'NCIS' tribute to David McCallum reveals Michael Weatherly's appearance

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David McCallum, beloved on “NCIS” for his role as eccentric chief medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard since 2003, finally received his emotional send-off in Monday's episode.

The Scottish star of NBC's 1960s series The Man from UNCLE, who found renewed fame in the long-running CBS procedural, died on September 25 at the age of 90.

The tribute to the last original member of the NCIS cast, which was affected by production delays due to Hollywood strikes, is appropriately co-written by Brian Dietzen, who played Ducky's protégé Dr. Jimmy Palmer for two decades.

“We wanted to honor a life well lived, 60 years in this business and 20 years on our show,” Dietzen tells USA TODAY. “This allows the fans to grieve with us. We have all been through this loss.”

Dietzen spoke at McCallum's memorial service in January in New York City and has been in frequent contact with his wife of 56 years, Katherine Carpenter.

“His TV family and his real family are feeling hurt and sad right now,” Dietzen says. “The small consolation we can all take is that David was 90, and he lived many lives to the fullest during those 90 years. He made the most of every last breath.”

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Here's what to know about the “NCIS” episode titled “The Stories We Leave Behind” (now streaming on Paramount+).

Ducky needed to solve another NCIS case

Although Ducky died in the episode, another NCIS success was needed for the assigned medical examiner.

“The best way to honor Ducky is to have him solve one last case with the team,” Dietzen says. “Even after his death, he is the one who solves the case.”

Using detailed notes that Ducky hid, the NCIS team exonerates a veteran who was wrongly granted a dishonorable discharge.

“It ties into themes of loss, and what we leave behind when we die,” Dietzen says. “The stories we leave behind our loved ones are very important.”

Jimmy finds his beloved mentor Ducky

Last week's season 21 premiere set the table for the episode as NCIS Special Agent Alden Parker (Gary Cole) received a frantic call from Jimmy in the final moments.

The mystery of the phone call ends when the tribute begins, a little early, when a breezy Jimmy enters his mentor's house carrying two cups of coffee. His smile turns to horror when he finds Ducky in his bed, having died peacefully in his sleep.

Why? “We wanted to allow our audience to relate to the grief of losing (Ducky),” Dietzen says. “Recognize that grief is important in this process and honor it so you can move forward.”

Filming the scene with a veiled extra character Ducky, who is seen with the monogram “DM” on his pajama sleeve, was “a tough scene to shoot, that's for sure,” says Dietzen, 46.

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“DM stands for Ducky Mallard and it also stands for David McCallum, so there are similarities,” he says. “There's footage of that scene where I was just a wreck.”

Michael Weatherly's Anthony DiNozzo shows up again to say goodbye to “NCIS” Ducky.

The biggest surprise in the tribute episode is the return of Michael Weatherly as Special Agent Tony DiNozzo. Weatherly left NCIS in 2016 after 13 seasons to star in the CBS drama “Bull,” but DiNozzo is sticking around to offer support and a Ducky-inspired tie for Jimmy before Ducky’s memorial.

“We all realized that DiNozzo was the perfect character for this final scene,” Dietzen says. “So writing a scene for Tony DiNozzo was an absolute joy.”

Weatherly has imitated Glasgow-born McCallum's accent and way of speaking before. In this episode, DiNozzo performs as a dead Ducky.

“David is an icon,” says Dietzen, who was impressed by Weatherley's imitation of Jimmy's tie. “So, even when we're just talking as friends, (Weatherly) will do his best David McCallum impression.” “Michael said, 'I went to boarding school, I'll be fine. I can tie a tie.' But we definitely trained a few times, and the result was really good.”

Weatherly's appearance is a one-off appearance in an episode of “NCIS” filled with flashbacks of Ducky. “(Michael) was eager to help with what was essentially a personal flashback,” Dietzen says. “It was an homage to previous iterations of the NCIS team because Michael was also an original cast member. But there are no plans to return.”

Jimmy turns off the lights in the final moments

Weatherly's appearance also lightens the mood in the final moments. As the group enters the elevator for Ducky's memorial service, Jimmy returns to the autopsy room to turn off the lights, a slight smile on his face.

“With Ducky and David's deaths, it's ultimately important to show that the stories we leave behind aren't everything,” Dietzen says. “The people he left behind will live on. That's his legacy. That's what Ducky meant to them and that's what will move them forward and create the next chapters.”

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