Saturday, November 25th, 6.30pm marked the return of Doctor Who to our TV screens with its spectacular 60th anniversary special: The Star Beast. After 13 long months since the end of series 13, the Doctor and the Tardis are once again whisking us away on the adventure of a lifetime. November the 25th was the day I’d been living for ever since the miraculous news that the 14th Doctor would be none other than David Tennant! Accompanied by Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble, and with Russell T. Davies running the show again, it felt like we’d travelled back in time to 2008. As a slightly obsessed Whovian, (Matt Smith’s my doctor, sorry Tennant fans), Christmas had certainly arrived early! Nevertheless, settling down to watch the episode live on Saturday evening, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad apprehensive.
Series’ 11-13 had been mediocre at best. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor failed to hit the mark. The writing lacked the sci-fi brilliance and intricate timey-wimey plots that Doctor Who is renowned for. However, with Davies back on his throne and Murray Gold returning as Musical Director, the 60th anniversary seemed destined for a return to form. Paired with the fabulous duo of Tennant and Tate, surely nothing could go wrong, right?
Doctor Who is most definitely back, but not quite better than ever.
Well, it gives me great pleasure to answer with a resounding yes! Doctor Who is most definitely back, but not quite better than ever. I cannot express quite how blissful it was to see Tennant, complete with amazing hair, stepping out of his Tardis and onto London’s streets. My usually cold and barren heart was brimming with joy and the fact that a man stepping out of a wooden box can provide me with that much pleasure either exposes my insanity, or is a testament to how marvellous this show really is.
Following a brief fourth wall-breaking introductory narration filling new and casual viewers in on necessary lore, the Doctor once again crosses paths with Donna Noble. It is brilliant and heart-breaking. Seeing Donna back to her original, pre-Tardis-adventures-self, staring at the Doctor without a clue in the world, is enough to break both of the Doctor’s hearts, let alone my own. The added fact that she’d named her daughter Rose (because of course she did) and Tennant’s iconic ensuing “WHAT?!” was just the touch of humour needed to keep tears at bay.
And then we’re off! The plot kicks into gear as a spaceship is seen hurtling through the sky and crash landing nearby. What unfolds is a very contained, down-to-earth adventure between two alien species with the whole of London at stake. I’ll say no more in the interest of keeping this spoiler-free and to allow any lost souls who haven’t seen the episode yet to discover it’s charm.
There’s so much to love about this episode! Decisions, call-backs, and references abound to make casual fans and fanatics alike burst from the seams with happiness. Listing them all here would be quite unwieldy, so let me take you through my highlights.
The acting from the entire cast was outstanding. It goes without saying that Tennant and Tate stole the show; their interactions and mannerisms intoxicatingly nostalgic, stirring up many fond memories of peak series 4 Doctor Who. Tennant mentioned in interviews leading up to The Star Beast’s release that his 14th Doctor wouldn’t just be a rehash of the 10th incarnation, but a whole new character. This turned out to be true; his current iteration is a perfect amalgamation all of the three Doctors since his time. Gone is ‘the man who regrets’ – unburdened by the loss of the Time War, the 14th Doctor blends 10’s emotional humanity, 11’s child-like joy, and 12’s endless compassion, with dashes of 13 in there too!
This is the Doctor back to his complex and multi-faceted best.
This is the Doctor back to his complex and multi-faceted best. Tate was magnificent as Donna. Perfectly embodying the emotional heart of the episode, she balances soul-crushing sadness with unstoppable humour, manipulating viewers’ feelings in a way that only Davies could ever really capture as showrunner. The dynamic duo aside, the rest of the cast is tremendous. Jacqueline King reprises her role as Sylvia, and her interactions with the Doctor in the first half of the episode are hilarious. New Doctor Who actresses, Heartstopper’s very own Yasmin Finney and Years and Years’ star Ruth Madeley were sublime and amazing additions to the show.
The writing of this episode, although not ground-breaking, was a return to the cosy, comfortable adventures that we’re used to. No new alien planets, no multiversal catastrophes threatening all of creation, not even a mention of a Dalek. Instead, we are treated to two new alien species: Beep The Meep and the Wrarth Warriors. The costume design for both of these was brilliant; The Meep was utterly adorable and is certain to become a merchandising icon, sure to be a wonderful addition to any Whovian’s stockings this Christmas. Miriam Margoyles, who voiced The Meep, delivered a stellar performance, remarkably depicting the depths of the alien’s character. Even the Sonic Screwdriver has been given an immense upgrade, now capable of much more than opening locks and tampering with technology. One wonders whether this iteration is nally able to deal with wood.
Of course, I can’t talk about Doctor Who without discussing the Tardis. Resplendent. Radiant. Gorgeous. Gone is the dark, claustrophobic interior of Jodie’s Tardis, replaced by a masterpiece of design. I was gobsmacked. Without spoiling too much, this Tardis has given a whole new meaning to ‘bigger on the inside’. Witnessing the 14th Doctor’s sheer, unadulterated joy at the redecoration lit up the inner child within me and I know I will be living o that feeling of pure, innocent happiness for days to come.
Without spoiling too much, this Tardis has given a whole new meaning to ‘bigger on the inside’.
More than the returning cast, the new Tardis, and the new lore, what surprised me most was just how stunning the episode looked overall. Partially funded by Disney, under the studio name Bad Wolf Productions, Doctor Who finally has access to the budget it deserves, and it definitely shows. High quality drone shots of London, the Stark Tower-esque UNIT headquarters, and need I even mention that the astounding practical effects have never been seen in Doctor Who to this standard. No longer limited by BBC funding, hopefully this new era of Doctor Who can fully realise all the wonders of time and space.
Directed by the masterful Rachel Talalay, the episode was shot brilliantly. It switched between perspectives and locations smoothly and clearly, keeping the audience thoroughly engaged as the pace picked up and reached its climactic end. Murray Gold’s triumphant comeback to Doctor Who made this episode’s soundtrack extraordinary and every time iconic soundtracks were woven into the episode, my heartstrings were pulled to devastating effect. This was an aspect I had sorely missed in series’ 11-13, so I am glad that along with the writing, the acting, and the visuals, the music of this beloved show is well and truly back as well.
However, for all the love I have for this episode, it’s not without its (minor) pitfalls. The pacing, though perfect for most of the episode, becomes rushed towards the end, racing towards a breathless climax and a comparatively slow denouement. The solution to this episode’s threat is strikingly reminiscent of The End of Time, making the ending feel a bit anti-climactic. Fans of a more sci-fi grounded plot resolution might feel the episode leaned too far into the whimsy, leaving the viewer ever so slightly disappointed in how ‘easy’ the ending was – crossing the ‘t’s’ and dotting the ‘i’s’ too perfectly.
On an unjustifiably pedantic note, I do have a few personal gripes with the new intro and outro sequences, with them lacking a certain flourish or polish. Additionally, whilst the 60th anniversary episode is undoubtedly a commemoration and celebration of Doctor Who’s rich legacy, I can’t help but wonder whether the technobabble-infused resolution would captivate first-time viewers lacking the nostalgic rose-tinted glasses
I can’t help but wonder whether the technobabble-infused resolution would captivate first-time viewers lacking the nostalgic rose-tinted glasses.
So, what’s my final verdict? Did the rushed ending scupper my overall viewing enjoyment of the episode? If you’ve read this far, you already know the answer: The Star Beast was an absolutely fantastic return to form. It made me laugh, tear up, and well up with emotions I hadn’t felt for a TV show in a long time. Now, if my friends know anything about me it’s that I love rating things, so, The Star Beast proudly takes its place on my completely subjective and arbitrary scale with a respectable 4.25 out of 5 stars (because who needs objectivity when you’ve got stars to throw around?). But what I can say to everyone – Whovians and first-time watchers alike – is that the Doctor and his Tardis are back to travelling through space and time again, and I, for one, wouldn’t miss it for the world.