I started watching Doctor Who (the 2005 series) sometime during the 12th Doctor's run (and was caught up before it ended), so the regeneration from the 12th to the 13th Doctor was the first one I got to watch "as it happened". What surprised me was that the person playing the role of the 13th Doctor was revealed via a pre-produced video on the BBC Youtube channel (spoilers, obviously). This surprised me because I had previously seen that the 12th Doctor was ceremoniously revealed in a live talk show (also spoilers, I guess?), and I had just kind of assumed that it was done this way every time, or at least ever since the reboot. Out of curiosity, I tried to find footage of the earlier Doctors' reveals, but wasn't successful in my search.

How were the next Doctor's actors announced in the past? Was it even as big of a deal as it is now? I'm especially curious about early on in the classic series when the very idea of a regeneration was still new, and if there has ever been a "surprise regeneration", where a new Doctor appeared on screen before the public even new there was about to be one.

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    I have always thought that revealing the new Doctor before his(her) regeneration takes away half of the excitement. I only remember press releases and articles. I think Capaldi was the first reveal on a talk show, and Whitaker was the first time it was revealed in a "trailer", so to speak. I didn't understand the down vote, so +1 to compensate.
    – tilley31
    Jul 6, 2018 at 16:41
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    I discovered The Doctor during the Tom Baker era and I cannot say that I recall there ever having been a revelation as to whom the "next Doctor" would be until #11 (Matt Smith). And I'm not even sure if they announced that. I also wish they'd stop it. Jul 6, 2018 at 17:20
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    I have a vague recollection of Peter Davidson being talked about on TV as the pending successor to Tom Baker. "All Creatures Great and Small" was still very popular back then, so I think there was a lot of chat about it to boost Dr Who ratings. Jul 7, 2018 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


The identity of the new Doctor has always been newsworthy, it's only with the new series that they've been made into true media events (such as the worldwide live broadcast for the announcement of Peter Capaldi in the role).

Now it's seen as being on par with the re-casting of James Bond, both getting bookies declaring odds for various actors.

ADDENDUM - various clippings of articles about later Doctors taking on the role - many more at The O.L.G. Doctor Who Page

Patrick Troughton

The news that Troughton was taking over for Hartnell barely got an inch in the British papers.

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Jon Pertwee

Radio Times article with Pertwee

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Tom Baker

Tom Baker's announcement

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Baker's departure

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Along with the new of the new actor, the requisite "What if they cast a woman?" thinkpieces started popping up as Tom Baker's run was ending. The number of times they were titled "Nurse Who?" is too depressing a number to calculate with any precision. Here is the first "will it be a woman?" article as Baker departs.

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Peter Davison

Davison's announcement

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ANOTHER "will it be a woman?" article as Davison departs

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Readers chime in on casting choices for departing (and misspelled) Davison

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Colin Baker

Colin Baker's announcement

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Colin Baker's departure

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Sylvester McCoy

McCoy announcement

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Peter McGann

McGann announcement

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Bill Nighy (error)

Bill Nighy was mistakenly announced to be the 9th Doctor.

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Christopher Eccleston

Eccleston Announcement

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David Tennant

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Matt Smith

Teaser for Doctor Who Confidential episode announcing the new Doctor

Extended Interview with Smith from BBC Website

John Hurt

Hurt's retroactive addition to the list of Doctors was the only time there was ever a true surprise about the new Doctors. His regeneration to and from both appeared after this first appearance in Name of the Doctor. They did an amazing job of keeping this secret - review copies of the episode were missing this last four minute sequence.

Peter Capaldi

End segment from worldwide broadcast of announcement

Capaldi's first appearance as The Doctor was in the 50th anniversary episode Day of the Doctor, before his regeneration. As with Hurt, it was kept strictly secret.

Jodie Whittaker

Jodie's announcement was made via a special clip premiered on the BBC website.

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    Upvote for the newspaper. I really need to find what the outcome was in some of those tantalising snippets
    – Danny Mc G
    Jul 6, 2018 at 20:16
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    @Danny3414 Update: It's still raining in most of Britain. Jul 7, 2018 at 15:10
  • @VBartilucci Great finds! I've added headers for clarity (especially for the Doctors with multiple articles) and rearranged some of your text. Feel free to make further changes or undo any of mine you don't like. Jul 8, 2018 at 0:03
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    David got news articles. Matt Smith's announcement was via a special episode of Doctor Who Confidential, followed by an assortment of news articles. Jodie Whitaker got a special clip shared on the BBC Website. So no, there's never been a complete surprise. And in honesty, I would love to see them do it. Keeping the secret till the last episode of the series, after the actor had been signed, would be a real feat, but mighod would it be worth it. Jul 8, 2018 at 0:28
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    The closest to a "Surprise" they gave regarding regenerations was when they retroactively added one, revealing that John Hurt was The Doctor between McGann and Eccleston. It was quite a big surprise, and got a lot of interest for the then-upcoming 50th anniversary episode, which featured Smith, Tennant, Hurt, and in a "pre-cameo", Peter Capaldi's eyebrows. Jul 8, 2018 at 0:30

As far as I have heard, the first regeneration was a big surprise to the audience, since the Doctor had never regenerated before. But it would take a more knowledgeable Who fan to say for certain.

The first regeneration happened early in the fourth season (or series as seasons are called in Britain), at the end of the fourth and last episode of "The Tenth Planet" (the first Cyberman serial) on 29 October 1966. Patrick Troughton's first scenes as the new Doctor were in the first episode of the next serial "The Power of the Daleks" on 5 November 1966.

I'm sure that there were brief notices in trade magazines, etc. that Patrick Troughton had been hired to replace William Hartnell as the Doctor for the fourth season. But I don't know how likely it was that ordinary fans would have heard anything about it or known when it would be shown.

For thousands and millions of uninformed and unsuspecting children, the Doctor's first regeneration must have been a big surprise. I think that they might have been the second most surprised group of child TV watchers in all of history.

All the other regenerations were at the end of the last episode of the last serial of a season. Since it was quite possible that the new Doctor hadn't been hired yet, the face of the new doctor usually wasn't seen. Months later that episode would be broadcast, and then the fans would have months to wait for the first episode with the new Doctor. They would probably hear who the new Doctor was before his first episode, though.

There was one exception. The decision to replace the 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, with the 7th Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, was made after the last episode of the 23rd season was filmed. Thus the first scene of the first episode of the first serial in the 24th season, "Time and the Rani", showed the regeneration, with McCoy portraying both the 6th and 7th Doctors in different makeup and costume. The replacement of Baker by McCoy would have been announced before the episode was broadcast, of course.

I suspect that a few persons on this site are British and old enough to have watched Dr. Who since 1963, so I trust they will correct any mistakes I made.

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    "I think that they might have been the second most surprised group of child TV watchers in all of history." I'll bite. What was the most suprised group of child TV watchers in all of history? Jul 6, 2018 at 21:50
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    @Thunderforge, probably Christa McAuliffe's students.
    – Joe
    Jul 7, 2018 at 0:56
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    @Joe Dude. Still too soon. Jul 7, 2018 at 2:58
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    @ToddWilcox, I can't think of any more "surprised group of child TV watchers" they might have meant.
    – Joe
    Jul 7, 2018 at 4:05
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    Noodle Incident TV trope link averted Jul 7, 2018 at 12:30

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