Doctor Who Returns – Special 1: The Star Beast

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It’s back! Everything is new (apart from the lead characters) and this is a huge deal, even if you don’t usually watch it. First seen at 6.30pm on BBC1HD and iPlayer, the BBC was pinning a lot on tonight’s return.

Why such a fuss? Well, for the background and lead-up to this, take a look at my detailed Post below.

I began to write it back in January of this year, when not very much was known about what was to come. Almost 11 months later, it’s now all a lot clearer and feels like the dawn of a new era for the programme (where, in my view, this couldn’t come too soon!)

This one is the first of THREE Specials this side of Christmas – the second is next week and the third, the week after. They’re all around an hour long and promise a host of famous faces supported by the mighty Disney empire outside of the UK handling the viewing platform. More talent, more money (I read $100m, courtesy of Disney) and more hype – I wonder if it would Iive up to the expectations? 🤔

6.30pm: Here we go, I’m going in! Back in an hour! 👍

7.31pm: How was it for you? Entitled The Star Beast, this one felt different somehow, but also strangely familiar on many levels – and all in a good way! A family-friendly, typical Who adventure full of surprises, tension, humour, eccentricity and shock – but this time, all cranked up to 11 in a bigger, bolder and more cinematic way. It wasn’t the darkest Who storyline I’ve experienced (but apparently, that is to come in the next few weeks as the wider story continues).

To begin at the very beginning, I think the revised theme tune is the best version to date – that familiar base tune, but with a much more prominent, almost majestic, orchestral element to it all. Good to hear the return of the National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales playing a significant role in this new series, together with more of Murray Gold‘s timeless compositions (pun intended!) 👍

YouTube player

Back to the story! A great introduction in a ‘piece to camera’ by the Doctor that set the scene for those new to the Whoniverse, but also acted as a gentle reminder that we had two familiar faces from ‘Who-past’ taking this first episode forward. At this stage, none of us in the audience is sure WHY we’ve got the David Tennant and Catherine Tate characters back just yet, but apparently, that’s all part of the longer story arc with a ‘satisfying payoff’ promised by the end of the third Special in mid-December.

Tonight’s opener was directed by Rachel Talalay, and for me, I knew we were in safe hands, as she’s been responsible for SEVEN of the more memorable Who episodes going back as far as 2014. There were some gentle nods to the past too, with a new character called ‘Rose’ (but not THAT Rose). And talking of ‘nods’, who saw the various references to other Sci-Fi staples, including ET, War of the Worlds and the more recent Captain Marvel?

‘Who’ humour can be a bit hit-and-miss, but it was well-managed tonight and perfectly timed – it wasn’t really ‘laugh-out-loud’ style, but mostly on the subtle/wry side – just enough, without ruining the tension of the storyline. The non-appearance of the loveable character of ‘Wilf’ (Wilfred) Mott (originally played by the late Bernard Cribbins) was handled sensitively without being OTT/cringy and even managed to bring a humorous twist to why he’s no longer around. In the real world, before his passing, he appeared at the read-throughs of the early drafts of tonight’s script.

Stepping back from the minutiae of tonight’s story, it’s clear that bigger global players are now involved in the production of Who. The stunts are also more convincing and equal to the best you’d see in the cinema. That alleged £100m obviously helped! The script is tighter and the whole look has an even more polished feel about it all. Cynically speaking, something dramatic needed to happen, as it was an open secret that viewing figures were on the slide. Again! And we all know what happened in 1989, the last time the viewing numbers were seriously down!! 😠

There are a lot of characters to get to know in tonight’s story, but it was all managed effortlessly without ever feeling like there were too many. I also loved the new TARDIS interior (I wasn’t expecting that, as they usually only update it when there’s a brand-new Doctor) and its look really amplified the oft-quoted ‘bigger on the inside’ line.

If I have one criticism of tonight, it was that the final scenes felt a little clunky and somewhat rushed. But that aside, for this Whovian, this was a strong return to form. RTD as Showrunner, has always brought out what’s best in Who and its wider universe, where tonight was so typically ‘Who’, but even more so. 😀

Those that know me, know that I never really related to Jodie Whittaker‘s take on the role. It was probably more the preachy, one-dimensional scripts of the previous series almost turned me into an EX-Whovian, but based on tonight, I’m back onside! Heck! RTD even managed to introduce some topical issues of the moment, including preferred pronouns, a transgender character plus a hero in a wheelchair – and this was just in the first episode! 😀👍

As a bonus (and especially interesting to Whovians and Who-newcomers alike) straight after the transmission, over on BBC3, they showed ‘Doctor Who Unleashed’. It’s a new regular programme that looks behind the scenes of the current episode and is similar to Doctor Who Confidential that was an integral part of Doctor Who the last time RTD was in charge.

Final thoughts? It was apparent that a lot of energy had gone into tonight’s launch, with a fair amount of TV advertising but (as is the way these days) even MORE on social media. I really do hope that this time around, Who acquires a new generation of fans along the way. I’ve usually got a good feel for Who episodes and whether they ‘work’ or not (hence my 4 stars) and it’ll be interesting to see what the Press make of tonight’s return?

In short: A confident return for Who under the competent stewardship of Russell T Davies helped along with the added bonus of a much larger budget.

PS: Just saying… 😁
Daily Telegraph ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Independent ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Metro ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Empire Online ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Guardian ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Daily Express ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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