It is no secret that popularity for Doctor Who has been waning over the past few years. This was due to a number of things, including a dreadful advertising strategy, COVID forcing writers and producers to make major changes quickly, and poor writing in general. Jodi Whittaker was wonderful in the role, and the production was fantastic, so it is a shame the cast and crew never had a truly great script to work with.
Cut forwards to the shock regeneration from 13 to 14, where instead of seeing Ncuti Gatwa (who will be the 15th Doctor), David Tennant appears on the clifftop! This was the beginning of an excellent advertising campaign, drawing old, new, and casual viewers back into the fandom. This past year we have had constant updates, teasers, cryptic announcements, and more from the returning showrunner, Russell T Davies, and the Doctor Who team.
Suffice to say, all that marketing work paid off with the first episode of the 60th Anniversary specials, The Star Beast, gaining over 5 million overnight viewers. Compared to the past four years, that’s a solid start to this next phase of the show.
But, was it any good? Was getting the DoctorDonna back again for one more ride in the Tardis the magic boost the show desperately needed for it to gain popularity once again? In short, yes, but there is still much work to be done.
We have some more articles planned to go into more detail for some of the following points, so keep an eye out for those, but in general, The Star Beast was a pretty great start for the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who. I am going to keep this review of The Star Beast spoiler free, mainly so it doesn’t become a 10,000-word essay!
David Tennant saunters back into the role. From the moment he steps out of the Tardis onto a set reminiscent of The Next Doctor (but in modern London, this time), his confidence, swagger, and absolute joy in seeing the bustling life around him is wonderful to watch. Tennant was my Doctor growing up, as he is for many fans of the show, so the nostalgia was overwhelming and I was unbelievably excited!
Catherine Tate’s return as Donna Noble was equally fantastic! The sharp sense of humour is back, witn Tennant and Tate’s on-screen chemistry delivering those comedic moments perfectly. It’s been fifteen years, so there are some differences. She’s a parent now, and very protective of her daughter, Rose, bringing a new side to the character. This additional character development only enhances the parts of Donna’s personality we loved so much anyway.
Alongside The Doctor and Donna, we also see Shaun Temple (Donna’s husband), Sylvia Noble (Donna’s mum), Rose Noble, and one of the best additions to the show, Shirley Anne Bingham (the latest science officer for UNIT, holding the Doctor’s old job from back in the day). We also get a few fun mentions of Nerys which will make any viewer of the fourth series chuckle.
Let’s be honest, The Star Beast isn’t the best Doctor Who story, but in some ways it is one of the most wholesomely Who-ish stories we have had! Based on the original comic story written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, The Star Beast tells the story of a normal family who are suddenly thrust into a world of aliens when the Meep takes shelter under their roof.
This episode’s primary purpose is to deal with the meta crisis issue and bring the Doctor and Donna back again. It’s a character-driven narrative that happens to have a fun story alongside it. As it is the first of three episodes, rather than a one-off special, I don’t mind this at all. Davies successfully reintroduces some of the most beloved characters and faces of the show (even if the first minute or so of exposition are a little strange) and sets up the next episode perfectly.
Donna’s daughter, Rose, is a trans woman, played by the wonderful Yasmin Finney (also trans). She is a fantastic addition to the show and I really hope we see more of her character and personality in these specials. Reviewers who bemoan the representation of a singular trans character in an episode of Doctor Who, purely because she’s trans, should get over themselves. It’s about time we had some good trans representation in Doctor Who (and I believe we will have at least one more trans character in the next series with Gatwa’s Doctor).
There is a critique to be made that some of the plot that focuses on Rose being trans is too on the nose at points. These scenes, except for one brilliant one with Donna and her mum talking in the kitchen, are surprisingly clunky and feel like they are almost breaking the fourth wall to educate the audience. By all means include examples of the lived experience of this trans character, but with only an hour to play with, it felt crammed into the detriment of the narrative pacing.
If we had seen these scenes splashed throughout a series of Doctor Who, rather than in just one episode, they could have been written more naturally into the flow of the story.
Having said that, I was overjoyed at seeing a trans character in Doctor Who, and watching her be a badass. I just wish she had more to her personality than being trans.
Final Thoughts for our Review of The Star Beast
Overall, I would rate The Star Beast 3/5 stars. The episode is strongest when it focuses on the family dynamics of the Noble-Temples and the 14th Doctor sauntering his way into our hearts once again. This episode is a prelude of what’s to come, reintroducing Donna and Tennant’s Doctor to the audience. Knowing Davies’ skill as a writer, this groundwork will hopefully have a great payoff in Wild Blue Yonder and The Giggle.
You can watch the newest episode of Doctor Who on BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Disney+ for international audiences.