The Star Beast Marks The Start Of Something New
Doctor Who: The Star Beast marks the return of so many things. The return of Russell T. Davies as showrunner. The return of David Tennant as the 14th Doctor. And a continuation of Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble story that had originally ended in a tragic mindwipe after she helped save the universe.
And cards on the table, I can’t possibly be unbiased in this review. I grew up loving the Russell T. Davies era. Christopher Eccleston is my Doctor (an in-fandom statement meaning he was the first performance of The Doctor I watched), and most of my favorite episodes of the show were David Tennant’s adventures. So, just seeing some of that brought back in one episode is pinging at every nostalgic synapse I have. The second the new intro started, with a new—and wonderful—rendition of the song, I was grinning so wide. Multiple moments, I had to pause to gush about how happy I was about this or that moment in The Star Beast.
Doctor Who Is So Important For So Many Reasons
But that doesn’t mean that years of working as a critic haven’t shifted my way of seeing media. And made me realize a few things about Doctor Who, and this episode in particular.
The first is that Doctor Who is campy. It’s silly. Absurd at times. I know, “shocking” news—but I took the show dead seriously when I was a teen. Tales of strange aliens, unfathomable scales of time and space, and concepts of morality and sacrifice were all fresher storytelling elements to me. But now, the plot contrivances, technobabble, and wonky rules of the universe are all too easy to see—and damn plentiful on top of that. In The Star Beast alone, we have a truly baffling layout of a ship that forces a dramatic moment with a glass wall. A myriad of functionalities that the Sonic Screwdriver could never do before. Questions of how a stun gun can blast open a wall. And a scene where the two main characters confidently and quickly rattle off pure nonsense while spinning dials and toggling different switches. And that’s me not bothering to go full nitpick. That’s me suspending my disbelief to my utmost abilities.
Doctor Who Doesn’t Exactly Stray From Being Silly
And then there’s the “twist.” It’s handled so sloppily that it makes me wonder how often Doctor Who has pulled similar storytelling tricks. To be clear, I like the twist in a vacuum. It makes enough internal sense, given what we know about the magic of Time Lord/Lady regeneration energy. And the clues of the twist would’ve been strong choices if we’d gotten more time devoted to exploring its manifestations, more visual hints while we’re in the shed, and more dialogue alluding to Rose’s feelings—really just more scenes with Rose overall—before the twist happened. Cutting back to a scene with new context is cool. Cutting back to a scene but with visuals that were barely or not at all shown and expecting that to come off as deft writing is another thing entirely.
Additionally, and mild spoilers, the twist also confusingly seems to suggest that the energy was somehow connected to Rose Noble’s gender transition. It’s confirmed it influenced the name she picked for herself. I say “suggests,” though, because I’m honestly not sure what the meaning behind some of the dialogue exchanges was, especially when it was blended with technobabble. Rose is trans because she’s a woman, and the twist happens because she’s Donna’s daughter—that was my understanding until the episode added more. Now, I’m not trans, and I can’t speak for the trans experience, but I’m basically saying I’m not sure The Star Beast thought through all of its implications/metaphorical meanings with that reveal.
That said—and also with a trigger warning that the episode features some deadnaming and misgendering—I was happy to see that Doctor Who is still making sure to have a lot of representation, both with main and background characters. Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman) was one of my earliest memories of seeing a major LGBTQ+ character in any show. Though Doctor Who hasn’t always handled it perfectly, it, like Star Trek and a lot of other great science fiction/science fantasy properties, is trying to be progressive and promote better futures for everyone.
Speaking of the characters, The Star Beast has an overwhelmingly impressive cast. I already knew David Tennant has an infectious energy that is impossible not to fall in love with, but I had forgotten how wonderful Catherine Tate is as Donna Noble. She lends so much energy and personality to every line she reads. Seeing the two back together is a freaking joy, and I’m so excited for more.
The Star Beast Has Such Great Acting Throughout
I’d also forgotten how much depth Jacqueline King brought to the role of Sylvia Noble. The fear in her eyes every time she thought her daughter might drop dead from seeing The Doctor was so convincing that I got nervous right along with her. Her acting is honestly so good it’s hard to believe sometimes that she and Catherine aren’t actually mother and daughter in real life.
The only person missing from that dynamic team from seasons before is, of course, Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Nobel. He passed in 2022. They might show footage of him in later episodes, but even if they don’t, I want to say that he gave that character such wonderful emotional energy and heart. Wilf is one of the best side characters in the entire series.
As to the new cast, Yasmin Finney does a great job at playing Rose Noble. The scene where she’s desperately trying to get Donna out of the shed is extremely naturalistic and basically tells you everything you need to know about their mother-daughter dynamic. Ruth Madeley has this amazing energy with The Doctor in her scenes, and I love the character-informing moments of them casually discussing spaceship scans and giving each other little nods. She would make a great companion. And, finally, Karl Collins’ Shaun Temple is the most underexplored of the characters, but he does get a very fun exchange with The Doctor during the early scenes. I hope we get more of him in future episodes.
The Star Beast Has One Incredible Practical Effect
And then there’s The Meep. I have to spend some time on The Meep. First off, Cecily Fay does a great job voicing all the various moods The Meep has throughout the story. I can’t talk much without spoiling, but The Meep makes for such a fun character. Secondly, I will not shut up about how good The Meep looks during the first few scenes. The illusion doesn’t hold once they start fully animating The Meep using CGI, but the first moments with The Meep were some of the best puppetry I’ve ever seen. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is the only other media project I can even think of on a similar skill level. I have no idea how you make such a convincing alien with that range of motion. The rest of the special effects were about usual for Doctor Who, being charming but plastic-looking, but from the dexterous fingers to tiny breathing motions, whatever team or individual created and operated The Meep puppet deserves an award. And please, please let them make more aliens for the show.
Wrapping up, The Star Beast makes for a phenomenally fun place to return to Doctor Who. Sure, it’s not its best outing. I’m not even going to attempt to argue that. From conveniently healing cracks in the Earth to a problematic “star madness” plotline, it’s not firing on all cylinders, but it also shows the heart, electrifying acting, vibrant ideas, and distinct pacing that made Doctor Who so popular in the first place. And with promises of Neil Patrick Harris’ The Toymaker, a whole new season with Ncuti Gatwa as our 15th Doctor, and clearly a bigger budget for effects, I’m so excited, and you can bet we’ll be covering a lot more of the series when it arrives.
Possibly Related Posts:
- The Marvels: A Blandly Fun Little Movie
- The Magnus Protocol Reviews: “Introductions”
- Friday Fiction: Necessary For Organic Life
- Marvel Rising: Chasing Ghosts Is So Much Worse
- The Magnus Protocol Reviews: “Personal Screening”