Warning: This article contains spoilers for Doctor Who: The Power of the DoctorDoctor Who has broken a Guinness World Record in its centenary special “The Power of the Doctor.” The special episode was Jodie Whittaker’s final appearance as the Doctor and, as well as celebrating 100 years of the BBC, it revisited many old faces throughout Doctor Who’s 60-year history. Whittaker’s final episode saw the Master (Sacha Dhawan) force the Doctor to regenerate to erase her from existence for which she needs to use an AI program, taking the form of old actors who played the Doctor, to undo the regeneration.
The old versions of the Doctor were not the only familiar faces, as William Russell returned as Ian Chesterton which broke the Guinness World Record for “Longest gap between TV appearances as the same character”. The previous record was held by Phillip Lowrie as Dennis Tanner, after a 43-year gap on Coronation Street (via Guinness World Records). Russell has beaten this by a fair bit as he last played the part over 57 years, 3 months, and 28 days before Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor. Russell’s appearance as Chesterton in Doctor Who’s companion support group also gave insight into how Doctor Who had changed since Russell’s role as the Doctor’s first true companion.
William Russell was the first Doctor Who companion back when the show first started in 1963. With William Hartnell as the First Doctor, Russell also starred alongside Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford as Barbara Wright and Susan Foreman, respectively. Russell departed Doctor Who near the end of the second season of Doctor Who but kept close ties with the television universe, including multiple narrator and audiobook roles. It was very fitting to bring Russell back for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, as combining the first companion with the latest companions shows how Doctor Who has developed its stories, technologies, and reputation.
William Russell’s scene massively shows how Doctor Who has changed since 1963. Although the Doctor has had many faces, when the Doctor Who companions support group starts to discuss the Doctor, Ian is completely surprised that the Doctor is now female. For many years a female Doctor was out of the question, so including this comment from Ian shows how Doctor Who has developed and broken boundaries. Also, when Russell’s character departed Doctor Who, regeneration had not even been thought of, so his surprise is also linked to him expecting the other companions to all be talking about William Hartnell’s Doctor.
When Russell was the Doctor’s companion, there was no idea Doctor Who would carry on for the length of time it has done. It’s revival in 2009, with 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston and questionable age ratings, continued to bring Doctor Who into a new era, not just with science and technology, but also with much more emotional and dramatic story lines which deepened audience’s connections with the Doctor and their true companions. Using the 60th-anniversary special to bring Ian back is a clever way to reflect on Doctor Who’s history and its development over the years, plus, breaking a Guinness World Record at the same time only adds to the impressive depth of Doctor Who’s universe.