patrick Harris shot his first scenes in public amid the chaos of a riot in a London street, dressed in full top hat and tails.

Among older fans, speculation abounds that he’s playing a new version of the Celestial Toymaker.

A still from the trailer for the Doctor Who: 60th Anniversary specials. (BBC)
A still from the trailer for the Doctor Who: 60th Anniversary specials. (BBC)

Originally played by Michael Gough, this powerful immortal last appeared in 1966, menacing William Hartnell’s First Doctor and threatening a rematch that never came… until now?

In July, we got our first look at the Doctor's new Sonic Screwdriver. As revealed by the BBC, the tool used by the fourteenth Doctor glows blue and opens at the end to reveal new mysteries. Check out the video below for more:

It's currently unclear what this classic tool will look like for the fifteenth Doctor.

And then of course, there’s the “I know these teeth" of it all. Why has the Doctor gone back to an old face? How are Donna Noble and her family involved? And where does Ncuti Gatwa’s incarnation come into all of this?

In a BBC press release, Davies teased: ‘The path to Ncuti’s Fifteenth Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger and fun!’

Time will tell, it always does – but with all this and more to come, 2023 is an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan.

The Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials start on Saturday, 25 November 2023 on BBC One and iPlayer and continue on 2 and 9 December.

Watch: David Tennant shares message for Doctor Who fans