This is the most extraordinary news. It’s virtually unprecedented.

Getting the writer of Queer as Folk, Bob and Rose, Casanova and The Second Coming to work on the programme at all was remarkable enough. That he, Atlas-like, bore the entire weight of resurrecting a show which had become a burden, a joke and then a half-remembered folk memory is astonishing. And that he turned it into an international megahit is, with the benefit of hindsight, exactly what one might expect – but it was a huge gamble.

The job was also exhausting. So, after four seasons, five years and two Doctors, Rusty moved on and Steven Moffat was the obvious choice to replace him. Received wisdom seems to be that Matt Smith was a worthy successor to David Tennant, but that the writing was less consistent, that it tailed off further when Peter Capaldi took over and that when Chris Chibnall started as showrunner, it became a pale shadow of its former self.

My personal view is not quite in alignment with this. Matt Smith was a remarkable find as the Doctor, but I found the stories often frustratingly complicated and I wasn’t on board with the show attempting to sustain multi-season arcs without every really committing to full serialisation. The Capaldi era I found to be far more consistent, and I find the refrain that his scripts were poor compared to Smith’s baffling when I consider entries like Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, The Zygon Invasion/Inversion, Oxygen or World Enough and Time.

Outside fandom, there was a decline in interest in the show, with Series 9 and 10 getting significantly lower ratings than earlier years – although IMDb audience scores give Series 9 the second best average (after Series 4). Rotten Tomatoes audience scores support the received wisdom better. Series 7 (Matt Smith’s last) is the first to get less than 90% and Peter Capaldi’s last gets only 69%.

When Jodie Whittaker took over, ratings initially shot up. But the new audience didn’t stick around and for her second season, we were right back where we were when Capaldi left. Except this time, the audience who was watching wasn’t as happy. On IMDb, Series 1 is the worst-performing pre-Chibnall run with a score of 8.0 out of 10. Series 11 rates 6.6 and Series 12 rates 5.9. On Rotten Tomatoes, it’s even worse. Again, these are the two worst-performing runs, this time by an even wider margin. Series 11 manages 20% and Series 12 only 16%.

And this I don’t think has been helped by the small number of episodes, coming less frequently than ever. The year-plus gap between Series 9 and Series 10, with only one Christmas Special broadcast in the whole of 2016, was very unusual. But from this point on, it became the norm. After Series 10 was broadcast in April 2017, rather than returning to the March-April launch of the first six seasons, Series 11 didn’t air until October – and then it only aired 10 episodes instead of 12. Series 12 didn’t air until over a year after Series 11 had come to an end. Series 13 is expected 20 months after the start of Series 12. We’ve gone from Doctor Who on the air for three months out of every year to ten weeks out of every two years. Matt Smith gave us 44 episodes in four calendar years. Capaldi gave us 39 episodes over four calendar years. With Jodie Whittaker we’ll end up with 32 episodes over five calendar years.

So, where does all of this leave Rusty? Let’s start with logistics. October-November 2021 will be a six-part epic masterminded by Chris Chibnall. Chibnall, you will remember, first came to fandom’s attention by going on TV to slag off The Trial of a Timelord as a teenager. Now, as showrunner, his plan to rescue the show from an onslaught of criticism, and following an unexpectedly long hiatus, is to tell one long story across the whole season. Brilliant! Then during 2022 we will get three specials, which will presumably conclude with Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that these will be New Year’s Day, Easter and Christmas. Then the baton gets handed back to Rusty for the 2023 run. And that will include the assumed 60th anniversary special.

But this leads some people to conclude that Rusty’s problem is going to be handling a new Doctor and a multi-Doctor anniversary special simultaneously. Why? The cadence which Russell established in 2005-2009 was airing a full season from March-ish to June-ish, having a Christmas special in December and then round we go again. So, I would expect a Christmas (or New Year, it doesn’t really matter) special to end the Chibnall/Whittaker era, followed by a complete season of 10-12 episodes starting in March/April 2023, allowing plenty of time for the new Doctor to bed in – and only then a 60th anniversary special in November. And it’s not like the incoming team doesn’t have time. That first full season of episodes is 18 months away. If not more – the plan above would still work if Series 14 ran from late August to early November, as Series 8 did.

And what will he do? The prodigal producer’s return really is an unprecedented phenomenon. One thinks of Gene Roddenberry launching Star Trek: The Next Generation, two decades after the original series went off the air, or Lorne Michaels returning to save Saturday Night Live. I’m told Phil Redmond returned to Brookside after a long absence, but I never watched that. So – what will his approach be?

Steven Moffat varied the Russell T template gradually and cautiously, choosing to evolve the format rather than revamp it. Much the same happened when Graham Williams took over from Philip Hinchcliffe in 1977. City of Death is very unlike The Ark in Space, but Horror of Fang Rock is clearly from the same team that brought you The Talons of Weng Chiang. But both John Nathan-Turner and Chris Chibnall changed everything as soon as they could, with Chibnall also given the opportunity to wipe the regular cast slate clean from day one (which took JNT a year to accomplish). New aspect ratio, new composer, new logo, new everything.

When Russell began in 2005, he had nothing to build on. And in fact, he invented the Time War as way to avoid lots of tedious talk of Gallifrey and Time Lords and other continuity which would be meaningless for the new audience. Now back in charge, will he hit the Fast Return Switch? Will we see Murray Gold back holding the conductor’s baton, the Chibnall era logo junked (won’t somebody think of the Blu-ray box set spines?), return appearances by the Moxx of Balhoon, Jackie Tyler and those silly cat nuns?

Or will he build upon the new lore established in the last five years? Keep Sacha Dhawan as the Master, get Bradley Walsh to make a guest appearance, follow up on the Timeless Child? Of course, I don’t know, but my hope is that this will feel like a return to 2009 in terms of tone, but that he will keep all of those story ideas on the table. Whether we like it or not, they are part of the narrative of the show, and sometimes old ideas brought back can be improved upon and rehabilitated. I don’t think he will or should carry on where Chibnall left off, but I don’t think he’ll pretend the last five years haven’t happened either.

Lastly – who will he cast? It can’t surely be another boy. That would be a ghastly admission that the biggest problem with Series 11-13 is that the leading actor had ovaries instead of testes. Jodie Whittaker rarely comes across as a mysterious alien, but that’s largely because she’s written as such an uncertain, passive, bland character – not because no woman alive could ever have stepped into David Tennant’s holy sneakers. Looking at people he’s worked with before, Lesley Sharp jumps out at me as someone who would take the character in a whole new direction – but given her appearance in Midnight, that would be a little odd. The other obvious suggestion is Lydia West who unbelievably would be 30 in 2023 – older than both Peter Davison and Matt Smith when they took the part. That’s assuming he doesn’t do the right thing and go for Susan Wokoma.

So – I’m optimistic. Hugely optimistic. Watching Doctor Who and not enjoying it is a new experience for me. I look back on eighties episodes that I now find wanting and can’t remember any disappointment when I watched them for the first time. And between 2005 and 2017, if I didn’t like The Curse of the Black Spot or Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS or In the Forest of the Night or Smile, it hardly mattered because in a week or two I’d get The Doctor’s Wife or The Crimson Horror or Flatline or Oxygen. I want Russell to innovate the way he did in 2005. I want him to push the envelope and take risks. But if the rubber band does snap back to where he left off in 2009 – that would be fine by me too.