Doctor Who celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, with returning showrunner Russell T. Davies spearheading a trio of specials. Davies will reunite with stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate. The pair reprise their roles from Davies’ earlier tenure running the sci-fi series.
The first special, “The Star Beast,” premieres on Disney+ in the US on Saturday, November 25. Check out our spoiler-free review below to see what Whovians can expect later this week.
The Doctor & Donna, Reunited!
The most significant announcement about Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary – besides Davies’ involvement and the plans to make the special a trio of episodes – was undoubtedly the reveal that the episodes would be helmed by returning cast members David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
Tennant and Tate are my favorite duo in Who’s modern run, and I know other fans feel the same. Thankfully, seeing the Doctor reunite with Donna in “The Star Beast” is as fun and exciting as fans anticipate. Davies delights in bringing in references to his original run, managing to straddle that difficult line that shows time has passed, and yet in many ways things still feel the same.
Tate effortlessly slips back into the role of Donna, delivering her signature sarcasm and snark one moment and earnest emotion and kindness the next. And she’s exactly the kind of mother you’d expect: loving, supportive, and ready to fight anyone who finds themselves at odds with her daughter (Yasmin Finney). Plus, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: companions these days don’t dunk on the Doctor nearly enough. Donna Noble, I missed you.
Tennant, on the other hand, is tasked not just with returning to his role of the Doctor, but playing a Doctor who’s regenerated several times and lived thousands(?) of years since his tenure as Ten. He finds a solid balance in this first special; fans will notice the return of several of Tennant’s hallmark traits and mannerisms as the Doctor, but he’s not just Ten again. The Fourteenth Doctor doesn’t demonstrate the burning rage of the Time Lord Victorious, and actually displays a level of emotional honesty and vulnerability surprising even to the character himself. I’m looking forward to seeing this characterization continue to play out in the additional specials.
Unsurprisingly, the easy chemistry and rapport between Tennant and Tate really make “The Star Beast” what it is. The story itself is fine — well executed, though not groundbreaking in its sci-fi — but ultimately, fans will tune in to see the Doctor and Donna reunited once more.
The First 60th Special Ups The Aliens & Action
Hardcore Doctor Who fans will know that once upon a time the BBC made the sci-fi series with (what appeared to be) pocket change and a dream. But gone are the days of bubble-wrap aliens; “The Star Beast” clearly has the budget to blow on some fun and creative alien designs and explosive action setpieces.
We meet a couple new alien species in “The Star Beast,” most significantly the Meep, a wide-eyed, big-eared furry creature voiced by the legendary Mariam Margolyes. The episode also brings back UNIT to address the whole “aliens landing on Earth crisis” thing. (Shoutout to Ruth Madeley as UNIT scientific advisor Shirley Anne Bingham — I hope we see more of her.)
We’ve got space ships, guns, explosions, and more big action-packed moments and life-threatening stakes. Occasionally I felt like the action-heavy scenes dragged on too long. But overall, the special is good at remembering Doctor Who is at its best when focusing on its characters and humanity.
Flaws & The Future
“The Star Beast” isn’t a perfect episode. Some of its themes and topics come off clumsily executed, too heavy-handed or off-pitch to feel as genuine or heartfelt as they should. I can see the threads and appreciate them, but I still want a bit more.
For me, the biggest disappointment of the episode is in the “resolution” of the DoctorDonna plot from “Journey’s End.” Again, this is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into any specifics. But the way the show addressed Donna’s memory block unfortunately felt… silly and underwhelming to me. It undercuts the emotional weight of her original arc on the series. (Also, I really want to have a conversation with Davies & co about some of their thoughts on gender and what makes a “strong female character.” Sigh.)
Still, though I’m not a fan of the execution of this specific plot point, it does come with its silver lining: it allows the 60th specials to progress with even more interactions between Donna and Tennant’s Doctor. And as I mentioned before, that’s what we’re really all tuning in for anyway.
Doctor Who “The Star Beast” will premiere on Disney+ November 25. After you watch, tell us what you think of the special in the comments below! And of course, stay tuned to THS for more Doctor Who reviews and updates.