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Doctor Who: The Star Beast

"I think the story hasn’t ended yet."

More than a year since the last broadcast episode, Doctor Who is finally back.

Please respect that I'm not going to use the tired old 'it's about time' gag at this juncture. No. I'm sorry. I just can't.

My phrasing preferences aside, I do want to make one quick caveat before we really dig into the episode. The first sentence of teaser text above the jump was originally 'Doctor Who is finally back.' The reason that I changed it was that the sentence as originally written could be easily misinterpreted as my saying, 'Thank God Chibnall is gone and the Doctor can pee standing up again like God intended!' which could not be further from how I actually feel.

If you want to know my actual thoughts about the Chibnall era, they're pretty well documented in my reviews of the last two- and a-bit seasons. Please feel free to check them out and maybe leave a thoughtful comment while you're there. Or a bad pun. Or whatever. My point here is that it would be wonderful and would mean a lot to me if we didn't turn the comment section here into a lot of criticisms of the Chibnall era disguised as compliments to this one, if that makes sense.

I know that our commenters at DouxReviews are awesome, positive, and not prone to such things anyway. I just felt like it needed to be said.

That said, 'The Star Beast' has finally landed. Was it worth the wait?

Well, kind of yes and no but then more yes. I've spent a lot of today trying to put my finger on exactly why I didn't love this as much as I felt like I should. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, but I loved it at like an eight when I wanted to love it at a ten. And I couldn't manage to puzzle out why that was, but I think I've finally gotten on the general track of it.

At the end of the day, it doesn't feel like 'The Star Beast' was really doing all that much. Which is an odd way to feel about an episode that kicks off a new Doctor, TARDIS, theme tune, network affiliation, and production staff. And I think that that's actually why. This episode is doing a hell of a lot of heavy lifting, but only a relatively small portion of it is 'telling the story of the titular Star Beast.'

Which is what led me to the realization of what my actual issue was. It feels incomplete. Which makes sense, because it is. It's part one of three. And so, all of the time repetitively establishing the 'why do I have this face again?' question doesn't come into play yet. And the 'net of coincidences drawing the Doctor to Donna' doesn't get to come to fruition either even though a lot of the plot here is completely predicated on it. We'll get to it later. Wilf gets mentioned on several occasions, but we don't get to see him yet, stay tuned for the rest of the story over the next two episodes.

And so on. And to be clear, these aren't flaws in the episode. Clearly the three anniversary specials were designed to function this way. They are, however, the reason I was left a little unsatisfied with this as an individual story. I'll probably feel very differently after we've gotten to see all three of the episodes.

The portion of the bigger picture that this episode really did have to completely resolve was the question of Donna's memory and the whole 'it might cause her to die' issue. And the solution to that turned out to be surprisingly elegant. And I'm so very glad that they 'fixed' the situation. I try very hard not to be the type of fan that insists that the show owes us anything or that they simply MUST do so and so plot whatever. I get why RTD chose to give Donna the ending to her season four journey that he did, it just always felt unbearably cruel to me and I'm glad that reversed it here.

Which brings me back to my original point that this episode, as a standalone, isn't really telling a lot of story, it's accomplishing a lot of setup. The story itself boils down to 'The Doctor and his friends meet a cute alien who is being chased by scary looking aliens. He initially sides with the cute alien as that's the one that appears to be in danger, but soon realizes that the cute one is evil, and the ugly ones are nice. That's pretty much the plot of 'Galaxy Four' and it wasn't a new twist even then.

That said, both Beep the Meep and the Wrarth warriors look great - the Disney money is clearly going to good use - and both the battle scenes and the sonic screwdriver effects showed a massive upgrade here. And the plot contrivance of having The Doctor being left with no choice but to recite the secret shopping list that will bring back Donna's life ending metacrisis through a handy plexiglass screen dividing a room in which buttons need to be pushed on both sides of the wall works well.

As a side note, it's interesting how often Russell T. Davies employs the dramatic device of two identical machines in order to get a dramatic resolution. Two big levers with Rose back in 'Doomsday,' two glass booths with Wilf back in 'The End of Time Part II,' two separate sides of a control room here. I'm sure there are other examples that I'm not thinking of at the moment. Feel free to leave them in the comments. He also has a recurring theme of 'too much knowledge can be physically dangerous and thus should be avoided,' which might be something for a therapist to unpack. Just an observation.

Which brings us to the non-binary elephant in the room.

I can't imagine that when Russell scripted Donna's final speech deteriorating into 'Binary binary binary...' that he already had this already planned, but what a wonderful way for it to get paid off. The entire episode I was constantly wondering 'How is this amount of information not causing Donna to die already? And in the end, it turns out that she had already been sharing the burden with Rose the entire time. Hence the greater resilience.

I'm not trans myself, for the record, so it's probably best to take my views here with a grain of salt. When I've finished this review, my next step is going to check if Jessie Gender has a video posted yet about this episode because if you want to understand trans experience and how the trans community feels about trans representation, you're pretty much best served by listening to a trans person talk about it. I will say that Sylvia's stumbling over pronouns and deep, deep concern about being supportive in the 'right' way and not accidentally saying or doing something wrong exactly mirrors my personal experience with the trans people that I love in my life. And from what little perspective I have, it feels like Donna is being the best possible parent and ally that Rose could have.

I also want to give the show a lot of credit for showing the hurt caused by deadnaming without making a big show of explaining what it is. I thought that was handled really well.

So, 'The Star Beast.' A fun little story nestled in a great big package of change, setup, and hints about the future. I really enjoyed it. But I suspect I'll love it more once we have the rest of the story.

Bits and Pieces:

-- I'll admit it. I kind of loved Shirley Anne Bingham. I mean, she's clearly factory designed to be the coolest possible person imaginable, not being terribly impressed with the Doctor, but not being in any way adversarial with him either. She takes all the right information in stride and then blows up a wall with a missile. She's just awesome. Apparently, she's a recurring character for next season, which is nice.

-- On the chance that it might be of interest to anyone, I did do a little research to check if it was offensive to use the phrase 'take in stride' when discussing someone that uses a wheelchair and was pleasantly surprised by how many online resources there are to provide advice on the topic. It's not considered offensive, for the record. There are a great many online resources as well on being a better ally to trans people which Sylvia might find reassuring. I know I have in the past.

-- Since it seems like a reasonable time to mention it, yes, I am aware of the – let's be gracious and call it 'discourse' – regarding Davros currently swirling around the internet. The only thing that I have to say about it is that I'm 100% not the right person to be speaking about it. When Doctor Who confronts the complex issues regarding talking to gay firemen, I'm sure I'll have lots to contribute.

-- So, Rose and Donna could just 'let go' of the metacrisis energy and be just normal and fine again. It might have been good for them to clarify 'We can do that now because we're sharing the burden together,' because as it stands the possibility that the Doctor could have just let Donna do that at the time makes him look like even more of a dick than he already did in that situation.

-- I love how they made lemonade out of lemons regarding the lottery ticket. Of course, Donna was subconsciously trying to be like the Doctor in giving the money all away to people she knew she could help. That's a lovely character beat that also happens to cover a massive plot issue.

-- I didn't love the direct to camera story time opening that brought us all back up to speed about Donna's memory wipe. It felt heavy handed, and the same information was conveyed again later much more organically between the Doctor and Shirley.

-- It was sweet to learn that Kate Stewart was making sure that Wilf was looked after. Bless her.

-- Possibly unpopular opinion (as well as being a very minor infringement of my own earlier request) I preferred both the theme music arrangement and opening credits during the Chibnall era. They just felt more alien and off putting in the way that the original William Hartnell versions of both did.

-- The new TARDIS interior does indeed look as impressive as everybody kept saying it was going to. I do wonder when it updated itself though. It sure looked like David Tennant was seeing it for the first time when he and Donna walked in. Also, invest in Formula 409, Doctor. All those white surfaces are going to show everything.

-- The 'bleeding through' of details from the Doctor's time with Donna into Rose's life was really nicely handled.

-- UNIT just straight up abducted a journalist on live television with their organization name clearly written on their jackets. Remember when they were a top-secret organization?

-- The connected attic at the top of row houses like we see here is technically called a 'cock loft.' They're quite often not separated by the brick-and-mortar walls that we see them break through here and are instead just one long open space. This tends to lead to fire spreading rapidly through them to the other houses. See, I told you I'd have something to contribute.

No, honest. It's really called a cock loft.
Roosters would hang out up there.


Donna: "A word of advice. You can wear a suit that tight up to the age of thirty-five. And no further."

The Doctor: "Grand Master of the Knowledge."
Shaun: "That says Grand Mistress."
The Doctor: "Oh, catch up!"

Shirley: "What I’m saying is, that ship didn’t crash. It parked."

Donna: "I would burn down the world for you, darling."

Shirley: "I’ve got this. Off you pop."
The Doctor: "Waited your whole life?"
Shirley: "You wish."

Meep: "You sound lonely."
Rose: "No. Just different."

Donna: "Because. There are places out there where people are in danger. And in pain. And fear. And I could help."

The Doctor: "You and I can stop this ship, together. But it will kill you."
Donna: "OK."

Donna: "No. Because summat will go wrong. And you’ll end up on Mars with Chaucer and a robot shark. And that’s actually happened, hasn’t it."

The Meep's hands never stop being creepy.

A wonderful start to the three-part Anniversary story. I really think that keeping that framing for it in mind helps immeasurably.

Eleven out of fourteen Doctors as its own installment. We'll see how we feel once we know the entire story.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.


  1. Terrific review, Mikey. I liked it. Didn't love it. Especially the Meep.

    But I do love David Tennant. I was off for Peter Capaldi and (mostly) Josie Whittaker, but David Tennant was my Doctor and I think I'm the audience they were going for here. It was really lovely to bring back Donna and revise/resolve her story, and I liked Rose. Of course Donna would be an awesome mom with an awesome daughter.

    I certainly liked it enough that I will be watching the rest of the specials, and I'll definitely give the new Doctor a shot.

    1. My hopes for Ncuti Gatwa could not be higher. He was SO good in Sex Education.

  2. Yes, The Doctor was a dick all those years ago. I could never really see wiping Donna's memories while she begged him not to as anything other than a form of rape, no matter why he did it. That said, IIR, the whole metacrisis was pretty fast moving, after hugely traumatic and life changing events. Donna not coming up with the idea that she COULD "let go" was because she just didn't have time to even think, and it was made clear that The Doctor couldn't conceive of it being possible. With the power split, Donna and Rose had time to think about it and decide that they could just let the knowledge and power go.

    Admittedly, I found the "we only thought of it because we are female presenting" to be a BIG handwave, especially since 13 was female and could have made the same leap. Of course, 13 came after 11 living 900 years, 12 having the most special girl in the whole wide universe by his side (Clara was OK, but didn't like her being so, so, so WONDERFUL), so 13 may well have simply forgotten about Donna or had filed her away under "bad solution, but solved so let's not think about it".

    My only other beef were the insta-repairing streets of London. The were torn up with BIG gullies running through them. I could see no earthly, or unearthly reason for everything to go back to normal just because the space ship turned off. As suspensions of belief go, I can cope, but REALLY?

    1. The self repairing streets really bugged me too. I meant to mention that under bits and pieces. Thank you for mentioning it!

  3. I have yet to sit down and watch it, but how much does its origins as a Doctor Who Magazine comic impact the structure and plotting?

    1. It's hard to say, I vaguely remember reading the comic once ages ago. It certainly affects the aesthetic, that's for sure. Have you had a chance to catch it yet?

  4. Here's my Thread post from @videofuzzy: The Doctor Who special resolved an important plot issue in a beautiful way it seems impossible they'd been thinking about when they introduced it. *All* the love.

    Srsly, tho, the Engine Room and Console need to be more resilient than a post-2008 IBM keyboard ijs

    1. Right?? Coffee should not have caused that much fire. I can only assume that the TARDIS is part Ford pinto now :) #oldpersonreference

  5. I feel pretty comfortable predicting that the eventual reveal of why the Doctor has the face of the Tenth Doctor for a second time is probably going to be underwhelming and not make much sense. The actual reason is no doubt because Tennant was the biggest fan favorite of the new Doctors.

    But it's fine. It's a fun show.

  6. That was a cute episode. I was mildly concerned about Rose, since I feel like everything that isn't satire is having a hard time writing Gen Z, but the etsy business stuff and her reactions to Donna was very spot-on. I hope she'll get a chance to look around the TARDIS before the specials are over!

    The new TARDIS looks fantastic, by the way. Although I can't wait for the nostalgia cycle to repeat in fifteen years so we can see a glass floor again...

    1. Thank you so much for saying that. I have absolutely no concept of whether or not gen z references feel authentic, and I did wonder.

  7. Loved the episode as a whole. Least favorite part was probably the whole "letting go" scene with the dig at the Doctor and all male-presenting people at once. I wish they would have instead made it about timelord + human having that extra creativity that Donna displayed shortly before her memories were erased. You're right, percysowner - if it was simply needing to be female-presenting to figure it out, why didn't 13 think of it? She certainly had plenty of time to think when she was in prison.

    I don't fault 10 for taking Donna's memories in the first place, especially given that she had what, 3 minutes? of time before it killed her. The Doctor hadn't yet learned 12's lesson about erased memories.

    TheShadowKnows, I'll be happy if the reason for the same face makes as much sense as 12's face sending him a message. But Tennant being a fan favorite isn't really why he's back (although I don't think it hurt the BBC's decision on the matter). It's because he, Tate, and RTD talked about how they'd love to "get the band back together", realized they all truly wanted to do it, and RTD contacted the BBC with the suggestion and an eye on the upcoming 60th. It could have been Moffatt, Matt Smith, and Karen Gillan instead, but they're a little busy now. Maybe for the 70th.

    The Meep being evil was a bit predictable, but I'm guessing the original comic story is more to blame for that.

    Loved how easily the characters slipped back in to their old places, and what a joyous time they seemed to have filming. Tennant and Tate were on fire. The new intro had me dancing in my chair.

    Shirley reminded me a bit of Osgood, and as my mom was in a wheelchair from her mid-thirties until her death, it was nice to see the representation.

    1. Was it RTD who reached out to the BBC and not the other way around? I didn't know that. Interesting.

  8. I cannot speak for the entire community, but for the most part I loved what they did with Rose. There were two details I didn't care for, but they are kind of nitpicky. As for the episode, there was a lot I loved and some I didn't care for. I like what they are doing with Unit especially Shirley our new bad ass in a chair (I'm happy she's going to be continuing).

    I was a bit less thrilled with Meep and that entire plot, especially the incredibly silly way the damage caused by the engine just reversed. However, the actual creature effects for Meep were well done and overall I liked the twist.

    I loved the Doctor. Of course except for Capaldi's first season I always love the Doctor, but Tennent is my Doctor so this felt like coming home. His relationship with Donna was also very well done, and even got me a bit misty when I thought Donna was gone. I loved his reactions to learning Wilf was alive and pretty much everything. My favorite gag was the memory paper lagging with his gender change.

    I thought the end was a bit heavy handed with the whole binary/non-binary stuff but the sentiment that the Doctor is male and female and other was perfectly in line with how I always pictured this benevolent alien with two hearts.

    1. I'd love to hear what the two things you didn't care for were, if you don't mind sharing.

      I agree, the visual effects for the meep were really well done.

  9. Can't stop thinking about the episode. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I'm not even sure what I was expecting in the first place
    Tennant and Tate are great as ever. While the new Doctor is very reminiscent of the Tenth, there are enough subtleties to show this is a different Doctor, albeit with the same face. Some people criticise Yasmin Finney's acting, but while there were a few things that took me out of the story, her acting definitely wasn't one of them
    The villain - well, I know it's a character from a comic that came out a while ago and I haven't read it, so I can't compare the original to the adaptation, but it felt to me a very Russell villain. In fact, this whole episode felt to me like a Russell episode, but not one of the outstanding ones, but rather a mid-season, mediocre one.
    The problem is with the plot. it just felt very generic to me, very predictable. It's something that we've seen way too many times and while there's nothing wrong with that, it didn't feel like a big celebration, although it was presented as one. I know it's just part one of three and I'll re-evaluate it once I see the other two specials, but for now it feels a bit underwhelming to me.
    Coming from a "cis white male" perspective, which I know may be enough for some to completely invalidate all of my opinions, but still. I don't think Rose is a satisfyingly developed character. This isn't about her being transgender or the message, just purely from the narrative standpoint. I don't have a problem with her being transgender. In fact, the explanation they gave about how the meta-crysis ties in to her is pretty great and makes a lot of sense to me. It's that we don't learn much about her beyond her being transgender and that she makes toys. She's an important character: the daughter of a beloved companion, that's a big deal! But she really does end up being a plot point rather than a dynamic character. I think it's a shame, I'd love to learn more about her. The whole "man-presenting Doctor can't understand" line was also unnecessary and presents a mixed message. What were they trying to say exactly? I don't think it was indended to be offensive, but I can easily see how some may read it as that. That's kind of the problem with the episode: the plot seems a bit shallow due to its simplistic form and reliance on callbacks, some messages are mixed, and the resolution of a fifteen-year-old problem doesn't feel satisfying. I guess I expected more finesse from such a renowned writer as Russell at handling these moments
    An alright episode, but with issues

  10. If nothing else, this confirmed just how much I love and adore both Tennant and Ten and Donna. I had the biggest grin on my face throughout most of the episode, and it's a feeling that I haven't felt towards Doctor Who since Eleven's first season. Even though I knew that Donna obviously was not going to die, I still teared up when she collapsed and the Doctor just held her. I do enjoy how emotionally expressive and honest this version is. It's a nice tweak.

    I also... okay, I like how Donna shared everything with Rose and thought that was a nice way to solve the problem. But the whole 'Let It Go' thing soured me. It just felt clunky especially with the 'male-presenting' line . I get that they couldn't have kept her as the Doctor Donna, but I wish they found a better way there.

    Also loved Shirley Anne Bingham. Very glad she's going to be a reoccurring character.

    The Meep looked so freaking good.

    I haven't watched any episode's since Jodie's first one, but wow the screwdriver can do a lot more things now! The whole shields and drawing screens in the air is... okay, I don't like it. It feels so overpowered. What happened to it just unlocking doors and making things explode into sparks?

  11. I agree with the most recent anon about Rose. I really wanted her to be more important and have more of a role in the episode. And the "male-presenting Doctor" line was not good. Russell are we destroying the gender binary or upholding for the sake of a lame joke? Did it bug me that such a huge thing as the metacrisis was solved so simply? A little, but the main thing is we have Donna back. And it's totally in character for any Doctor to do the complicated, timey-wimey thing and just ignore the obvious solution. Think back to the 50th when there were three Doctors "locked" in the Tower of London and it took Clara to try the door; they were too busy playing with their screwdrivers.

  12. "The connected attic at the top of row houses like we see here is technically called a 'cock loft.' They're quite often not separated by the brick-and-mortar walls that we see them break through here and are instead just one long open space."

    This is such cool info! I remember reading a book when I was a kid, where the heroes had to climb through on of these lofts. (I'm not totally comfortable calling them "cock lofts," to be honest.) I think in that book there were load-bearing beams separated by plaster as the floor of the loft, so they had to jump from beam to another.

    I'm pretty sure the book is The Magician's Nephew from the Narnia series, but am not sure.

    It was such a delight to see Donna and the Doctor together.

    1. That was indeed the magician's nephew! Very underrated. I used to live the Narnia books so much when I was a kid

    2. Mikey, I'm planning to retire to Narnia. Wanna join me?


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