Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder, review: a jaw-dropping injection of sheer Saturday night magic

Revelling in chemistry: Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder
Revelling in chemistry: Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder - James Pardon/BBC

It began with an historical bang and ended with a heartbreaking posthumous appearance. In between, Doctor Who (BBC One) delivered a blockbusting adventure. Writer Russell T Davies warned that Wild Blue Yonder was “weird”. Leading man David Tennant said it was “shocking… unlike any episode ever”. They weren’t wrong. This was a deeply creepy, dazzlingly creative hour of teatime TV.

A witty prologue saw the Tardis crash-land in an apple tree, circa 1666. A certain physicist happened to be sitting beneath it. The Doctor greeted him as “Sir Isaac Newton” before correcting himself and losing the honorific. The colour-blind casting of Nathaniel Curtis, the half-Indian actor best known for starring in Davies’ It’s A Sin, could rattle a few cages. The Doctor (Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) were far more concerned with the fact that the influential polymath was “hot”. They left him with the made-up word “mavity” as a parting gift. He’ll get there eventually.

The main meat of the story took place on a seemingly empty spaceship at the edge of the universe. Except this is sci-fi, where spaceships are rarely really empty. Lying in wait was “something so bad that the Tardis ran away”: two shape-shifting, war-mongering lifeforms which morphed into doppelgängers of the Doctor and Donna, planning to steal the Tardis and wreak intergalactic havoc. Like Newton said: “Odd bodkins! What the devil?”

As their physical forms settled, they sprouted long arms, slack jaws and vampiric teeth. They ran on all fours, grew to outlandish size, got stuck in corridors and melted into puddles. Unsettling and strange, they referenced horror films from Invasion of The Body Snatchers to Jordan Peele’s Us.

The design team faced a challenge bringing to life what Davies had written on the page. They rose to it. The show’s new distribution deal with Disney brings a boosted budget, which was visible in the fully realised spacecraft and Hollywood-worthy visual effects. These were supplemented by fine physical acting by Tennant and Tate, playing their own doubles in eerie style.

When they finally returned to Earth, they were greeted by Wilfred Mott (the late Bernard Cribbins), now wheelchair-bound but still a doughty warrior. Cribbins filmed scenes last year before his death. The Doctor spoke for us all when he beamed: “Now nothing is wrong. Nothing in the whole wide world. Hello, my old soldier.”

For all the hype-building talk of shocking weirdness, this was Doctor Who boiled down to its essence. The Timelord and his loyal companion, landing somewhere mysterious, finding themselves in trouble. No big cast nor political preaching. Just a rollicking yarn in a confined setting with scary monsters. A back-to-basics “base under siege” adventure with a whopping twist.

Tennant was funny and fizzingly charismatic, revelling in his chemistry with Tate. There was warm bickering, clever wordplay and dark hints of the Doctor being haunted by his origins. Their reunited double act feels nostalgic yet thrillingly new – perfect for marking the show’s 60th anniversary, before launching its new era.

We now await next Saturday’s climactic special The Giggle, which marks the return of classic villain The Toymaker (now played by Neil Patrick Harris) – and presumably ends with Tennant’s regeneration into the 15th Doctor (long-term replacement Ncuti Gatwa). In just two episodes, Davies has restored our faith in family-friendly sci-fi. This was a jaw-dropping, joyous injection of sheer Saturday night magic.

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