Doctor Who specials: The Star Beast review – is it that time again?

Our Doctor Who The Star Beast review looks at the success of the special episode, which marks the start of another new era for the series.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate as The Doctor and Donna in Doctor Who specials

Our Verdict

The Star Beast brings back those fuzzy feelings, while also feeling fresh.

Over the past few years, you probably either stopped watching Doctor Who, or only continued to watch it out of habit. The series had almost lost all of its steam and felt like it was entirely stuck in the past, only existing in the present for the sake of it. So, Russell T. Davies, David Tennant, and Catherine Tate’s primary job with the first of their three specials (celebrating the show’s 60th anniversary) was to remind people what the series can be, and why they should care.

After all, it feels as if this is the entire point of Tennant’s return to Doctor Who. The decision to bring back one of the most popular versions of The Doctor almost seems designed to say: “Wait! Give us another chance!” and to convince you that this is still one of the best sci-fi series around, capable of standing alongside the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars in the 2020s. That’s what this special, ‘The Star Beast’, does so successfully. It succeeds in being both distinctly Doctor Who (losing none of that quintessential tone and feel), and updated to stand alongside its bigger-budget peers.

On a more ‘meta’ level, that’s the episode’s biggest win. It will undoubtedly hook audiences back in for the next journey because it’s so evocative of those old Tennant-era adventures, while simultaneously feeling fresh and exciting, reminding us that this was once (and can be again) one of the best TV series of its time.

But what about the story itself? The new characters and the promise for what’s in store? As the episode opens, the 14th Doctor is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that his new face post-regeneration is also an old one. Puzzled, he’s taken to London by the TARDIS and dropped, conveniently, right in front of his former friend Donna (a fan-favorite Doctor Who companion). Donna, who remembers none of their shared adventures, has a family now: a husband and daughter, and she’s content… for the most part.

If that sounds at all contrived or clunky, that’s because it is, a bit. What’s clear is that RTD wanted to bring back Tennant and Tate and then worked backward to figure out ‘how’ while not being too concerned about making it feel graceful. It’s also evident, too, in the conclusion to the plot, which hurries along because it doesn’t want you to ask too many questions about how it all makes sense.

Those bookends, the start and finish, might irk older audiences. Certainly, you won’t want to spend too much time thinking about them. But when all is said and done, they fall into insignificance because the rest of what we get here is pretty perfect, for the most part.

Aliens, action, twists, and heart: ‘The Star Beast’ works just as well as a standalone adventure as it does a reunion. The villain is, genuinely, quite wonderful. The increased budget (thanks, Disney) helps immensely, and there’s an awesome blend of practical effects with convincing CGI when necessary. The most memorable new character, Donna’s daughter Rose, helps to ground the story, too, both in her relationship with her family and in service of important representation.

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Rose is trans, and for the majority of ‘The Star Beast’ that’s handled perfectly. It doesn’t define her character, but it also isn’t just ignored. The conversations had about her, and including her, are sensitive, relatable, and positive, and that’s wonderful to see.

So, this is Doctor Who as you remember it, and as you love it. Thoughtful, exciting, family-friendly, enthusiastic, earnest, and, yes, cheesy. It’s just as distinct in its style as other major sci-fi franchises but feels rejuvenated too, ready to take its place alongside them. ‘The Star Beast’ will never go down as one of David Tennant’s best Doctor Who episodes, but it does its job and does it well. If the rest of the specials are as good as this warm-up, no one will have any complaints.

For more adventures in time and space, find out our picks for the 10 scariest Doctor Who episodes, or see what’s in store for the Doctor Who season 14 release date.