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Who will be the next Doctor?

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“No comment.” As the current season of Doctor Whoswings inexorably toward its grand finale, that is pretty much the universal tight-lipped response from the BBC and all its agents.

Minimal advance details on the up and coming episode. No advance play tape. The latter, of course, have an unhappy history of being leaked and creating spoilers.

For those who are not already ardent fans of the Doctor, the current series is ending with a three-episode blockbuster that brings back old enemies the Daleks as well as past companions and almost every spin-off character ever conceived. Sarah Jane Smith, Torchwood, Captain Jack, Rose Tyler - all present. As for foes, Davros himself has been dusted off and returned from the past.

The penultimate episode finished with an old-style cliffhanger. The Doctor is hit by a Dalek death ray, the injury appears to be fatal; he starts to regenerate. Or does he?

Cue closing credits and no advance trailer for next week.

Shock! Horror! Could it possibly be that David Tennant, who has done so much to restore the reputation of the Doctor, is soon to depart?

Perhaps. Or then again, perhaps not. The various Who fan sites on the web are a-twitter with a mixture of grief and uber-geek analysis of the minutiae of the script. As one fan so calmly puts it: “He’s going. No! How can I live without him?”

Others have focused on the plot detail. Why does the camera move in on the Doctor’s spare hand (the one in the jar) just before his regeneration begins? What does the ‘abomination’ mean when it refers to the “three-fold” man? And so on.

Even the Wall Street Journal is getting in on the act.

If all this appears a little over the top, some of the blame must be placed at the door of Russell T Davies, long time Doctor Who fan and writer on this last story. RTD – as fans refer to him - has a reputation for tricky and obscure word games and twisting plot, and a very bad habit of unpicking events that were understood to be done and dusted.

Since the reappearance of Doctor Who, stories have increasingly resorted to devices such as parallel universes and temporal paradoxes to allow the impossible – and then simply go back and pretend it never “really” happened.

So is David Tennant really departing? What we do know, barring serious misinformation, is that he will be back in December for the usual Christmas special.

He will also be back in 2009, in three one-off specials, as the series takes a rest prior to its return in 2010. Has he signed a contract for that next series? According to PRs Taylor Herring, who handle BBC publicity for Doctor Who: “No comment.”

Which brings us almost back to the start. The BBC expects a season record audience of over ten million to tune in to the final episode this Saturday. We understand that it is due to air at 6.40 pm, and will be a record-breaking 65 minutes in length.

If you really can’t wait until then, you can watch the lone trailer put out so far (unfortunately, no spoilers).

And if you wish to add to speculation about who might be the post-Tennant Doctor, you could place a bet with William Hill. Current favourite for the role is Robert Carlyle (2 to 1), with Billie Piper quoted as 33 to 1 outsider. ®

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