• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Review: Doctor Who ‘The Star Beast’

ByFreja Huntley

Dec 12, 2023
A group of people talking. David Tennant is in the middle

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Last weekend, Doctor Who returned to television with the first of three special episodes intended to celebrate 60 years since the show’s first ever episode aired. The newest offering, titled ‘The Star Beast’, saw Russel T. Davies reinstated as writer and show-runner, Murray Gold as composer, and of course, David Tennant as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as fan favourite companion Donna Noble. 

It would appear that to boost ratings in anticipation of the show’s 14th season coming out next year, the BBC ordered a heavy dose of nostalgia. 

The Noble family have a fun dynamic. Donna is, of course, the star but her husband Shaun is endearingly thrilled to be there. Sylvie is fun as she snarks at the doctor and tries to gaslight Donna into ignoring him. Yasmin Finney’s portrayal of Donna’s daughter Rose is a little flat, but the script wasn’t giving her much to work with. Even so, they all work nicely together, the novelty of having side characters with distinct personalities isn’t lost on me after having to suffer through the previous seasons featuring Chris Chibnal’s incredibly bland companions. Being at home with the Nobles gives the episode an emotional core and anchors the episode’s sillier moments (and trust me, it gets silly). 

It’s a strong start, Tennant arrives in a London that looks glossier than it ever did during his previous tenure on the show, spots a stranger across the street struggling to carry a pile of cardboard boxes, and lifts the boxes away from them to help, only to reveal that the stranger is, in fact, Donna, his ex-best friend who had all her memories of him wiped to save her life. Awkward. He immediately places the boxes back and makes to walk away, but she’s having none of it. Tenant and Tate slip back into a well-established comedic routine (Donna being brash, abrasive, but probably in the right and the Doctor being harried, exasperated, and having met his match). Then a spaceship crash lands nearby. One would hope this heralded the beginnings of a plot but no. The episode meanders longer than it should, necessitating a fast-paced second half that is hurried along by explosions, shoe-horned plot twists, and contrived resolutions. 

Let’s address the elephant in the room; to bring back Donna, the writers need to undo her memory wipe– a plot point they clearly did not give enough thought to. It’s mishandled, to say the least. Her memories resurfacing do not have an ounce of emotional resonance, despite them being stolen away. The circumstances that warrant her memory returning are an unlikely and unconvincing set of coincidences that require a suspension of disbelief beyond that of aliens and time travel. The Doctor’s assertions that ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ have brought Donna and him back together when we, the audience, know that it’s actually the writer’s doing and that they couldn’t even be bothered to have it make sense, is irritating. The dialogue written around the whole event is clunky and a rings a little insincere. Show-runner Russel T. Davies shoe horns in an easy fix because it allows for fan favourite characters to reunite. And it’s fineIt’s silly. It’s certainly not good. But, it will do. Viewers are here to watch Tennant and Tate bounce off each other, and this is how the plot will facilitate that. It could have been better written and more clever, but writing for Doctor Who is difficult fare because it is family television. It can’t be too complicated for the children, but it can’t be too boring for the adults, sometimes a compromise has to be reached and that compromise has to be the characters explaining the ridiculous set of circumstances allowing for their triumphant victory at the end of an episode even though those circumstances are a series of serendipitous twists of fate that border on nonsensical.

‘Woke’ is a frustratingly vague word co-opted by people who can’t accurately pinpoint the root of their criticism (bigotry). When Doctor Who’s first episode was released 60 years ago, it was produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Waris Hussein. The show was literally pioneered by a gay man and the BBC’s only female drama producer (at the time). So when people condemn it for being ‘too queer’ or too ‘female-centric,  they speak from a place of incredible ignorance. It’s important that upon his return to writing Russel T. Davies is eager to highlight queer people and their intrinsic thematic links to Doctor Who and science fiction in general with themes like otherness, alienation, and the breaking down of binaries. It’s admirable to estrange a certain calibre of fans in favour of principles and sends a strong message to those who think that representation has no place in science fiction. But the trans-centric plot line is crammed in just as clumsily as Donna’s memory restoration. Good representation and good plot writing aren’t mutually exclusive, but it looks like the writers (and some fans) haven’t figured that out yet. 

Those who identified the real problem with the past few years’ episodes – that they were boring, will be satisfied with this new offering. It may be clunky written, but it still manages to be fun and funny (everybody say ‘Thank you Catherine Tate’). Miriam Margolyes is great as ‘the Meep’, who is very cute and then hilariously evil. The Disney budget is doing wonders for the look of the show, and the introduction of Shirley Anne Bingham as UNIT’s new scientific adviser is great. 

There are the makings of something good here if only it had been written with a little more consideration and care. Perhaps the next two episodes will fix these issues, or maybe the writers should just try not to pull on loose ends and plot threads if they don’t know how to weave them into the story. 

Doctor who filming” by Walt Jabsco is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.