Doctor Who’s “The Star Beast” Is Absolutely Ludicrous in the Best Way Possible

It feels good to be back.

Inverse Reviews

It’s been a long time since Doctor Who got to be outright goofy. Previous showrunner Chris Chibnall’s era was often an overly serious one, despite Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor’s reputation for being a cheery iteration of the time-traveling alien. But with the return of Russell T. Davies as showrunner and writer, and with the (temporary) return of David Tennant in the title role, Doctor Who is back to being a silly, goofy old time. And that’s never been more clear than in the campy, bordering on ridiculous, anniversary special “The Star Beast.”

The first of three 60th anniversary specials airing this year, “The Star Beast” is Doctor Who in full franchise mode, with writer Davies and director Rachel Talalay (returning to Who after helming the best episodes of the Steven Moffat-Peter Capaldi era, and in perfect lockstep with Davies’ particular brand of camp), scrambling to turn the show back into the bona fide blockbuster event it once was. And they mostly succeed! Reams of fan service and transparent franchise-building can be forgiven because of how wildly fun the whole thing is — even if clunky resolutions and cheesy narrative choices mean the episode doesn’t quite hold together.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate make a brilliant return as the Doctor and Donna.


Fresh off his mysterious degeneration in “The Power of the Doctor,” the 14th Doctor lands his TARDIS in 21st-century London, where holiday celebrations are starting to be underway. He immediately runs into Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), the same mouthy and brash former companion whose memories he was forced to erase to save her life. That mind-wipe was a fragile procedure dependent on Donna not remembering the Doctor, which becomes a problem since the Doctor looks like David Tennant again. Something seems to be bringing them back together — but what?

“The Star Beast,” a jam-packed hour of television that drops us into the action and rarely stops to take a break, doesn’t give us much time to ponder this mystery. The Doctor’s shock at encountering Donna is interrupted by a crashing spaceship, which sets off a series of events putting them both on on a collision course with a cute, furry alien named Beep the Meep (voiced by the inimitable Miriam Margolyes) and an army of alien warriors chasing it across the universe.

The Wrarth Warriors are exactly the kind of B-movie aliens that Doctor Who excels at bringing to life.


It’s all so immediately campy it’s almost jarring after so many years of Chibnall’s plodding pacing, but that camp is anchored by Tennant and Tate, who slip effortlessly back into their beloved roles. Neither of them misses a step, but it’s Tennant who seems absolutely giddy to be playing the Doctor again — even if his interpretation of the 14th Doctor is basically just a redux of his 10th Doctor performance. Tate gets to stretch some of her dramatic muscles once again, particularly in scenes with her daughter, Rose (Yasmin Finney, warm and immediately likable in her Doctor Who debut), whose transgender storyline provides one of the episode’s more elegant narratives.

It could frustrate longtime Doctor Who viewers to learn that “The Star Beast” doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The special is almost entirely fan service, down to Donna’s quips, the Doctor’s catchphrases, and the many winks and nudges to Doctor Who history. But this is an anniversary special, after all, and it’s designed to look back, not go forward — even if its gaze backward falls disappointingly short.

But the special’s greatest shortcoming, but also its sneakiest strength, is that it is very much made with fans of the Tennant-Davies era of Doctor Who in mind. Apart from the plot, which is ripped almost verbatim from the 1980 Doctor Who comic strip by Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons (credited in the special as story writers), “The Star Beast” feels frustratingly limited in its celebration of Whovian history because it’s so focused on the “Tennant is back!” of it all. But this also feels like a calculated choice by Davies, who made clear his intention to turn Doctor Who back into the global mega-franchise it once was. Tennant’s Doctor was the closest the show had to a superhero, so if Doctor Who is going to reach Marvel levels of blockbuster spectacle, it needs to double down on the most dashing aspects of its hero.

“The Star Beast” is very much a family and fan-friendly affair.


The obvious franchise aspirations of “The Star Beast” might grate at those who have been feeling Marvel fatigue for a while. But its quippy humor, campy high jinks, and many ridiculous scenes of the Doctor saving the day with a flash of his sonic screwdriver all bring the show back to the baseline of what made the Tennant/Davies era of Doctor Who so successful: It’s in on the joke. Davies was, and still is, intensely aware of the inherent ridiculousness of a show where a time-traveling alien did battle with tin robots and calls attention to it in the most ludicrous ways possible.

Is there such a thing as too goofy? Doctor Who often does find that oversaturation point and some of its best episodes deftly walk that line between silly and serious. But “The Star Beast” doesn’t walk the line as much as it dances a merry jig over it. And in its silliest moments, it never forgets that this is a show about an alien with two hearts and twice as much capacity for compassion. Yes, it sometimes goes overboard, but 60 years in, the show has probably earned it. It’s TV as cotton candy — it’s never quite filling or satisfying, but darn, does it taste good.

Doctor Who special The Star Beast” airs on Nov. 25. Its two other anniversary specials, “Wild Blue Yonder” and “The Giggle” follow on Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, respectively. After that, the first Ncuti Gatwa episode, “The Church on Ruby Road,” will air on Christmas Day 2023.

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