WARNING: The following post contains SPOILERS for the season 7 finale of Doctor Who. If you are not caught up on the show, proceed with caution.

For nearly half a century, The Doctor and his companions have traversed time and space to entertain viewers around the globe. Now, Doctor Who is preparing to celebrate its 50th Anniversary – with a near-feature-length special that brings back fan-favorite 10th Doctor David Tennant to team with soon-to-be regenerated 11th Doctor Matt Smith. Further complicating matters is the mysterious presence of John Hurt, also credited as “The Doctor,” who was admonished by number 11 in the season 7 finale and asserted, “What I did, I did without choice. In the name of peace and sanity.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly where Hurt’s (presumably past) version of the Doctor falls into the timeline. Given the crazy universe of Doctor Who, it’s also possible that the character is not  a full-fledged incarnation of the Doctor and that the 50th anniversary special will reveal an alternate explanation for his presence (and titular namesake). Yet, new official photos have surfaced that add further credence to what many people initially expected: Hurt is probably playing a secret version of the Doctor – one that the Gallifreyan is ashamed (or scared) to acknowledge.

The photos come courtesy of official BBC channels and feature Matt Smith (The 11th Doctor), David Tennant (The 10th Doctor), John Hurt (“The Doctor”), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara Oswald), and Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart).

Check them out below:

Arguably, the most revealing element of the photo is the relationship that Hurt’s character will have with the other two Doctors – specifically that, contrary to what might have been initially expected, it looks as though “The Doctor” plays nice with number 10 and 11 (for at least part of the episode). Tennant and Smith had previously indicated that their Doctors would get along with the Hurt character but many fans still speculated that “The Doctor” would be an overall malevolent (albeit possibly empathetic) force – and the main antagonist for the 50th Anniversary episode. While these official stills are taken entirely out of context, the side-by-side shot of the three “Doctors” seems to indicate that Hurt might, in fact, be teaming-up with Tennant and Smith to right his prior wrongs.

The photos also provide a look at Hurt’s sonic screwdriver, which is tucked into an artillery-style bandoleer belt across his chest, and features a red emitter. While non-Doctor characters have made their own sonic devices (i.e. Sarah Jane Smith’s sonic lipstick), the presence of a new version of the iconic tool certainly adds further credence to the belief that Steven Moffat isn’t pulling any tricks – and that Hurt is playing a previously undisclosed regeneration of the Doctor.

The writer/producer recently spoke at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, reaffirming that the Doctor can only regenerate 12 times – but teasing fans that their count might be off: “I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There’s something you’ve all missed.” Moffat is likely referring to the fact that we never see the Paul McGann to Christopher Eccleston regeneration, the only time that viewers don’t have access to the Doctor-to-Doctor transformation over 50 years. This means that Hurt could, in theory, have existed in that portion of the Doctor’s timeline – without causing enormous continuity problems – which could make Peter Capaldi’s 12th (or possibly 13th) Doctor the final one.

Unless, of course, the Doctor stole another person’s body in the time between Paul McGann to Christopher Eccleston (a strategy used by the Master) cheating the regeneration limit or, as many believe, River Song could have transferred several of her own regenerations to the Doctor in the episode “Let’s Kill Hitler,” among other possible explanations. Again, given that Hurt appeared in “The Name of the Doctor” (within the Doctor’s collapsing timeline) it was always safe to assume he was inserting an unknown version of The Doctor into the mix; still, we wouldn’t put it past the show to pull a few tricks and deliver an alternate explanation.

We’ll keep you up to date as we hear more, but in the meantime, check out our Doctor Who Viewing Guide: Tips, Suggestions & Complete Episode List.

Matt Smith will return as Doctor Who on November 23rd for the 50th Anniversary Special – followed by the 2013 Christmas Special on December 25th.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Doctor Who as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.

Source: BBC and Radio Times