Doctor Who: The Star Beast Review

Doctor Who
When a spaceship crash-lands in London, destiny sets the Doctor (David Tennant) — still reeling from his latest regeneration — on a collision course with an old friend, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate).

by Jordan King |
Published on

As the BBC celebrates 60 years of the TARDIS-sized jewel in its televisual crown this week, expect to hear the word “back” a lot. Doctor Who is back! Russell T Davies is back! David Tennant and Catherine Tate are back! And that they most triumphantly are. But as ‘The Star Beast’ — the wackadoodle comic-inspired first in a trio of anniversary special episodes — plays out, more than any particular name or face, there’s a feeling that it brings back, of child-like imagination and wonder, that makes the future of the Whoniverse look brighter than ever before.

Playfully eliding reams of exposition that would otherwise bore diehard Whovians and alienate newcomers, RTD wastes no time getting stuck into his latest turn in the Who hotseat. No sooner has a playful, fourth-wall-breaking intro got viewers up to speed on the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna’s (Catherine Tate) complicated history than we find the pair thrust back together as a space-ship crashes through the London skyline. It’s an explosive start, and one which sees Tennant and Tate slip effortlessly back into their old routine: he does melancholy-dappled over-exuberance like no other, while her mile-a-minute chatter and wounding one-liners match him all the way. Between them, they also act as a vessel for RTD to reflect on how Doctor Who has changed in the time since he left. “Cryptic — I hate that!” comments one character, clearly invoking the Matryoshkan mystery boxes of Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall’s time aboard the TARDIS.

Doctor Who

The Doctor and Donna’s relationship is a delicate dance of humour and heart, given new steps by the duo’s 15 years apart — and by the introduction of Donna’s daughter Rose (Yasmin Finney), Who’s first trans character. The poignant way RTD weaves Rose’s story through that of the Doctor and Donna’s — and Finney’s understated, sensitive performance — is a testament to the showrunner’s peerless brand of character-driven storytelling. It’s also an affirmation that this new era of Doctor Who will continue to shine a light on the world we live in, as well as the one we still strive towards.

Explosions are bigger, streets bustle with extras, the sets are expansive, and the props are wondrous

This new era of Who also brings with it new aliens — and new funding. With a new Disney+ streaming deal, there’s a slickness and a shine to the production here that RTD’s first tenure simply couldn’t afford. Explosions are bigger, streets bustle with extras, the sets are expansive, and the props are wondrous (seriously, if you thought the old sonic screwdriver was cool, then you ain’t seen nothin’ yet). As a direct consequence, series veteran director Rachel Talalay is clearly having the time of her life as alien races collide and every moment is captured kinetically in-camera amid a hail of bleep-bloops and electronic lights.

Doctor Who

But, whilst the Whoniverse may now sit atop fat stacks of Mouse-branded Benjamins, its roots remain firmly in the kind of DIY design-work that made an iconic villain out of ostensibly a supersized salt-shaker with a toilet plunger and a whisk for weapons. Here, we get The Meep and the Wrarth Warriors; while the latter are fairly standard-issue crab-handed insectoids, The Meep — voiced by a characteristically mischievous Miriam Margolyes — is a revelation. A kinda cute, kinda terrifying cross between a Mogwai, Brain (of ‘Pinky And The’ fame) and something a four-year-old might ask Santa for, The Meep is easily one of the greatest bits of animatronic work we’ve seen in Who. And yet, such is the brilliance of its design, it still looks like something you could  — and will most likely want to — cobble together a half-decent cosplay for with some light-bulbs and a buttload of cotton wool.

All of which is to say that it’s hard not to feel like a child again watching this latest iteration of one of the world’s most iconic sci-fi franchises. There’s plenty of narrative hand-waving, goofy dialogue, and telegraphed twists you’ll spot a mile off that could bemuse the more po-faced viewer. But if you let your imagination roam free, heart thumping at the cacophonously cosmic new title sequence and soaring as you’re treated to a breathless, madcap adventure, then you’ll come out the other side with your enthusiasm for unapologetically dorky science-fiction and Saturday-evening spectacle well and truly regenerated. And the kicker? It really does feel like the best is yet to come. Allons-y!

Silly, sincere, and jam-packed with wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans, RTD and co pay loving tribute to 60 years of Doctor Who whilst teasing a bright new era ahead for the Whoniverse.
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