The Star Beast

Posted in Episode by - November 26, 2023
The Star Beast

Aired 25 November 2023


After more than a year of anticipation, the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who truly kick off with the ‘The Star Beast’ as the first of three announced specials with David Tennant returning as the eponymous Time Lord, albeit in a new and mysterious Fourteenth incarnation trying to understand why exactly this particular face has returned and why he has so quickly been drawn back to Donna Noble.

‘The Star Beast’ is, of course, based upon the famed 1980 Doctor Who comic featuring the Fourth Doctor, and so fans of expanded media more or less know what to expect narratively; while some changes have naturally been made, the overall story of Beep the Meep using its unassuming visage and voice to gain the trust and sympathy of those around it as the Wrarth Warriors continue their pursuit translates to television quite well. Miriam Margoyles provides perfect vocal stylings to convey an innocent frailty and a heartless malevolency in equal measure as required, and while the Doctor carrying around a judicial wig to preside over an impromptu hearing between the two conflicted parties is something of a jarring break, the tale of the Meeps’ characteristic changes as the result of a change in their sun as well as the powerful control it is able to exert over humans via solar phsychedelia as it proves more than willing to sacrifice some nine million lives to leave Earth provides a surprisingly effective characterization for this expressive and iconic villain in short order.

As the first episode to usher in the BBC partnership with Disney and its global streaming reach, ‘The Star Beast’ will be the first experience that many viewers have had with Doctor Who, a fact that is seems more than cognizant of with a cursory flashback covering Donna’s time with the Tenth Doctor and a reminder of the threat to Donna’s life should she remember the Doctor serving to segue into the episode proper. It’s something of an odd start to an anniversary special with a new incarnation at the helm, but it’s unobtrusive enough and certainly sets the scene for the return of Tennant as the Doctor with Russell T Davies as the showrunner as Doctor Who looks to reclaim its former position of prestige after scheduling, narrative, and tonal changes caused a drop in viewership in recent years.

The Wrarth Warriors are sacrificed somewhat in terms of their development, and Fudge is all but sidelined in order to allow the Doctor and the Noble family to develop instead, but there’s little doubt that the tone and energy that defined the original Tennant years are unabashedly back. Notably, however, this Fourteenth Doctor seems at first glance to be more sombre and serious than the Tenth incarnation, Tennant often subduing his performance to seemingly convey the emotions and weightiness of everything the Doctor has experienced, learned, and lost since he last wore this face that itself was still so fresh from the atrocities of the Time War and his role within it. There certainly are moments of pure glee and manic energy such as upon his defeat of the Meep and experiencing the new TARDIS interior for the first time, but it will be fascinating to see just how Tennant and the subsequent two specials choose to further delineate Tennant’s two incarnations. Still, as a character who often does not revisit departed companions or his past, his unexpected and even unwanted appearance practically right next to Donna as a spaceship crashes to Earth forces him to confront the true happiness and the ultimate despair that he experienced alongside her. He remembers every moment with her and joyously proclaims that he loved traveling with her, and as the Meep’s audaciously cruel plan forces him to reawaken Donna’s memories with her consent and the knowledge that she will die as a result, the incredible range of emotions that both Tennant and Catherine Tate imbue into these crucial scenes is a firm reminder of the incredible chemistry these two actors have and just how important these characters became and remain to each other.

Of course, with Donna needing to not remember the Doctor, ‘The Star Beast’ has great fun with Donna conveniently missing the crash as everyone around her records it on their phones and with her mother trying her best to assure her that the very real aliens in front of her are anything but. For her part, Donna knows that an important part of her life has been taken from her, and while she is very happy with the very normal life she has with her husband and child after giving to charity all of the lottery winnings the Doctor furtively gifted her for her wedding, she can’t help but wonder what she is missing and what her life may have been. Still, Tate is pitch perfect as she conveys an unbreakable love for her transgender child, Rose, and while Sylvia still admits to being nervous with her words despite fulling accepting and supporting the change, ‘The Star Beast’ lovingly handles this character and the many associated struggles well. Indeed, while Jacqueline King and Karl Collins are incredibly strong as supportive family members, Yasmin Finney deservedly steps into the spotlight as a confident and kind individual who more than capably carries on the strong Noble reputation. Even starting a small business of sorts to earn some extra money for her parents, she provides every reason for them to be proud as she continues to find and be herself, and the revelation of just how Donna’s metacrisis has continued to unexpectedly affect all aspects of her life further redefines everything about both mother and daughter. However, while this revelation does just about somewhat make sense narratively and does tie into Donna’s famed proclamations of ‘binary’ so many years ago, it may somewhat detract from the immensely personal emotions that go into such a monumental decision about self and identity by giving it some degree of predestination or predetermination. The accompanying claim that women let things go easier than men also seems to come out of nowhere with little support, meaning that the resolution and fallout as a whole is somewhat uneven with even the necessary actions for Donna to take to stop the Meep after rediscovering herself being few enough that the Doctor could have continued to direct her within the time limit without potentially dooming his friend. Yet while ‘The Star Beast’ may not be the most welcoming starting point to new viewers and also doesn’t necessarily celebrate sixty years of the franchise so much as Donna’s time with the Doctor, the Rachel Talalay directed episode as a whole- which also brings back UNIT and its latest scientific adviser, the profoundly capable and supremely confident Shirley Anne Bingham played by Ruth Madeley (sadly not bringing forth a continuation of her audio character Hebe Harrison to screens)- appears to represent a strong and progressive return to the stylings of a fondly-remembered Doctor Who era that will hopefully further and meaningfully explore just why this old face of the Doctor’s has returned after being mentioned so many times.

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