Previously, on Doctor Who: We really wanted to love Thirteen’s adventures through space and time, but something just felt flat. Chibnall threw everything and more into Flux, and the most I remember from that is a grumpy space doggo. The last few specials with Jodie Whittaker aired in 2022, and then we saw Thirteen regenerate into David Tennant and nearly lost our nerdy little minds.
This week: An alien ship crash lands in London, and the Noble-Temple family find themselves caught up in the middle of a battle between a cute alien and some less cute but nicer aliens, whilst DING DONG a really hot alien pays a visit and tries not to be too memorable.
Going in to this special 60th anniversary trio of specials, we knew only a few things: Tennant would be around for a few episodes only before Ncuti Gatwa takes over; Catherine Tate was returning as Donna Noble; Bernard Cribbins was returning as Wilf, and Neil Patrick Harris would be around at some point. The 60th anniversary means all bets are off when it comes to special guests, but Bonnie Langford is on the cast list for one of the specials, so is John Simm, and Alex Kingston’s made a knowing spoilers joke. Matt Smith has denied he’s making an appearance, but that means nothing. NOTHING. Russell T Davies is back at the helm, and he’s going to have some fun…
The speculation about how Tennant and Tate could return was rightly frenzied. As the intro reminded us (lol, like we forgot the heartbreak?), Donna had her memory wiped and will die if she remembers Ten. Actual die, no backsies. There was nothing that could be done, OK? Two big Time Lord brains could not figure out another way. It was tragic and cruel, and we never got over it.
Fourteen — as we should now call him — is not Ten. He’s older, wiser, and more emotionally open. His hair defies the laws of physics. He still delivers an epic ‘what?!’, the mere mention of Rose is enough to make him giddy, and he zooms around his redecorated Tardis like an excited child. But there’s a haunted look in his eyes at times that reminds us not to get too excited; he’s not going to be here for long. When he thinks he’s lost everything and there are weapons pointed at his head, he tells the soldiers to do what they want. The pain is raw for Fourteen.
But for all the PORTENTOUS DOOM hanging over the episode, there is so much damn joy. Donna is still hilarious, and the ongoing farce of trying to prevent her from a lethal flashback is just the right level of delightful. Miriam Margolyes is having the best time as the voice of The Meep, an impossibly cute little weirdo who turns out to be a genocidal maniac.
What Davies is really good at is balancing the farce with feelings, and that’s what the franchise needed to bring back. The Moffat era was about lofty cleverness, and Chibnall went for breathless action at the expense of characterisation; both approaches lacked RTD’s everyday earnestness. There is cheese in RTD’s approach, for sure, but it’s the heartwarming kind. Moffat’s seasons packed a lot of emotional punches but they were all big, extraordinary, out-of-this-world ones. If you are going to do mad spacey timey-wimey stuff, you need to anchor it with the earthy, garden variety stuff too.
Here, the rules of timey-wimey are dispensed with perhaps a little too conveniently, but when your heart is full and happy, who cares? Donna’s mind wipe left her feeling incomplete, but there were subconscious nods back to her time with Ten. She has married a good’un, and is a fiercely protective mum to Rose. It’s a combination of her instinctive bond with the Doctor and that big heart that we saw so many times in her season, that leads her to her moment of reawakening. Fourteen can save London from The Meep’s rocket doodah, but only if he gives Donna her Doctor-Donna memories back, so that she can help him for a couple of minutes before she dies. Donna does not hesitate. It’s her or millions of people, including her daughter: no brainer. Fourteen screams into the void, but does it anyway; this time, Donna is choosing her fate. As promised, when her daughter is in peril, she “will descend”. Best 55 seconds of her life.
World saved, she collapses into his arms, and he is prepared to die alongside her, consumed by his grief. But it’s all OK! RTD found a fix, and let’s not pay too much attention to it, because it’s all rather convenient, but this is a gift horse not a Trojan horse, right? RIGHT? The meta-crisis bad juju got shared out between Donna and Rose, who saves Fourteen from being shot by those soldiers, and then because three brains are better than one or even two (screw binaries!), they work out a way to take all that flashy Time Lord gubbins and just let it go.
So it’s all OK! Donna remembers and lives, which is the best possible outcome, and Fourteen doesn’t get beaten up by Sylvia for breaking his promise. Donna gets to go on a teeny little trip to take Fourteen to see Wilf (sob!) and nothing bad will happen … oh, unless she spills her cuppa on the console and sends the Tardis somewhere random. Oopsy!
Considering I just spilled some fizzy pop on my keyboard, I’m not going to judge Donna for that. Easily done.
Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Stuff
There were so many callbacks to the original season with Ten and Donna, it’s impossible to list them all. Suffice to say, Fourteen remembers everything…
Allons-y is back! So are the round things! Ten loved the round things!
Nice to know the Doctor still keeps his special Shadow Proclamation wig in his pocket.
Is Disney previewing its new Doctor Who monster plushy collection in Rose’s shed? Christmas is coming. Just saying. I would put a plushy Adipose on my list.
Who is the mysterious woman in Abu Dhabi who keeps buying Rose’s toys?
Wilf does not appear in this episode, but Bernard Cribbins filmed some scenes for the specials before he passed away, so he will hopefully still make an appearance. In the meantime, Wilf is living in fancy sheltered accommodation courtesy of Kate from UNIT. Awwww.
UNIT also have good insurance, so Donna’s house can presumably be fixed up.
The Meep’s boss will be very interested to hear about a guy with two hearts. Hmmm, I wonder who this boss could be? Who was on the cast list again?
Speaking of hearts, Fourteen just casually declares his love now? Ten would never… get round to it in time.
Is the Fourteen regeneration all that it seems? Is there something weirder going on, like a parallel universe? Is this all the work of the Celestial Toymaker? Has Fourteen’s reunion with Donna been set up by some greater power?
And how much are we all going to cry when these specials come to an end?
Final honourable mention: the positive trans and disability representation in this episode was really lovely. Welcome to the Whoniverse, Yasmin Finney and Ruth Madeley.
Next Time: Fourteen and Donna take a trip to the Wild Blue Yonder, and it’s apparently going to get weird!