Doctor Who Day: fans celebrate 59 years of the beloved BBC show

The Doctor (David Tennant) during Doctor Who – The Power of the Doctor (BBC/PA) (PA Media)
The Doctor (David Tennant) during Doctor Who – The Power of the Doctor (BBC/PA) (PA Media)

It’s November 23, which means only one thing: it’s Doctor Who Day. Ever since the first episode launched on this day in 1963 (just one day after the assassination of President Kennedy - yes the show is that old) fans have chosen to celebrate the hit show yearly in November.

This year, it’s the 59th round of celebrations - when including the show’s 16-year hiatus. Doctor Who was revived in March 2005 with the episode Rose (starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as companion Rose Tyler) and written by superfan Russell T Davies, whose name has now become synonymous with the franchise. It had been cancelled in 1989 due to declining viewing numbers, though at the show’s nadir, four million people still tuned in to watch the series.

13 Doctors, 40 series, more than a dozen companions, several iterations of nemesis The Master and who knows how many Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and Ood later, Doctor who is still a massive hit.

So what is Doctor Who Day all about, how do people celebrate and how can you get involved? Here are the most important things to know about one of the Time Lord fans’ favourite days of the year.

What is Doctor Who Day?

Doctor Who Day is simply a day to celebrate all things the Doctor - from rewatching old series, to dressing up, throwing parties, to simply sharing appreciation for the show online, it’s a coming together of all things Doctor Who.

And this year is a particularly big year for the show: there was a special episode released as part of the BBC’s special centenary programming, as well as a New Year’s Eve episode and a third special released in April. Writer Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker, the first woman Doctor, exited the series in October, making way for Russell T Davies as the new showrunner and Bad Education’s Ncuti Gatwa as the new Doctor.

The October special was described as “a fitting tribute to a great Doctor” by the Standard: “We were catapulted straight into the action from the off – laser beams, a high-speed train, Cybermen and explosions. A frenetic opening, and that energy didn’t let up for the entire episode”, it said.

How do people celebrate?

It really depends on the year - in 2017, for example, Tom Baker, who was the fourth Doctor (for a very long tenure from 1974 – 1981) filmed a video for the BBC released on November 23. “I just want to wish you a happy Doctor Who day,” he said. “I think of myself as the happiest of all the Doctor Whos and they might not agree with that but then, let them disagree.”

This year the BBC released a video of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who are, thrillingly, returning for the 60th anniversary special, wishing viewers a Happy Doctor Who Day.

The official Doctor Who Twitter account also shared the new Doctor Who logo, in anticipation of the launch of series 14 in 2023. “This #DoctorWhoDay we’re celebrating the past, the present and the future!” tweeted the account. The post has been retweeted over one thousand times, with fans, on the whole, commenting on how pleased they were with the new logo.

On Doctor Who day, some fans like to get together and dress up (the last major fan meet was at Comic Con in October), others meet friends to watch their favourite episodes or listen to podcasts, while others like to join forums online to speculate about future episodes and talk all things Doctor Who lore.

How can you get involved?

Other than bingeing on your favourite episodes, there’s loads that you can get involved with today in London.

Fans can take a tour of some of Doctor Who landmarks: why not head to Westminster Bridge, which the Daleks crossed in the 1977 episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth? Or the Post Office Tower, which featured in the 1966 episode The War Machines, or the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which featured in the 50th anniversary special, 2013's The Day of the Doctor.

Fans can also visit The Who Shop Museum, in Upton Park in East London, a small museum dedicated to everything Doctor Who, including a TARDIS, 120 props, artefacts and costumes, from both the classic and revival eras, plus original scripts, show floor plans and photos. The museum is only open between Thursday to Sunday, however, and you need to book in advance, so it’s one for later in the week.

What’s next for Doctor Who?

2023 is going to be a big year for Doctor Who. Not only is the new season with Gatwa as the Doctor coming to our screens, but there will be a special 60th-anniversary episode and Catherine Tate and David Tennant have been confirmed to be returning to reprise their leading roles for the special - 12 long years after they left the series (although Tennant popped up in the 2013 50th anniversary special).

When the news was reported in May, it sent fans into a frenzy: in what form will the duo return? Will Gatwa and Tennant be on screen together?

While most details are being kept under wraps about the forthcoming series, in September 2021 Davies did speak about returning to the show. He said: “I’m beyond excited to be back on my favourite show. But we’re time-travelling too fast; there’s a whole series of Jodie Whittaker’s brilliant Doctor for me to enjoy, with my friend and hero Chris Chibnall at the helm.”