Why the New DOCTOR WHO Specials Are Refreshing

David Tennant and Catherine Tate are back for Doctor Who's 60th Anniversary. These three specials act as fresh new adventures, a tear-worthy reunion, and a glimpse into where Doctor Who will go from here.
Doctor Who - 60th Anniversary - still 1

Author’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the three latest Doctor Who Specials.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate are back for Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary. These three specials act as fresh new adventures, a tear-worthy reunion, and a glimpse into where Doctor Who will go from here.

It’s safe to say Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary was not as momentous as its 50th. The show was everywhere you looked in 2013, and during Tumblr’s prime, no less. I was in the category of weirdos who would wear *multiple* Doctor Who shirts to the middle school of my own free will. We were all obsessed, and by the end of Matt Smith’s run as Eleventh Doctor, we were all excited to see what came next.

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I haven’t watched an episode of Doctor Who since 2014. Perhaps I became uninterested after so many years. Maybe I didn’t care for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Most likely of all, I was probably just tired of Steven Moffat’s style of serialized storytelling. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the show I fell in love to begin with was the one helmed by Russell T Davies. I’ve always cared more about individual episode quality than the overall season developments, and Davies delivered on crafting witty, short sci-fi stories for these characters to be placed into without getting caught up in season-long mysteries.

I won’t speculate on the quality of the past few Doctor Who series. I’ve heard good things and dire, terrible things, but not once during the last nine years have I ever felt compelled to give it another shot. I’m here today to tell you that I dipped my toe back into the Doctor Who well for the first time in ages, and I gotta say: We are so back.

Doctor Who - The Star Beast
Courtesy of Disney+ and BBC Studios

‘The Star Beast’

The first special begins with a recap of where the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) are now fifteen years since they’ve seen each other. It’s short and simple, but it takes us back to where Davies’ run first ended back in 2010. What follows is an extremely solid sci-fi London caper that subverts our expectations of a more conventional alien adventure.

We get welcomed back by old characters and introduced to new ones, like the excellent Yasmin Finney as Rose Noble, daughter of Donna. This special works well as a jumping-on point for new fans, current Who heads, and the older fans who dipped out after Tennet exited the show.

The Doctor’s relationship with his companions has always had a tragic air around them with the near constant shifting cast members, and even if it’s not entirely a mournful farewell, there is always a sense of melancholy to the end of a partnership in the series. Donna got a happy ending but had to give up her memory of the Doctor.

Doctor Who - Wild Blue Yonder
Courtesy of Disney+ and BBC Studios

In turn, The Doctor had to move forward, content at least that his dear friend didn’t have to perish because of him. The Star Beast does a phenomenal job at reintroducing us to these characters, reinforcing the stakes of their involvement with one another, and showing us a way forward that sparks hope that the Doctor could finally get the catharsis he deserves.

‘Wild Blue Yonder’

Wedged between the fun reboot special and the triumphant conclusion is the more contemplative special that is more directly sci-fi heavy. Donna now has her memory restored, but she and the Doctor accidentally get stranded on an empty ship at the farthest reaches of space. They soon find themselves face to face with doppelgangers, heck-bent on replacing the pair and using the Tardis to wreak havoc on the universe. With this conflict comes more inner turmoil as both characters have to reckon with their lives and the lost time before their reunion.

If it isn’t already clear, David Tennett and Catherine Tate have exceptional chemistry together. Their comeback together here feels like no time has passed at all. Since the first episode with the duo in 2006, there has been an electrifying energy to their dynamic. Their energy extends past the show as well.

Courtesy of Disney+ and BBC Studios

In 2011, both Tate and Tennet landed the main roles in the digitally presented stage play Shakesphere’s Much Ado About Nothing, and even with old English dialogue, their commitment to physical comedy and energetic line readings shine through. This Doctor Who revival is no different, and The Great Blue Yonder is a wonderful showcase of how well these two actors play off of each other for a whole hour.

‘The Giggle’

By far, the most ambitious of the specials is the final one. So far, each of these events has embodied familiar Doctor Who episode concepts. A grounded story in Londen that involves an alien encounter, a more heightened sci-fi adventure that veers into more philosophical territory, and a big finale that ties it all together: A blowout conclusion that involves a past villain, world-threatening stakes, and a transition point for the personal life of The Doctor. It’s a subtle way to celebrate sixty years of the show, but it’s one I greatly appreciate.

Despite the great social commentary about the overuse of the internet and the quite excellent musical number with Neil Patrick Harris, the most fascinating aspect of this special comes towards the end. The Fourteenth Doctor’s life is cut short, and he is now about to regenerate once more, only this time he generates, getting two split Doctors at once.

Courtesy of Disney+ and BBC Studios

This is quite the game changer in how we understand the regeneration process, but more importantly, this signifies an important disruption. With a brand new Doctor splitting off from the previous incarnation of Doctor we’ve already seen go through countless strife and turmoil, we finally get a proper send-off to the side of this character that deserves a happy ending.

Where does Doctor Who go from here?

These three specials were so delightful. The fiftieth-anniversary special event was much more bombastic, with fan service and self-indulgence, as it tried to tell a story that was so focused on the Doctor’s tragic past. For the sixtieth anniversary, we got something of a lower caliber: Three simple stories that reflect the structure of the show and a Doctor who has grown weary of the constant adventures.

Davies and the crew are extremely clever for taking the audience backward to an older iteration of The Doctor to mend a fractured franchise so that they could move forward to something new. Utilizing Tennet as an extension of the old Who is an excellent way to execute this idea. Ncuti Gatwa embodies a new direction for the show that is exciting to see unfold. After a proper send-off to the old show, we might be getting a proper shift into what Doctor Who can look like going forward.

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Doctor Who is practically built with soft reboots in mind, such as how its main character can regenerate into a completely new actor every few seasons. Despite this, the show has felt stale in its approach for a long while, but with the release of these specials, Doctor Who finally feels fresh again.

I don’t know what the new series with the Fifteenth Doctor will bring, but I do know that I’m more compelled to keep watching than I have been in a long time. Doctor Who is back, and I’m so excited about what it will bring. The new 60th anniversary specials are streaming now on Disney+.

About Doctor Who

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Key Art

Release Date: November 25 (Specials), New Season in 2024
Writer/Showrunner: Russell T. Davies
Executive Producers: Russell T. Davies, Phil Collinson, Joel Collins, Julie Gardner, and Jane Tranter
Directors: Rachel Talalay, Tom Kingsley, and Chanya Button
Distribution: Disney+, BBC (UK and Ireland)
Cast: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Neil Patrick Harris, Yasmin Finney, Miriam Margolyes, Ruth Madeley, Jacqueline King, Karl Kollins, and Jemma Redgrave.

Synopsis: The show follows the adventures of a Time Lord “The Doctor” who can regenerate, and the Doctor’s human friend (s). The Doctor and companion’s journey through time and space in the TARDIS – a time-traveling ship shaped like a police box – saving the universe with a combination of wit, bravery, and kindness. Orbiting around them is the wider Whoniverse – infinite galaxies and countless civilizations filled with incredible friends and dangerous foes. These are worlds ripe for exploration. Worlds full of surprising stories, characters, emotions, and entertainment.

What did you think about the new Doctor Who 60th Anniversary specials? Have a favorite? Excited about the new series? Let us know on social media!

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Ian Lloyd

Ian Lloyd enjoys surrounding himself with outdated technology and pretending to have good opinions. He loves watching movies that everyone else hates as well as films that no one cares about - except for him. But by far, his favorite thing in the world is to write down all the nonsense in his head that he is constantly thinking about and labeling it as a "review" for "people" to "read".