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Who Is Neil Patrick Harris Playing on ‘Doctor Who’!?

Unless it's just Barney Stinson in space, of course.

Neil Patrick Harris.

Despite the fact that Jodie Whittaker’s final episode of Doctor Who falls in the same year as the BBC centenary celebration—which means that fans can expect a finale of epic proportions for the first female doctor—Jodie’s final venture as the Doctor isn’t the only high-stakes Doctor Who episode on the horizon. Though the BBC is celebrating a major milestone this year, next year will mark the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who as a franchise—and between the return of Russell T. Davies as showrunner, David Tennant & Catherine Tate reprising their roles as the Doctor and Donna, and exciting new guest stars like Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney set to join the ranks of the 60th, there’s already plenty for fans to look forward to.

**Possible spoilers ahead!**

This past week, however, Davies took to social media to announce yet another bombshell for the 60th anniversary special: the addition of Neil Patrick Harris to the cast in a mystery role. It’s not as if Doctor Who never nabs big names (the likes of Kylie Minogue, Simon Pegg, and more recently Alan Cumming have all graced the long-running series), but Harris is without question one of the most recognizable guest stars in the franchise’s history, and his casting is sure to bring even more buzz to the already highly anticipated episode. 

But with the exciting casting announcement comes and endless array of questions, the most pressing of which is … who is he playing? The internet is already abuzz with theories, and though there likely won’t be a concrete answer until we’re closer to the episode’s (unannounced) air date, here’s a roundup of a few likely candidates for who Neil Patrick Harris could be playing in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary special.

The Master

In an instagram post alongside a picture of Harris (presumably in costume), Davies teased that Harris would be playing “the greatest enemy the Doctor has ever faced”—and when it comes to the Doctor’s greatest foes, who else comes to mind but the meddling, morally dubious Time Lord/the Doctor’s ex-best friend, The Master? If Harris is playing the Master, it wouldn’t be the first time that Davies has used the character in his run—most famously, he re-introduced the Time Lord (played then by John Simm) via the Utopia two-parter and subsequent entries in Tennant’s era, including The End of Time

Since then, The Master has been played by two other actors, Michelle Gomez as Missy, the character’s first female incarnation, and most recently, Sacha Dhawan, who will return yet again in Whittaker’s yet-to-be-titled final episode. There’s certainly a precedent for The Master to appear in the 60th, but it’s also worth noting that if Harris is playing the Master, it’ll be the shortest gap between two different actors playing the character in Who history. 

Though I’m always game for another actor to take a crack at the dastardly Time Lord, and Harris certainly has the chops for the role, it seems unlikely that Davies would bring the character back so quickly after the previous series utilized him—especially because it would likely mitigate the emotional impact of however Dhawan’s version of the Master meets his end if the character were to simply pop up in the next episode.

The Valeyard


A much more unorthodox pick, though no less interesting, could be Neil Patrick Harris as the Valeyard. If the name doesn’t sound familiar to you, that’s because the character hasn’t appeared in Doctor Who since the show was rebooted. His most recent appearance was squaring off against the sixth doctor in 1986’s “The Ultimate Foe.” But just why do I think this obscure Doctor Who baddie from the ’80s is worthy of the title of “the greatest enemy” the Doctor has ever faced”? The Valeyard is an evil regeneration of the Doctor. Okay, the lore isn’t that simple (or specific), but for all intents and purposes, the Valeyard was some sort of malicious version of the Doctor, who intended to steal the Doctor’s regenerations for himself. 

It would certainly be a deep cut, but when it comes to “the greatest enemy” the Doctor has fought, what’s greater than an evil regeneration of the Doctor themselves? Reviving the Valeyard and the idea of a “bad” Doctor is an ambitious move for certain, but it is the franchise’s 60th anniversary, and if anyone can handle pulling out all the stops to celebrate such a special occasion, it’s Russell T. Davies. Similarly to the Master, the Valeyard (being some sort of Time Lord-like entity) would have an easily justifiable in-canon reason for changing faces: He regenerated. 

There’s no doubt that the Doctor facing off against an evil version of themselves would make for some epic TV (and plenty of moral angst, to boot), but believe it or not, there’s someone out there who seems to be the even more likely character Harris is playing in the 60th.

The Celestial Toymaker

Okay, hear me out. “Who’s the celestial toymaker?” You ask. Or maybe, if you’re a fan of classic Doctor Who, you’re more likely asking, “Why on Earth would you think Tony award winner Neil Patrick Harris is playing a reimagined version of a First Doctor villain from 1966?” It certainly sounds like a bizarre prediction—even wilder than an evil version of the Doctor. But believe it or not, there’s more behind-the-scenes content to support the theory that Neil Patrick Harris is playing a version of the Celestial Toymaker (or just the “Toymaker”), a one-off villain who featured in the season 3 episode appropriately titled “The Celestial Toymaker.”

In the episode, the character (originally played by Michael Gough) is a twisted being who amuses himself by enslaving sentient beings and forcing them to compete in childish games to escape with their lives—eat your heart out, Squid Game. With a maniacal ideology and a massive ego, the Toymaker would rig outcomes in his favor and torment his playthings—perfect for the Doctor to face off against.

But what makes the Celestial Toymaker the most likely character for NPH to be playing in the 60th anniversary is the photo that was released with his casting announcement, and a series of on-set photos that have been captured by fans during filming. In the initial casting announcement, Harris is pictured wearing spectacles and a leather apron—the kind of apron often used in hand-crafting goods (like toys). Between that and his whimsical sense of style, he certainly fits the visual criteria for a twisted toymaker, but that sole photo is hardly all the evidence there is.

More crucially, on-set photos captured by fans show the crew filming outside a building decorated to look like a toy store, with a sign out front that reads “Mr. Emporium” and promises “toys, magic, games, and tricks,” among other things. The name (likely a reference to Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which featured a whimsical, albeit friendly, toymaker) combined with Harris’ costume seems like as solid proof as we can get so early on a to how Harris is playing. 

Whether his character is announced before the episode or fans have to wait until the 60th to find out, Harris’ addition to the cast of the upcoming Doctor Who anniversary special is an exciting win not just for fans but for the profile of the series. With a big-name star attached and the continued buzz about returning fan-favorites, Doctor Who seems gearing up to enjoy a healthy renaissance into the 2020s—and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store.

(featured image: Russel T. Davies/BBC)

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Lauren Coates is a Chicago-based film & television critic and freelance journalist who works as a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates and read more of her work on Culturess.