Ncuti Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor and a hologram of David Tennant's Tenth Doctor

Let’s Talk About That Canon-Smashing Cameo in ‘Doctor Who’

It’s now become even harder for Doctor Who fans to count up all the Doctors. The latest episode, “Rogue,” dropped a shocking reveal that absolutely no fan, no matter how hard they’d studied the lore of the show, was prepared for.

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The main focus of the episode was the romance between the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Rogue the bounty hunter (Jonathan Groff). At one point, Rogue does a scan of the Doctor to see if he really is the being he’s come to apprehend, and in doing so, he gets holograms of all the Doctor’s faces, from William Hartnell to the previous Doctor, David Tennant. Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor and John Hurt’s War Doctor are both in there, too. But watch the scene carefully and you’ll see one more face for the Doctor than you remember. Who is that? It’s Richard E. Grant! But what in all of time and space is he doing there?!

Richard E. Grant played a non-canon Doctor

From here, you have to know Richard E. Grant’s history with the show. He’s been in the modern-day Doctor Who—but not as the Doctor. He played Dr. Simeon/The Great Intelligence in season seven, clashing with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Maybe you remember him? But that most assuredly wasn’t the Great Intelligence’s face in the scan.

Nope, it was the (up til now) non-canon Shalka Doctor. Scream of the Shalka was an animated show released in 2003 for Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary, and Richard E. Grant so happened to voice the Doctor that was considered, at that point, to be the Ninth. Then, two years later, Doctor Who was rebooted, with Christopher Eccleston becoming the canonical Ninth Doctor and Scream of the Shalka de-canonized.

(And just to make things even more complicated, Grant also played the Doctor in a parody of Doctor Who, 1999’s The Curse of Fatal Death, written by Steven Moffat. But that’s even more outside of canon than Scream of the Shalka is.)

Showrunner Russell T. Davies appeared to confirm on social media that what audiences saw in “Rogue” was very much the Shalka Doctor. Scream of the Shalka writer Paul Cornell posted a picture from the animation on Instagram on Saturday, with the words “We’ve entered another dimension by mistake” (a reference to one of Richard E Grant’s other famous works, Withnail & I). Russell T. Davies responded by posting “Canon!” and an heart emoji.

Needless to say, Doctor Who fans are falling over themselves to come up with a explanation as to how the Shalka Doctor is suddenly canon. Was a bi-generation involved? Is this something to do with the Toymaker having “made a jigsaw” out of the Doctor’s history? Or was it simply a throwaway Easter egg for the fans with no bearing on anything? Only time (and space) will tell.

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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.