What's it About: Think Partners in Crime mixed with Journey's End with a massive dose of Doctor Who Weekly thrown in for good measure. It's a healthy reminder of when the show was the most popular thing in the media and the audience at homes minds before the show gets rolling in a brand new direction again...
Mockney Dude (Redux): The least controversial decision since bringing in David Tennant in the first place is bringing back David Tennant to give the series (and crucially fandom, which for whatever reason has split down the middle in terms of controversy and opinion) a settling feeling before Ncuti Gatwa (who shows enormous promise already) takes the keys. Did I for one second feel as though this was the fourteenth Doctor rather than the Tenth? Beyond one line questioning whether he says 'love' this time around, not at all. Was I happy to see him back given my heart was full to bursting whenever Jodie Whittaker was on the screen? Oh yes. Tennant is a proven talent and still my favourite new series Doctor and he waltzes back into the show with swagger and panache. As he turns up in a central London backstreet grinning away to familiar Murray Gold music, it felt like I was back in 2008 again. You know, the last time the show was on everybody's lips. It's like he has never been away, and if had any nerves about once again being asked to raise the shows profile you couldn't tell.
The psychic paper still thinks the Doctor is a woman. He's clearly not forgotten his masterful handling of the law in The Stones of Blood and still carries that ridiculous wig around with him. I love how gentle he is with the Meep initially, nursing its hand and happy to help get it home. He's every inch the hero as he makes magic shields from his sonic screwdriver to help protect his friends. Tennant breezes through this story like he has never been away but it is during the emotional climax with Tate that he reminds us all why he is here and what he can do. He breaks his voice in such a way when he screams 'no you are not!' at Donna for calling herself nothing again. The Doctor has been living with the loss of his best friend for so long and he cannot bear to hear her say that she is worthless now they are back together. Russell being the bastard that he is forces the Doctor into the only possible situation that could break both of his hearts - he has to kill Donna in order to save London and 9 million people.
Tempestuous Temp: When I was told that my favourite showrunner was back, I thought my luck was in. Then to discover David Tennant (my favourite Doctor) would be the incumbent of the TARDIS again I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Finally to discover that Catherine Tate, my single favourite companion of the new series and possibly beyond would be joining him I finally left all that British reserve behind and let the tears break. Series four was such a special time for me. A point in the show when it was in the zeitgeist in terms of popularity, quality and chemistry. Donna was a huge part of the equation and the run from The Unicorn and the Wasp through to Journey's End is still my personal favourite of any season of Doctor Who, classic or new. I had to pinch myself. Surely this could not be real?
Of course Donna is still missing the alien incursions even when they are right under her nose. Donna doesn't see things in black and white (she's too complex for that) but she does see things in a sense of right and wrong. And it's right that she protects her daughter. So the conversation she has with Sylvia where she has easy answers about what she feels about her transitioning feels so natural. She loves Rose, she's gorgeous and she will do anything for her. It's a simple, loving response. She's happy with her life and her family but some nights she lies in her bed and wonders what it is she has lost. There is an absence of something. Tate delivers those lines with such aching emotion. I adore how she takes the screwdriver from the Doctor during a tense moment like it is the most natural thing in the world even though she doesn't remember that life. When we learn that Donna gave away all her money to help people who were living in fear I couldn't possibly love her any more. She says it was 'the sort of thing he would do' and we don't know if she is talking about the Doctor, her Dad or her Gramps but it works with any of them. Brilliantly, selflessly, Donna agrees to sacrifice herself for her daughter, her family and all the people she needs to save. She doesn't give it a second thought. The second our Donna is back the first thing on her mind is how she gave away her money. She's back! Her assertion that brining up her daughter is an adventure all of its own is fabulous. Donna is in the TARDIS for two minutes and she's already thrown coffee on the console. We're back.
The Nobles: My single complaint about Yasmin Finney is that she is clearly older than the 15 year old she is playing but I have been watching 20 somethings play teens in my favourite programmes since the late 80s and if that means we get a nuanced performance instead of another member of the Brood then happy days. How lovely that Donna has been living domestic bliss with a kind husband, a thawed out mother and a sweet daughter. What terrible accident has befallen Nerys? Shaun says the great love story is putting up with somebody as wonderful as Donna (with all her flaws) and not complaining about it. It's a brilliant re-imagining of Sylvia as somebody who has come to realise how special Donna is. She's so much gentler but still fiercely protective of her (the brilliant 'You!' when she realises the Doctor is about). You get the feeling that Sylvia has been deflecting every alien invasion since The Eleventh Hour so that Donna is protected. We think for one terrible moment that Wilf is dead in the Doctor Who universe and because we still reeling from Bernard Cribbins' death it hits hard...until Russell reverses that and we suddenly have the promise that we will see him in an upcoming special.
Great Dialogue: 'Sometimes I have dreams about impossible things.'
'Word of advice...you can wear a suit that tight up to the age of 35...and no further.'
'That woman from Abu Dhabi who buys your stuff...she'd love that one.'
'Nerys! Now it all makes sense. That viper in the nest! I'm not going anywhere. We could sell mad Paddington for a million quid!'
'The eyes! That's solar psychedelia!' (What a brilliant idea)
'No stun guns for me! Just die!'
The Good: Sweeping heroic music in the way that only Murray Gold knows how, a purple haze of magic trailing from the TARDIS as it bursts through clouds of timelines and a sense of huge optimism in how expensive it all looks, the new title sequence is just gorgeous. I loved 13s for its atmosphere, sinister key drop and inky weirdness but this feels like it is making a statement that Doctor Who is punching its way into the consciousness of the Not We again.
I mirror David Tennant's response to the news that they are adapting The Star Beast for television. Absolute shock that they have the nerve to take a comic strip from the 1980s and bring it to life in 2023. But then thinking it about it it has all the hallmarks of a Davies season opener. Light, silly ('The fat just walks away...'), comic book (Judoon platoon upon the Moon) and unforgettable (Auton invasion). Plus weaving the story of Beep the Meep landing on Earth with the return of Donna and her family means you have a healthy mix of madness and emotion and I cannot think of a better way to describe Russell's approach to Doctor Who.
Go visit Camden Lock. It is a thriving market in the heart of London with the most gloriously eclectic collection of stalls, food stands and people. I hope featuring it in Doctor Who brings a hive of fans there. You'll walk through a range of humanity, wares and enticing food smells. It's one of my favourite places in England.
There has been some appalling anti-Trans commentary online in the wake of this episode being released very often from the people you would expect it from but at times even from surprising corners. The very reason that the positive representation is needed is because of that kind of reaction. Russell is taking hold of something that certain people want belittled and removed and giving it a safe home in one of the biggest television platforms there is and he is normalising something that is perfectly natural for a younger audience. Identity and ownership of self is a personal choice and Russell makes Rose a gentle but strong character who is dealing with her own questions, loneliness, and abuse from the kids around her. Sylvia is vital someone who wants to get it right but sometimes fails and Donna is as she always was, burning with protection for people who are mistreated. It's tackled sensitively at first before becoming a dominant theme in the climax of the story, being threaded creatively and emotionally into the narrative. I don't have all the answers on this subject because it is not something that I completely understand as I have never been through it but I am of the opinion that this a personal journey for each individual, that nobody has the right to take a personal choice of identity from anybody and I am willing to be educated and explore the idea further. I think Russell is opening a door to that in a very constructive, optimistic way. Doctor Who has forged ahead politically for most of its life and I am pleased to see with Russell back at the helm it is time to tackle some of these issues again. I was so pleased he took this stand, and I know it is offering inclusivity (some people use that word as if it is dirty, it's not) and that can only be a good thing. Bravo.
Beep the Meep. Wow. What a brilliant idea, and so wonderfully brought to the screen by all concerned. Doctor Who hasn't been water cooler chat in my world since series 4 and I'm pleased to say I've been hearing a buzz about Meep and its insidious ways since Saturday. It's leaning into the Gremlins vibe by taking this cute, innocuous creature (it's so Doctor Who that he literally squeals 'Meep Meep!') and turning it into the nastiest war criminal we have ever seen. The animatronics are extraordinary but it is how the actors behave around the puppet that brings it to life (I'm calling it the Farscape Effect) and Miriam Margoyles was the perfect choice to voice the Meep because she really captures that helpless sweetness in the creature until it unleashes its rage and fire and then she just goes to town with the madness. It's a huge success by all concerned; batshit crazy in the best Doctor Who way and utterly hilarious with it. This is the strongest indication that Doctor Who is for kids again after years and years of quite serious storytelling and this psychotic, cute as hell gonk from outer space is reaching out a hand to that portion of the audience again. Of course the is the definite article.
More Shirley please. I have adored Ruth Madeley as Hebe in the Big Finish series Purity and she is just as confident here as Shirley, UNIT's latest scientific advisor. She's armed with wit and smarts, and a badass wheelchair too. I love the line about not making her the problem when the situation is at height. Her familiarity with the Doctor felt perfectly natural and I adored how she said 'off you pop to him utterly confident in her ability to deal with the spaceship so he can go and sort his personal issues. The wave between them made me cheer.
My favourite section of the episode was the scenes at night in the Noble house. Starting with Donna discovering the Meep in the shed ('What the hell!') to Sylvia trying desperately to deflect all the madness away from Donna, to the idea of a tuna Madras (gross!) to awesome action sequence as the Wrath Warriors turn up to claim the Meep. It's emotion, farce and action all mixed up in a heady brew. It's the best firefight we've seen in Doctor Who to date as Rachel Talalay shows her stuff sweeping down the road with pyrotechnics going off, cars flying, doors exploding, CGI warriors flying and animatronics crawling through attics. Throughout all of this madness Russell remembers to keep it funny and every single 'Meep Meep!' is perfectly timed and got a big laugh from me (the man sleeping as everybody creeps past on tiptoe - including the Meep - is the best visual gag on Doctor Who in years). It's this sort of set piece that I've missed. So much goes into this five minute sequence from the writing to the acting to the directing to the special effects. It's the showpiece for me. And a word for the Wrath design, which is very faithful to the original comic but just looks gorgeous on the screen. Russell is never afraid of putting weird aliens on the telly, and this bunch are unforgettably so. There's not mistaking the fact that you are watching Doctor Who.
We haven't seen anything quite as absurd as the evil Meep raised high and baring its sinister teeth as its phallic rocket ship steams behind and its army of possessed soldiers cry 'Hail to the Meep!' I love this stupid show. The dagger drive is so ridiculous. I want more of this.
The binary/non-binary ending is bound to be divisive because it carries with it the suggestion that Rose is trans because of her mother and the Doctor merging whereas that is obviously not the case for anybody else on this planet. It's a smart use of the metacrisis, it comes with the message of 'be yourself', it truly embraces the idea in this new era that the Doctor can be male or female (I think the Jodie detractors would hope that this would be swept aside) and brings all the elements together in a very clever conclusion. It's giving a science fiction spin on a real life experience and I think Doctor Who is a place that can cope with that. It also brings huge inclusivity to anybody who is experiencing transition, it's making the language positive to children and it is using television to spread the word that this is perfectly normal. Is it cheesy? You can't make these kinds of statements without a little bit of cheese. I like cheese.
The new TARDIS interior is gobsmacking. A fusion of classic and new, huge, otherworldly and you can run around in it! I loved the atmospherics of Jodie's (I really don't mind dark) but this riff on the classic model (but with a huge budget) just feels right. The Doctor runs about in it because that is exactly what we want to do.
The Bad: We've got all that Disney money (although I'm reliably informed that that isn't present until Gatwa shows up - which makes sense in terms of marketing the show - bring the classic/new series to an end and start again with Doctor Who Series 1)...so let's say Bad Wolf money (remember His Dark Materials?) and we open on a special effects shot that would embarrass Star Trek Voyager in the 90s and a catch up exposition dump that would make The TV Movie blush. After the astonishing visuals of Power of the Doctor I was very confused. I'm pleased this is 'bring Doctor Who to an end' trio of specials rather than a bold new start for the show because this is a very confusing and dictatorial way to do it. More to the point; who on Earth are the Doctor and Donna talking to? Us? Because that doesn't happen again in the episode so that makes this a very strange breaking of the fourth wall to kick us off. I wouldn't put it past Russell to be cheeky enough to think 'screw it, I've got to remind everybody of where we left these two characters and so let's just have them address everybody.'
Poor old Fudge has been short changed in this version of the story. He had a much bigger role in the excellent Big Finish version, which is much more faithful to the original text.
For the most part I love Murray Gold's music, but he isn't doing anything new with his music for The Star Beast. It feels exactly like series 4 again. It's like a big emotive, melodramatic fingerprint. We've been spoilt by some unique atmospherics in the previous regime. This is the only thing that feels like a step backwards to me. However Gold is too creative to get stuck in the past. I'm sure we will be seeing something bold and brilliant and new soon. And the weird orgasm breathing in the end title music is baffling.
The message to let it go is a great one - although I know plenty of men who are capable of that too.
Result: 'We've got a bloody Martian in the shed!' Utterly preposterous in all the best ways, The Star Beast is about as safe a bet as Russell T. Davies could have made whilst still being extremely confident in everything it is doing. Tennant, Tate, Sylvia, Beep the Meep, all tried and tested successes before and so it was a good chance that the audience would take them to heart again. There's two stories taking place here and both of them are great in very different ways. The story of Beep, the demented yet endearing Meep is a firm invitation for kids to start watching Doctor Who again and it manages to be in turns very sweet, utterly camp, surprising (if you don't know the origin story) and by the conclusion embracing the pantomimic. In short, all the things I love in Doctor Who. On the other hand you have Donna and Rose's story, which has the unfortunate task of having to pick up 15 year old plot threads and remind the audience of them but once that is done it runs with a character piece that explores identity, claiming yourself (both Donna and Rose do by the end of the story) and letting go. Russell imbues the script with the sort of heart only he can bring to Doctor Who and any shortcomings in the story (the pacing is a little hit and miss at times) can be ridden over with just how much this gave me the feels. And how funny it is too. I haven't laughed this much at a story in years and years (the sense of humour with the previous two showrunners just doesn't chime with me in the same way). I think this is Russell easing the audience back into his vision for the show in a very adept fashion and for anybody that thinks this is a step backwards to 2008 it is worth remembering that that was the last time the show was massively popular and so a healthy reminder of that is no bad thing. But there is no way that this sort of heartfelt fluff is all we are getting and once this introduction is out of the way the weird and the scary and the innovative will come. I watched this twice in one night and thoroughly enjoyed myself both times. Bringing back Rachel Talalay to direct what is essentially a light season opener was a stroke of genius and she ensures that all the set pieces look magnificent. I wouldn't want Doctor Who to be as slight or as message driven as this every week, but I feel as a mission statement for the series getting on a firmer footing with the general audience this had all the right moves. And for it's inclusive message, this is a vital piece of the shows history. The Beepest of all the Meepest Doctor Whos: 8/10