Official logo | © BBC, 2022
Official logo | © BBC, 2022

Doctor Who, 60th Anniversary Special, “The Star Beast”

Directed by Rachel Talalay
Written by Russell T. Davies
Adapted from an original comic by Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons
Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Yasmin Finney, Karl Collins, Jacqueline King, Ruth Madeley, and the voice of Miriam Margoyles

[This review contains SPOILERS for Doctor Who’s 60th-anniversary special, “The Star Beast.”]

It’s not every day that a TV show gets to celebrate its diamond anniversary, yet somehow, Doctor Who has persisted all these years. It’s changed and evolved with the times to stay relevant while retaining its sense of fun and wonder. Such is the order of the day as Doctor Who finally returned to TV screens after a year of waiting on November 25, 2023, under the returning rule of the very same showrunner who shepherded the series into the 21st century in 2005, Russell T. Davies, as he exclaims loudly that it’s time for the show to evolve once again.

Although technically Doctor Who returned on November 17, 2023, with its in-canon minisode (miniature episode, usually around the length of a very short film) “Destination: Skaro,” which saw the new 14th Doctor, played once again by David Tennant, land on Skaro, the homeworld of the Daleks (the show’s most iconic villains), giving Whovians a bizarre origin story for the Dalek’s well-known plunger-like sucker weapon. The minisode was produced for Children In Need, an annual British telethon by the charity of the same name that helps kids with disabilities. Doctor Who has a long history of creating minisodes for this charity event, so seeing it back in action was really nice.

Promotional image for The Star Beast | Doctor Who "The Star Beast," © BBC, 2023
Promotional image for The Star Beast | Doctor Who “The Star Beast,” © BBC, 2023

A comic book history of “The Star Beast”

Back to “The Star Beast,” the episode is, in fact, an adaption of an original comic story by Pat Mills (Batman: Book of Shadows) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), originally published in Doctor Who Magazine issues #19-26 in 1980. The story introduces the alien warriors known as the Wrarth, who are insect-like humanoids, and more famously, Beep the Meep, a small, furry, plushie-like creature.

The 4th Doctor, played on TV by Tom Baker, encounters the Meep when the creature’s ship crashes and lands in London. The Meep is on the run from the Wrarth and seeks out the help of some local children. Although they attempt to rescue it, it soon becomes clear that the Meep isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

Since their first appearance, Beep the Meep has had other adventures in comics and audio dramas where they’ve also encountered the 6th, 7th, and 8th Doctors, respectively. But for their first onscreen escapade, all of Meep and the Wrarth’s previous appearances have seemingly been wiped from canon to make this story the Doctor’s actual first meeting with these aliens.

The Meep being hosted by the Noble-Temples | Doctor Who "The Star Beast," © BBC, 2023
The Meep being hosted by the Noble-Temples | Doctor Who “The Star Beast,” © BBC, 2023

I’m of two minds about it as I enjoy most of those earlier adventures. It’s fun seeing how Meep interacts with the different Doctors and how they build on their previous encounters. However, I also get wiping the slate clean so there’s no baggage laid on the viewer to do homework on decades-old stories.

One very nice thing is that right in the opening credits of the episode, both Mills and Gibbons get credit for their original story underneath Davies. Showcasing open recognition of the episode’s comic book history on such a large platform was an incredible sight. Please, everyone, do more of this. (Editor’s note: here, here!)

A review of Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary special, part 1

As for the episode itself, we open on this very awkward narrative choice of Davies and director Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) to give a recap of the elementary info new viewers will need to catch up on the story beats from older episodes. It features Tennant standing on this formless void like a customizable character in a video game, then flashes back and forth between him and Catherine Tate, who’s returning as companion Donna Noble from Tennant’s last season 13 years ago, both talking straight to the audience about their past adventures.

It’s an audacious narrative and artistic move, but I don’t think it works well. Plus, it just doesn’t look good. I simply feel like there had to be a better way to get that information across, as it’s so disconnected from the rest of the story. Once it’s done, we move on completely, and the real story begins.

The Doctor in a Barrister's shorthair judge wig | Doctor Who "The Star Beast," © BBC, 2023
The Doctor in a Barrister’s shorthair judge wig | Doctor Who “The Star Beast,” © BBC, 2023

From there, the Doctor lands in London. They still don’t know why they have back one of their old faces, which is the driving mystery of the three 60th anniversary specials. Almost immediately, they run into Donna, who, as far as we understand, shouldn’t be allowed to remember her time with the doctor. If she remembers, she could die because she has the power of the Time Lords running through her brain, though they’re lying dormant. But it’s been 15 years since those events occurred in-universe, and Donna now has a daughter, Rose, played by Yasmin Finney (Heartstopper).

Suddenly, a spaceship lands in London, and the Doctor must go and sniff around to find out what’s happening. While on-site, he comes up against the United Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), the show’s resident alien-handling organization. UNIT first appeared in 1968 and has been a regular staple in the show ever since; think of them as this franchise’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Doctor is introduced to agent Shirley Bingham, played by Ruth Madeley (Then Barbara Met Alan), a wheelchair user who we later learn has some sick weapons she can employ from her transport. Madeley doesn’t get much screen time but is wonderful in every scene.

“You are here, you are seen, you are loved, and you’re not going anywhere.”

While that’s happening, Donna and Rose are heading home. We get this topical moment where a bunch of kids deadname Rose, who is trans just like her actor, showing the sort of raw transphobia that trans people face every day. I am highlighting character descriptors such as Rose being trans and Shirley being in a wheelchair because, much like Davies very loudly does in this episode, this marks a very important moment for Doctor Who going forward. The show is very openly inviting these people in, who have had historically very little or lackluster representation on-screen, exclaiming, “You are here, you are seen, you are loved, and you’re not going anywhere.”

For Rose, a lot of this comes into play later, but now is a good time to point out how happy I am to see Davies pushing this show to be more loudly accepting of its audience and staking his flag here. While it already was in some ways in the past, Davies is making it a lot more overt this time around. At least while he’s in charge again, we’re not going back.

We learn that Rose has an online business where she’s making and selling creature plushes of her own design, and then, not long after, is introduced to the Meep, who found their way from their ship into the alleyway where Rose runs into them. She takes the Meep back to hide in her shed, but it isn’t long until Donna discovers the creature. All the while, the Wrarth warriors have arrived on Earth to hunt down the Meep.

The Meep showing their true colors | Doctor Who "The Star Beast," © BBC, 2023
The Meep showing their true colors | Doctor Who “The Star Beast,” © BBC, 2023

UNIT, for its part, several soldiers have their minds taken over by mysterious energy while surveying the spaceship, going off in search of the Meep as well.

Meanwhile, The Doctor shows up at Donna’s house, having tracked an alien presence. Upon arriving, he’s forced to confront Donna head-on as they try to figure out what the Meep is and dodge her questions about who they really are.

Both UNIT and the Wrarth show up at Donna’s house and begin to wage a shoot-out causing the Doctor to flee. The shootout scene is incredibly awkward as both sides rarely move, and there’s this very slow and drawn-out moment where the Doctor, equipped with an impressively upgraded sonic screwdriver–the Doctor’s non-lethal defense tool–creates these barriers between both sides so that everyone can get through the hail of lasers safely. The Wrarth warriors eventually pick up on what’s happening right in front of them, but it’s very lame how it was handled.

Miriam Margoyles as the Meep is a true standout

Our heroes escape. However, once they’re safe, the Doctor summons two Wrarth warriors to a parking garage, where they put the warriors and the Meep on trial to figure out what’s going on. Here, we learn Meep’s backstory, and the creature then drops the helpless act they’ve been carrying this whole time to become a full-on villain. Miriam Margoyles (The Sarah Jane Adventures) is incredible as the Meep and gives a really campy, funny performance both when the Meep is trying to get Rose and the others to sympathize with it and protect it, and then when the Meep becomes the potential city-destroying threat. She’s wonderful in this role and truly a standout.

The Meep’s ship is harboring both a sentient sun who turned this creature into the villain we see today and an energy-absorbing battery that will tear London apart. Using the UNIT soldiers, the Meep rebuilds any damage to its ship, and then the countdown begins as the Doctor tries to stop it from destroying London. This is a departure from the original comic from what I remember but it’s fine, the original comic involved a bomb being put inside the Doctor’s stomach and I don’t know if that’d have translated well for TV.

Both the Doctor and Donna get inside the ship and attempt to shut it down but without much luck, until circumstances dictate that Donna, after all this time, must be made to remember her past adventures so that she may access the knowledge of the Time Lords to help the Doctor save the day. It’s a nice moment between the two. I enjoyed that instead of this being a lingering issue for three episodes, we’re just getting it out of the way now.

Rose using the power of the Time Lords | Doctor Who "The Star Beast," © BBC, 2023
Rose using the power of the Time Lords | Doctor Who “The Star Beast,” © BBC, 2023

Further revelations reveal that part of the Time Lord’s energy passed onto Rose when Donna was pregnant with her, allowing for another person to share the burden of the massive force, making it easier for Donna to survive it. This also gives Rose the same abilities as Donna and, by association, the Doctor.

With the Meep defeated, UNIT set right, and the Wrarth arresting their prisoner, the day is saved. However, we then get what I feel is the most contentious moment in the episode, and it sits uneasily for me. It’s set up by this really sweet moment where the Doctor is described as a “man, woman, neither, and more,” Rose, given this power, briefly mentions that now she finally feels like herself. However, this is undercut by Donna and Rose deciding to let the power of the Time Lords go.

Also, I feel like there isn’t a universe where Davies could gracefully resolve the whole Donna situation. The last time he tried to, it did not go well and was also super awkward, and now it’s even more. I am glad we’ve dealt with it and are moving on so that the next few episodes can be good old-fashioned Doctor / Donna stories because they are a brilliant team.

From here, Donna convinces her family to let her take one more trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor’s time-traveling machine that looks like a ’60s police box, and we get the big reveal of the newest interior of the ship. It’s really cool, too. It’s much more massive in scale than what we’re used to seeing in the show, and it has ramps galore, so you know we’re getting more wheelbound characters up in this thing soon. It also has over 800 lights that change color, and it’s just so cool. 

Finally, Donna accidentally spills coffee on the console, and the TARDIS begins to glitch, leaving us on a cliffhanger about where the two of them may end up next.

Donna, what have you done? | Doctor Who "The Star Beast," © BBC, 2023
Donna, what have you done? | Doctor Who “The Star Beast,” © BBC, 2023

This episode is very middle-of-the-road in terms of quality. It has more strengths than weaknesses, such as Meep being a wonderfully campy villain and a primarily practical puppet, Jacqueline King, who plays Donna’s mom, getting probably the funniest moments in the entire episode. Though sloppy in some areas, it was nice to see Davies loudly proclaim Doctor Who a safe space. Tennant and Tate are at the top of their game, and seeing them back together is genuinely wonderful. The new TARDIS interior looks great, and I really like the new multipurpose sonic screwdriver.

But when it falters, it falters hard, with some wonky action scenes that were a bit jarring to watch, moments that discuss modern gender topics that I felt could have gone through the editing process a few more times, and underwhelming space bugs. Plus, while Finney is great, she really should have been given more to do throughout the episode, allowing her more time to shine.

“The Star Beast” is back to form for Davies and crew with his era’s specific style of fun space-romping action adventure, and I respect the narrative swings he took even if they didn’t always land. It shows we’re in for a showrunner who, like Tennant returning as the Doctor, isn’t going to play it completely differently, but he’s got some new quirks up his sleeve he’s ready to show off—that I’m excited for.

Doctor Who (2023-) is now streaming on Disney+ in the US and globally. You can watch Classic Doctor Who in the U.S. on Britbox and Tubi TV. Revival-era Doctor Who (2005-2022) and its spinoffs, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, are available on MAX. Meanwhile, other modern spinoffs, such as CLASS, can be bought on Prime Video, and K9 can be streamed on Tubi TV. All of the above, minus K9, are streaming in one place on BBC iPlayer in the UK.