Doctor Who: THE STAR BEAST Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: THE STAR BEAST Review

In the first of three new special episodes in the Doctor Who saga, "The Star Beast," we find ourselves plunged into a nostalgic yet fresh adventure. Returning to the helm is Russell T Davies, the mastermind behind much of the show's earlier success, alongside the beloved duo of David Tennant as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. This episode, a reunion of sorts, marks a significant shift in the series, now produced by Bad Wolf Studios and distributed globally by Disney, which is evident in the visibly increased budget.

Set after last year's special regeneration episode, produced to celebrate 100 years of the BBC, packed with references to old-Who and the uncertainty of whether David Tennant or Ncuti Gatwa would emerge as the next Doctor, "The Star Beast" doesn't waste time in bringing us into a new era of Who, opening with a fourth-wall-breaking sequence, immediately setting the stage for both long-time fans and newcomers. Paying homage to a 1980 comic strip that featured the fourth Doctor, Beep the Meep, and the Wrarth Warriors, "The Star Beast" offered is a delightful blend of humor and horror, reminiscent of a Pixar movie, as Davies himself aimed for. In so much as it seamlessly combines a monster story suitable for children with an emotional reintroduction to Tennant and Tate’s characters. Aided immensely by Rachel Talalay’s confident direction which brings a cinematic quality to the episode, showcasing the improved production values.

David Tennant, sorta reprising his iconic role, retains the charm and vibrancy that made his original tenure so beloved, yet there's a hint of something different – perhaps a touch more reflective or seasoned, a slight shift in his demeanor, more contemplative and less gregarious.. This slight alteration in his character adds a fresh layer to his performance, suggesting a Doctor who has evolved while still fundamentally remaining the charismatic figure fans adore.

Catherine Tate's return as Donna Noble alongside Tennant is equally noteworthy. Their dynamic, a defining element of their previous time together on the show, reignites with ease. The rapport between them is a blend of heartfelt and humorous, showcasing their strong on-screen chemistry. This time around, their relationship delves into deeper emotional territory, reflecting the passage of time and the growth of their characters. Tate’s portrayal of Donna shows a maturity and depth that enriches their interactions, making their reunion not just a nostalgic callback but a meaningful continuation of their story.

The Meep, voiced by Miriam Margolyes, steals the show with its adorable yet bloodthirsty nature, and the return of Jacqueline King as Sylvia Noble allows for a deeper exploration of her character beyond the abrasive mother figure she was previously known for. The reintroduction Donna's mother is handled with more depth and nuance this time around. Sylvia’s dismissive attitude towards Donna, once a source of comedic tension, is now portrayed with a more protective intent, highlighting the evolution of their relationship. The dynamics within the Noble family, particularly between Donna and her daughter Rose, add layers to their characters and provide a glimpse into how they have matured over the years.

As Rose, Yasmin Finney shines, adding a kind and bright presence to the episode. Her character's interaction with the Doctor, particularly the scene where she chastises him for assuming the Meep’s pronouns, is a standout moment that addresses contemporary issues in the typical progressive vein of Doctor Who.

The higher budget is palpable on screen, especially in the drone-shot street battle scenes. The new Tardis interior is a stunning homage to the classic era, replete with the beloved “round things,” and represents a nostalgic nod to the series' roots, with Tennant's energetic running around the ramps of the Tardis, suggested by the actor himself, adds a dynamic touch to the episode. The London setting, though oddly festive, brings a sense of familiarity, and the increased location shooting and bespoke sets are a testament to the show's bigger budget.

For its multiple high points, not least of which reminding viewers just how much fun Doctor Who can be, the episode's pacing and execution have their shortcomings. The pre-title sequence feels somewhat clunky, offering a heavy-handed introduction that lacks subtlety. However, once the iconic theme tune kicks in, the episode finds its stride. Later, we are introduced to a fresh take on the sonic screwdriver, using it in innovative ways that feel fitting for the Doctor's character, but may well alienate some fans.

The plot twist involving the Meep, while somewhat predictable, is executed well, leading to a dramatic climax with high stakes for Donna. The restoration of Donna's memories, despite knowing Tate will appear in upcoming episodes, adds a layer of suspense. However, the resolution feels somewhat undermined by the lack of lasting consequences.

Mysteries and questions abound in this new era. We’re left pondering the reason behind the Doctor’s familiar face, the reconfiguration of Unit, and where the Tardis is headed next. The episode also hints at a larger villain, as alluded to by the Meep, and while there aren’t many genuinely frightening moments, the episode plays with those 'behind the sofa' elements in a way that feels true to the spirit of Doctor Who.

Overall, "The Star Beast" is a successful blend of old and new, capturing the essence of Doctor Who while paving the way for new stories. It strikes a balance between nostalgia and innovation, offering a promising start to this new chapter in the Doctor Who saga. While there are elements that longtime fans might find familiar, the episode sets the stage for a renewed exploration of the Doctor Who universe, with Tennant and Tate at the forefront of this exciting journey. Albeit for just a brief time...

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