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Doctor Who: David Tennant's return was Catherine Tate's idea

Russell T Davies revealed he felt "honour bound" to tell the BBC when the actors expressed an interest in coming back

Catherine Tate was the first to suggest to David Tennant that they return as The Doctor and Donna in the BBC series (BBC)
Catherine Tate was the first to suggest to David Tennant that they return as The Doctor and Donna in the BBC series (BBC)

The Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials happened they way they have thanks to Catherine Tate, who was the one to first suggest she and co-star David Tennant return to the franchise, Russell T Davies has revealed.

Speaking at a press conference for The Star Beast, the showrunner shared that he felt "honour bound" to tell the BBC when Tate and Tennant expressed their interest in coming back as Donna Noble and The Doctor, respectively.

Tate first realised she'd like to return during a tweet-along of the series during the pandemic, which was organised by BBC business coordinator Emily Cook organised for fans — with Tennant and Tate taking part during watch-alongs of their original episodes together.

Read more: Doctor Who: The 60 best stories

"Catherine hasn't watched an episode since she left, she loved her time with Doctor Who but it's not something she does, sit around and watch Doctor Who," Davies said.

"Catherine loved it. She loved watching it, she said, 'oh, 'I've always loved Donna Noble' and 'wouldn't it be marvellous to make some more?'"

"Then she asked David, she said would you make some more and he said, 'Oh God, in a heartbeat'. Just like that.

Original Film Title: DOCTOR WHO.  English Title: DOCTOR WHO.  Year: 2005.  Stars: DAVID TENNANT; CATHERINE TATE. Credit: BBC / Album
The pair originally appeared in the series together in 2006, and from 2008 to 2010. (BBC)

"So then she told me that and I genuinely felt honour bound to go to the BBC and say 'look, these two stars have just said [they'd return], I know the 60th anniversary coming up, they would love to come back, simple as that.'

"So I just sent off that e-mail, it was Christmas Eve — best Christmas present you ever had — and Piers [Wenger, who was then head of Drama at the BBC] was just like 'Thank you, we'll think about it.'

"But what I didn't know at the same time was actually Piers and Charlotte at the BBC at the same time were planning on the future of Doctor Who, the next step, which was to make it bigger to take it to an international streamer, to syndicate across all countries worldwide.

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials,25-11-2023,Star Beast,1,The Doctor (DAVID TENNANT), Donna Noble (CATHERINE TATE) Rose (Yasmin Finney),BBC STUDIOS 2023 ,Zoe McConnell and Alistair Heap
Tate came up with the idea of returning after doing a watchalong of the series with David Tennant for fans, asking her co-star if he'd be up for going back (BBC).

"That conversation was happening at the same time, so my e-mail kind of exploded and sat there and then it all ended up coming together. Here we are at The Star Beast."

Read more: A bluffer's guide to Doctor Who

Tennant and Tate have returned for three specials to mark the 60th anniversary, the first of which is The Star Beast which will be followed by Wild Blue Yonder and The Giggle.

The Star Beast reunited The Doctor and Donna after an alien arrives on Earth known as The Meep, in a story that Davies likens to Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The pair will soon appear in three specials to celebrate the show's 60th anniversary (BBC)
The pair will soon appear in three specials to celebrate the show's 60th anniversary (BBC)

Davies teased that the next two episodes will be quite different though, sharing: "Wild Blue Yonder [is] where the TARDIS goes further than ever before, and it's weird, it's scary.

"I wanted [The Star Beast] to be a great big Pixar family film, like a bank holiday film that's exactly what it is. So it's all the family watching, a lot of laughs, funny monster, The Meep's hilarious."

He adds: "The second one is darker, weird and it's not scary it's weird. It's genuinely weird...

"Third one all comes to a climax in The Giggle, which is Neil Patrick Harris as the toymaker who is an old villain from the 1960s coming back.

Doctor Who Specials 2023,The Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris),BBC Studios 2023,Alistair Heap
The specials will end with The Giggle, which sees Neil Patrick Harris play iconic villain The Toymaker (BBC).

"That one's wild, that was scary, that was nuts. It's [a] completely mad adventure and that's frightening, and revolutionary things happen in it.

"Obviously, sadly, it's not giving anything away to say it's goodbye to David Tennant and in comes Ncuti Gatwa ready for Christmas Day with Millie Gibson's companion Ruby Sunday.

"That Christmas special is gorgeous, it's absolutely gorgeous."

Doctor Who's first 60th Anniversary special The Star Beast premieres on BBC One on Saturday, 25 November.

Watch a trailer below.