Dr Who and Rose
David Tennant and Billie Piper, in a BBC promotional image for the 2005 Christmas special. Both are to return this year BBC

The BBC has confirmed that Scottish actor David Tennant will pick up the sonic screwdriver once more in a special feature-length episode of the long-running BBC sci-fi series Dr Who, when it celebrates its 50th anniversary in November 2013.

Tennant, who was the tenth actor to play the Doctor on the small screen, played the role from 2005-2010, when he was replaced by the eleventh and current Doctor, Matt Smith.

Also returning will be Billie Piper, who played Rose Tyler, sidekick to the ninth and tenth Doctors. She last appeared in the role in 2010.

The fiftieth anniversary season begins on Saturday 30 March in the UK. Current Doctor Matt Smith has acquired a new companion, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. Unusually, she will provide much of the mysterious story arc for this series: the Doctor has met her twice before in different time periods and each time she has died. In this series, he will attempt to find out exactly who she is.

Matt Smith
The current and eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith BBC

Little is known about the plot or storyline of the 50th-anniversary episode, though Matt Smith has let slip that it will be the first episode of the time-travel adventure saga to be filmed in 3D. A feature film of the Doctor's adventures has long been mooted, but it is more likely that the special - if successful - may gain a limited cinematic release outside the UK.

Over the years, the programme has featured several special episodes where multiple incarnations of the Doctor join forces to fight a common enemy. The most spectacular of these was the two-part story The Five Doctors, broadcast in 1983 to mark the programme's 20th anniversary. Shortly afterwards, Dr Who fell out of favour at the BBC and was cancelled in 1989. A one-off special starring Paul McGann aside, no new episodes were made until 2005, when the show was revived with Christopher Ecclestone in the title role. For reasons that have never been made public, Ecclestone quit after one series, regenerating into Tennant.

Dr Who made its debut on BBC television on 23 November, 1963, less than 24 hours after John F Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The first actor to play the role was William Hartnell, whose persona was that of a vaguely grumpy grandfather. The series was originally intended to provide a fun way for children and families to learn about history through the Doctor's travels. That changed with the first appearance of the Daleks in late 1963, and a cultural phenomenon was born. For many years, the series remained a peculiarly British obsession, but since 2005 with the 'new' series, the show has gained a faithful following in the United States, where it is shown on the BBC America cable channel.

Back home, the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary will continue on radio, too, when all the surviving 'classic' Doctors - Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Paul McGann - will face imminent destruction in an audio-only adventure entitled The Light at the End.

Watch the trailer for the 50th anniversary series below.