Dr Who

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Special

BBC

Reviewed by Celia Neri

Forget the star-crossed lovers that Ten and Rose, and Thirteen and Yaz were. The heart and soul of the New Who companions is Donna and her friendship with the Doctor, first with Ten and now continued with Fourteen for three glorious episodes in the form of the 60th Anniversary Specials broadcast on BBC One and available as a boxset.

In The Star Beast, events put Fourteen in the path of Donna and her family, and he must work with them while hoping she won’t get back her memory—something that would kill her. The Star Beast is a fun romp which properly introduces Shawn, Donna’s husband first glimpsed in The End of Time, and Rose, Donna’s daughter, played by Yasmine Finney. We also meet back with Sylvia, Donna’s mother. Domesticity and family relationships are a cornerstone of the episode, showing us how the characters have evolved and what they have to lose. It also brings great comedic effect, in particular when Sylvia pretends aliens don’t exist to protect Donna while the house is invaded by three different alien species. But the true delight is in seeing the Doctor and Donna reigniting their spark, often in tiny details, like Fourteen handing, without thinking, his sonic screwdriver to Donna, who takes it matter-of-factly. In the midst of all this, a super cute alien whose story seems lifted off E.T.—and who might not be as cute as that, actually.

Wild Blue Yonder is a deceptively simple story: an empty starship stranded at the edge of the universe and the TARDIS vanishing, leaving the Doctor and Donna all alone. Or are they? (Of course, they aren’t!) The entire episode is built upon the astonishing performances by Tennant and Tate, at times hilarious—the pre-credit sequence is a hoot—frightening, heart-warming and heart-breaking. The relationship between Fourteen and Donna is what makes this episode tick, what they know about each other, but also the love they have for each other and how comfortable they are with each other. The heightened emotions highlight those feelings—from the Doctor holding Donna’s hand close to his chest to reassure her, he’ll get her home to the both of them hugging in shock at the end of the episode.

The Giggle brings us to a confrontation with an old foe, The Toymaker, from a mostly missing 1966 serial, The Celestial Toymaker—although the Toymaker has also made appearances in tie-in novels and Big Finish productions. Neil Patrick Harris plays him with great gusto. The Toymaker’s choreography to the sound of a Spice Girls song is a sequence to remember in the history of the show, bringing just that edge of madness you’d expect from the character. The episode offers some wonderful moments with Donna and Fourteen, and an old favourite character and a previous companion return. Yet, the last act is eclipsed by an unheard-of event in the Doctor Who universe that brings the three Specials to an entirely satisfying conclusion.

Russell Davies first three stories in his new tenure as show-runner are an excellent omen of what is to come. His attention to characterisation shines throughout the scripts, as well as his ability to seamlessly blend comedy and darker moments, a match made in heaven for two characters, such as the Doctor and Donna. Their friendship is at the heart of the Specials, and Davies illuminates it. He set out to write entertaining stories and succeeded across those three episodes. What’s more, they’ll leave you eager to see what’s in store for the future.

David Tennant plays Fourteen differently than he played Ten in very subtle ways. The scripts give him a character who is much more attuned to his own emotions and more able to verbalise them. Tennant—always a physical actor—uses his body to convey effectively all those emotions and the Doctor’s energy. His older face is also the perfect open book for a Doctor who has been—again—through the wringer that Thirteen’s life has been. Tate’s acting reflects how far Donna has come since her first appearance in The Runaway Bride. Her voice is, without fail, the perfect pitch for what Donna is going through, and she gets to play with three different variations on her character, showcasing her range.

The returning cast includes Bernard Cribbins in a short sequence at the end of Wild Blue Yonder, which is dedicated to him. Among the newcomers, Yasmine Finney, Donna’s daughter, brings poise and compassion to the character.

The production is of the highest quality. Yes, the time of bubble wrap and green paint is over, and the three episodes look sleek. Yet the CGI isn’t obtrusive, and the preference given to animatronics has been part of the Doctor Who aesthetic through the decades, only this time improved tenfold. Murray Gold is back for the music, with reminders of his previous themes and a brand new one, young and electrifying, which perfectly suits the character it belongs to.

But, of course, all good things, etc., and the Fourteenth Doctor makes way for the Fifteenth in stark contrast with Ten’s reluctant departure, bowing out with joy and grace.

It is, after all, the beginning of brand-new adventures!

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