Doctor Who is back. It never really went away, of course – I loved The Power of the Doctor and enjoyed Flux quite a bit, but when Russell T. Davies gets involved and David Tennant and Catherine Tate are back for a 60th anniversary, it’s hard not to buy into the hype that Davies can generate completely and utterly. The magic’s all there: 14 has got the same face as 10, he’s not sure why – and Donna Noble is back, and their first encounter captures the spark and magic of their relationship dynamic so perfectly it’s like it hasn’t been over a decade since they were last on our screens. Nothing’s changed – yet so too, has everything.
Exactly the right people will be mad at this inclusive show that puts a great representation of trans rights through the character Rose Noble, played by the fantastic Yasmin Finney. Finney is introduced into the show without a deus ex machina moment and it feels like she was there all along: the relationship between Donna and Rose is beautifully rendered, and the relationship between Rose, Donna and Jacqueline King’s Sylvia Noble highlights the generational difference. It’s a touching dynamic as we shadows of Donna’s character come back; kind hearted and good – without realising why they’re there – she gives away all the lottery money that The Doctor won her to set her up for life much to her husband Shaun (Karl Collins)’ dismay, and he’s now working as a taxi driver. Oh – and Rose is hiding Beep the Meep, an innocent – seemingly so, E.T.-type creature until UNIT soldiers attack the Noble household forcing everyone in the Noble clan on the run – and after a punch in the face by Sylvia, it’s “here we go again” – and we’re off, like it’s 2008 all over again.
The show has a lot to explore and it tugs at the emotional heartstrings by playing with the nostalgia brilliantly: the twist is revealed fairly early on that Beep the Meep isn’t the innocent alien we’re led to believe, and in fact a genocidal maniac who wants to destroy London to escape – and has possessed some UNIT soldiers to kill the aliens sent to capture him. The Noble clan and The Doctor are kidnapped; and The Doctor and Donna are once again forced into a position echoing that of the reason behind the 10th Doctor’s regeneration: a locked room, a transparent glass wall separating the two of them – and the only way that they can save the city is if Donna allows herself to remember who she is, which will kill her. This is not the 10th Doctor though, this is an older Doctor: there are echoes of Jodie’s 13th Doctor in Tennant’s performance, not ignored – if he was still a woman, she’d know better – and the combination of previous Doctors really gives his new Doctor an edge.
The sudden light-hearted change into serious life-or-death consequence moment is played expertly with the direction from the superb Rachel Talalay, one of the best Doctor Who directors to ever do it – and ramped up by Davies’ script; an expert at tugging at the heartstrings. You buy Tennant’s emotion and it’s a testament to Donna’s character that the second that she remembers who she is she regrets all the selfless acts that caused her to be like The Doctor; and the clues with Donna remembering who she is – calling The Doctor by his name, are enough to give Slyvia a moment of incredible panic and anxiety. She’s been through this before – and she can’t go through this again. The callbacks are there – but The Star Beast does something wonderful and updates Doctor Who for a new generation. The goofy charm and effortless chemistry that made the pairing of these two so special is there; and I couldn’t lose the smile that I had from my face from start to finish.
Yes we all knew that they’d never kill off Donna again so soon – the whole point of these specials are seemingly to make her happy again – but despite the predictability of her arc it’s the touches of Russell’s script that make it so fun. The emotional depth with her and Yasmin Finney’s Rose are the beating heart of the story, and Finney is someone who needs to stick around in the future of Doctor Who, which I couldn’t be more excited about. Trans discussion on such a big show is so vital and I love that The Star Beast takes so much time focusing on it – Davies is putting his money where his mouth is and it shows. The fans thinking that Who would be less woke with him coming back couldn’t be more wrong: have they not seen Years and Years and It’s a Sin? It’s far more woke than the relatively conservative/centrist era of the 13th Doctor. Major plus points for disabled actress Ruth Madely as Shirley Anne Bingham, a key player in UNIT – her wheelchair containing rocket launchers was such a fun curveball it’s easy to see Davies relishing in the bigger budget that he has to play with this time out, and that shows with the extended conflict in the Noble street.
We get a new TARDIS interior and it’s fantastic – if a little roomy. Oh look at you – you beautiful thing – Tennant’s excitement feels so genuine it’s hard not to be swept up in it. From the second that a coffee machine appears and Donna’s line about getting fired from her last job because she spilled the coffee machine you know how this is going to go: the crash and bang is enough for Slyvia to pick up on outside the TARDIS. The Doctor, Donna… just like old times! If anything – it feels like Series 4B rather than the 60th anniversary, not a big grand storyline – not just yet anyway – and that for now, is a good thing indeed – especially when the 50th felt so epic as it was. Russell T. Davies you beauty.