Doctor Who | Wild Blue Yonder review (spoilers)

Doctor Who Wild Blue Yonder
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David Tennant and Catherine Tate headline the second of three Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials. Here’s our Wild Blue Yonder review. Spoilers lie ahead.

“My arms are too long”

If last week was frantic, fast, and offering a wide open welcome mat to Doctor Who fans new and old, Wild Blue Yonder felt like a demonstration of what the show can do and has done. First half hour? Good. Second half hour? Great.

We left the Doctor and Donna – David Tennant and Catherine Tate – in a TARDIS out of control at the end of last week’s The Star Beast. Wild Blue Yonder, the middle part of the 60th anniversary trilogy of Doctor Who, initially took things from there just via, er, 1666. Bonus points if you were instantly trying to work out if we were in the territory of the bubonic plague or the Great Fire Of London when that date popped up on screen.

Turns out, neither. In a tip of the hat to how much more money the show has its disposal, it was all a set up for a gag about gravity. Respect. Russell T Davies has just told the year’s most expensive dad joke.

But, post credits, this was at its best top tier Russell T Davies Doctor Who.

It was bold early.

Wild Blue Yonder robbed the Doctor very early in the story of two of his most potent pieces of equipment: his trusty sonic screwdriver, and his TARDIS. Both gone, minutes after the majestic blue box had been belching out massive flames. I was expecting, at that stage, more fast and furious stuff. Turns out I got quite the opposite.

The first effect of taking the TARDIS away was to give some time to settle and actually spend some time with the Doctor and Donna. The pair were running around so much in the fast-paced The Star Beast last week, that stopping for a proper chat was out of the question.

Here, that was happily remedied.

In fact, the episode itself was slower, calmer and really crept up the longer it went. Like a slow moving robot going along a corridor. Doctor Who the show may have new clothes and new resources, but I like Davies established that for all that, it’s still a show where the brakes matter. When you go slower, the impact can double.

The basics: we got an apparently abandoned spaceship that itself presents mysteries, and a posh remote camera to help explore it. But for the Doctor, something unfamiliar: a lack of stars, the edge of creation, a hundred trlllion years from Earth. Where even the Time Lord hadn’t been before, and seemingly didn’t know what to expect.

A bit of licking (yep) and joshing later, and out came a dash of Everything Everywhere All At Once. Extended arms that I thought were going to be played for comedy (and there were chuckles in the episode). But Davies wrongfooted me again, continually shifting the foundations of tone: turns out that if you’re looking to come up with a really creepy foe for David Tennant to face off against, you can do a lot worse than recruit David Tennant and Catherine Tate. It took a while, but I started to get Midnight vibes from it all, and that’s a very high Who bar.

It did take me a little time to settle though, and I’m about to pen a couple of churlish paragraphs for which the internet should hate me. Deep breath, here goes.

It does seem odd to note some of the effects work on Doctor Who, given what many of us grew up with. But the future craft on which the Doctor and Donna landed looked like it was made with a computer, and it didn’t look like they were there. It’s an odd side effect of the budget of the show, and being able to consistently afford nice things: the nice things are in turn held to a higher standard.

I feel weird typing that paragraph about Doctor Who. But for a moment, and this doesn’t usually happen, it took me out of things. I was back in for the most bizarre chase sequence I’ve seen all year, mind. And I happily watched the show without murmur of complaint throughout the 1980s. I’m clearly a spoilt whingebag.

Nice tip of the hat to Thunderbirds at one point. Let me get out of this hole by recognising that.

I bring all that up because in the first half of Wild Blue Yonder I was noticing stuff like that. In the second, I was absolutely gripped. When the Doctor and Donna properly went head-to-head with the Doctor and Donna? Well, with huge applause to the two actors at the heart of it, I became more and more unnerved. In a good way.

It’s like the shoot-out in something like the classic movie For A Few Dollars More, with two people working the other out, taking turns to take shots. Metaphorical ones here, as each explains whether the other was real or not.

Loved that.

As the episode went on, just where the floor of reality sat became less and less clear. Related: the more ambiguous Wild Blue Yonder became, it all became richer. Even when David Tennant’s head basically poked out of his own arse (it didn’t, but it looked like that), I was engrossed by what was going on..

Coming up with a Doctor Who monster to really get under our skin is a challenge in itself, especially now. Having Tennant and Tate just staring, with a half grin? Well, they’ve outgunned The Meep to my eyes.

Let’s take a moment too to consider the whole Gallifrey got “complicated” aside.

It’s a brief line from the Doctor that he utters, and he ain’t bloody kidding. Like it or not, the Chris Chibnall era of Doctor Who made a lot of Gallifrey (far more than Davies was ever inclined to do in his first run at Who), and anyone picking up those threads was always going to facing, well, let’s go with ‘a challenge’.

However, thrown into the mix here – although whether to believe it is a question in itself – is that the Doctor perhaps isn’t as sure of his roots as we’ve been led to believe. Might he not be from Gallifrey? Is it really possible that Davies has found something else in the character’s origin, six decades on? This is also picking up the mantle of The Timeless Child, introduced during the 13th Doctor’s era.

Will Davies choose to run with it? As the Time Lord himself once said, “time will tell. It always does”.

As much as Russell T Davies is a whizz at delivering a one-hour blockbuster episode of the show, he’s also proven he’s capable of offbeat, weird and unpredictable stories. I’m going to namecheck Midnight again, because – unexpectedly – it feels to me like an ideal companion piece for Wild Blue Yonder. Midnight-ish, on a bigger canvas, with the slowest ticking bomb Who has probably ever seen.

I thought it was terrific.

Credit too to director Tom Kingsley, and enormous applause for just how strong the work of Catherine Tate and David Tennant was here.

But the final word goes to one man: Bernard Cribbins. The last scenes that he shot for Doctor Who, just before we lost him in 2022, ended the episode. I thought that was a lovely, lovely touch. Sure, there was a massive plane above his head, but the ultimate focus was, rightly, on a much-missed actor. How fitting that the episode was dedicated to him. I can’t have been the only one with dust in my eye.

Next week, this trio of specials comes to an end with The Giggle. The trailer promises much. I’d suggest Wild Blue Yonder has set an early high bar for this latest era of Doctor Who.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to watch it again. And to tip my hat to Bernard one more time…

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