On Nov. 23, “Doctor Who” celebrated its 60th anniversary. On Nov. 25, “The Star Beast” aired, making it the first of three special episodes planned for the anniversary (airing over three consecutive Saturdays). “The Star Beast” was a highly anticipated episode. It features the return of David Tennant to the role of the Doctor, the return of Catherine Tate as companion Donna Noble, and features Beep the Meep, a character from the Doctor Who Extended Universe comics. All in all, it felt like a wild episode was in store. This review will contain many spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
And wild it was. To start with, a good chunk of the episode was a retelling of the 1980 comic “Doctor Who and the Star Beast.” As a result, this episode was quite camp, with the adorable and villainous Beep the Meep threatening to take over the universe and blow up London in the process. The Meep (as the episode calls them) was voiced to great aplomb by Miriam Margoyles, and all the scenes with the Meep are hilarious. The episode wasn’t afraid to lean into camp, which was excellent.
The other part of the episode was the reunion of the Doctor and Donna. Now, if you haven’t seen Series 4, you will be utterly lost. The quick version: Donna absorbs part of the Doctor’s mind (referred to as the “metacrisis”) and to save her, the Doctor wipes her memory. If Donna remembers the Doctor, she will die. This plotline has faced some criticism for being misogynistic, and it seems like recently returned showrunner Russell T. Davies was aware of these criticisms with how he handled this story in “The Star Beast,” which allows the metacrisis to be released through a combination of The Power of Love and The Power of Women.
What makes the return of Tennant and Tate work is their performances. The two of them are a fabulous double-act, and both are clearly having the time of their life returning to their roles. When the two are given a chance to breathe and just bounce off of each other, the episode shines. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. A good chunk of the Doctor/Donna reunion is spent with the two spouting technobabble, and the explanation for how Donna gets rid of the metacrisis is clunky at best. It’s unfortunate, because this reunion had the potential to be brilliant, but it maxes out at “fine.” However, the pair still have two episodes together, so there are still plenty of banter opportunities together. I just wish this episode made more of them.
What I did really enjoy in this story was the introduction of Donna’s family, most notably her daughter Rose (Yasmin Finney). Some will recognize Finney for her role on “Heartstopper.” Finney delivers a lovely performance even though she doesn’t have a huge amount to do, and it’s great to see trans representation on “Doctor Who.” Rose also shows how much Donna has grown since she departed the show, which was lovely to see. I hope we see more of Rose before the specials are over.
Where this episode weakened was the pacing and balancing of multiple elements. The “Beep the Meep destroys London” plotline was straightforward. However, the episode spent far too long on a shootout between UNIT soldiers and the Wrarth (insectoid alien law enforcers sent to capture the Meep), and as a result, the third act is extremely rushed. The reunion between the Doctor and Donna was very truncated, and I felt like the whole episode needed a touch more polish. It also just lacked the grandeur I’ve come to expect from “Doctor Who” anniversary specials, and instead felt like a solid but unspectacular episode that could happen in any series.
Some other highlights from the episode included a new intro sequence (I loved the graphics but I’m not a huge fan of the new variation of the theme tune), a new TARDIS interior (which I love, it’s a perfect blend of classic and new TARDIS interior designs) and the return of UNIT. However, this was a UNIT sans its normal leadership duo of Kate Stewart and Osgood, which means that I love it a little less.
Overall, this was a decent return for “Doctor Who.” but the episode was far from perfect. It’s silly and entertaining, which meant that I had a great time watching it. Tennant and Tate deliver fantastic performances which help paper over the cracks. However, moments that should have been great were just okay, the pacing was a bit all over the place and the episode didn’t have the impact that a good anniversary special should have. If I were giving it a rating, it would probably be somewhere around three out of five stars.
I hope you have all enjoyed my Doctor Who rambles this semester. I’ll be back next semester with a review of the last two 60th anniversary specials, and then we’ll have to sit back and see where the show goes next. If nothing else, I hope I’ve inspired you to put on an episode of “Doctor Who” if you need a new TV show to watch.