Previously, on Doctor Who: Fourteen and Donna reunited; Donna’s memories of being the absolute best companion were restored, and she did NOT die. There was much rejoicing from us, then thanks to some enthusiastic gesticulation from Donna, the Tardis console got a coffee-shower and launched off to worlds unknown.
This week: The Tardis deposits Fourteen and Donna in an apparently empty spaceship at the edge of the universe and runs away to hide from some unseen and terrifying peril. Poor Fourteen hasn’t even got his sonic. We knew very little going in to this, the second of the anniversary specials, except that it was going to be weird, and spoiler alert: it really was… Allons-y!
There were definite shades of ‘Midnight’ in ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ with its deceptively simple approach to scares; for my part, I’d thought that this would be more of a ‘Heaven Sent’ scenario, and the big twisty weirdness would be our darlings stuck in a murder loop, maybe with a few other Doctor-incarnations thrown in for good measure. It was MUCH more unsettling than that. The premise of being marooned trillions of years from home is terrifying enough, but there’s more: the strange noises in an apparently empty ship; the countdown to an unknown doom; the slow inexorable march of the aged robot; the flickering shifts making the ship seem to be alive and trying to get you… All of this comes before we get to the monster of the week: mysterious entities intent on masquerading as Fourteen and Donna in order to get to a more populous corner of the galaxy where they can wreak havoc and chomp on folks. This is the peril that the Tardis ran from, its emergency security measures meaning that it won’t come back until it’s safe to pick them up again. The only way out is to eliminate the threat.
What ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ gave us then, was an opportunity for Tennant and Tate to go completely, brilliantly bonkers as both Fourteen and Donna and Fauxteen and Not-Donna. Tennant really needs a medal for the range shown here, from the hottest hand-kiss and reassuring stare ever to the deliciously evil Fauxteen.
Tate’s range is impressive too, showing Donna’s panic, grief and resignation, and Not-Donna’s manipulation and cackling mockery. No wonder they’ve got huge prosthetic teeth; all the better to chew the scenery with. Russell T Davies knew how much we wanted even more of them together, so he gave us two-for-one rather than even more episodes. Well played, RTD. The dialogue balances quippy banter and heartfelt profundity in the trademark way we would expect from Tennant and Tate together, and it’s just a delight to watch.
In a normal season, this would be a handy ‘cheap’ episode, but there’s Disney money everywhere you look, mixing some physical effects (the long arms!) with some strong CGI and some less convincing CGI — let’s not look too closely at Fauxteen’s head-crotch crab bit.
For all the immediate meme-iness of the crab run, this was a genuinely creepy episode. We had farce last week, and this is an immediate pivot into classic horror-Who, with foreboding and jump scares aplenty as well as some meaty emotional scenes. Fourteen and Donna have only their wits and their bond to battle their evil twins with, and the more they panic and think, the more powerful their foes become. Every time they get separated and reunited, they have to test each other to see if they are with the right one, not the scary evil one. And their evil twins know all their memories; the ‘normal’ body-snatcher tests don’t work here. In this case, Not-Donna is at an advantage, as she has all the Doctor-Donna memories, whilst Fauxteen only knows what Fourteen knows about Donna. Not-Donna successfully convinces Fourteen she’s the real Donna more than once, leading to a horrible moment where it looked like Donna might have come back only to be blown up and lost forever.
In the end, Fauxteen and Not-Donna were dispatched by the former captain of the spaceship, who started a stealthy 3-year self-destruct sequence using Jimbo the sad-faced robot, and then walked out of the airlock so that they couldn’t read her mind and prevent the ship blowing up. All our darlings had to do was speed it up a bit and wait for the Tardis to swoop in and save them, which she did, right on cue, bless her. All patched up. Get yourself a travel cup next time, Donna. If there’s time for that …
Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Stuff
— The Tardis bounces into Isaac Newton’s garden quickly before pinging out to the edge of the universe, in order to set up a great
mag gag, that I hope becomes a running joke forever.
— Speaking of running jokes, the Tardis has great timing when rescuing the Doctor, but still has a very flexible attitude to Earth time. It’s definitely a feature not a bug.
— Fourteen’s prank after licking the goo was reminiscent of when Donna had to save Ten from being poisoned, back when they met Agatha Christie.
— Previous Nu-Who creepy doubles include the Zygons and the plastic clone ‘gangers’ from Eleven’s era.
— Is mavity the only ripple from the Newton encounter? Fourteen is very worried about the consequences of recent events — he feels like he’s chancing his luck somewhat. It doesn’t help that we know his next regeneration is imminent.
— Fourteen fancies Isaac Newton and is a little surprised by that. Donna is not surprised at all. Somewhere, Captain Jack is cursing his bad luck at not being around for this version of the Doctor… which brings us to the BIG IMPORTANT QUESTION of the week: who’s hotter? Ten, Tentoo, Fourteen or Fauxteen? We all enjoy a smirking villain, right? RIGHT?
The identity tests were a good opportunity to mention some of the Flux fallout (half of the universe is still gone!) as well as the Timeless Child arc. This is haunting Fourteen in the same way the Time War haunted Nine, Ten and Eleven. There’s not much time to explore all this with him, with only one more special to go, so maybe Fifteen will pick this up, or maybe it will be quietly fixed like Donna’s meta-crisis problem. Maybe, just maybe, everybody lives again…
This segue hurts: RTD confirmed that although Wilf will be “mentioned in dispatches” next week, we won’t be seeing him again, as Bernard Cribbins wasn’t well enough to film any more scenes. RIP Bernard, you national treasure.
Next time: In the last episode of the anniversary specials, London is under attack by the Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris); can Fourteen and Donna save the day? Will there be a terrible cost to this? Will we finally see Fifteen? Are we ready to have our hearts broken by another Tennant and Tate departure?