Doctor Who in 2023 is a Breath of Life We Really Needed

hello world!
Ben Hazell
| November 29, 2023
hello world!

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve remembered loving Doctor Who. Living in the UK, it became a real family tradition to sit down on an evening, throw on Doctor Who on BBC1 and watch for an hour ever since the reboot in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston. It remains one of the most treasured memories I have had with my family and provided a community I absolutely love. Unfortunately, the writing quality dipped at a point, and I lost interest for a while.

Now that Doctor Who is back, with an insane amount of marketing and a Disney+ release, we’re going to go in-depth on whether the show is back to its prime or if the writers’ room got replaced by evil aliens trying to destroy British television. I don’t want to have to watch re-runs of My Name is Earl guys. I beg you!

The new but old Doctor from The Star Beast

First, the mini-sode, “Children In Need”. The Doctor, newly regenerated into 10th Doctor actor David Tennant, arrives at the lab of one of his arch enemies, Davros, before his accident which leaves him disabled, The Doctor then comically removes a lethal implement from a Dalek prototype, replacing it with a plunger, and inspires the classic design, A very short but funny segment that shows the balance the show is aspiring to reach from my perspective. Entertaining, yes, but also indicative of purpose through showing rather than telling.

I enjoyed Julian’s portrayal of Davros, being menacing and vindictive, almost rotten inside as though he causes his deformities through his own obsession. The lack of a wheelchair is a non-issue to me. If Lost taught me anything, then there’s a great deal of story to be told about a radical man no longer afflicted with his disability, as an interview with Davies happened where he made it clear he wants to shift focus away from vilifying people with disabilities. This is a good stance to take, given that Doctor Who has always been a morality-driven show. Let’s hope Davros enjoys being reintroduced to the fear of stepping on LEGO.

Although it might be too late for that…

Now, onto the new episode that aired on the 25th of November on BBC1 in the UK, “The Star Beast”.

This was an amazing first outing for the new Who era. I don’t even know how this hour-long special managed to throw in so much stuff. Firstly, we had so many classic Who moments; spaceships falling on London, big lumbering aliens that look like they come straight from power rangers, UNIT being effectively useless all except the one person in charge, and high-speed sci-fi conversations that nobody understands. And while we don’t see Bernard Cribbins, there’s a lot of talk of Wilf, and Wilf is always a plus.

On top of that, we had a follow-up on old companion Donna Noble (My favorite). Her daughter Rose, who tackles some delicate social commentary, The Meep, a fuzzy white alien faking being innocent, who I am convinced is just the evil cat from Cats and Dogs trying to take over the world again. On top of that, we got the new Tardis design, complete with LED lighting and those little round things we loved so much in classic Who.

The new opening theme makes my heart feel warm; every season, they do a new arrangement on the classic. This one comes with piano accompaniment and a piercing melody that sounds similar to the show’s infamous Sonic Screwdriver. It’s a theme that gives gravitas with a sad undertone, and it’s going to be in my head for a while again, isn’t it?

The Tardis goes whoosh in the opening.

Anyway, let’s talk about the acting. David Tennant, as usual, brings an amazing performance, playing a far more emotionally vulnerable version of the Doctor. While his 10th Doctor quirks emerge sometimes, he gives off very feminine and empathetic vibes, far more than his often vengeful and unforgiving previous role in the show. In fact, I feel like this Doctor is one hallmark movie away from breaking down at any moment, which is great! Coupled with Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, the two interacting have the same dynamic and friendly energy it had back 15 years ago. It’s enthralling, and I even found myself tearing up at a certain part. You’ll know the one if you watched the episode… go watch the episode if you haven’t.

The Doctor with his Sonic Screwdriver, a sort of science wand.

The rest of the cast also does really well. Tate is insanely emotive, managing to cover an insane range from overprotective mom to amnesiac super genius and back again. She’s always just the right amount of sassy and bombastic. Her Mother is the same anxious wreck whose first response is to yell at everything. Her new husband plays the everyman who always seems to turn up at the wrong time, which is funny given that while his wife misses everything, he seems to stumble upon everything.

Now that’s a thousand yard stare.

Her daughter Rose, a central part of the episode, is shown to have changed their gender, making her character more invested in looking out for the misunderstood and lonely. She’s more proactive, and it seems to get her into trouble as much as her mom. It’s quite fitting, and it matches the cultural zeitgeist, so it was pretty interesting to see good writing mixed with prominent gender discourse. Other characters comment on it and wonder how to approach the topic.. It’s all done with respect, except from the Doctor, who actually never learns this because, to him, it doesn’t matter. It’s a really intelligent way of balancing prominent social issues with a good story, which is what Doctor Who has been celebrated for, usually. Yasmin Finney does a good job as a prominent part of the cast in this way. I think her line “I can finally be me” in the context of the episode is so damn clever. Again watch it; I’m not spoiling stuff here.

Rose inherits her Mothers sass quite well.

I can only begin to wonder how much they spent on the budget for this episode; it feels like they bought out most of London. With packed streets, a full street being used, and a massive spaceship. The CGI used for The Meep itself is also really impressive, although I do think it’s hilarious that the first thing the show does on Disney+ is have its own Baby Yoda like creature. Finally, a huge steelworks, which they’ve definitely done before, but it never really gets old. Also, the new Tardis must have cost a fair bit of cash; it looks so clean and well-made. I can feel the production value hitting me over the head with a hammer. This is not to say this wasn’t the case in the past but it suddenly feels far more visible.

The Sonic Screwdriver has also had a massive upgrade. Not only can it now conjure up a heads-up display, but it can also create raw fields of energy that the Doctor can use as a shield. It also comes with a diagnostic screen. It’s always been a magic science wand, but to actually see a lot of the hand-waved science jargon on screen for once is a welcome sight.

Look, it can create plexiglass!

Finally, the villains of this episode, this one takes some really deep cuts as the antagonist adopts some brainwashing technology to turn UNIT soldiers into its servants. The outfits they don are reminiscent of the 1966 Daleks invasion of Earth Robomen, right down to the black suits and tinted visors. Personally, I fanboyed out at this since that movie was one of my favorite Doctor Who stories growing up, and it was amazing to see an updated version. The crab soldiers have classic Who monster outfits, but they’re backed up by their weapons having deadly-looking special effects, and parts of the claw move on their own as if the monster was breathing through it. Which, again, was insanely cool.

*Warning, skip this to avoid spoilers*

Miriam Margolyes as the Meep was such a good performance, going from being a sheltered E.T like alien into being a vicious galactic fugitive bent on destruction. It was a great parallel to the Doctor, being the last of his kind for so long, to come across another who was like that who is effectively pure evil was a delight. There’s a bit earlier on where they speculate what its pronouns are, and it states they are simply “The Meep”. Turns out this was in fact their dictator title, and was simply saying they identified as a tyrant. Beautiful.

Awww look at the cute little genocidal maniac.

*Spoilers over*

So, to summarize, Doctor Who is once again in safe hands. The fact I’ve been able to fanboy over this since last night is proof enough for me that the writing has taken a massive leap in quality back to its roots. While some of the previous showrunners’ stories may still leave a shadow over the series canon, this was good clean fun. One that perfectly balances the story with the message. I am so glad to have the show back, and I now look forward to the future. Both to the remaining two episodes of Tennant’s second run and the incoming arrival of new doctor Ncuti Gatwa. Doctor Who is back and here to stay. 

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