The following contains spoilers for the episode. Please watch it before reading. Doctor Who
returns to television screens today for the first of the long-awaited 60th
anniversary specials, “The Star Beast,” directed by Who
alum Rachel Talalay. Newly regenerated with an old face, David Tennant reprises the title role, along with Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Russel T. Davies also returns as showrunner.
When we last left Donna back in 2008, she accidentally took in a blast of regeneration energy that had been stored in the Doctor’s hand that overloaded her human brain with Time Lord knowledge. The Doctor was able to section off that part of her and keep her alive, at the cost of having to wipe all of her memories of the two of them. The special, which picks up fifteen years later, does a decent job of recapping what you might have missed, although in a somewhat stilted way having the two characters literally explaining it to the viewer. However, after the new opening credits, it jumps right into the fun.
The Doctor unexpectedly encounters Donna, as well as her daughter, Rose (Yasmin Finney). Everything comes to a halt when a ship crashes to London, and it’s Rose who discovers its hiding passenger: a giant cute furry alien called The Meep, which she quickly tries to protect from the insectoid aliens, the Wrarth Warriors. The twist comes when the Doctor enacts the Shadow Proclamation and discovers that The Meep is actually a genocidal galactic war criminal. What follows is an action-packed start to the specials that will have fans smiling.
Tennant seemed to have no trouble stepping back into his old shoes. He is exactly the same, yet completely different. I liked how he definitely at times is a more thoughtful and somber Doctor, having seen so much, and his anguish at having to risk Donna’s life to save London could easily be felt. Yet, it’s also so much fun to watch him run around in glee at his new TARDIS console room. Tate also slipped right back into her role perfectly as well, and it was simply wonderful to see the two of them back together again, whether he was dodging her, trying not to stir up her memories, or as old friends starting another adventure on the TARDIS. They’re a powerful duo.
The relationship between Donna and Rose is also beautifully written, and I loved seeing Donna’s fierce instincts to protect her daughter.
The story itself is an epic adventure that feels very in line with what we’ve come to expect from Davies, and is magnificently directed by Talalay who continues to be my favorite director on the series to date. Aside from the action and comedy, the script is poignant. The original end to Donna’s story was heartbreaking, and until the news of Tennant and Tates’ return, no one expected her to get a better conclusion. I really enjoyed the brilliance of tying the resolution of the Doctor-Donna metacrisis to Rose’s non-binary identity. It was a way to of course bring inclusivity to the story, but in a way that it was integral to the plot and made it feel natural.
The series, as usual, also looks great (and it looks fantastic and crisp in 4K!), but also purposefully lends that pinch of cheesiness to the look of the aliens that make the show what it is. It’s obvious from the get-go though that the budget has been increased since it’s move to Disney+ in the US, and it’s used to great effect for the most part. I especially enjoyed how it added the capabilities to the new and improved sonic screwdriver when the Doctor creates a holographic display out of thin air. I’m not so sure, however, about the force field that he’s able to draw to shield them from the Wrarths’ gunfire. It’s fun and unique, but I think drawing things to life with the sonic could become a bit stale if used too much. Besides, it’s just as much fun to see him use the tried and true sonic potential to “resonate” concrete as it is to see the high-tech gadgets.
The special brings on the nostalgia and is plentiful with callbacks and continuity from the past, including the plot itself, as hardcore fans will realize is an adapted story from a 1980 comic strip published in Doctor Who Weekly
. Also, I loved how Rose’s buried memories came out in the form of plushies resembling the show’s biggest villains; that was a great touch, and there are many more throwbacks peppered throughout the episode. Of course, the show can be enjoyed by new viewers as well, who can easily jump into the mayhem that is Doctor Who
and quickly feel at home.
Recent seasons of the show might have been polarizing with the fans, but overall, “The Star Beast” is an excellent start to the trilogy and is sure to make everyone remember why it was they fell in love with The Doctor and his antics in the first place. It’s not just a sci-fi series about time travel. It’s about the characters at the heart of the show. “The Star Beast” is now available to stream on Disney+ in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK.