Doctor Who is dead. That was very much the status of the show by series 13. The show had been declining in quality for years, but the disastrous writing of Chibnall and child-in-oversized-wellington-boots portrayal of the Doctor by Whittaker made it unwatchable. Like Star Wars and Star Trek before it, Doctor Who had been killed, and Chibnall et alii were the Salisbury assassins who did it.
I tried watching series 11, but found it so bad that there was no point watching the last few episodes. I gave the first episode of series 12 a chance, but it was dreadful, and didn’t watch any more. Series 13 – not even a full series – apparently even those commissioning it knew something was wrong – hardly even registered as a thing. I had completely abandoned the show, with no intention of ever watching any more.
But then something utterly bizarre. It was announced that Russell T. Davies was coming back to Doctor Who. I couldn’t have predicted that. It’s so rare for writers and showrunners to return to things they’ve given up. But this made me optimistic for the show – Davies got New Who going, and all of the works of his I’ve seen over the years – Queer As Folk, Cucumber, A Very English Scandal, It’s A Sin – were all very enjoyable to watch. He seems to be a very reliable showrunner.
Doctor Who needed to show that it was going to turn away from the Twitter misosophy that has dominated both it and Hollywood for years. Maybe the return of Davies was that. Maybe he was returning to undo all of the nonsense that has happened in the last few years? So this series (I’m counting these 2023 specials as series 14) gets a chance. I’ll give the show a chance of one whole series (unless it’s REALLY awful, in which case it’ll only get a few episodes). Maybe, like an actual Time Lord, the show will cheat death and regenerate.
(I.S.: In the unlikely event that Davies himself is reading this, if you really want to win fans like me back over, decanonise all of that Timeless Child bullshit. All it takes is a tweet.)
Everything in this post so far I have written before seeing this first of the 2023 specials – titled The Star Beast. I am now going to go and watch the episode.
Well, that was … almost good. To be more precise, that was a mostly enjoyable episode – fun, compelling, humorous (and not with that special new ‘Hollywood comedy’ that gets put into everything nowadays). But it was marred by these short fits of current-day nonsense. They were very, very distracting – I kept getting pulled out of the immersion.
The designs of the aliens were excellent – very contrasting with each other and very different to anything else we’ve seen in New Who. Using the appearance and sounds of the aliens to make the audience make assumptions about their benevolence or malevolence was excellent. I was unsure about Miriam Margolyes as the voice of The Meep at first, but she did the contrast between the good and evil Meep voices very well. The CGI of The Meep was also some of the best CGI we’ve ever seen in New Who.
The plot was compelling – crucial for Doctor Who. Dull plots was one of the main failings towards the end of the Moffat Era. The idea of a species turned mad by a sentient star is stupid – and that would have been so easy to change, given that it was just a line of dialogue – but it’s far from the stupidest thing that’s been in New Who. (I’m thinking of that star with an angry face – so fucking stupid.)
I VERY much enjoyed Davies bringing back some of his world-building elements: invoking the Shadow Proclamation, UNIT being made into something not-silly. The CGI for the time vortex is fun, but I wish they’d stick to one idea about what it actually looks like. The new TARDIS interior looks fantastic.
David Tennant and Catherine Tate jump right back into their roles almost as though no time has passed at all. (Almost. There is something slightly off about them – a missing vitality, or something – but it’s so slight you can ignore it.) Jacqueline King makes a flawless return as Sylvia Noble – her character is perfectly consistent.
Yasmin Finney, who plays the new character of Rose Noble, is a weak link. Finney was not the strongest actor in the cast of Heartstopper, and gives a similar performance here. Finney’s delivery lacks personality – compare it to Billie Piper as Rose Tyler and I think it’ll be obvious.
The thing that let this episode down was the gender-woo. I had assumed that they were only going to reference this in passing – if at all – but they made it the core of the story. Now, in fairness, they did put it with an interesting idea: the ‘Doctor-Donna’ metacrisis was a metacrisis between a male and female organism; part of the energy of the crisis was shared when the containing organism reproduced – i.e., Donna had a child – meaning that the energy was now not too much to overwhelm them, allowing both to escape its catastrophic effects; but because the metacrisis was between a male and female organism, the offspring carried some combination of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’. That’s an interesting idea.
But the gender-woo interrupted the story every few minutes or so, and it breaks the immersion every time. One of the most egregious examples is Finney’s line of ‘You’re assuming “he” as a pronoun?!’, referring to the furry, gremlin-like alien known as The Meep.
It would take several long blog posts to fully explain why this line is stupid. Every assumption that goes into it is incorrect, and there are A LOT of assumptions that go into it. I don’t have the time to go through it all – either you already know why it’s stupid or you don’t. It stops the show dead for a few moments in order to show deference to a very recently-created ideology from Tumblr. It rips the story out of its setting and places it firmly on 2023 TikTok.
Towards the end, when Donna and Rose are about to release their extra metacrisis energy, we’re given the lines ‘It’s a shame you’re not a woman anymore, ‘cause she’d’ve understood.’ and ‘Something a male-presenting Time Lord will never understand.’. I am disappointed, though perhaps not surprised, to see such rabid sexism in Doctor Who. If the sexes had been reversed for this scene and these lines, every media outlet in the western world would be screaming bloody murder.
Every time there’s a moment like that, it just pulls you out of the show, and you are agonisingly aware that you are watching actors read lines. The audience seeing an actor as an actor and not as the character they’re playing should be an actor’s worst nightmare.
If it hadn’t had all that nonsense in it, this episode would have been a solid 8/10. As it is, it drags it down to a 5/10. As long as they don’t keep doing this stuff, the series may well be worth watching.